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Old 07-19-2021, 10:05 AM   #1
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My Equalizer hitch was damaging my Airstream!

Last week was quite a week for us. Had my appointment at the Can Am RV service center (2000 km round trip) to have my trailer raised (we do lots of boondocking and getting on ferries that operate in tidal zones to get to our favorite camping spots was an issue with our low riding AS).

Knowing that when you raise the trailer you need to raise the hitch head, or lower the brackets (or both) and/or change the number of washers to adjust the angle of the head to maintain proper pressure for weight distribution and proper friction for sway control, I was looking forward to meeting Andy Thompson, one if not the most experienced expert in these matters, thinking about and working on Airstreams and hitches for the past 50 years.

Well I got more than I bargained for. As many of us on this forum, I am allergic to BS, and I can confirm that Andy is one of us. He looked at my hitch (which I was really pleased with) examined and pressed the front end of my trailer (2016 28’ International) and said in his matter-of-fact style “we have a problem here”. Sure enough, the front panel was no longer fixed to the vertical ribbing or to the bottom frame channel. The panel was loose and the rub rail was at least ¼” removed from the panel. What the %#$& was going on?

During the two days my trailer was in one of the nine Can Am service bays, I was able to ask Andy a fair number of questions (he is a hands-on walk-around-the-shop-floor kind of leader, in continuous exchange with his tech and service staff as well as with customers). I ended up getting a short master class in road dynamics, Airstream construction and the marrying of trailers to tow vehicles. Given that they regularly repair front ends like mine for the same reason, I thought it may be useful to share this on AirForums.

Wally Byam created quite a unique vehicle, a hybrid frame-monocoque construction, borrowing the aluminum riveted monocoque (or “single shell”) from the airplane industry and the frame from the automobile industry (although today’s cars are welded steel monocoque constructions). In a monocoque car, the body is the car, and the car is the body; in our pickups, the frame is the truck and they bolt a cab on the front and a box on the back. An Airstream combines both with a double walled shell riveted to the frame to form a unit; the frame and the shell move as one (or at least they are supposed to). An aluminum shell on a steel frame certainly has advantages but also some drawbacks, as I have experienced.

In all vehicles, steel frames flex. This means that when an Airstream frame flexes, this puts stresses on the shell, which brings us to road dynamics and hitches.

Andy asked me to stand in front of the trailer between the propane tanks and the trailer front end and observe the spot where frame ‘enters’ the trailer. He went inside by the door (we have an RBQ floor plan) and swung his weight a few times up in down, and sure enough I could see the frame flex! This is perfectly normal in an Airstream.

Frame flex is generated from road conditions under the trailer’s axels/wheels, which is why Airstreams chose a soft Dexter suspension and why proper trailer tire air pressure is so important; flex also comes from the trailer-TV connection, hence the importance of the hitch.

My hitch came with the trailer (originally purchased in Arizona) and has the square 1200 lbs WD bars and my TV is a ¾ ton GMC Sierra Duramax. I was assured that the tongue weight is not a problem for the trailer frame and it certainly is not a problem for the TV. The weight transfer effect of the WD bars onto the truck were minimal given its length and mass since transferring weight to the front axle of a loaded 22’ long ¾ ton diesel truck requires lots of leverage from the hitch end. So the Equalizer bars were mainly used for sway control, the more pressure applied to the L brackets the more friction was generated and the more sway control produced. I didn’t measure the pressure on the L brackets, but without the jackets they certainly screeched loud and clear!

So my TV was solidly connected to my trailer, it rode smoothly without porpoising when crossing railroad tracks or road bumps or whatever conditions the road threw at us, and there was no sway whatsoever. But little did I know that this “solid connection” between the trailer and the TV was damaging the trailer.

It turns out a hitch is not just a means to link a TV to a trailer; it is in fact a suspension system to smooth out the stresses transferred from the towing vehicle. And in my case, with my setup, the transfer was pretty direct, no smoothing. Any vibration on a rough road or any vertical displacement of the TV was transferred to the trailer’s frame through the WD bars. And since the front of the trailer is riveted to the frame (as is the rest of the body), if the frame movement is too pronounced it eventually creates enough stress to separate the aluminum shell from the frame.

The solution was to 1) repair the front-end of the trailer, which was expertly done (Can Am has done it many times) and it is now stronger than it was originally, and 2) change the dynamics between the trailer and my TV so it doesn’t happen again.

