Wednesday, June 16, 2021
Wednesday, June 16, 2021

RV Product Review: This “Smart Arm Awning” really is smart

By Tony Barthel
I recently had to replace the awning on my travel trailer. I believe it’s relatively common to have damaged the awning, so I’m sure I’m not alone. Initially, I had ordered a factory replacement, but after waiting eight months with no response I was excited when Lippert sent an email about their Solera awnings. 

Lippert

Lippert is literally the big daddy rabbit in the RV industry in terms of parts. If you have a relatively modern RV, it has Lippert parts. Frames, furnishings, windows, doors, and so many other components are on the list of what Lippert supplies to the RV manufacturers. But now the company is reaching out to us RV owners more and more and is making parts and products available in the aftermarket. 

Solera awnings

A product you can buy from Lippert is Solera awnings, and that’s just what happened here. 

Seeing that Lippert had a retail awning division, I asked the repair shop that took off the awning I had damaged for the parts numbers. I have worked in the RV warranty department and know that the part numbers of the old parts makes it much easier to buy the new parts. 

Unfortunately, it had been so long since my old awning had been removed and disposed of that they didn’t have those numbers any longer. 

Dismayed, I flipped through Lippert’s website where the awnings are and it didn’t seem overly difficult to choose a replacement. I clicked and picked and believed that I had come up with all the right parts based on their recommendations, but I called their number just the same. The lady on the other end of the phone literally could have given classes in how to be great at customer service. 

I was very impressed with her knowledge and attitude and it makes me a bit sad that I didn’t write down her name. 

Then, after seeing my email with the confirmation, she forwarded it to Lippert’s marketing folk and they, in turn, sent me the awning so I could evaluate it. So, to be very clear, I originally had every intention of paying for it but they sent me this awning so I could give it an honest review. 

Speaking with the Lippert folk, I learned that they want more opinions about the whole process from the parts themselves to the shipping process to ordering – so here I am. 

What I got

In addition to simply replacing the awning, I upgraded to a Lippert Solera Smart Arm model, which is a direct replacement for my old awning in terms of fit but offers more features. 

The Smart Arm technology has a series of buttons right on the arm that allow you to extend or retract the awning right there. In addition, there is a button for the light under the awning as well as one for a wind sensor. 

This makes the awning even more convenient as you can unlock the control panel and then tap the extend button twice and fully extend the awning without standing there. You can also activate a wind sensor, and there are three levels of wind sensitivity you can set. 

What makes other campers happy is that there are also three levels of brightness for the LED lights under the awning, including one that’s only 10% brightness – which really makes you a good neighbor. 

In fact, there’s an upgrade where the awning would have a heat sensor and the lights under the awning automatically illuminate if it senses someone is there. This would also be good for scaring off critters but may be most useful for scaring off unwanted visitors to your campsite. Or it could function as an automatic courtesy light if you go away and then return to your RV after dark. 

Build quality

So how is this awning compared to the one I had before? Better. In many ways. Not just the fancy features but there are two features, in particular, that make this a much better product than what came with my trailer. 

One of those is the rain dump. My old awning had a manual pitch setting that you had to adjust with a knob. You could pitch down either side of the awning by pulling that side down with your hand and then tightening a knob to keep the awning at that position. This new awning you just pull down and it stays. 

The bonus of this is that, should you forget to put the awning back in “flat” position, you won’t damage it by retracting it. And, no knob to adjust. 

There’s also an access port to the drive gear of the awning. Should you ever have a motor failure or even just lose power to the RV you can open the access port and manually retract the awning. Or, stick an electric drill and driver in there and use that to retract the awning. This feature, alone, makes this awning superior. 

But I also feel the fabric is a bit better and the arms feel a bit heavier gauge. I could be wrong on this, but that’s what it feels like. 

What did I do?

Bent Awning

So, I’m sure you want to know how I damaged the old awning, right? Essentially I was on a narrow country road and a giant fifth-wheel horse trailer was coming the other way. I pulled over to give them some space and, when I pulled out, a tree limb caught the awning and bent it backwards. I was very fortunate that it didn’t damage the trailer – so the replacement was easier. 

In summary

Even without the fancy Smart Arm technology, I wouldn’t hesitate to buy this awning knowing what I know now about the ability to retract it and the rain dump feature. But the Smart Arm functionality is just icing on the cake. 

Lippert has all sorts of replacement parts for awnings for folks who do what I did – from roller tubes to awning fabric to arms and more. It seems that, despite the shortage of parts in the RV business, they have product available. 

Pricing is competitive and the people I dealt with, even before they knew I had planned to share my story with you, were really friendly and very knowledgeable. I can’t recommend working with Lippert on awning parts or a whole new awning enough. 

One more thing

To some, this might be irrelevant, but I follow various management and leadership people in the RV industry including several at Lippert. While some companies are constantly bragging about their products, which makes sense, I really admire that many of the Lippert leadership people brag about how they celebrate the victories and accomplishments of their employees, some of whom have been with the company for quite a long time. 

I don’t work there, of course, and can only relay what I see on social media. But the voicing and tone of the posts give me a lot of respect for this American company in how they treat the people who really make these products. 

As an American from a foreign land, this is the kind of thing that does influence my buying decisions. No company is ever perfect, but my perception is that they try. This is also why I chose to work with Chuck and the team at RV Travel. I like the way the company works and the decisions they make. (Awww … Thanks, Tony! Blush. We sure enjoy and appreciate having you and your expertise with us. And you certainly liven up all of our Zoom meetings! —Diane for Chuck, Emily, and the rest of the RVtravel.com team)

Anyhow, take that for what it’s worth. 

##RVT1002

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Neal Davis
16 days ago

Thank you for the review, and, even more so, for the comments on Lippert and its employees. 🙂 Safe travels!

Skip
17 days ago

I only wonder if you got the service you got because you work at RV Travel. It would be interesting to see if the membership of RV Travel not staff or staff associates or friends-families get or have gotten the same service making the write up no bias.

WEB
16 days ago
Reply to  Skip

I quit reading these ‘honest reviews’ of free things.

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