Coachmen & Ford Transit – Hits & Misses

Hits and misses – continued.

Transit Chassis hits & misses

The one-ton dually combined with the 3.7L motor worked OK. It’s not a speed demon – it’s a 270hp motor pushing a 9000lb steel box at 65 mph – and it lets you know that you are in a cargo van. But it was usable.

The 25gal. gas tank was adequate. Twenty-five gallons at 15/16 mpg left me with a 400 mile range. I always stopped and filled after a half tank (200 miles).

The ride and handling were adequate, and the seating was a mixed bag. Coachmen’s choice of the base interior meant manual seats, which were comfortable for me but too high off the floor for my wife. I built a 1.5″ thick platform and placed it on top of the floor mat so she could rest her heal on something. I’d rather have the Ford 10-way power seats.

I ended up with suspension issues – more on that below.

Ford Dash gauges and controls from the base XLT Transit that Coachmen used for the build are minimalist at best. The information screen in the dash shows about as much as a circa 2007 vehicle would show – trip meter, gas mileage, speed, etc. I’m spoiled by newer dashes that show oil life, engine and transmission temp, etc. If the Transit had a decent set of gauges the lack of information on the dashboard information screen wouldn’t be so annoying. Newer Coachmen come with Ford’s Sync 3, so both this and the pathetic Kenwood are non-issues.

The only real useful information on the info screen was the ‘Miles to Empty’ counter. I left that up all the time. That plus Sygic showing me how many miles to the next few gas stations made planning gas stops easy.

Ford’s key fob‘s need work. For some reason, the only times that I’ve ever accidentally lit up the emergency button on a fob has been on Fords. In 2011 I drove my brand new F150 from the dealers lot right to the campground. At 6am the next morning while fumbling for my pants I lit up the alarm and woke up every camper within five hundred feet. I’ve lit up the alarm a handful of times with the Transit now too. Usually in a quiet campground.

Coachmen hits & misses:

The overall quality of the Coachmen build is OK. It’s probably better than any competitor in it’s price range, and we certainly have seem poorer quality at a higher price point. Overall it’s well engineered.

The big pluses in the Coachmen build are:

The overall cabinet and materials quality is good, and between the drawers, pantry and upper cabinets, inside storage is adequate.

Coachmen spec’d the factory heavy duty alternator so if I upgrade the coach wiring and breakers I can dump lots of juice into the battery bank while idling or driving.

The all-internal fresh water plumbing makes the coach more cold-tolerant, and the 30 gallon fresh tank allows for extended off-grid stays if you are fanatic about water conservation.

The multiplex wiring and LED light placement is very nice. The upper cabinets are lit inside, which makes finding stuff easy.

The Truma furnace/water heater is excellent – it’s vastly better than the noisy non-ducted furnaces in typical campers. I’ll want a Truma in everything I buy or build from now on.

Using Progressive Industries for the battery interface and low voltage disconnects is good. I never heard of them until I started digging taking the campervan apart and figuring out how it works.

It has a large propane tank, which when combined with the Truma furnace/water heater allows a long time between fills. We camped for weeks with the Truma heating to 50-60 degrees at night and the hot water heater on about half-days, and only used 1/3 of the 11-gallon propane tank.

The big misses that Coachmen made are:

Choosing the base Ford in-dash/infotainment and then bolting on that Kenwood radio-thing. Any version of Ford’s Sync would be an improvement.

The sewer hose storage is a miss. It’s so close to the ground I’ve bashed mine going in/out of driveways twice already, even after re-jiggering the brackets and moving it up an inch. For a while, I moved it under the passenger running-board, but found that too hard to use. I’ll try relocating it again.

The Fantastic fan is not fantastic. It’s way noisier than the equivalent Maxxair Maxxfan. It doesn’t have any speed that is actually quiet. It has three separate controls, each of which has a function that depends on the proper positioning of some other control. For example, the control that turns the fan on doesn’t turn the fan on unless the control that opens the lid is flipped and the control that sets the thermostat is set cold enough.

The TV is pathetic – as are pretty much all of the cheap, 12-volt RV TV’s. The viewing angle is only a few degrees, contrast ratio is about as bad as a 15-year old LCD TV, sound quality is poor, etc.

