RV Brakes and Suspension
We've had some suspension work done that made a major improvement to the handling of our motorhome, and we also got a brake job. Here's the story:
As you know, we have a 1996 Fleetwood Southwind motor home. It's 37.5 feet long, on a 1995 Chevrolet P-30 motor home chassis. The P-30 has never been known as a good driving platform, so many suspension mods are available on the aftermarket. At the RV rally in Redmond, OR earlier this month I met a team from Brazel's RV Performance in Centralia, WA. These guys seemed like a top notch group, so I took a brochure. Later, I checked them out on the internet at RV Service Reviews, http://www.rvservicereviews.com/ and researched them by doing a search on http://www.rv.net/forum/. They checked out it seemed, so I called them. They gave me ballpark estimates over the phone for 4 shocks and a sway bar, and scheduled me in for the following week.
Brazel's RV in Centralia, WA. My RV is on the left, under the "Brakes" sign
When I arrived a very sharp and friendly mechanic named Ken was assigned to my job. He took me on a fairly long test drive, then pulled the RV up on the pit and did a thorough chassis inspection. I had also requested a brake inspection, so another mechanic named Mike did that. This was no casual glance folks. This was the most complete inspection I've seen done, pulled every wheel, pulled the drums on the tag axle, etc. During some parts of this I watched. They didn't mind at all, nothing to hide here! Shop is clean and modern and all the mechanics and techs are professional.
After the inspection Ken told me what he found on the suspension. He gave me a list of items that could be done, then helped me prioritize them to get the most "bang for my buck" right now.
Improving the Handling
Although several front end components were worn, none were serious enough to need replacement as a safety issue. These items included both bell cranks, the drag link, and both upper control rods/bushings. We could do them now if I'd like, or let them go about another 10k miles.
Several components could be replaced to improve suspension performance, and these are the ones I elected to do:
New Bilsteins on the front
New Koni's on the rear, also new polyurethane bushings on the sway bar
Puny old sway bar
Beefy new sway bar with polyurethane bushings
One thing we didn't do was replace the shocks on the tag axle. Ken said it's only carrying about 3,000 pounds, the OEM shocks if not defective are adequate, and I wouldn't be able to feel any performance improvement by changing them out. Let me interject here that on several occasions the folks at Brazel's saved me money by passing up opportunities to sell me stuff that I didn't really need, at least not right now. This example with the tag axle shocks is one instance. I'll point out the other two when I get to them. For the work I did get done, Brazel's wasn't "cheap", but they did charge a fair rate and the quality was worth every penny!
Making her Stop
As I mentioned, the motorhome's brakes needed attention too. We had the following work done:
On the brake job, they could have sold me new rear rotors because the old ones had very minor "checking", tiny cracks in the surface. They gave me the option and I decided to not replace them.
WOW did these mods make a difference! I could feel the difference on the first curve and it was significant. If you have an older P-30 motorhome chassis I highly recommend these changes to give yourself much improved handling. This is especially true if you have the original OEM shocks (which I did with 70k miles). I also noticed improved stopping, smoother, with less noise (rear pads had been almost worn out)
A Problem Occurs
After visiting Mt. St. Helens we headed out for the Pacific coast of Oregon. On the way we noticed several times there was a "pop" from the front end when steering in city traffic. This happened about 5 times total. Concerned, I called Mike (the manager, not to be confused with Mike the mechanic) at Brazel's and asked when they could get me back in. They said ASAP, they would take care of me as soon as I arrived. Even though they were busy, true to their word, Ken came out and looked at the coach within 10 minutes of our arrival. He and Mike talked it over, and decided I must have been hearing the frame cross member moving around under the increased load of the stiff swaybar and shocks. He checked and found the cross member bolts loose. He tightened them, and "double nutted" them to lock them in place and ensure they didn't loosen again. No Charge :-)
So, if you ever need RV chassis work of any kind I recommend Brazals. This includes performance tuning, they have a Dyno that will accommodate any size coach, and they can program your engine management computer for your specific application and the kind of driving you do. This is not a one size fits all "chip", it's custom reprogramming.
Plans for the Future
So, what does the future hold for our RV? We think the front end components have a good 10k miles in them before really needing replacement. By that time we'll be back in Washington State (Summer of 2006) and plan to have Brazel's rebuild the front end, with upgrades to Super Steer bell cranks, and maybe SuperSteer coil springs too. We're lucky that the airbags on our coach are still in good shape. If one of them goes out it's just not money well spent to replace it. Instead, we'll go with the improved springs and no airbags.
2007 Update -- we had additional work done in July '07. Click Here to read about it.