After almost 3 weeks on the road following one month in Blue Ridge, GA minding our grandson, Jace, it was time to put jacks down and slides out for the holidays here in North Georgia with our daughters and grandsons.
Making the run up to Lafayette, IN to the home of Liquidspring for repairs in some nasty downpours and wind, and the ensuing plunge in temperatures was stressful enough, always hoping I wouldn't have to crawl under my chassis to swap out ride height sensors. Fortunately, the system worked as advertised all the way up and back down to Red Bay, AL. It is truly amazing the difference in ride Liquidspring makes, and when in windy conditions (as we seemed to have for the five says it took to do the loop up north and back down south) the Sport mode - I know, it sounds really weird to write "Sport mode" when discussing motor home driving - made handling this RV much easier and didn't tire me out at the end of a day's drive.
I've written extensively about the Tiffin aspect of a visit to Red Bay previously, but I'd be remiss if I didn't cover the personal side of the Red Bay experience. And I don't want the comments I make here to be construed as a knock on Red Bay in any way, shape or form. It's a quaint little town in the upper left corner of Alabama, and it is the very definition of a company town. Frankly, it's hard to believe that 4 of the best-selling motor homes made in the world are made in this one small town. If a business in Red Bay doesn't say Tiffin on it, it's supporting that company in one way or another.
If I covered this before I apologize, but Tiffin doesn't take appointments for their service center. You show up, get in the queue for a full-service bay for serious problems, or in line for an express bay (2 technicians for up to 4 hours and then you're done) for smaller issues. This system is frustrating to many who are not full-timers like us who can spend as much time needed to get everything fixed, and truth be told it even frustrates some full-timers as well, but because people used to make appointments and then not show up, Tiffin instituted this policy and it works for them.
So you hurry to get to Red Bay, check in, and wait for "the call" . . . And you'd better be ready to scoot over to your assigned bay at the time of the call or you get replaced by the next customer in line. We heard of four people who missed their slot because they strayed too far from the service center to get back in time.
What does this have to do with decompression and reflection? Decompression first.
Waiting in Red Bay can be stressful. You're sitting in a parking lot with full hookups (when the water isn't shut off due to freezing temperatures), you can't go far if you want to keep your spot in line, and there's not that much to do to pass the time in such a small town. If you have satellite (we don't yet) you can watch TV, but if not, there are 5 OTA (over the air) stations that can be received in Red Bay - and they're all Public Broadcasting stations. And Tiffin doesn't provide cable. You just sit and wait for the Tuesday and Thursday priority lists to come out at 3:00 so you can have an idea of when your number will be called. If you're way down the list, say, #10 or higher, you can feel confident enough to venture away from the service center. If lower, you'd better stay put.
Once called though, it can be a great learning experience, as Tiffin allows owners to sit in their coaches while they're being worked on. It can be a great for the owner as you get to see they guys doing the work and ask them questions about the work being done.
Unless you have a dog like Taz.
Tiffin (rightly) doesn't allow pets to be in attendance while the coaches are being fixed. The technicians might make an exception for the little travel dogs many RVers seems to have these days, but a 70-lb shepherd/lab mix is a no-go. Now, you can take your dog to the pet friendly lounge Tiffin provides, unless your dog is a jerk.
Taz is a jerk.
We're working with her, but she gets too excited around other animals because she's never really been socialized around other dogs with few exceptions. She's not nasty or mean - just excitable and a jerk. So now either Barbara has to keep Taz occupied at some nearby park (there are none), and only if the weather is good, or we have to take her somewhere to keep her busy (hours in the Mini Cooper are NOT conducive to a happy dog) thereby keeping the owner (me) from interacting with my expert technicians.
Five days of trying to strike that balance is STRESSFUL. We managed to find a couple of places an hour or so away from Red Bay when we knew the coach was going to be in the service bay for the entire day. Tishomingo State Park on the Natchez Trace was a hidden gem, and Taz got some running around time. But otherwise, we waited. Mostly Barbara waited. In the Mini. With the dog.
Once finished, it's just a 1 day drive back to Georgia, specifically to Blue Ridge to pick up a Snap Pad we lost on our way out the previous month, and stay a night until our site is available in Cleveland, GA at Leisure Acres RV Campground. Not wanting to go through the construction zone at I-65 and I-20 in Birmingham when leaving Red Bay, we take an alternative route offered to us by our GPS program - CoPilot RV. It's supposed to be the shortest route mileage-wise, and doesn't look too bad. It's a 5+ hour drive, with some rural roads near the end. Everything is great for the first 4 hours, and then we hit the rural aspect of the trip. Our GPS decided, even though it knows we're in a 37 ft RV with a tow vehicle programmed into it's settings, that it would be fun to take us meandering along the Oconee River for over 25 miles. Now don't get me wrong; I'm sure it's a lovely drive in our Mini Cooper. One lane each way curving sometimes not so gently around every curve and sharp bend in the river. Not so lovely trying to reef that motor home around those curves in the last hour of a 5 hour drive!
