An RV News Product Test
By Don Magary
Over the years Lynn Baker convinced himself that there must be a way to improve the ride and drive of his motorhome. A lot of RVers have ideas about ways to improve on the RV designers ideas, but in Lynn's case he was in a position to do something about it. Baker is coincidentally the product engineer for Aftermarket Engineering at Tenneco Automotive, parent company for Monroe, the world leader in shock absorbers.
To make a long story short, Baker convinced Tenneco management that the RV industry was a viable and growing market and eventually Baker developed a new line of RV specific shock absorbers, During the development and testing Baker worked closely with 24-year industry veteran Paul Smith, president of 3-T's RV Products, Inc., a company specializing in RV and pick-up truck suspension products.
The new series of products is now available and Monroe is introducing the line with special promotions now through June. As part of the introduction, Monroe invited RV News to a two-day "Ride and Drive" examination of the new shock absorbers. The tests were conducted on the challenging route along US 95 between Las Vegas and Laughlin, Nevada. The tests were at the end of March under very windy conditions.
Smith and Baker had acquired four motorhomes for the tests -- two similarly equipped Ford chassis and two on the P-30 Chevrolet chassis. Opting not to do the demonstration on new RVs, Monroe carefully selected the four units from a rental fleet and had similar age, mileage, lengths and GVWRs.
Smith and Baker installed Monroe's Gas-Magnum RV shocks on one of the Ford chassis and one of the Chevrolet chassis. It was a blind test. RV News' was not informed which units had the Monroe shocks and which did not. Our task was to drive the units one after the other and determine which was the best ride.
On day one, we drove the Fords, designated as F1 and F2 south out of Las Vegas toward Laughlin. The first leg of the trip Smith drove F1 and we rode as a passenger which gave us the opportunity to get the "feel" of the ride from various places in the coach - the co-pilot's seat, the mid-coach galley area and in the rear bedroom. And while we have tested a large number of coaches over the years, we seldom had the opportunity to experience the coach over the road from anyplace except the driver's seat, so this was a new experience.
After awhile we took over the cockpit and started the driving portion of the test. Our pace was an average of 60 miles per hour. Within a few minutes, it crossed our minds that we hoped this was the coach with the Monroe shocks because we couldn't find anything wrong with the ride, either driving or from the tour around the inside prior to driving it was real stable, despite crosswinds that we discovered later were gusting to 60 miles per hour. At one point, we mentioned to Smith that the winds had died down quite a bit. We knew there was some wind because we could see the landscaping alongside the road had a lot of movement.
The road itself was full of curves, dips and more than its fair share of chuckholes. Besides the obstacles that the road itself presented, we would go into a weaving pattern to see if we could get a sense of "head toss" characteristics, a term to describe the side-to-side roll. We also wanted to see how quickly the coach recovered on its own from the side-to-side roll. Pretty good, as a matter of fact.
US 95 is a well-traveled road any time, but especially that time of the year when "snowbirds" in their RVs are heading back to their homes in the north. We must have seen well over 100 rigs in that short drive. When traffic conditions permitted we also ran the coach off the road onto the shoulder keeping the left front and rear tires on the pavement. Also, as traffic permitted we would run over the center divider relfectors that stood up. These additional "tests" were a pattern that we tried on each of the four coaches.
As far as the drive on this leg of the trip, there was a noticeable vibration coming from what appeared to be the right front tire. This put some doubts into our minds about whether this was the coach with the Monroe shocks or not.
About half way between Las Vegas and Laughlin we pulled into a rest stop and the drivers switched between F1 and F2. As we passed, the driver who had been driving F2 until then commented, "Wow, those crosswinds are something else!"
Hmmm. I thought they had died down a bit. You're right. F1 was the coach equipped with the Monroe shocks which performed very nicely in the crosswinds as well as the other maneuvers we had put the coach through. Smith later explained that the vibration in the front end I had noticed was from a defective tire. They had discovered the problem prior to the test, but didn't have time to make any corrections.
F2 was your typical "off-the-shelf" Ford chassis ride. On day one, I have to admit that F1 with the Monroe shocks tweaked for motorhomes offered a far superior ride than the standard suspension on the Ford chassis. Monroe may be onto something here.
