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!
I really hate FedEx drivers, but you'll have to wait until the end to find out why.
Two days into our first trip in the 36LA, and here are a few random thoughts:
Thus far, I can only say that Tiffin makes a great coach. I know it's only two days into actually driving down the road, but this particular unit has performed spectacularly.
Big shout out to the folks at Safe-T-Steer. Had a 7:30 appointment at their Austell factory location, and they got us in at 7:15, had the product installed by 7:45, and finished the road test by 8:30. Couldn't have been any easier, and the results are great! I think the best way to describe it is that it tightened the looseness of the steering, and keeps the front end tracking straight. It no longer feels as if I am wrestling a snake when trying to stay in my lane. I don't think I'd even feel comfortable driving with just one hand, but I think could if I wanted to.
Packed up our 3 year-old grandson, Jace, and headed north on 85 to the first Pilot gas station. Got each axle weighed at a CAT scale behind the Pilot, and was pleasantly surprised to find us slightly underweight. About 700lbs light on the front axle, and just over 1000 lbs light on the rear. Considering we still have camp chairs, a grill, and an outdoor table to buy, we'll need the extra capacity.
This Ford V10 really has some power. Sure, it's not some big Cummins diesel, but heading over the mountain dividing North Carolina from Virginia, I was going 50-55 mph, and passed a number of 18-wheelers. And except for glancing at my rear view camera every now and again, I don't even know we're towing our Mini Cooper and dolly behind us.
Stayed at Pioneer Village campground the first night in Max Meadows, VA. Nice campground with lots of pull-through sites, good power and water. Quiet enough, and you will hear some traffic noises from nearby I-81 at night, but they're not distracting.
Headed north on I-81 up what I've called the spine of Virginia, as it parallels the Blue Ridge mountains to the right. Jace has been very good through these two days, and we've tried to keep him active at each stop we make. I will say that setting up and taking down his bed each day is going to become tedious in a few days. Makes me wish we had opted for the drop down bunk when we had this built.
Even fellow RV-ers can be inconsiderate. Stopped for gas at another Pilot, and was pulled in behind another Class A that was just finishing gassing up. Even though the guy saw us waiting, he put the nozzle away, went into the building, and cam out 10-15 minutes later with a couple of cold drinks for him and the missus!
There can be some bad roads out there, but the worst part of driving is going over each and every bridge. It seems that transitioning smoothly from one surface to another is a lost art in state and federal governments.
So we're heading across the little portion of Maryland on I-81. Maybe 15 miles in distance, and most of it under construction. Speed limit is supposed to be 55 mph, and I'm doing 50 mph in the right lane. Both lanes have been narrowed to just 11 feet in width, with Jersey barriers on each side. All of a sudden, I feel a heavy push on the RV to the right, because a FedEx tandem rig is passing me on the left, going at least 70 mph. I manage to keep the RV off the barriers, but somehow the tow dolly holding the Mini has a right tire going flat. That's because I can see it and hear the alarm on our TST tire pressure management system. Still in the construction zone, I take the next exit and find a storage field for 18-wheel trailers on the right just as the pressure hits zero.
Finding a tear in the side wall of the tire as the culprit, we begin the task of changing the dolly tire. I had ALMOST opted to not buy a spare tire for our American Car dolly, but added it in at the last minute. Good thinking on my part, as it was sitting in the rear bay of the 36LA. Improvised using the jack from the Mini on the dolly, and got the lug nuts off with our trusty star wrench each of our cars has had since the beginning. Also had the Viair pump handy to add the right pressure into the spare tire to satisfy the settings on our Tire Pressure Management System, and away we went after about an hour. Needless to say, prior planning prevents poor performance was in play this afternoon.
But here's my rant about FedEx truck drivers. In just two days, I've seen these jokers break every speed law on regular roads with their tandem rigs, but worse yet is their gross disregard for speed limits in construction zones. The guy who pushed the Mini close enough to the Jersey barriers to kill the dolly tire was going at least 70 in a 55 mph zone, with lanes just wide enough for both of us with no extra room to spare. These drivers are a menace on our roadways.
At least the Western Village RV park we're staying at in Carlisle, PA is really nice at the end of a stressful day. Nice shady sites with lots of amenities for kids and adults.
Tomorrow it's on to the Hershey RV show!
When last we left our readers, I had finished off installing a series of upgrades to our new home, and had just finished a quick shower before heading to bed, only to discover a bit of water coming out under the shower onto the floor.
After a restful night's sleep the next morning, we let the good folks at Marlin Ingram know about this little problem, and thus begins a very long day.
These motor homes are built for the customer, but not for the service people who have to work on them. In the case of our drain problem, there is one 6” by 4” panel on the floor where someone can reach into by hand to see what is going on, and a side access to the shower after removing a set of bedroom drawers and our inside breaker and fuse panel. While the guys take apart our brand new coach, Barbara and I sit and surf the internet waiting patiently. After all, not being able to use the shower is a pretty big thing!
