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Trucks, Truck Campers and Good Handling

With the volatile fuel prices we’ve been experiencing over the last couple of years, along with a floundering economy, many RVers have been turning their attention to pick-up trucks and campers rather than large motorhomes. Campers are a great alternative, as they are comparatively light weight, maneuverable, and still allow you to tow a boat or trailer. However, trucks that haul a camper, pull a trailer or just carry heavy loads from time to time could benefit from some well-conceived suspension modifications.

Using air bags, such as those offered by Air Lift, Firestone and Pacbrake are a great start, but even with these in place, handling is usually far from ideal. When a customer comes into our shop, the first thing we’ll start with is a Road Performance Assessment (RPA) to determine the extent of the truck’s handling issues. Trucks that carry campers often suffer from what we call “tail wagging the dog”. Also common in motorhomes with large rear overhangs, the problem is characterized by a “wagging” sensation that comes from the rear after steering input. The overhang creates leverage on the rear axle that causes it to move from side to side whenever the steering wheel is moved back and forth. This truck was fitted with a short box camper that also had significant rear overhang, and it was causing the same type of instability.

Our Trac Bars are a perfect solution to this problem. Just five part numbers fit the bulk of full-size trucks on the market today, the primary difference being whether the truck has an open (“C channel”) or closed (“Box”) frame. Like the Trac Bars that we use for motorhome applications, these Trac Bars bolt on to the frame on one side, and clamp to the axle on the other, which positively locates the axle and prevents lateral movement. No drilling or welding is required, and the install typically takes about an hour. The bar provides a noticeable difference in steering response and predictability. Here is a picture of our SS625 Trac Bar installed on a late model GMC 1500 pick-up:

Chevy Trac Bar If you have already got airbags on your truck, you’ve probably noticed that they generate quite a bit of bounce when driving into or out of a driveway, especially at an angle. Bounce from side-to-side several times before coming to rest is fairly typical.

To solve this issue, we have a product called a Motion Control Unit (MCU) that we originally started using on air bag suspension motorhomes. The MCU acts like a baffle that slows the flow of air into and out of the bag, so instead of it rebounding like a basketball, it creates a much smoother and gradual response that prevents bounce and rocking. MCU’s are available in varying sizes, but for pickups, we typically fit these comparatively small air bags with our #3 MCU’s, which are about the diameter of a cigarette and are about three inches long. Installation is simple: Just cut the airline and splice the MCU in place. Here is the MCU installed, visible just above the air bag:

Trac Bar These two simple modifications will make a marked improvement in handling, ride and stability when doing any kind of towing or hauling. It should be pointed out here that some trucks don’t come equipped with a rear stabilizer bar, and for those that do, it is often inadequate for a top-heavy load like a truck camper. We carry Roadmaster anti-sway bars that are considerably thicker than stock stabilizer bars, and bolt right into place in an hour or less. Below is a photo of a 2006 Dodge 2500 HD with air bags, our SS725 Trac Bar and Roadmaster Anti-Sway Bar. What a difference!

Trac and Sway Bar Finally, the stock shock absorbers are usually barely adequate when the truck is unloaded, not to mention when it is carrying a heavy load like a camper. Henderson’s Line-Up offers Bilstein and Koni FSD (Frequency Selective Damper) shock absorbers that are better at controlling load, and provide a better ride as well.

If you are unhappy with the ride and handling you are experiencing with your truck, give us a call. Whether you own a Chevy, Dodge, Ford, Toyota Tundra or Nissan Titan, we can restore driving confidence and fun to your pickup.