As to the Reflection part, we're in an absolutely lovely spot next to a small pond populated with ducks, who serenade us each morning in hopes of getting fed by us. Barbara bought a nice duck blend of food to keep them happy, and Jace loves to come by and feed them. We sit outside and goof off; Barbara with her crocheting, me napping. We take walks.
I think back to the friends we met while in Red Bay. Jamie and Bob, Jennifer and Harry, and especially Ron and Teri; our next-door neighbors. Ron is retired Air Force and loves to golf, so we have two things in common in addition to RVing. We celebrated our last night together before leaving Red Bay with a dinner down the street, and talked and laughed like people who had known each other for years instead of just meeting each other 2 weeks previous. It's part of the RV experience we had hoped to find, but hadn't up until then. These are all people we hope to see again on the road in the future.
Posts might be few and far between for the next month until we get back on the road, but you never know. Some upgrades are being ordered to be installed before our next trip, and there may be a post or two on those. If not, Happy Thanksgiving and Merry Christmas from Barbara, Taz and me - the Parental Parolees!
A quick walk to Cabinetry was on the docket for 7:00 AM to talk with Dennis. It was supposed to be our next stop on the way to completing our list of issues at Tiffin Service, but a full day had gone by with no call, and we were concerned we had fallen through the cracks in Tiffin's process.
Good news was that our paperwork was sitting on Chad's workstation, and we were called to Bay 25 within 30 minutes. He couldn't fix the minor defect in the woodwork to the left of the residential refrigerator, because to do so meant the entire cabinet had to be removed. It's relatively minor, so we just had him smooth out the finish on one of our closet doors, and we were back in Site 8 waiting for a call from Paint.
Not 5 minutes after jacks down, slides out and power hooked up, there was a knock at our door. The Tiffin paint supervisor got a look at our dimple on the driver's side front cap, showed me another Phaeton down the next row with a similar dimple on the passenger side, and said that Dustin in Bay 23B was waiting for us. Okay!
Dustin has certainly seen this anomaly before. No one has yet figured out why it is happening, but it appears that when they spray the foam inside the front cap, when it sets it seems to pull the fiberglass back into a dimple. Doesn't happen all the time, but depending on the severity of it, they can remove the foam insulation, heat it and push it out, brace it, and foam it back up. If not successful, it's a 4-day process which requires removing the Diamond Shield, fixing it, and waiting 3 days for the clear coat to set before Diamond Shield can be reinstalled.
Thank goodness ours was the former, and in about 45 minutes Dustin had pretty much removed the offending dimple to where if you didn't know we had one, you couldn't find it. These guys at Tiffin are special craftsmen and women.
After a five minute checkout and being presented with four pages of detail regarding our two week visit totaling zero dollars, we're one night away from heading back to Georgia tomorrow morning. A quick checkup of our headlight alignment is being done tonight by the folks at A+ Lighting, an oil change for the engine and generator tomorrow morning at Bay Diesel, and Red Bay will be in our rear view camera, hopefully until we head back here at the end of our first year of warranty.
For those who are unwilling to travel to Red Bay for Tiffin service because you think it's too far away, you need to rethink your objections. It's worth every penny and every minute of your time to experience the exceptional quality and professionalism of the people here, as well as the information you get from the technicians and fellow Tiffin owners during your stay. It is invaluable.
Just do it.
So long, Red Bay! We'll be back next year!
Our second week in Red Bay Alabama at the Tiffin Service Center came to a close with more things being checked off our list, and a feeling that we have less time here in the future than we have been here.
A minor but almost expected setback occurred when I woke up to my 6:00 AM alarm, and headed outside to discover lots of water in our new wet bay and on the ground beneath us. We had planned to go right back into Bay 4 that morning anyway, because David wanted to make sure there were no leaks as a result of the wet bay repairs he and Dave performed the previous day. Not unexpected given the total rebuilt they had to do, so as long as it wasn't a black tank leak (it wasn't – just the gray tank) we could handle it and head back to Bay 4.
Dumping and wiping everything down, we're ready for the March of the Elephants; 40 or more 33' to 45' Tiffin Class A motor homes all starting engines and heading to their respective bays at the same 7:00 hour. It's a sight to see, and even more exciting to be part of.
The two Dave's attack our immediate problem, spending most of the next 4 hours replacing some parts that apparently had more damage than first appeared, and reworking some hard rubber plumbing to prevent cracking or breakage when heading down the road. As 11:00 approaches, the wet bay has been repaired, improved, tested and dried. One final fix of the silverware tray and fortifying the rail system on our main galley drawers (needed due to the pounding we took on the road), and we are released from Bay 4. From fixing everything on our general repair list, to improving things not on the list, to recommending great restaurants to try, we've made new friends and trusted advisers in the two Dave's.
We've experienced first-hand why so many Tiffin owners insist on coming back to Red Bay each year for their service.
Not that we're done and ready to head back to Georgia, mind you. Once released from Bay 4, we head back to Site 8, our home for nearly 2 weeks, and wait for the call to Mechanical. David had said that we were next on their list, so don't hook up anything but power and keep our slides in, because we'd likely get a call when the next mechanical bay became open. Now understand, Tiffin employees work from 7:00 until 11:00 and take their lunch until 12:00, meaning that as the afternoon wore on I was expecting less and less to get our call, so I decided to take a nap.