For the hitch, it was necessary to separate the sway control function from the WD function. I always thought the Equalizer concept of combining both was neat, which is fine in ideal road conditions. But it turns out that if you are in a situation where you have vertical movement of the TV relative to the trailer (a bump or hole), the pressure on the L brackets varies and can decrease significantly and you lose sway control. If this happens on a highway on-ramp for example or if you have to avoid an obstacle and you are not on a smooth level road, it could mean trouble.

As for the WD function, I needed a flexible means to buffer the vibrations and vertical displacements (e.g. road bumps) between the truck and trailer.

The solution was a separate sway control mechanism (Husky) combined with a 14000/1400 lbs capacity hitch (Eaz-Lift) with very tapered and flexible 1000 lbs bars which do all the flexing (a form of suspension) to minimize/smooth the stress transferred to the frame from the TV.

Andy worked with and tested many different hitches over the years (they installed many Hensley/ProPrides for example) and this one is the most flexible and least stressful for the trailer (he also chose it to hitch his Tesla to his Airstreams- he is regularly invited to give talks on towing with Teslas). He also recommended 10-12 psi in my Air Lift airbags to further reduce TV road vibrations since they offer a softer ride than the steel leaf springs (air pressure to be adjusted according to truck bed load), and to reduce rear tire pressure from the door jamb recommended 80 psi (air pressure to be adjusted according to truck bed load), and finally to replace the lowest bidder OEM chocks on the front end of the TV with Bilsteins for a more stable ride in rough conditions.

Andy test drove the rig with a sharp right-left obstacle avoidance manoeuver (my heart skipped a beat) and the rig snapped right back into position.

The ride home was great. It was a softer ride (my wife noticed it right off). On the 401 highway (from Toronto to Montreal, light Saturday traffic) we saw a trailer and TV turned over and jackknifed (both were totalled); the first responders (police, fire trucks, tow trucks) were there but there didn’t seem to be any injuries. It convinced us even more that it was worth the time and investment to get our rig properly set up (and better able to get onto ferries!). Safe driving!
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Old 07-19-2021, 10:33 AM   #2
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Don't blame it all on the hitch...🥴

.... but it really wasn't all the hitches fault.
It did require a human to install and they are the ones at fault for not getting it right the first time. We used an EQ for 8 yrs, no concerns. With the properly rated bars the hitch wouldn't have 'caused' it, any hitch.
A compliant connection between AS & TV is paramount in preventing OTR damage.

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Old 07-19-2021, 10:38 AM   #3
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That's a great and insightful story Hermes. I closely follow Andy's posts and information. Shaped over decades of practically experience.

Glad he set your rig up for the better and he is really the master.

Personally, I don't believe there is anything inherently wrong with using an Equalizer. It is in fact the de-facto and most often used WD hitch market. Like Andy, it didn't pass the test of time if it were ineffective.

That said, there are items to watch for. The Equalizer is known for stiff linear rate bars. As opposed to progressive rate tapered bars. The linear rate bars can have advantages for ease of setup, robustness to changing loads in the TV and trailer, and stability against porpoising. Yet it can have impacts when it is misused.

1) Applying too much WD tension, or going past 50% FALR (Front Axle Load Restoration). As you said, it's a spring, and the spring rate is high. Pre-load the tension too far, and it can produce serious forces that may cause other structure to bend.

2) Using overly heavy rated WD bars. 1k bars are probably the heaviest bars to be used by any Airstream. 1200bars are indeed much too heavy. 750lb bars would likely have sufficed in your application. It's not truly just about how heavy the tongue is, rather how much WD tension augmentation the rig needs, to be stable. Which brings me to #3

3) Combine #1 and #2, with a large, robust, and heavily sprung tow rig, and it's a recipe for popped rivets. As mentioned, hitches need to articulate. If the WD bars are unyeilding, and the tow vehicle suspension and structure are unyeilding - somethings going to give. An HD truck is inherently designed and more stable for heavy loads. Because of that, should only need relatively little stability augmentation from a WD hitch.
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Old 07-19-2021, 10:41 AM   #4
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An excellent post. Lets see some photographs of the Equalizer and attached to the Airstream. Seeing is to understand these situations, better.
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Old 07-19-2021, 11:44 AM   #5
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I can’t disagree with anything said by you, Bob or Pteck. I have the same tow vehicle as you and had the same issue. I had mine repaired under warranty by Airstream. Prior to that I reached out to a couple of resources on the Forum as to what causes frame separation. One of those was Andy. The other stated something that hasn’t been mentioned yet. I recall that person telling me that when Thor acquired Airstream through an acquisition of Beatrice, (I think this was the prior company that owned Airstream), they made some cost cutting moves that wouldn’t be readily apparent to the eye. One of those areas was in the construction of the front end area frame / subfloor and shell and this was when the frame separation issues started appearing.

