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Old 11-23-2004, 11:50 PM   #1
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I'm afraid this is going to be expensive...

Ok, here's the deal. I have been noticing what I think are a number of 'hints' that something is wrong with my trailer, structurally. Here's some of the stuff I have noticed:

1) there is a ridge in the floor running from side to side, about six inches past the front edge of the fridge. Sometimes this ridge seems to be more noticable than at other times. This is even with the battery compartment.

2) while guiding my husband to back it into a driveway, I saw the front of the trailer, right behind the propane tanks, flex as he went over a bump. Many of the rivets on teh vertical seams in that area have been replaced by pop-rivets by the PO.

3) While cranking the tounge up to get it off the ball, I heard a groan and a pop come from midway back on the streetside (about where the battery compartment is).

4) After travelling, when I get the trailer set up and step up into it, there is often a bit of creaking and what I would call the sensation of settling.

5) On this last trip, when we got to the park I noticed a slot cut in the bellypan just forward of the battery compartment, from something on the inside. There is a hole in the floor under the battery compartment, covered by a piece of plywood that I have not been brave enough to remove.

So I am getting the feeling that there is something bad going on under there. I have already replaced the axel this summer, but I know the trailer has had a lot of use in it's past life, including regular trips to Alaska with the previous owner.

I guess what I need to do is take off some of the bellypan and get a peek in there, and see what is going on. I should probably also look at fixing the hole under the battery. I would like to get everything in tip-top shape for our next big round-the-country trip next year.

Anybody got any suggestions as to what I should do first, or what I might expect to find if I start poking around? I'm afraid this could quickly get very involved, and very expensive
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Old 11-24-2004, 02:28 AM   #2
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uuuuuuhhh..

I hope it's NOT this, but it sounds like your frame may be cracked.
However, I did not notice any spongy feeling when I toured your trailer, so the floor is probably solid. I'd peak under that patch, and maybe peel back a bit of the bellypan to peek.

Here's to good findings!
Marc
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Old 11-24-2004, 06:54 AM   #3
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Steph,

Creaking, ridge in the floor, frame flexing, groans and popping, rivets that has been replaced, your trailer is definitely talking to you! I've never dealt with what you are describing but here is my advice!

It definitely sounds to me like an issue with the frame, where it may be giving away. You should definitely get a look at it to see what is going on. However, I think the frame and trailer should be well supported before removing the belly pan. If the frame is flexing it sounds like it may be rusted nearly through. Anything you remove would only weaken it more if it's already that weak. Also, I wouldn't tow it anywhere if it were me at this point until I knew exactly what was going on with it. Be very careful!
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Old 11-24-2004, 08:53 AM   #4
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I'm afraid this is going to be expensive...

Greetings Stephanie!

The symptoms that you describe sound very similar to what I experienced with my '64 Overlander when one of the outriggers just behind the entry door failed - - in my coach it was under the refrigerator. I have also had two acquaintances with Caravels who have had the outrigger below the battery location fail - - in one case the end of the outrigger pierced the banana wrap when it failed. Since I am not a do-it-yourselfer, I had my dealer make the repair and it wasn't as costly as you might expect - - fabrication of a new outrigger with installation was less than $1,000 (I seem to remember that it was closer to $750).

Another possibility that you might want to check is the weight rating of your weight distribution bars. If I remember correctly, your van is a 3/4 ton and it may place you in a situation similar to what I experienced with my Minuet - - over-rated weight distribution bars can cause a number of peculiar symptoms. When towing with my 3/4 ton Suburban, I utilize weight distribution bars rated at 500 pounds (the tongque weight on the Minuet is 575 pounds +/- depending upon the amount of fresh water on-board) - - I will always be thankful for the advice of the Reese technician who first instructed me about the need to use lighter weight-rated weight distribution bars when towing an Airstream with a stiffly sprung tow vehicle as it solved many of the towing issues that I was having with both of my coaches - - I met the Reese technician at the 1998 WBCCI International Rally when I was inquiring about towing issues with my Overlander and then recently acquired Suburban.

Good luck with your investigation!

Kevin
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Old 11-24-2004, 10:25 AM   #5
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Though certainly no expert, I also concur that I feel your problem will end up being an outrigger failure rather than a main frame issue. Hope this is the case.
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Old 11-24-2004, 11:35 AM   #6
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Well then, I guess the best thing to do will be to take a peek in the battery compartment and see what's going on there, since everything seems to be happening around there.

I believe I do have heavy wd bars on my setup as well, Kevin. I bought the hitch used, and the friend who was helping me said it didn't make any difference. Probably working on the 'more is better' theory. Our tow vehicle also has airbags in the rear, which make the ride very harsh, and I'd like to look into putting that back to stock. It's a 1/2 ton E150, and it's supposed to be a passenger van, which should have a slightly cushier ride than it has now.

I'm hoping I can avoid removing the bellypan myself, because if I end up having to take it somewhere to have it repaired, I would have to take the pan completely off or put it back on to move it. The nearest service center is three hours away in Eugene, OR.

