Wednesday Jan 02, 2008

My Sad Trailer Story


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    Update August 2008: I got a phone call from a Mr. and Mrs. Evans in Texas (around Waco), who described the exact same problem with their trailer which is a twin to mine but maybe a few years newer as I recall. They too loved the functionality of the trailer and sounds like they have used their trailer considerably more than I did. Turns out they had the trailer repaired (the extended warranty didn't help as I recall them saying), and it's happening again to them. They told me that they found a letter from the trailer/RV manufacturer Winnebago that details issues with certain kinds of or uses of particle board (plywood like wood) under the aluminum skin of trailers and RVs. They (Winnebago) knew about this problem. Apparently there is natural moisture in this wood that can come out and cause this kind of electrolysis damage, and it has nothing to do with any leaks in the roof. Natural temperature changes can cause this to happen.

    Sure sounds like a manufacturing defect to me. Too bad Weekend Warrior decided to blame it's customers for faulty maintenance instead of investigating their own poor workmanship.
    -------------------------------------------------------

It all started in June 2001 when we purchased a 2002 FS2600 Weekend Warrior Travel Trailer:

We had sold my 1982 Ford Pickup and 1987 Terry Taurus Fifth Wheel trailer the previous year after 11 years of use and decided we wanted to continue the trailer camping scene for a few more years. All 3 of my brothers had travel trailers and we often went on great family camping trips together.

We purchased it from Pan Pacific RV in French Camp, California for around $23,700 (including taxes and license) and used a 2001 Chevy Tahoe to pull the beast. The trailer is about 30 feet in total length and weighs slightly less than 5,000 pounds dry. A dry weight is with the trailer completely empty, no water or stored waste water. This particular trailer is called a toy box model, the back completely folds down and serves as a ramp to load ATV's bikes, even jeeps (with skinny tires). The inside adjusts to allow for the load and the trailer can actually carry a load of 6,000 pounds supposedly, making the total trailer weight over 11,000 pounds, but I've probably been lucky to approach 7,500 pounds the way I've used it. The Chevy Tahoe I used to pull it with was limited to around 8,000 pounds anyway.

We used the trailer as more of a conventional travel trailer, going to the Oregon Coast multiple times, Washington State multiple times, and many other camping trips inside California. Overall we were enjoying the trailer... until it started to erode away. :\^(

Two events happened late in 2006 that may or may not be connected. In August 2006, returning from an Oregon Coast vacation on Highway 5 just outside Redding, California, we had a massive tire blowout. Turned out I somehow ran over an xacto knife, blew one tire and damaged a second. Other than the highway tire blow out experience, I didn't think anything of it at the time. I do remember walking around the trailer and wondering if the shakeup caused any damage and I didn't see any at the time. Most people I mention this event to don't think it has anything to do with the second event and resulting damage, I'm just not so sure.

Then around September or October 2006, I noticed what looked like small white bumps on the exterior of the trailer, in the upper front, on both the left and right sides. Turned out that the metal sides of the trailer appeared to be rotting away (later I was told this was electrolysis damage which often happened to very old 20+ year old trailers). Here is a zoom in on the damage:

Well this started my search for why this was happening and how I could go about fixing this problem. The end result was that around February 2007 I took the trailer to the dealer in French Camp and agreed to pay for an estimate of repair and some investigation as to whether this was in any way covered by a manufacturer warranty. Little did I know that I wouldn't see my trailer again until November 2007. The first message was that it was electrolysis damage, and the repair bill would be over $8,500 because they had to completely replace all the siding. The cause of the problem was declared unknown at the time, but it was generally considered to be some kind of manufacturer defect because they had never seen electrolysis happen on such a young trailer ever before. I called the Weekend Warrior warranty department and they confidently told me that it was not a manufacturer defect but water damage from an unmaintained roof, but they told me that if there was no water damage indications when the sides were torn off, that they would consider paying for part of the repair, with no details as to what that really meant. So I would have to fork over $8,500+ to find out if Weekend Warrior would pay for some undefined part of the bill or maybe none at all if it turned out to be water damage. Such a deal, I passed.

Convinced that it couldn't possibly be water damage because there were no other signs of water damage inside the trailer or outside below these areas on the trailer, and after the dealer asked me "Won't your insurance cover it?", I went down the insurance route. A bad idea. After two evaluations, they rejected the claim, no surprise and I used one of my 3 'golden ticket' insurance claims (make too many claims, whether they pay or not, and you might get your insurance canceled).

So all avenues were investigated, or so I thought. I either had to sell the trailer 'as is' or pay $8,500 to get it fixed. My rough estimates as to how much the trailer was worth was around $16,000, from what I saw other people selling the 2002 FS2600 model for. And still no definite answer as to why the damage occured or how serious the damage might be.

I finally decided to get rid of the trailer because I had a hard time sending any money to either Weekend Warrior or their dealers. Then I get a strange class action lawsuit form in the mail. The details are at http://www.trailersettlement.com/ and describe a problem with the frames of these trailers. Is it related? I'm not sure, but the part of the trailer frame involved in this is immediately under the area where I'm getting damage, and one of the issues is that the seams get separated in the immediate area where (if it was water damage) I might be getting leaks.

Looking along the sides of the trailer and the slight problems I have with the storage compartment not completely closing:

Makes me wonder if it's related. There is some minor bulging on the sides but not much, yet I've never done any serious hauling with my trailer. If the front frame is weak, and flexing due to high loads, could high front loading cause a problem? I never loaded the rear of the trailer much, but the from compartment was often loaded close to capacity, an un-inflated 8 foot raft might have been the heaviest item. I'll be checking into this settlement, but am fairly convinced that the trailer is a major loss. Don't expect to see me anywhere near a Weekend Warrior dealer again.

If you own a Travel Trailer, and especially if it's a Weekend Warrior, I would make doubly sure that the roof seals are checked regularly, ideally by the dealer during the warranty. I have no idea if my trailer does indeed have a roof sealing problem, but considering the cost of the repairs, I wouldn't risk ignoring it. Between my 3 brothers and myself, we have owned close to a dozen travel trailers, and have never seen this kind of problem ever before. The Pan Pacific Service department also made statements to me that it was unheard of to see this kind of electrolysis damage on such a young trailer.

-kto

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Various blogs on JDK development procedures, including building, build infrastructure, testing, and source maintenance.

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