As minutes turned into hours, and the working area expands into our bedroom, we begin to become concerned. We had planned for an early start from Montgomery in order to miss Atlanta traffic and to get into our camping spot up in the North Georgia mountains long before dark. Morning turned into early afternoon, and the diagnosis was that the primary drain pipe had a small crack and needed to be replaced. Problem was, there were no replacements in stock! The part was ordered and was expected to be delivered THE NEXT DAY between 10 and 2. Minor problem: Barbara and I both had shifts to work at our respective stores the next day.
Seeing our dilemma, the folks at Marlin Ingram got creative. Most people would call what they did “Robbing Peter to pay Paul”. They found another unspoken for Tiffin Open Road on the lot and stole the drain pipe from that unit in order to get us on our way, and would use the replacement part in that one the next day. But they still had to install the part in our shower, and test it to make sure it was working.
At this point, you need to know that from the very beginning, our plan to full time was based on the 330 rule of RV-ing: Don't drive more than 330 miles per day, and arrive at your destination by 3:30 in the afternoon so that you can setup your spot in daylight. My goal as an RV-er was to never know if my headlights worked.
That goal went out the window on our first day. (And BTW, the headlights need adjustment)
Because once the repairs were complete, it was now past 4 in the afternoon, and we had AT LEAST a 4-hour drive back to North Georgia. Grateful for the efforts at Marlin Ingram, but a bit tired and frustrated at the loss of a day, we headed out. Figuring it was better to fill up sooner than later, we stop at a Love's about 25 miles out of Montgomery. Got my first expected sticker shock when the receipt for gas came to just under $100. After usually spending just a bit more than $20 to fill up the Mini Cooper on a near-empty tank, this half tank fill up of the motor home was certainly different.
Driving into the oncoming night, Barbara and I both realize that one of us (me) is going to be Wallydocking this even, while the other will spend the night in the apartment with Taz. Proper etiquette for Wallydocking (boondocking at a WalMart) is to check with the store manager to make sure it's OK to stay in their lot overnight (usually is, but sometimes local ordinances prevent that) before bedding down for the evening. Oh, and you should always spend some money at the store to thank them.
Grabbing a Subaru full of storage bins and boxes, I hit the bed hard, because moving day was tomorrow . . .
Ever stuff 10 lbs of sausage into a 5 lb casing? That's what it felt like bringing all the stuff we had designated for the road (and some things we hadn't) into a 37 ft motor home. The good news is, I can't be blamed for this. Even Barbara admitted she packed too much stuff. The bad news is, it had no place to go except in the limited storage facility we had left, get thrown away – or it went into the RV.
At the end of the week at Paradise Valley Campground, we finally had everything packed away – even if some of it hadn't found it's permanent home. What the heck; we're retired. We'll have plenty of time to weed out the things that shouldn't have come, and rearrange the rest. My biggest concern is our overall weight, and the weight on each axle, which we'll find out the day we head north to New England.
The good news s that our 36LA has performed flawlessly this first week, even if Taz isn't 100% sure of where she's at and why her home moves and why the slides go in and out. Barbara is very glad I took the time to do the homework I did over these past few years, because there have been no surprises or questions that haven't been answered. I'm sure that won't stay that way, but it's been a great 10 days of everything we expected.
What a day! Woke up on Tuesday, August 27th at 5:15 for an intended 6:00 start to beat Atlanta traffic. Actually left at 6:15 due to more than expected items being packed into the back of our trusty Subaru Forester. We didn't take our Mini this time, because we had company for the trip over to Marlin Ingram RV in Montgomery, AL. Due to a delay in delivery of our American Car Dolly we needed someone to drive our car back to the Atlanta area, because my DW, Barbara, was NOT going to miss that first drive in our new home by having to trail the 36LA all the way back to North Georgia – and I couldn't blame her. So our youngest daughter, Alicia and our 3 year-old grandson, Jace, were also loaded into the back of the Subaru.
Note to self: Don't wake up a 3 year-old early if you want an uneventful 3 hour drive.
Anyway, 4 hours later we arrive at our destination, and Beth Morang, our sales rep, takes us down to see our new home. It's tucked underneath one of the open service bays, plugged in and ready for inspection. No house we've ever moved into has looked as beautiful as our 36LA does with it's vivid Pacific Blue top and Ice White base with dark and light gray accent colors. Everybody agrees that it's a statement coach, and who are we to argue?
So now we're ready to do some paperwork; as in pay for our new home. Nope. Paperwork is important at Marlin Ingram, but the customer experience comes first. Time for our PDI and a test drive to make sure everything is good to go! And again, who are we to argue?