Using a WFCO 12 volt converter is a miss. It’s the probably the least-capable converter out there for battery management.

Battery & solar capacity is inadequate. The 200W of solar combined with 200AH of lead-acid battery doesn’t keep the refrigerator running overnight, and cannot recharge the batteries even in direct sun all day. The poor refrigerator venting makes the power problem worse.

Using cheap lead-acid batteries (or charging $20k extra for lithium) in a coach with a compressor refrigerator is a miss. Had I not added the lithium battery, We’d have had no choice but to camp in electric sites every night.

Even though the build quality is comparatively good, it’s still a symphony of squeaks, groans, creaks and rattles. Some of that is just the nature of having a bathroom, bedroom and kitchen driving down the road at 65 mph in a flexible uni-body cargo van.

The Onan generator. It’s so noisy that I cannot imaging running it in anyplace where any human or animal is within 200 ft. It’s no where near as quiet as the small Honda inverter/generators, and the profile of the noise is both loud and annoying. We tried running it for a few hours to recharge the batteries but gave up and used the Transit engine/alternator instead.

SuperSprings – hit and miss

Coachmen supplies the campervan with add-on helper springs from SuperSpring. On the rear, they add the SuperSpring SSA-43 leaf springs. On the front, they install Sumo Spring coil spring spacers. The SuperSprings themselves are fine. Coachmen’s installation needed improvement.

Rear SuperSprings: On our first trip last winter I noticed a hard ‘thunk’ coming from under the van when hitting large bumps. It was thunking bad enough that I really wanted to track it down. We drove for miles, me in back with my ear to the floor, trying to localize the thunk. At nearly every stop I crawled under the van and pushed/pulled on the various tanks and parts under the van, thinking something big must be loose and falling off.

When we got back, Forest River (Coachmen) had issued a Technical Service Bulletin on the installation of the rear SuperSprings. On some vehicles they had installed them wrong. I jacked up the rear and pried one of the springs forward to the correct position, whereupon most of the problem went away.

A few months later another TSB came out requesting a replacement of the rear SuperSprings. Rather than work with the dealer – who I’m not impressed with – Coachmen suggested that I work directly with SuperSpring. SuperSpring was very responsive and great to work with.

From SuperSpring I learned that Ford had changed the design of the Transit spring mounts in a way that required a redesigned SuperSpring. Coachmen continued to use the old design – which did not clear the new spring mount and thunked up against the spring mount on hard bumps. Additionally, Coachmen wasn’t checking their installation, so on my van I had the wrong spring mounted in the wrong place.

Double-extra thunkage.

I took the Transit to a local spring shop, had them replace the springs and got re-reimbursed by SuperSpring.

Front Sumo Springs: Coachmen also installed coil spring spacers in teh front struts (Sumo Springs from SuperSpring). As I drove the campervan last summer I started to hear a bit of a squeak coming from under the driver side dash. I tried to locate it, but failed. As we drove south on this vacation, it got worse. For me, a squeak like that is like finger nails on a chalkboard, so I have to find it. It also might be an early indicator of something major failing.

I eventually determined that the squeak was suspension-related, meaning that it was either the top strut bearing or the Sumo Spring. I was pretty sure it was related to how the Sumo Spring was installed, but wasn’t quite ready to jack up the campervan in a campground and start mucking with the suspension. I also wasn’t sure how & where the strut was mounted. (Turns out the top struct mount bolts are buried under the dash, inside the cabin).

After we got home – 5000 miles of fingernails on chalkboard later – I re-positioned the drivers side Sumo Spring, and in a brief 30 mile test it sounds like the squeak went away. I think Coachmen didn’t fasten the Sumo Spring tightly & it worked its way down the coil and started to squeak.

In retrospect, all it took was a jack, some tie wraps and a bit of arm wrestling. I could have done that in a campground.

1 Comment

  1. craig says:

    when we bought this i assumed we were buying a one ton ford
    turned out i was right and just live with all that entails
    mpg…we also fill at half
    we get about 14.3 mpg@60-65mph
    and 13.7 mpg@75-80mph
    so at least twice the mileage of the regular van based RVs we looked at

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