These past few weeks have been quite the ride. We’ve been up, down, we’ve been angry, happy and in the end felt incredibly blessed. So many good people stepped forward to help us. We can’t begin to Thank you all enough!
This is our story of a massive pin box failure….This is a REALLY LONG STORY…but there are pictures! LOL!
We pulled out of Morgan Hill California and headed over to Vacaville California….a mere 100 miles away. Understand, we had no signs of trouble. We always do a walk around, a light check, and a pull test before we pull out onto the road. Everything was fine…or so it seemed.
We pulled into the Vineyard Rv park in Vacaville in the early afternoon of May 9th. As we were rounding a corner to make our way to our site, we heard a very loud “POP”. Bill stopped immediately and we both jumped out to see what had happened. We both assumed we had hit something, but everything seemed fine. I did comment that the fifth wheel seemed to be setting very low on the truck, but Bill didn’t think it was anything to worry about at that time. We went on to locate our site and back into position. No more noise….everything seemed OK.
Once we pulled the fifth wheel off the truck, you could see that the pin box was tilted at an angle….NOT a good thing! Bill decided that tomorrow we would pull down the sheet metal under the nose so we could fully inspect the pin box and the support frame around it.
What we saw the next day…..sent chills through us both…….
In this photo, you can see that the pin box has “dropped” in the back.
The metal joist behind the pin box had actually torn on both sides of the pin box.
For the most part, the welds had held…it actually tore the metal.
The really scary part….the main support joist at the front of the rig had completely broken in two! That was probably the loud ‘pop’ that we heard earlier. We also found that every cross member between the front and back joist had also torn away from the frame. All of this, pushed the pin box up into the trailer. That is why the fifth wheel was sitting lower on the truck. Of course, once the support of the truck was removed the pin box sagged downward.
I think at that moment, we were both in shock. We knew we were so very blessed to still be alive. We were pulling through the mountains that day. If that pin box had given way while we were on the road, I don’t think either of us would be here to tell the story and who knows how many other people could have been hurt or worse.
Once we recovered from the ‘shock’ of it all….what to do…we couldn’t move it till it was somehow repaired. At that point, we were not sure if it even could be repaired. Our world was crushed. This was our only home and we were far away from people and friends who could help us. My husband and I decided we would contact Ron Green of Recreational Specialties in Elkhart Indiana. We consider Ron more then just our ‘repair guru”, we have built a great friendship over the years. One of trust and respect….he and his crew do outstanding work and always at a fair price. I sent an email out to Ron with the photos. He called within a few minutes…..Ron said his “jaw dropped”….he just couldn’t believe the damage he was seeing. Ron immediately put us at ease, letting us know that it was repairable and that he would make some phone calls on our behalf and get us some help. He put in a call to the frame manufacturer (Lippert) and Forest River who made our fifth wheel and soon after….we received a call from Michael Locke. Before I go on….I want to state that our fifth wheel is about 9 yrs old, the warranty on the frame is 2 years. A lot of folks here in the park, many of whom are welders and one of whom is actually trained in crash investigations, felt that this pin box failure never should have never happened. More then one of the welders stated they had never seen anything like that before and all of them with fifth wheels went back to their units, wondering if their pin box was secure. We had hoped that either Lippert or Forest River would step up to the plate and cover at least some of the cost of repairs. We had a lot of good people going to bat for us behind the scenes, but in the end the cost was ours. Lippert said they would really like to have helped us out with the cost, but it would put them at a liability risk. Gee….ya think! Seems this has happened to some other folks. To be fair, it appeared that Lippert had constructed the frame to Forest River Specifications and as I stated earlier the welds had held…it was the metal itself that gave way. I would also like to state that Lippert did put us in touch with a welder….one who had worked for them in the past and who would know how to make the repair….we never received a phone call from anyone at Forest River. So, who is to blame. We really don’t know. We don’t feel we did anything to cause this problem.
Unfortunately, the welder that Michael Locke had recommended was about 700 miles away. We really didn’t think he would even be interested and if he were…we didn’t think we could afford to pay for both the repair and his travel expenses. We had heard that this type of repair can cost anywhere from $5000 to $8000. While we were trying to figure out what to do next, the phone rang. It was the welder, apparently Michael Locke had called the welder and told him about our situation. We were so relieved when he told us he would come and quoted us an affordable price…..around $2000.00 and that included his travel expenses. He advised us he would be there early Monday morning, but that we needed to have the front cap and the framing for the closet removed before he could do the work. HOLY COW! We had two days to get the cap removed. We had no idea how to remove the cap, but we just looked at each other and decided we would figure it out….and we did! We were fortunate enough to have been able to have the maintenance man at the rv park and a couple of his friends help us out.
Have a closer look…..
That tube of steel split completely apart…..and YUP what you see above that is our closet. The floor had been pushed up and we were lucky that was the extent of the interior damage. Fortunately, once the repairs were made the floor was still intact and able to simply be put back in place.
The broken front joist was completely removed and replaced with another joist….thicker and stronger then the one that broke. Once that was done, the pin box was pulled into position and thick metal plates were welded over the tears at the back. Next the cross beams were welded back into place and two more were added on either side of the pin box. Gussets were also welded in several places for added support. The welder stated the structure was now much stronger. He stated he had done many such repairs and assured us that we would have no further issues. The final cost ended up being $2570.00. The fact that the welder stated he had made many such repairs did not go unnoticed by either of us.
Once the welder had made his repairs, we were left with putting it all back together. That, in and of itself, was a daunting task! Why is it that things always come apart so easily, but hardly ever want to go back together. LOL! But we did it….
Normally this kind of repair would be done in a repair shop….but that would have meant the added expense of a temporary weld just so the thing could be towed to a repair shop. We would have also had to ‘move’ into a hotel room…more expense. Since the welder offered to do it ‘on site’, we just rolled up our sleeves and did what needed to be done. Hell….we both figured we couldn’t possibly do any more damage.
I wanted to share our story in the hopes that you will also share our story….far and wide!
Not to rant and point fingers at the manufacturers, but because this could happen to others. We had absolutely no warning, even though it is very likely that the tearing of the metal probably took a long time to develop. There was just no way to fully inspect the pin box, as it is almost completely enclosed and covered up. This is our home and we feel we have always been responsible owners….doing proper maintenance and inspections…..but how can you inspect something you can’t see. Pulling down the sheet metal under the nose in order to inspect the pin box, is no easy task. Putting it back up….when there is only two of you…is even more difficult, trust me on that one! We both feel some type of an inspection “hatch” needs to be in place so that people can do a proper inspection. Still….if you own a fifth wheel, we feel it is important to find a way to do that inspection.
I certainly don’t want to be a ‘chicken little’ running around telling everyone the ‘sky is falling’ but nor do I want to ‘stick my head in the sand’ and do nothing.
Is this a wide spread problem….I honestly don’t know
this problem effects more then just the fifth wheel owner
do you want to be following behind one of these on the highway when it breaks free?
So….please share our story….