As Bob and Pteck have kind of mentioned, it’s not just the hitch or the tow vehicle or the Airstream, it’s considering all factors in and putting a system together that minimizes the issue from occurring. Everyone’s situation is uniquely different. Andy could beef up the construction of your front end but if you keep the same tow vehicle / add 1400 WD bars to it / run all your tires at max pressure and really try to shift weight on a 3/4 ton pickup then you’d probably have the same issue again.

I was also told this is more prone to occur with trailers that have a front storage compartment. In my case, the JC Service Tech said there are 4 ribs that extend from the top of the RV to the subfloor at the front of the RV. The 2 that were on either side of the storage compartment did not extend to the subfloor. With the other 2 outer ones, the L-bracket that connected the rib to the subfloor was cracked so there was no support there. The other L bracket was merely screwed into the subfloor. So, where there should have been 4 structure points connecting to the subfloor there was only 1 left that was working and it was only screwed in. Regardless of what hitch or tow vehicle you had, in this situation there was going to be an issue.

JC repaired these issues and the Techs were great to work with. I have since adjusted my air pressure to accommodate the loads carried (with some margin) / added better shocks to my TV and made changes to my Equalizer hitch (Gen-Y torsion flex) to absorb and vibration from the TV to RV and vice-versa. The ride is much improved and no issues since then. I use 1000 lb WD bars but could probably get by with 750.
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Old 07-19-2021, 12:32 PM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ray Eklund View Post
An excellent post. Lets see some photographs of the Equalizer and attached to the Airstream. Seeing is to understand these situations, better.
Thanks Ray, but sorry, the Equalizer is now "in storage" so I don't have any pictures. But to be honest, except for the square 1200 lbs bars, there was nothing out of the ordinary with the setup. But as was mentioned above, they didn't bend, at least not to the point that the eye could notice.

The Equalizer is the most popular, default, easy to install hitch on the market. My point was not to trash the product. But in my case, with my rig and setup, it created a problem. Probably one could have set up an Equalizer that would not have created the problem. The objective of my post is to be aware of the underlying issues in hitch setups with Airstreams. A lot of folks (including dealer staff) don't know what they don't know!
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Old 07-19-2021, 01:01 PM   #7
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Originally Posted by Hermes View Post
Thanks Ray, but sorry, the Equalizer is now "in storage" so I don't have any pictures. But to be honest, except for the square 1200 lbs bars, there was nothing out of the ordinary with the setup. ......!
Hi

1200 pound bars are not what you want on a 28' ..... Lighter bars are available and should be used.


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Old 07-19-2021, 01:11 PM   #8
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Very valuable and timely thread for me Hermès, thanks for posting this. I also have a GMC 2500 towing a 25’ FC, front storage and all.

I have been chasing a softer ride in bits and pieces due to this concern but I may need to accelerate my work (and check the front end the next time we get it out of storage!).

I’ve installed new shocks on the trailer (pretty easy job if you can get it in the air) and installed Bilstein 5100s on the truck. We have the 1000# bars and I’m able to install on the L-Brackets without the tool. I believe by weight I’m returning less than 50%. I’ve also taken to lowering the air pressures on both the truck and trailer (both at least 10# below their recommended maximums).

The problem is we live in Western MI where the darn roads are not anywhere close to being fixed and have to drive through other Midwestern areas where the highways are awful and potholes are terrifying obstacles. On those occasions we can see that the tail of the trailer in particular gets some rough treatment and we occasionally have a popped rivet.

The Airsafe hitch to me seems like a symptom treatment and not a fix though I know others swear by it. I’m also considering the SuLastic shackles on the rear leaf springs to soften up the ride some more.