So of course I get a call about 30 minutes after closing my eyes to get over to Bay 41. Right now. Ahhh, nothing like the retirement life I always say!
Fortunately, there were only 2 things on the Mechanical list; check all our welds of the house to the chassis, and the all-important replacement of our temporary exhaust extension and heat shield lost somewhere on I-85 southbound back in September which had caused so much damage to our wet bay. This next picture is something pretty cool, but also something that, as an owner, you never really want to see; our 37' long, 14.5 ton motor home suspended nearly 6 feet in the air.
Yeah . . .
Right after THAT sight, our 36LA is inexplicably lowered to the ground for about 15 minutes while a conference ensues in our driver and passenger area. For some reason, our home has been powered on at the key level, because our front headlights are now on. Don't know what they're doing and can't ask them, because Mechanical is (rightly) one bay where customers are NOT allowed due to safety reasons. I mean, what isn't safe about a 37' motor home up on jacks, right? The guys exit, and it's back up in the air to have the exhaust extension and heat shield installed. By 3:15 we're back down on all 6 tires with an officially-approved Tiffin heat shield and spot-welded extension. Paperwork is completed to be sent to our next stop – Cabinetry – and day 4 is in the books. I'm told by the technician that they've re-calibrated our Liquidspring system in the process, and I ask him why. He doesn't know; they just did it. “Okaaaayyyyy”, I said. “Thanks . . . ?”
But my day isn't quite done.
Starting up the 36LA, I go to power on my Liquidspring interface to set it for normal ride mode and see something I haven't seen in almost a month; the dreaded warning light and error code saying my ride height sensor needs replacing! Now it dawns on me what they were doing in the drivers area of my home, and while it was nice of them to try to make sure our Liquidspring systems had been set properly before sending us home, they are not privy to the new procedures in power on and powering off the Liquidspring interface. Fortunately, they had our system in normal ride height mode when they shut off the motor home WITHOUT shutting off the interface (a big no-no), but even so, I gingerly drive down the incline away from the building, hoping that my jacks don't bottom out on the way.
Parking the motor home back in Site 8 and powering off my Liquidspring interface before shutting off my engine, I immediately take out the tools of my trade over the past 3 months; a 1/2” socket and wrench, screwdriver, work blanket and a replacement ride height sensor that I might have forgotten to send back to Liquidspring when they fixed our problem last time. I run the jacks up and explain to Barbara what has happened, and get to work. Fortunately (or unfortunately), I've become pretty adept at changing out a ride height sensor since September, and since I now know the right sequence of events I can work underneath with jacks extended, giving me enough room to change this out in about 10 minutes flat.
Lowering the jacks, I start the engine and power up our Liquidspring interface, and I see a beautiful set of normal lights shining brightly. IT'S ALIVE! In an abundance of caution I re-calibrate the system, and after about 2 minutes I'm able to power off, shut down my engine and extend jacks and slides once again in order to enjoy another relaxing evening in Red Bay, Alabama.
I'll be speaking to the guys in Mechanical bay 41 tomorrow morning and handing them an updated Quick Reference Guide from Liquidspring . . .
Next up, the final 2 items on our list!
After two very productive days, we're heading down the home stretch in Repair Bay 4. The two Dave's have cleared everything they can and then some off of our list of things needing repair, and it's time to tackle the last big thing before heading to the specialty shops in the Tiffin Service Center.
Our melted wet bay.
For those who have been catching up on our initial troubles, we lost our exhaust extension and attached heat shield somewhere on I-85 in South Carolina (we think). Hot exhaust gases then found their way onto our wet bay, slagging it down and creating 3 holes to the open air. In addition, it melted insulation around electrical work, and the resulting plastic of the bay found itself melted around the hot and cold water drain lines. Our outdoor shower head was also slagged, and who knew what other damage lay behind the white metal cover of the wet bay controls.
But how do you replace a wet bay, something which the coach is built around after being laid on top of the chassis when it is bare?
Good thing the two Dave's have an idea.
Earlier in the week, they had ordered a 36LA wet bay from Tiffin parts. Don't know if they had to make one from scratch, or if they just happened to have one handy for a future build, but it arrived in Bay 4 Thursday afternoon right around end of shift. David showed Dave (and me) what he was planning to do, and we agreed to meet again at 7 AM the next morning with black and gray tanks empty.
Dawn broke with our coach heavily leaning to the drivers side, so that the most material could be drained from our tanks. After so many days trying to get our motor home to be level, it's a bit unnerving to deliberately raise the passenger side and lower the drivers side as much as we did. Once dumped, I leveled our 36LA in order to bring our main slide in, and it was off to Bay 4!
So, if you've never seen how these motor homes are assembled, there are basement bays on each side of the coach. They're one-piece molded to have one bay on each side, with a connecting pass-through floor attaching each bay. The bays are laid across a bare chassis, providing stability down the road and a sealed unit from the weather. But I only needed the wet bay replaced, and come to find out later, really only the lower tray of the wet bay at that. Disassembling the bay was relatively easy, but the rat's nest of wires and hoses take up a good portion of the morning.