Day two started early and we retraced our route going north to Las Vegas. Today, it was Chevrolet's turn. The two coaches were designated C1 and C2. As before, we were with Smith during the first leg of the trip and repeated the ride portion gauging the feel from various places inside the coach. When we sat down to drive we started putting the coach through the various maneuvers described in day one's report. The coach floated over the center road reflectors almost as if they weren't there. On running half on and half off the shoulder, again, extremely smooth. On the weaving maneuvers to gauge head toss, the coach recovered quickly and the head toss was almost non-existent. We turned to Paul who was sitting in the passenger seat and said, there's no mystery here. This is the coach with the Monroes. He finally answered, "You figured it pretty quickly."
And when we switched over to C2 it was even more apparent. Again, the pitch and roll of the chassis without the Monroe RV shocks was noticeably greater.
RV News concluded that the Monroe Gas-Magnum RV shocks indeed gave both the test coaches a more stable and comfortable ride and we concluded that it would also be a safer ride since there would be much less need for the RV driver to have to react to sudden changes in conditions. We believe that the Monroe shocks are going to be products that will be in demand from consumers and will be an additional service that aftermarket stores and service departments can offer their customers.
In addition to introducing the Monroe Gas-Magnum RV shocks 555 (for Class B and Cs) and 557 (for Class As) series for motorhomes, Monroe is also introducting an RV Retrofit (RB5) for travel trailers.
RV News asked Monroe's Bill Laughlin, general manager, Heavy Duty-Industrial North American Aftermarket, how the products are going to be distributed. He said that Monroe was committed to the two-step distribution method and has met with several wholesale distributors about taking on the Monroe line.
In the meantime, the product will be available through 3-T's RV Products.
RV News is encouraged that Tenneco Automotive has recognized the RV industry as a viable market and has made a commitment to invest its resources into developing RV-specific products.
Laughlin and Baker both assured RV News that more new products for the RV industry are in various stages of development. For example, Tenneco Automotive's Walker division is currently working on an aftermarket exhaust system for motorhomes.
From the consumer's point of view, trying Monroe's shocks on their motorhome is a "no brainer." Monroe's guarantee is if after six months of purchase the buyer is not convinced that the Monroe shocks improve the ride of their vehicle, Monroe will remove the shocks and replace them with the product of the consumer's choice.
During product testing Monroe's Lynn Baker and 3T's' Paul Smith installed prototype models on several RVers' coaches. Without exception, each reported an improvement in ride and handling.
Here are some excerpts from their comments:
Charles & Carol Townsend
About three months ago while passing through Lake Havasu City, AZ, Paul Smith of 3-T's RV installed Monroe shocks on our 1998 Winnebago diesel Grand Tour motorhome with Freightliner chassis. During our travels for Winnebago, (Western Area Representatives for our Travel Club) we witness all kinds of road conditions while accumulating about 30,000 miles a year.
These Monroe shocks have significantly improved our overall ride, reduced the sway and softened the hard bumps. We feel privileged to have received your Monroe shocks.
Thanks for your support and efforts to improve motorhome driving/riding comfort.
Sharon & Shirley Richard
Thought I would send you a quick note to let you know that we got our 3T's/Monroe shocks installed. We took a drive this weekend and boy what a difference! The ride has greatly improved and the handling is much better as well. You can really feel the difference as you're driving down the highway, especially when you get into the ruts that are in our roads these days. We also seem to have more control in the wind and nasty rainy weather, which we have had more than our share of this year.
Al and Gerry Ostrowski
The Monroe shocks that were installed on our motorhome have improved the ride and handling 100%. Before we had cans and bottles dancing around in the refrigerator, things fell out of the medicine cabinet and it was pretty hard to walk around inside the RV. After the shocks were installed, it runs so smooth it feels like a different rig. It handles great and has a nice smooth ride.
I have done several experiments to see if this was really true, such as on a 416 miles drive to Wilcox from Lake Havasu, Arizona. I put a glass of water on the stove. Not one drop spilled. I have left the table arrangement on the table -- it never moved,
We have about 3000 miles on these shocks and are very satisfied.
Based on our personal experience and reviewing the comments from many consumers that have used the shocks on their personal rigs, RV News believes that Monroe may have hit a home run with these new products.