When I bought my new-to-me motorhome, it was truly a “foreign object”. We immediately named it “House On Wheels In Excess”, or Howie for short. The 27-foot class-A was the biggest thing I had ever driven, and I was deeply focused on how to manage the size and handling from the moment I drove Howie off the lot.
One of the most challenging aspects was the steering response, or rather lack of it. The power steering on the Workhorse chassis was — powerful. So powerful, in fact, that there was almost no force required to turn the wheel. Howie was nearly effortless to maneuver, clearly a benefit. Maybe. The problem was that there was no feedback, that subtle sense of what the coach was doing. It was almost like operating a video game, where you turn the wheel and the picture moves.
Another more insidious fault with the steering was its lack of self-centering. The very nature of the fingertip steering forces meant that there was not enough “urge” from the steering gear to make the tires point straight ahead again. Coming out of a turn, the first portion of straightening out would happen in a lackluster fashion, and the last quarter-turn of the steering wheel would have to be input manually. Again like the video game, you leave the wheel turned and the picture keeps revolving.
Well, I quickly learned to deal with this, and it wasn’t particularly dangerous. But it was annoying, and it turned out to be also somewhat tiring over a long drive of several hours. In addition, the same non-centering characteristic meant that the coach would have a tendency to wander slightly back and forth when traveling in a straight line. This too was tiring after a while, requiring constant attention and adjustment for every 100 yards traveled.
It became obvious that Howie’s factory steering needed some help. I later learned that the huge Saginaw box on this model chassis was over-designed for the suspension geometry. Tough and reliable, but not easily back-driven by road forces. A centering device was required, and I found that there were several on the market.
I was not interested in the somewhat clunky design of external springs hanging down from the steering components. While they would certainly work to some extent, they had no damping components, and they looked like they’d be finicky to adjust, and susceptible to rock-knocking. I also didn’t think I wanted the adjustable on-the-fly capability, supposedly useful in crosswinds. My personal experience with cross-winds is that they vary a lot, so a fixed offset didn’t appeal to me.
After a lot of research and discussions, I settled on the Safe-T-Plus, an integrated dual spring and damper (shock) design that’s sleek, compact, and stays nestled up among the steering gear and out of harm’s way. Once in place and properly adjusted, it’s a “set it and forget it” product with zero maintenance requirements.
The difference in driving was significant and very pleasant to experience. Road wander was greatly reduced. In a turn, the coach would gently and docilely exit the curve with almost hands-off response and head straight down the road. Highly pleased for such a modest investment, I drove Howie for more than a year in this configuration.
During my 2012 RPA with Robert Henderson, we discussed that the steering was still not aggressively centering, and perhaps we should consider installing a second Safe-T-Plus. This was something that had never crossed my mind, but it was intriguing. Robert had a custom bracket designed to (once again) tuck the unit safely up above the chassis rails. With Robert’s positive prior experience, I was convinced to try it, and I must say it was, once again, a coach-changing modification.
Everything that the first Safe-T-Plus accomplished, the second unit embellished, in spades. The steering became absolutely rock-solid. Road wander simply disappeared forever. Coming out of a turn was a no-brainer, and Howie acted as if he was running on rails. In short, truly a magical conversion.
A year later, I began to pull a toad, and another additional benefit of the assertive self-centering appeared. The tendency of a toad to “wag” the tail of the towing vehicle was significantly reduced by the Safe-T-Plus installation. Even with Howie’s long rear overhang and short wheelbase, the toad, while noticeable, is not problematic.
Bottom line is that these types of coaches really need this kind of upgrade (sometimes even two of them). After observing the metamorphosis, I can’t imagine driving without this upgrade. The changes in handling and comfort are ample reward for the investment.