I haven’t considered a different hitch completely until now, this is definitely food for thought.
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Old 07-19-2021, 01:16 PM   #9
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I just had my 2021 Classic 33 into the shop in Jackson Center to repair front end separation. I first noticed the problem when I had about 4000 miles on the trailer. I only dial in 25% FALR with my ProPride. (To avoid any flame: Even though I tow with a "1-ton" truck, the suspension is identical to the 2500HD version until a very heavy payload is applied. My Airstream does not come anywhere near compressing the additional leaf spring, so I'm effectively towing with a 3/4-ton truck suspension.)

In my case, I have a brand-new trailer, only light WD dialed in, and no overly rough TV suspension--yet my shell started separating from the frame almost immediately. After viewing the "fix" and talking with my JD service manager and the techs who built the repair, it's pretty clear that this is not a hitch problem. It is a design problem, full stop. In particular, there are not enough attachment points to connect the top to the bottom. The repair is to simply create additional surface area for the components to attach to each other.

Jackson Center employees a technician who only fixes shell/frame separation issues. Given the labor involved, this is an expensive problem to fix. I cannot understand why the trailers would not be designed with the additional mounting surface area. At the time of construction, this would not add any measurable cost to the manufacturing process. I wonder if there is more to the frame separation story than we might realize....
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Old 07-19-2021, 01:44 PM   #10
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Thanks for posting.
But allow me to point out that you began by noting how you were getting the trailer raised because of the ferry ramps and difficult roads you took to go boon docking. I assumed you bottomed out.
So the 'blame' cannot be attributed to the hitch only!
And, as you posted, Andy strengthened the attachment of the frame/shell so there's no base line to judge the Blue Ox against the Equalizer moving forward.
Just an observation, I hope you have your solution!
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Old 07-19-2021, 01:58 PM   #11
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Originally Posted by GOUSC View Post
made changes to my Equalizer hitch (Gen-Y torsion flex) to absorb and vibration from the TV to RV and vice-versa. The ride is much improved and no issues since then.
I am also interested in using the Gen-Y hitch. You mentioned using Bothe the Gen-Y and the Equalizer. How do you do that? I would love to see or hear more about your setup.

TLTrucks and others really recommend this hitch and rave about the ride quality for truck and trailer that it provides.

I have a new Airstream on order that the dealer is installing an Equalizer hitch for me when I come to pick it up but I would love to hear about how it is used with the Gen-Y hitch.
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Old 07-19-2021, 02:00 PM   #12
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Originally Posted by Mollysdad View Post
Thanks for posting.
But allow me to point out that you began by noting how you were getting the trailer raised because of the ferry ramps and difficult roads you took to go boon docking. I assumed you bottomed out.
So the 'blame' cannot be attributed to the hitch only!
And, as you posted, Andy strengthened the attachment of the frame/shell so there's no base line to judge the Blue Ox against the Equalizer moving forward.
Just an observation, I hope you have your solution!
No I never bottomed out!!

In tidal zones I download the tide tables and ask what is the best time to get on board.

For example in late June, high tide (20') was at 6AM for a ferry we were taking to get off an island (which can handle semi trailers, etc.) but the ferry foreman refused to take us onboard to avoid damage (he eyeballed it, they see many vehicles in a day so I trusted his judgement), so we had breakfast on the pier and managed to get on board at 8AM. We regularly use 4 different ferries on the St-Lawrence, 3 in tidal zones. The axel lift should make this easier.
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Old 07-19-2021, 02:08 PM   #13
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Thanks for posting.
But allow me to point out that you began by noting how you were getting the trailer raised because of the ferry ramps and difficult roads you took to go boon docking. I assumed you bottomed out.
So the 'blame' cannot be attributed to the hitch only!
That's a good point. If the trailer was subjected to poor roads ,took a beating, and had less suspension travel due to a lift kit then it certainly contributed as well.

I would expect that the poster probably had some idea that his trailer was undergoing stress by finding pop rivets out, cabinetry shaken loose, etc.

But those stiff suspension bars and the very nature of weight distribution hitches probably doesn't help. The Gen-Y hitch design seems like a smart way to go to reduce stiff connection between truck and trailer but I also wonder if it doesn't reduce the effectiveness of the WD function.