In we go, and we get our first look at a finished dark mocha interior with creamy white furniture and sandy colored flooring. Even the gray wallpaper which cause a brief moment of concern a few weeks ago is a nice offset to the brighter furniture, and all is right with the world according to the love of my life. As we take in the beauty of the craftsmanship of the woodwork and interior, Jace immediately does what all 3 year-olds do; finds buttons and switches to push – and in a motor home, there are a LOT of buttons and switches to push!
Tying him up (OK, not really, but I did find myself wishing I had brought a roll of duct tape with us), we keep Jace occupied for about 10 seconds before he finds the remote (what IS it with these kids and electronics?) for the fireplace, and now we (and he) know the way to turn it off and on for the effect and for the heat. Thanks, buddy! Now that his mom is off the phone (after also finding out he now knows how to release the catch on the sliding door to the bedroom) Alicia and Jace get down to unloading the Subaru into some of the many basement storage compartments so that she can head back to Georgia, and we can get back to discovering our new digs in earnest.
In the entirety of our inside look at the 36LA, Barbara spots one – ONE! - noticeable defect in the finish; an area of woodwork by the freezer door which will need some minor touch-up in Red Bay once we get around to taking care of warranty work before our first year is up. I find a small dollop of caulking in a dark area under the main bath cabinetry. And just like that, we're outside going through basement storage bays, and the first of our surprises.
The first front passenger bay has always, in the 3 years we've been looking at the 36LA, been just for storage and a couple of electrical outlets for when you need power outside the coach. Not anymore! Open it up, and there's the battery disconnect and a new inverter disconnect switch installed in that bay. Now, battery disconnects are supposed to be close to the batteries themselves, so we're kind of surprised to see this all the way to the front of our coach, when the batteries have, for the past 2 years, been installed in a sliding tray in the very last bay of the coach. Heading quickly to that bay, we find it empty and it's reverted to it's past use as open storage! But where are our house batteries?
Back under the entry steps, where they had been in years previous; that's where! Not a big issue, as there is a trade-off to the placement. On the minus side, having that pull out tray made battery maintenance relatively easy, but it ate up some storage which can come in very handy for us full-timers. So on the plus side, getting back that storage bay is great. Makes me wonder if the Liquidspring option we ordered for our model had something to do with the shift, since the rear end of the 36LA has some pretty significant modifications to make the ride go smoother. Maybe Tiffin thought having the power components back there was no longer a good fit with that option. We'll ask them later.
Outside inspection completed, it's time for my second experience behind the wheel of a moving RV, but THIS time it's ours – and it hasn't even been paid for yet! And I gotta tell you, it's both scary and nice at the same time. Look, these gas motor coaches will never be as quiet going down the road as a higher priced diesel model, but they cost about $100k less than a similarly equipped diesel and they're still quiet enough at highway speeds to have a normal conversation in them.
The Liquidspring option performed as advertised, as we had multiple 18-wheelers pass us with nary a shift or shimmy in the 36LA, and we were even passed by a wide load transporting a large pool! Found myself creeping past the 70 mph mark (again!) just as I did two years ago at the Tampa show during a test drive of a similar model. This Ford V-10 with the 6-speed transmission has no problem moving this 26k lb chassis down the road, especially with MY foot on the gas!
Back at Ingram, I back the motor home into it's former spot with just one adjustment, and we have a chance to just sit and experience our new home while we wait for the office manager to process the paperwork. We'll be spending the night in the coach, giving us a chance to relax a bit, and giving me a chance to install some third-party mods that will make our lives easier once we get on the road. First come the Snap Pads. These are attached to the bottom of the jacks which level the RV. It saves my back from bending over each and every time we park somewhere having to slide pads underneath the coach and making sure those things are centered. These literally snap onto the feet of the jacks and remain attached as you drive down the road. Barbara and I also get to try out our new walkie-talkies since she has to lower our jacks manually from the inside a little at a time so I can line up the Snap Pads.
That accomplished, I now move onto installing our Tire Pressure Management System, or TPMS. Six sensors are programmed into a central monitor; one for each tire. The sensors are then screwed onto each tire's air valve so that pressure and temperature can be monitored while going down the road. These systems can sometimes give the driver ample warning of a tire issue before a catastrophe can happen, and it's something I'd rather have on the RV at the start. While screwing on the sensors for the rear duallys, I find that one extender doesn't allow any air flow, while another extender is very loose. Something for the folks at Marlin Ingram to look at the next day before we shove off.
Deciding I've sweated enough, it's time to try out the shower with our Truma continuous hot water heater. Took a quick Navy shower, where you wet down, shut off the water and soap up, then hit the water again to rinse off. Think of this as practice for when we boondock for multiple days when water conservation is critical. Drying off, I notice a bit of water coming out from under the shower onto the floor. Looks like something else has to be looked at by Marlin Ingram service in the morning.
To be continued . . .
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.