Once opened up wide, the initial plan of dropping the bay on top of the old one was discarded due to the size of the new bay. While it mimics the exact size of the old bay, it's too wide to get into the enclosed bay area once the coach has been built around it.
Undaunted, the two Dave's come up with replacing a progressively smaller portion of the wet bay, finally settling on the bottom portion of the bay where all of the structural damage had occurred. Removing just the bottom, but keeping the upper portion of the existing bay allowed them to bend the new tray into the available space.
The bottom portion was inserted, screws driven into place to lock the whole thing down, and a black plastic sealant slathered around the inside and outside edges to smooth things out and further seal the new wet bay from wind and water.
A new water pump was ordered - another casualty of the heat when it's mounting bracket was partially melted, wires and hoses reattached, and our newly upgraded outdoor shower head installed. A hole is drilled for the sewer hose to drop through the floor, the cover plate screwed down, and we're good to go. It is a beautiful job!
So now we see if any leaks develop this weekend, and if not, our time in Bay 4 will come to a close on Monday morning. We have been blessed to have been assigned such a dedicated and talent pair of technicians in David and Dave, and can only hope our next forays into Mechanical (for exhaust extension and chassis weld checks), Woodworking (for two minor finishing problems), and finally Bodywork and Paint (to fix the softball-sized dimple on the driver's side front cap) will be just as successful. Sadly, these three areas might take an extra week or more to see.
More to come.
6:00 comes early when you have a 7:00 start time in Repair Bay 4. Especially when you're retired and like to sleep in.
But our original list of fixes still needed to be addressed by the two Dave's, so I make the ultimate sacrifice and haul myself out of bed at that ungodly hour. After all, I not only need to get me some breakfast to start the day, but I have to disconnect our power, sewer hose (after dumping, of course – because they might start working on our wet bay depending on how the day goes on our list of items), bring in slides and retract our jacks in order to drive the few hundred feet from Site #8 to Bay 4.
They, and we, are very pleased with the results of the previous day (covered in my last report) after sealing up the many holes in our motor home, thus preserving a great deal of heat and propane in the process. But this list isn't getting any shorter, so it's off to the races!
We had some staple holes developing along the vertical in our bedroom. Rather than play around with matching stain and sanding things down, they simply shifted the Spyder controller inward a ½ inch, then added a thin strip of molding stained to match from floor to ceiling to cover the staples jutting out. Easy peasey! The back wall of our master bath also had an irritating problem. Instead of making it from one solid panel stretching from side to side, Tiffin puts two smaller panels together, and joins them with a strip of tape which matches the color and pattern of the wallpaper in the wall. Problem is, the tape doesn't hold the two pieces together very well, especially if the walls do not meet up flush with each other. A thin piece of super sticky double-sided tape inside, and a couple of screws drilled into beams in the top and bottom of the walls, add some new wallpaper tape, and you have a nice flush back wall.
During the Liquidspring failure, our stacked washer / dryer combo got tossed around pretty good on a very bad stretch of I-81 running through Harrisburg, PA. It damaged the cabinetry inside, broke a cover on the bottom, and tore our dryer vent hose when it pulled away from the wall. The solution: lock the combo down with a couple of L-brackets, after finding a replacement cover and updated dryer hose. The two Dave's had to use an appliance jack to lift the unit up and out before doing all the back end work. Replacement woodwork was ordered and reattached. Beautiful! And the new dryer hose is made of a tear-resistant fabric, so even if the dryer does move, the hose won't get torn. Upgrade!
Both bathroom sinks had problems. The ½ bath drain pipe had separated from the gray tank due to the pounding we took on the road. I had temporarily repaired it using Gorilla Tape, and even though David said the Gorilla Tape would have probably lasted just about forever, they removed my temporary fix and reattached the pipe properly. Also under the ½ bath sink is a plastic air admittance valve attached to the hose which feeds the black tank flush. When flushing / cleaning the black tank, the fresh water being used would leak out into the bathroom before heading to the black tank. Replaced with a brass one.
The full bath sink had a cracked seal right at the drain plug. Replaced with a metal drain plug instead of the original plastic. More upgrades!
Our sliding screen windows have rubber seals, none of which actually seal against the glass when sliding open. Kept us from using our screens to enjoy some fresh air either driving down the road, or sitting in a campground. The space was at least 1/4”, which would let in any enterprising bugs who wanted in. They used a sticky-sided rubber tubing to expand the seal to keep out any and all creepy-crawling things. Lord knows what type of bugs we might encounter on the road, but our windows are now ready for them!
Day 2 has now been completed; internally and externally our coach is as close to perfect as one can be, and all that is left for the two Dave's is to replace our melted wet bay. Wait 'til you see how this was approached, and how good it came out. Stayed tuned for our Day 3 report!
After about a week waiting for the call to get our 36LA to a regular service bay, I was awoken from a sound sleep at 8:44 AM (Hey, I'm retired, OK?), and told to have our motor home in Bay 4 immediately.
