Tuesday, December 7, 2021

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Our RV’s retractable stairs quit working. Cheaply made parts are to blame

Every now and then my spouse echoes his sentiment on an irritating subject – premature failure of electronic components, or, as he puts it, “cheap crap!” If you’re a full-timer or travel extensively, there’s a good chance you have repaired or replaced an operational component in your RV.

Since reliable parts are no longer manufactured in the states and moved to the land of cheap labor, junk and more junk, reliability has become a thing of the past. It has failed to follow the rules set forth by W. Edwards Deming, the father of quality management. After all, my spouse spent 14 years in manufacturing plants following the Deming principle in mainland China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and elsewhere. He still purports today that manufacturers in the U.S. strive for high reliability, a tenet that has failed to be adopted in China. Make it fast, faster, fastest. Let the customer test for failure! Who cares if the parts per million failure percentage is high?

Frequent electronic component failures

Approximately 18 months ago, our stair motor began sticking. So, we visited Davidson RV and had it replaced. This past August, it started sticking and spuriously working. Hubby contacted Nathan Davidson yet again and queried him regarding the reliability of step motors. Nathan mentioned that step motors, made in China, incorporate nylon ball bearings (not metal as we would expect) which easily wear unevenly. Hmmm. Rather than try to locate a repair kit, it was advised to replace the motor.

So, hubby set out to find a stair motor. First, he contacted Tiffin, our coach’s parts department. They were having difficulty receiving replacement parts. Gee, who would have thought. That means we’re relegated to locate a new motor online… fun, fun!

Dismantling the motor to find a replacement

The most difficult task in locating a replacement motor is determining compatibility or an exact make/model. The defunct motor began working the exact opposite of what was expected. So, as my spouse began to dismantle the old motor, unbeknownst to me, I opened the door to tell him he had a phone call and the darn stairs extended, trapping him under the bottom stair. Thinking they would quickly retract when I closed the door, we were surprised that instead the stairs froze in place and my spouse had to wiggle out from under. It was more embarrassing than anything.

The next thing was to remove the defunct motor. If you wish to do this yourself and are in doubt, take pictures as you progress dismantling the motor. Here’s what to do:

  1. Remove the electrical connector. It has a release button – press and pull that apart.
  2. Ratchet out the three bolts.
  3. As you remove, ensure the spline (shaft which connects the motor to the step housing) and gear come out.
  4. Check the part number on the motor and reference it on Amazon or another internet store.

Grab bag buying. We won’t know until we try!

Hubby did the aforementioned. We ordered and received a replacement motor three days later. He installed it per the instructions and tested it. Didn’t work. Took it back out and applied 12v power and tested it. Deader than a doornail! Another unreliable device! Hubby arranged for a return on Amazon and off he went to drop it off at UPS.

He ordered the second replacement motor. Amazon shipped it out the same day and we received it three days later. Hubby checked it out before installing. It appeared to work. Hubby reinstalled the second motor, this time making sure he didn’t get stuck underneath. We tested it by opening and closing the door. Guess what? The motor was wired backward. I’d open the door and the stairs would retract, close the door and the stairs would extend! A twilight zone experience! Hubby removed the second replacement motor and arranged return to UPS. It was only a 30-minute drive to UPS each way on California toll roads! Fun, fun, fun.

Third time’s a charm

Hubby ordered our third stair replacement motor, this time from a different manufacturer. It was a manufacturer whose name he recognized, hoping the part was at least tested before being boxed and shipped. Hubby tested it and it worked, so he installed the third motor. This time the unit worked properly. Just think – only four hours of travel to return the junk and less than two hours experimenting with the bad. Hubby grumbles, as he should, that it appears to some that our time has no value. After all, isn’t it the manufacturer’s responsibility to ensure their unit was tested and works properly? Or, as it seems, we’ve become the great testing laboratory for China!