I figure as long as the fix costs less than $30,000, it's still cheaper to fix than to buy a new 16' CCD I'll see what I can find out.
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Old 11-24-2004, 11:47 AM   #7
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I don't think I would haul it to a service center, you might end up doing more damage on a 3 hr trip.
I would take it (carefully) to the nearest competent welder, open up the belly, and see what has to be done. If it's just a broken outrigger, a welder can fix it easily. If it's the frame, he can re-inforce it enough to make a trip to the service center.
I would start opening up the belly nearest where you think the problem is. I wouldn't disassemble the whole belly until you have looked at the problem.
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Old 11-24-2004, 12:07 PM   #8
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My husband accused me of being a worrywart when I kept telling him about all these clues I noticed, but when I wrote them all out on the forum (which helped me think it through a bit) I thought wow - that DOES sound bad all together. Probably shouldn't have towed it to the rally this weekend, where the tear in the bellyskin was the last cry for help.

I do think the rest of the floor is quite solid, which is the only reason I didn't worry about it more. I guess I was just figuring the floor is attached to the frame and the shell (except for the hole in the battery compartment), so it should all hold together. Not that I want to keep testing that theory.
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Old 11-24-2004, 12:19 PM   #9
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I doubt its the frame itself - airstream frames are very springy by nature - outriggers very possible - and an easy fix. Another possibility, especially since you said it went to Alaska, is the shell has come loose from the frame. Have you jumped up and down on the rear bumper, and front tongue? If you do that and the shell does not move with the frame, you many need to refasten the shell to the frame. I found that even though the floor was solid in my 58, the bolts had pulled through the plywood. The fix in this case is more time than money - check it out and if the shell is loose, we can walk you through the fix - which will require surgery.

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Old 11-24-2004, 01:44 PM   #10
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Can't offer an opinion but I am offering moral support. Get brave! Look! Someone here has to have had the same problem! LJ
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Old 11-24-2004, 02:33 PM   #11
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Portable welding...

Stephanie,

It does sound to me like at least one problem is something like a broken outrigger. I have one near my battery box that was broken. It also cut through the bananna wrap in that area. I am visiting in Seattle for the Thanksgiving holiday but when I get home I can get you the name and phone number of the welder that I called to come do some on-sight work for me. You saw a sample of his work when you inspected the new rear cross-member I showed you when you and Dave visited me the other day. I guess my point is that anything you discover under the floor that needs to be welded could be fixed at your place without having to take the trailer anywhere. This basically means you can take off as little or as much of the belly pan as you need to find out what is going on under there. It could also be that some of the fasteners that hold the floor to the frame or the body to the floor may have rusted through or broken. If you do have a broken outrigger this could have put extra strain on something else and pulled some screws loose where the body attaches to the floor in that area.

My suggestion to you would be to consider taking off the whole belly pan so that you can fully assess the condition of the frame under the floor. While this can be a dirty job it is not terribly difficult to take off or to re-install. You can put the belly pan back on with stadard pop-rivits. Also I think that most everything that could possibly be a problem of the type that you are describing would be visible (and fixable) from underneath. One problem that I had with getting my belly pan off was in the area of the axles. They were so tight to the belly pan that I had to actually drop the axles to be able to get that part of the belly pan off. Also if you are not ready to take the whole belly pan off I think that you could start with viewing the problem area first and look at as much as you can see from there. That may give you enough clue as to whether or not you need to go further.

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Old 11-24-2004, 04:19 PM   #12
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Ya know what I would do (besides what I mentioned above) is before you remove the belly pan is feel along the belly pan where the outriggers are - if you have one loose, you should be able to feel it. I would not remove the whole belly pan - at most I would loosen it and take a flash light and see if I could find anything wrong with the frame/outriggers. If you find something, you can always cut that area of the belly out and patch later.

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Old 11-24-2004, 04:30 PM   #13
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Thank you all, many good ideas to start with. It really does help me think it through. I think tonight I will begin by removing the gaucho to a safe location, and pulling up the plywood patch under the battery. I don't know how big the hole is under there yet. Then we'll see about the bellypan.

I was hoping to avoid removing the entire bellypan, as it is very tight under the new axel, and I also had new propane lines installed this summer, which are attached to it. I think removing it in sections would be best.

I suspect that the flex in the front might be the broken tounge to frame gussets we discussed in another thread. The creaking/settling/ridge in the floor/slice in the bellypan all seem to be related to the hole under the battery compartment, at least they are pointing to that area. So I might be dealing with two problems.

Thanks for the offer of a welder's name, Malcolm. It's good to have someone who's already done similar work to call. Having a look around your project was a big help in understanding how it all fits together, so thanks for that too.
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Old 11-24-2004, 06:04 PM   #14
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Flexi-Flier

Steph,
I'm reasonably sure that you will find a broken, loose or otherwise undesirable situation when you're investigating.
However, some creaking and popping seems normal. My Tradewind is solid as a rock now, and it still pops and creks at times when spotting it into a campsite, or when dragging it out of the sand in Baja. I can see the entire side sheet move slightly when making tight turns. This had me very worried at first, but then I realized how flexible an Airstream frame really is, while working on my Overlander.
Don't panik - just start removing things until you find the problem.
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