Good thing we didn't have a lot of things connected and open. Water had been shut off on Monday due to freezing temperatures, and our main slide had been closed the previous evening for the same reason. We were trying to save some propane, and our RV was having some real trouble getting warm, even with TWO separate propane heaters installed. Despite our best efforts to reduce the volume of air to be warmed, and running our electric fireplace full bore, we could barely maintain 62 degrees inside the coach.
Even though we had list of things that needed to be fixed from to road damage sustained due to our Liquidspring rear suspension not working for about 1000 miles, we mentioned our inability to get warm the previous evening when temps had dropped to about 20 degrees with windy conditions.
Our two repair technicians in Bay 4 are David and Dave. Given my first name, I figured this was destined to be a great visit to Red Bay! They went through our list of repairs with us, but once I mentioned the heating issue, they immediately tossed our list aside to address our lack of heat. After confirming that our propane heaters were both working, they began to circle our home in search of openings where air could get in.
After the first few minutes, it was determined that we were living in the Tiffin Open Road version of Swiss Cheese.
Fully 60% of our basement bay doors had to be adjusted to close more evenly and tightly. Could have been the battering we took on the road, or could have been done during the initial build. No way of knowing. Other holes were areas where Tiffin probably should have used some foam sprayed in after assembly. Bottom-line, there was way too much outside air coming inside the coach, and it was overwhelming our propane heaters and fireplace. In fact, we used 20% of our total propane in just that one cold night!
Fortunately, David and Dave are not only craftsmen, they are perfectionists, and are EXACTLY the reason we bought a Tiffin. While a couple of things were knocked off our repair list, the majority of our first day in Bay 4 was spent closing up literally every place where air could invade the inside of our home.
And the results could not have been better. While the next night was not as windy or cold, it was still hovering around the freezing mark. Instead of keeping our main slide in tight, we decided to test the work done by opening it up to it's full living area. Setting the furnaces to 68 degrees, we sat in toasty comfort for the rest of the evening. Once we headed to bed, we lowered the thermostats to 64 degrees. It maintained temperature for the entire evening, and when we got up the next morning we found out it only used 2% of our propane!
These guys are truly miracle workers. They not only completely fixed the temperature problem, a secondary benefit will be that it makes the motor home quieter going down the road. Less wind noise, and less vibration.
Day 1 is in the books. Day 2 will address bathroom and washer / dryer issues, with Day 3 attacking our melted wet bay. Stay tuned!
November arrived, and it was time to drop off our grandson, Jace, back with his mother. That's because our next couple of weeks were going to be spent in manufacturing / repair environments to get our 36LA back in shape after the pounding it took during our first few months on the road.
For those who have been reading our blog, you know our coach was ordered with a revolutionary new rear suspension from Liquidspring. When it works, it makes our Ford F53 truck chassis ride almost like a much more expensive diesel motor home.
And when it works.
Unfortunately, our Liquidspring system hasn't worked really well since we picked up the coach back in August. Part of the problem was that we had never owned a Class A motor home before and didn't have any way to compare the ride to our new home, so we didn't realize it wasn't working as advertised. Part of it was a driver interface which looked at times like it was working, when it really wasn't. And part of it was a problem with our Liquidspring system itself.
While in New Hampshire back in September, we had a ride height sensor replaced which was giving our 36LA an error message, basically disabling the system because it could not properly adjust the ride height on both sides equally. Based on calls to Liquidspring, this was a first for them, and according to many users of this new system on Facebook and other sites, ours appeared to be a unique problem. Replacing the sensor got us a great ride from New Hampshire all the way down to Pennsylvania, where we stopped for a couple of nights and deployed our leveling jacks. But the ride height sensor appeared to fail again once we powered up before leaving our campground. Very frustrating, and it could not have happened at a worse time, as we were approaching Harrisburg, PA, home to some of the worst roads in the northeast!
Long story short, some significant damage occurred as a result of that drive (we'll detail that in our next blog post, so stay tuned!), but we made it back to Georgia to a campground we were going to stay at for a month, which would give us time to hopefully fix the Liquidspring system sufficiently enough to get us to their factory in Indiana by November 4th. Since the symptom was that any time we deployed our leveling jacks on any kind of significant slope the Liquidspring system would error out, once we replaced the sensor which showed the error we could run as along as we wanted with a working system - so long as we didn't deploy jacks. Great if we got a level site; not so great if it had any slope!
Our final day in North Georgia was a miserable one. We had some significant rain the previous two days, and more rain was expected later in the day, but there was a 2-hour window of no rain in the morning. This gave me a chance to crawl underneath our 36LA and replace the sensor before leaving, hopefully giving us a working system for the ride north. Unfortunately, we were in a crushed rock pad which still had rainwater running through it, and the 36LA was as low as it could be since the rear suspension wasn't working – yet. Oh, and the area where the sensor is attached is right by the exhaust extension and the wet bay of the motor home; the two lowest points on our chassis. Let's just say I wished I was back at my old high school weight of 135 lbs when I was trying to get underneath.