Seems like they contradict each other. You can't have good weight distribution without a little leveraging of the trailer causing a stiff connection and you can't have good suspension separation between truck and trailer with a stiff connection.
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Old 07-19-2021, 03:27 PM   #14
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Originally Posted by RVDreamer View Post
I am also interested in using the Gen-Y hitch. You mentioned using Bothe the Gen-Y and the Equalizer. How do you do that? I would love to see or hear more about your setup.

TLTrucks and others really recommend this hitch and rave about the ride quality for truck and trailer that it provides.

I have a new Airstream on order that the dealer is installing an Equalizer hitch for me when I come to pick it up but I would love to hear about how it is used with the Gen-Y hitch.
see the attached pictures. you basically don't use the Equalizer shaft and just use the Gen-Y instead. This is the 2 1/2" shaft for my Duramax. It is very solid and heavy. Once this goes on for a trip it doesn't come off till I get back home.
You would be able to probably save some money by not having the Equalizer shaft being purchased as you are not going to use it if you have the Gen-Y.
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Old 07-19-2021, 03:32 PM   #15
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That's a good point. If the trailer was subjected to poor roads ,took a beating, and had less suspension travel due to a lift kit then it certainly contributed as well.

I would expect that the poster probably had some idea that his trailer was undergoing stress by finding pop rivets out, cabinetry shaken loose, etc.

But those stiff suspension bars and the very nature of weight distribution hitches probably doesn't help. The Gen-Y hitch design seems like a smart way to go to reduce stiff connection between truck and trailer but I also wonder if it doesn't reduce the effectiveness of the WD function.

Seems like they contradict each other. You can't have good weight distribution without a little leveraging of the trailer causing a stiff connection and you can't have good suspension separation between truck and trailer with a stiff connection.

You still use all other parts of the Equalizer system. You just don't use the shaft. Since WD and sway is accomplished through the WD bars on the L brackets and # of washers in the head, you still you have all the features of the system and the benefit of softening any bumps from the TV or RV.
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Old 07-19-2021, 04:07 PM   #16
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You still use all other parts of the Equalizer system. You just don't use the shaft. Since WD and sway is accomplished through the WD bars on the L brackets and # of washers in the head, you still you have all the features of the system and the benefit of softening any bumps from the TV or RV.
Nice, Thanks.

The one thing I still would worry about a little is the WD not working effectively due to the fact that when the Equalizer torsion bars apply pressure to the truck to shift the hitch weight to the rear axel of the truck, the Gen-Y would take out some of that torsion pressure by lifting at the torsion swivel point.

It seems like the hitch would counter act the weight shift leaving more weight on the hitch.

That wouldn't be a problem for a big truck with ample hitch weight capacity and you still would get enough friction on the torsion bars to counter act sway, but smaller trucks might not get enough hitch weight relief.
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Old 07-19-2021, 04:15 PM   #17
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That’s above my knowledge base. Just call Gen-Y
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Old 07-19-2021, 04:27 PM   #18
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That’s above my knowledge base. Just call Gen-Y
I guess the big question is; did it seem to help with the ride quality of the trailer and truck? I think the idea is sound of separating the two units so that they can use their suspension independently. But the real test is if it reduces wear and tear on the Airstream over time.
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Old 07-19-2021, 04:43 PM   #19
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We put 60,000+ miles on our Airstream towed by a Tundra with an Equalizer with 1,200 lb. bars and had none of those problems. The dealer did a poor job with the hitch, and the bars were too heavy duty (probably installed them because they were on the shelf). I adjusted the hitch, but never changed the bars.

Glad to hear the problems were solved. Airstream has had many problems with both front end and rear end separation over decades because of cheapening of the design by excessive cost cutting. I had some popped rivets inside and some were caused because they weren’t installed properly, another Airstream problem.

CanAm has a very good reputation and solved problems. Perhaps the root cause was how the front end was built.
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Old 07-19-2021, 04:49 PM   #20
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Great post, I too have been lucky to find Can Am and Andy Thompson

The team at CanAm set up our rig 30ft Classic and our MB GL350d with a Reinforced hitch, shortened Shank, Eza lift WD, 2 Husky anti sway bars, and it tows like it is on rails

Our rig is set up and we are in the middle of a tour of Lake Superior. We get alot of questions from "other campers" Like " how does the SUV handle That trailer" How long is That trailer (as they look at the TV) etc...
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