Kate Doherty has been writing for more than 30 years in technical and general media. In her previous business, she and her spouse dealt with special projects within the military/government sector. Recently she published Masquerade: A Logan Scott Novel under the pen name Bryan Alexander, a thriller now available in eBook and paperback on Amazon. It’s a page-turner!

##RVT1025

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Bob P
1 month ago

I had the same experience of the step motor being wired backwards, close the door they open, open the door they close. Instead of sending it back to eBay and going through the hassle of returns I decided to manipulate the wiring. I installed simple toggle switch to disable the stairs once they extend, worked for 3 years until I sold it. The new owner couldn’t seem to understand the operation, I told him he could easily order a new Chinese motor and possibly get lucky or not. I haven’t heard back so he either followed my advice or spent large amounts of money at a dealership replacing the reverse wired motor from China.

TomS
1 month ago

This doesn’t work for all models, but:
From Chris Bryant RV
If your Kwikee steps simply get jammed, and you are getting power to them (you can hear the box click when you open or close the door, and the under step light is going on and off), quite often it is just these small plastic parts that are bad- not the whole motor. The symptoms of failure for these parts are that the step will get stuck in the extended or retracted position, yet the step is still getting power.
Dorman 74410 Window regulator gear plugs
http://rx4rv.com/ broken blog

Neal Davis
1 month ago

We had a similar problem during our 4-month odyssey to Alaska and back in 2019. Unfortunately, I am not handy so we got an appointment at Artic RV and they successfully replaced our motor assembly. The steps still extend and retract on cue. 🙂 However, we had a similar recent experience with the fuel injection pump on our 1973 Ford 3000 farm tractor. The first replacement pump worked only when manually manipulated. The second dripped diesel fuel (which became a flow after starting the tractor). We hope that replacement #3, which arrived earlier this week, will be the charmer that actually works. We’ll see.

Clint
1 month ago

I’d like to solve the puzzle Pat——a Lippert product!!

Larry
1 month ago

I had a step motor seize this past summer while on a group tour. Luckily there were two very handy guys who pulled the motor and diagnosed it as dead. Water had gotten inside and froze the motor. We got the motor numbers and called a local RV store. Of course they didn’t have the part so we looked on ebay. Found it and ordered it to arrive at an RV park a week or so down the line. Came in and these two great gentlemen installed it for me. Funny thing the new motor and transmission was so inexpensive ($36) that I just ordered and received a backup. I’ll probably never need it but nice to know it will be there if I should. BTW, the RV store said it would be about 4 times as much.

Scott Ellis
1 month ago

Did you write that rant on an iPhone, Chinese-made and probably the most reliable thing you own? To blame “China” without also acknowledging our own demand for ever-cheaper stuff is to mistake effect for cause.

Vincee
1 month ago

Different steps, different RVs have different magnet setups that operate the steps when the door opens and closes. The motors that worked but you got the opposite action from them could’ve been fixed by reversing the magnet set-ups. This happened to me when I switched from Coach Steps (Lippert) to Kwikee Steps (bought by Lippert). The Kwikee Steps I had to switch out the magnet set-up.

Crowman
1 month ago

Bought it on Amazon. Half the stuff they sell is China crap and everyone is surprised when it doesn’t work.

Dan
1 month ago

We had trouble with our automatic steps trying to run on when they were opening or closing. I looked underneath and lo and behold! A windshield wiper motor! So after playing with it for a while I found the transmission that moved the levers to the steps was shot. Got on the interweb and found a new motor/transmission unit for about $300 or a new complete set of steps for $400. Then I found a place in Texas called RV-Com. I got a complete set of all aluminum steps with a nice deck for almost the same price. Takes me less than 3 minutes to set up or take down. No motor, no wires, nothing to fail. Best of all, my big old Shepherd just walks right in to the RV. She’s gotten older and cannot jump inside like she used to do.

John
1 month ago

Second one would have worked if it had been installed correctly?

tom
1 month ago

Unfortunately, cheaper to make has become the norm, than the outlier. Not cheaper to the customer.