Muddy and wet from rear end to shoulders, I extricated myself from the near-prison I had entered 30 minutes previously, and thank God the Liquidspring system came up and running! Now to make the sprint to Lafayette, Indiana, hopefully finding level campsites along the way. Our first stop was just outside of Lexington, KY in a town called Berea, at the Oh! KY Campground. Nice level pull through site. Quiet. Not much in the way of amenities but they're adding a pool. But since we had made such good time (even in rain and windy conditions) we decided we could stay an extra day just to rest and recuperate. Did NOT deploy the dreaded jacks.
The next day got us to Columbus, Indiana, where we Wally-docked at a local Walmart Superstore. Once again, since the parking lot was level, no jacks needed to be deployed. Liquidspring still running great. Fingers firmly crossed, our final travel day was just a couple of hours away to Lafayette, where we were allowed to boondock in Liquidspring's parking lot.
Early Monday morning, we meet with Chad Wilkins, Customer Service Manager at Liquidsprings. First things first, let's try to recreate the problem. Of course, there's no slope to their parking lot, but Chad wants to go over our procedures to see if we can recreate it anyway. Lo and behold, we get our warning light lit up! This causes Chad to look at our procedures a bit more closely, because he knows the logic behind what his system is trying to do. And it seems as if we were doing something wrong procedurally.
According to Chad, the proper procedure for shutting down the Liquidspring system is to lower the ride height to it's lowest setting, then shut off the interface before extending jacks. We had been keeping the interface up and running at it's normal running height during the jack and slide deployment process, which caused the Liquidspring system to try to compensate for ride height as the jacks were lifting up our coach. Apparently it confused the devil out of the system, causing it to error out.
The good news was that our system was running fine. The bad news was that all our problems were caused due to a lack of documentation from Liquidspring regarding the proper way to operate their system. As Chad explained it, the RV marketplace is new for them, as is the interface that drives their system. Liquidspring has been installed on thousands of ambulances and large ore carriers for years, but those systems are simple on/off buttons, with nothing to adjust both ride comfort and ride height as the RV systems do. And there are no leveling jacks on ambulances.
Just to play it safe, Chad had new ride height sensors installed on both sides of our 36LA while we got a tour of the Liquidspring plant, we received a little bag Liquidspring swag for our troubles, and a promise from Chad that he will update his quick reference guide for RV use. It's been a pleasure to drive about 1000 trouble-free miles with our working rear suspension, and it makes a world of difference in riding enjoyment and less fatigue at the end of a day's drive.
Next, it's on to Red Bay, Alabama, the birthplace of our 36LA and the place where hopefully all our damage will be fixed by the masters at Tiffin!
Hi, I'm Taz! I'm a 9 or 10 year-old Shepherd / Lab mix that my Mom and Dad rescued. I'd like to think I got the best of both breeds. You're obviously not seeing my best side right now, but this picture is entirely appropriate given my lifestyle and Mom and Dad's choice of motor homes.
I used to be a car dog, jumping at every chance to head somewhere down the road, but now I've upgraded to something bigger - but I'm not quite sure it's better yet. Like most dogs, I get used to certain things, and when change happens I get a bit weirded out at times. Like when my "home" walls all of a sudden start closing in on me for the first time. Dad calls them slides, but I know slides and these aren't them! Then right after the walls come in, my home's engine starts up and we begin to move! What the heck ?!?!?!
Anyway, the good thing is that Mom and Dad know what I like, which is a nice, comfy position by their feet. But there's a lot of pedals under Dad's feet in this new home, so that option is out. But they got me a nice soft pad to lay on, where I can look out my own window and step on Mom's feet whenever I want. I'm still a bit nervous about my home moving a lot, so when Mom has to leave her seat every now and again I move over closer to Dad - until she gets back. Then I step on her feet again and lay down by my nice window provided by Mr. Tiffin.
I'm not very different from most dogs, in that I really don't like sharp noises. Mom and Dad added something called a Safe-T-Plus to our new home, and the guy putting it on started up a really loud impact wrench right under my feet, so I had to hide from that under my kitchen table. Good thing Mom and Dad were there to keep me safe!
One thing that is also a bit scary right now is what Mom and Dad call a "campfire". Every once in a while there's this popping sound coming out of the campfire, and that sends me to my safe place.
Under my new home.
But it's OK. I'm kinda a cave dog at heart, so this is just my own personal cave whenever I want it.
I also have a nice bed set up in the back bathroom for sleeping, but I really don't use it much because Mom and Dad really like me sleeping between them on their queen size bed! They don't tell me that in so many words, but I just know it to be true. I'm very perceptive in that regard.
Otherwise, once it stops moving, it's still my home, and once Dad sends the walls back out, I have plenty of room the sprawl, which is what I do best!
We have had one scary thing happen on our first trip, though. Mom and Dad are laughing about it now, but they weren't laughing the other day. Seems as if this thing called an "exhaust extension" got knocked off my home on the way back down from New Hampshire, and caused a lot of heat and fumes to come into my home while we were driving to our current camp site. All of a sudden, this loud beeping noise comes on about 3 feet from where I'm laying. It was VERY LOUD! Mom was in the back picking up something that had fallen off the counter top, and I had no one to hide with or calm me down. So I just ran across to the other side of my home where Dad was driving, and got right on top of his feet! For some reason, Dad didn't appreciate me doing that, because we started going faster and he started yelling for Mom to get me off of his feet.
Some people just don't appreciate a good doggie cuddle. And I WAS scared after all . . .
I found out later that Dad said our CO2 alarm went off, so we opened our windows really wide in hopes the sound would stop, but it didn't until we got to our campsite and got the door opened. Boy, I couldn't get out of my new home fast enough!
Otherwise, this RV life is turning out to be pretty good. I get to go outside with Mom and Dad more than I used to, and they're around a whole lot more because they're doing something called "retirement". If you see me at a camp site you're staying at, don't be shy; I love meeting new people! Not always other dogs just yet (I can take some and leave some others), but with more practice I'm sure I'll be as good at that as I am sprawling.
See you down the road!
OK, so our first major excursion is now complete, and we're back in Georgia to drop off our 3 year-old grandson to his mother. We've spend just about one month on the road (as opposed to sitting and loading the RV for the first couple of weeks, and it's time to give the low down on how our Open Road 36LA (and us) have handled the road.
Tiffin build quality and overall quality – 4.8 out of 5 stars
After the initial leak in the shower, pretty much everything manufactured by Tiffin has met or exceeded our expectations. We've identified a couple of areas of woodwork that will need to be addressed in our first visit to Red Bay, but everything else from cabinets to floor to basement bays is pretty solid. The new dinette chairs for 2020 are wider and are more comfortable, and the extra chairs are sturdy and more than ample enough for any sized guest.
Water systems – 4.9 out of 5 stars
Plumbing is solid, and except for the exceptionally long time to get hot water to the kitchen sink or shower, works very well. The swivel on the kitchen sink is pretty free-flowing (wonder if that is normal or can be tightened down somewhat), and the wet bay works well. Interesting that the black tank flushes with significantly more force than the gray tank, but getting that part done faster doesn't bother me in the least!
Air cooling and heating systems – 5 out of 5 stars
Both A/C's cool very quickly (although we haven't had many days in the high '90's yet) and the furnaces and heat pumps work as advertised. The fireplace is pretty much essential to take the chill off of the living area first thing in the morning.
Kitchen appliances – 4.6 out of 5 stars
This score would have been higher, but the new gas cooktop, while looking great, is pretty weird with the elongated center burner. It might come in handy someday, but I'm not sure when that day will come. The residential refrigerator is great, and the new latches Tiffin uses to lock it closed are working fine (and we've been down some very nasty roads – more to come on that).
Hydraulics system – 4.9 out of 5 stars
The main slide has performed flawlessly, and the levelers have been almost perfect. One leveler in the rear seems to take more time to raise than the others. It usually takes me hitting the auto store button a second time to get the job done.
Carefree awning – 4.8 out of 5 stars
Haven't used it much due to the weather being windy where we've traveled, and it would have received a perfect score if not for the wire that got caught in the front arm support. Tore the wire out of the side of the awning when it got stuck when deploying, but caught it before it could cause too much damage. Big shout out for the automatic rain drain feature which collapses whichever end has the most water weight on it to relive the pressure on the fabric and arms.
Entry steps – 5 out of 5 stars
Hesitated even mentioning this category, because I'm sure at some point this will become a problem and didn't want to jinx things!
Truma AquaGo Comfort hot water heater – 4.8 out of 5 stars
This would have received a perfect score if not for it failing to provide hot water on our last night in New Hampshire (and boy did we need showers that night!). We were at 44% propane level in the coach, so we're not sure if it's an issue with lower pressure from the tank or not, as we filled the tank the next morning on our way out and it has worked fine since.
TV's and other electronics – 4 out of 5 stars
TV's work great. DVD player works fine, unless you want to run it via the remote. Pointing the remote at the IR receiver gets a response from the receiver, but nothing happens. A work in progress.
Liquidsprings rear suspension – 0.5 out of 5 stars
When it works, it's a marvelous technology, but it has only worked a total of 3 travel days out of 12. And when it doesn't work, you have NO SUSPENSION AT ALL on the rear end of your coach! The problem has been some faulty ride height sensors on the driver's side of the 36LA. I'm convinced now the unit wasn't working from day one until we found out it was leaning significantly to the left after leaving Hershey, PA on our way northbound. And unfortunately we were heading up to New England; home of some of the worst roads in America. Needless to say, our home took a beating on the way up, and unfortunately on the way back down, even though we had the ride height sensor changed out in New Hampshire.
Now, to Liquidspring's credit, they have shipped us replacement sensors whenever we have needed them, and done so overnight, but when you're on a schedule with a 3 year-old, you just can't add an extra night at a campground waiting for a new sensor to show up which may (or may not) work when you install it. Liquidsprings claims they got a bad batch of sensors from a third party supplier, and recently shipped us out a new one from a new supplier, so we'll see how this one works.
Unfortunately, the damage that was caused by having no suspension on the rear running on some bad roads is considerable. Minor damage to the bottom panel of the Splendide washer (the unit rocked into the bottom of the cabinet and broke off the snaps to the cover). Major damage to the exhaust tailpipe (lost it completely somewhere on our last travel day back to Georgia), which then allowed hot gasses to meltdown the right side of our wet bay, opening it up to the elements in three separate areas. I'll have to get a new tailpipe and heat shield installed before we can travel again, and figure out who takes care of the cost of the wet bay.
Needless to say, Liquidsprings is not high on out list of third-party providers right now. And sadly, I don't know if the latest sensor will work for a while, or fail again shortly. I have zero confidence in that system right now.
Adjusting to full-time RV living – 3.5 out of 5 stars
There's a certain frustration when you travel with a 3 year-old that can skew your patience level with new things, so I'm sure that this score could have been higher. I'm rolling with the punches a little bit better than Barbara is doing, but then I'm the one who has done the majority of the research beforehand in hopes that I could cope with the inevitable breakdowns and glitches that come with an RV. Not that any level of research could have prepared us for a complete disaster with our Liquidsprings. Still, I think that some of the issues would have been easier to live with if it were just the two of us and we had a rear suspension that worked.
Overall, it's a beautiful home on wheels (the comments we've received from fellow campers and campground staff are always appreciated), and it's running about as well as I imagined it would. And I know it's early. But I optimistically figure things can only go up from here.
So, driving up from Georgia to our eventual destination in New Hampshire, I began to notice a less-than-smooth ride in the rear of our 36LA. Sure, the roads weren't very good in some of the states we passed through, but I was expecting a better ride than what we were getting.
Since we only had a single night in southern Virginia, with an early departure the next day, I didn't have any chance to diagnose what the problem was. I completely forgot about it following the harrowing episode of a FedEx truck causing one of our tow dolly tires to suddenly deflate. It wasn't until after we left the Hershey RV show that I had another chance to try to figure out what was going on.
My first clue was that the Liquidspring interface by the driver kept going crazy; sometimes it showed normal lights, while other times it was flashing odd groups of lights which made it look like it was trying to reset itself. Pulling into a rest area on I-81 just north of Hazelton, PA, I walked around the coach to check everything from basement doors to the toad and dolly. Facing the rear of the coach looking forward, I noticed that our brand new motor home was listing heavily to port (the driver's side for you landlubbers). There was no space between the top of our rear tires on the driver's side, and a good 4-6 inches between the top of the tires on the passenger side and the wheel well.
Catching Wayne Wells from Liquidsping at the Hershey show, he immediately got me in touch with Chad Wilkins, a Customer Service Manager at the home office in Indiana. After a quick explanation of our symptom, Chad ran us through a couple of calibration tests on the driver interface and determined that our ride height sensor on the driver's side was toast.
The good news: they are relatively easily replaced.
The bad news: we had to make the rest of our ride up north without any Liquidspring comfort.
Chad would send our two new sensors (he wanted us to replace both sides) overnight to a friend's house, and sent us a document via email that described how to change them out.
Crawling under these coaches is not an easy task, especially if you're almost 63 years-old; even worse when your camp site is crushed rock. Not a lot of room, and the ride height sensor is above your head and situated where your arms have to curl around some parts of the Ford F-53 chassis. But the good news is that there are only two bolts that have to be removed to replace the ride height sensors, a simple unplug of the old unit, and a clip that has to be removed to put a control rod on the new unit. Plug the new unit in, replace the clip on the control arm, and it's time to calibrate the new units.
Heading inside to the Liquidspring driver interface, you hit both ride height arrows simultaneously to put the unit in calibration mode. The back end of your coach goes through a whole bunch of rises and dips, and after about 2-3 minutes (if you've done things correctly and the units are good) your coach is level and ready to head down the road in relative comfort. Shut off the coach at the key and wait for about 4 minutes, and the new calibration is locked in.
At least, that's the theory.
Not so much when your error code refuses to clear after changing out the ride height sensor.
Looking for a Liquidspring service provider is not easy. Their website shows lots of places in different regions, but once you start calling them you find out that they either only work on ambulances and fire trucks (and those don't really want to leave their comfort zone to work on an RV), or their local shop isn't certified – or trained – or hasn't even seen what a Liquidspring installation is, but some other national branch is, and Liquidspring has added ALL of them to their list.
But Chad from Liquidspring insists that just about any shop could diagnose and work on their product, and fortunately he's right. Calling a local RV repair shop in nearby Nashua, NH, we schedule an appointment for Thursday morning. After about 4 hours, the 3 folks at 1st Priority Towing and Repair have all had a look at this unique system and have figured out the sensor problem and have it fixed.
And what a difference it is! I'm thinking this system wasn't working pretty much from day one, because the difference in the ride is night and day to what we experienced, even coming back from our dealer in Alabama. It's early, but can't say enough good things about the support from the folks at Liquidspring!
We're Dave and Barbara Richard, and we're planning the ultimate retirement experience - travel the U.S. and Canada in style in a Tiffin Open Road 36LA Class A motor home, play golf and stop at every weird and wacky roadside attraction we can find.