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Rant, Part 2: Making the F-53 chassis safer to drive

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Last week I ranted about the RV manufacturers’ use of Ford’s F-53 chassis to build Class A gas motorhomes. Many of you shared your experiences and thoughts about the F-53 chassis. I appreciated all the comments—some of you agreed with my opinions, and some did not. Some of you had good experiences with a coach on an F-53… and some did not. And, as expected, some placed the blame squarely on my shoulders for not having done proper research and not knowing that I would likely need to spend money to upgrade the suspension after I bought it.

Of those that agreed that the F-53 chassis was problematic, some discovered this before they purchased, some found out the hard way post-purchase, and some paid the price and dismissed the gas coach and upgraded to a diesel pusher.

Reader comments about the Ford F-53 chassis

“Great blog! I had no idea of how crappy the chassis was on these rigs. I was scared to death when I started driving our rig, passing semi-trucks and handling windy conditions. We have an Entegra Emblem 36U with the F53 chassis. I’ve upgraded the shocks to KONIs and added a steering stabilizer. The cost for all this was around $2,500. It could have easily been done by Entegra for less and I would have been happy to pay it!” —Aaron H.

“We’re with you. After two trips now from PA to SoCal, we’re upgrading to Liquid Springs suspension in our 2018 Georgetown XL in a few weeks. I’m convinced that the industry won’t upgrade to a better solution for gassers explicitly so that people will trade up to diesel pushers. We are hoping that this time we won’t arrive in San Diego utterly exhausted from 10 days or so of being battered on the roads. And after doing the math, it seemed a reasonable solution to try, and if it gets us five more years in this coach it will be worth it.” —Claudia 

Some are quite happy with their rigs:

“Wow… what a rant. I have a 2013 32-foot gasser on the F-53 chassis, no mods, and it is fine for me. Yes, the ride is a little harsher than my car but my motorhome is not a car. You might want to slow down on bad roads so dishes don’t fly around. My Class C was much worse for wind pushing me around than in my Class A. I would recommend the F-53 chassis. Besides, what is the alternative?” —David H.

“I don’t understand. I have a 2003 Georgie Boy Cruise Naster on a Ford F-53 chassis. Thirty-six feet long on a 22K lbs. chassis. My cupboards never fly open and my wife and I can hold a normal conversation on the highway. Semi-trucks do not push me around. Does it ride like a car? No, but it is not a car. It’s on a medium TRUCK chassis. It rides rougher than a car because it’s a TRUCK. Just because it doesn’t meet your expectations doesn’t mean the manufacturer has done anything wrong. They provide a product to meet a price point $100K cheaper than a diesel pusher. There are going to be tradeoffs. Shame on you for not doing your homework.” —David R.

“Problem” is on shoulders of manufacturers

And some agreed that this “problem” is squarely on the shoulders of the manufacturers and it is up to us to make better choices or the manufacturers will never change:

“Reading all these comments leaves me with one conclusion… Why should the buyer have to put another several hundred to thousands of dollars into a new motorhome just to make it better and safer to drive? I refuse to even consider a F-53 chassis under a motorhome and have walked out of several dealers’ lots letting them know that they are selling something that is poorly designed. When you buy a new car do you immediately have to put in new shocks, steering stabilizers, etc., before you can enjoy it? No! People need to start balking at buying this junk.” —Bob P.

Include chassis and suspension in research before buying RV

I will gladly suffer those slings and arrows in order to educate people who, like me, had no clue that we had to include the chassis and suspension in my research. I never expected my RV to drive like a car and knew it drove more like a truck, but I did not expect such a frightening and horrible experience.

This week I will share with you what I, and countless other owners, must do to make their F-53 coach easier and safer to drive.

Making the F-53 chassis safer to drive

As a veterinarian, I know a lot about the workings of cats but little about the workings of cars, trucks and RVs. I have had to learn as I go with the help of many, including RV Travel’s Dave Solberg, Tony Barthel and Mike Sokol. I’ve also learned a lot from various chat boards and from speaking to vendors who work with F-53 owners to “fix” their chassis.

I found a service company in Grants Pass, OR, called Henderson’s Line-Up, that specializes in evaluating and enhancing RV suspension, steering and chassis performance. A huge number of Newmar owners and other F-53-based RV owners have used Henderson’s and rave about their results. Henderson’s sells the upgrade products on their SuperSteer site, and I elected to have Jose do the work rather than take it to Oregon. The staff at Henderson’s offer great support and provide videos of how to install the products. There are quite a few other shops that do similar work.

Typical modifications

The typical modifications that Henderson’s, other service companies and those intrepid RV DIYers do are:

  • Replacing medium-duty stock shocks with KONI TMS shocks, front and back. Some people even double-up the KONIs and have four shocks front and back.
  • Adding upgraded springs, such as Sumo Springs, to front and rear.
KONI shocks and upgraded Roadmaster anti-sway bars
  • Adding upgraded sway bars and trac bars front and back. The existing bar on my rig was loose and bent, as were the brackets holding the shocks. I am using a Roadmaster product.
  • Adding a steering enhancement kit that improves steering responsiveness by reducing body roll, rear sway (“tail wagging the dog”), the dreaded push-pull of a passing semi, and the white-knuckle impact of crosswinds.
SuperSteer trac bar addition

Jose is doing all of the above with Henderson’s SuperSteer and Roadmaster parts. All in all, the parts alone are costing me north of $6,000. Add the labor onto that and you have a substantial cost to fix a problem that, in my opinion, should never have even presented itself. I won’t try to put a monetary value on my time and on the emotional stress of dealing with the terrifying ride.

LiquidSpring upgrade

Dave Solberg told me about a product called LiquidSpring® that is a substantial upgrade to the F-53 suspension. Tiffin is the only manufacturer that offers a LiquidSpring option for their gas Allegro Open Road models. GOOD FOR TIFFIN!

Last year when dealing with this, I contacted LiquidSpring and one of their dealers. The dealer was busy putting them on fire trucks and ambulances that were built on the F-550/F-53 chassis and there was no available time. And then there was the cost … around $25,000! It is good to know that Henderson’s Line-Up now installs this product for people who can afford it. Here is the LiquidSpring website.

I am looking forward to road-testing my Newmar coach with its new suspension and I will report back with the results. In the meantime, I am continuing my research and next week I will go into more depth about what is going on in the industry regarding the F-53. I will include more details about LiquidSpring and their plans. Will more manufacturers offer upgrade options? I certainly hope so.

Have stories to share about your F-53 coach? Please comment below or send me an email at drkarel47@gmail.com. You can also post in my forum so others can join in the discussion.

##RVT1072

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BryanC
2 months ago

Karel, thank you for your article. Interestingly, I just watched a YouTube put out by a content creator that compared their driving experience with all 5 of the RVs they had owned. They rated the Class A and Class C as the most trying & tiring and the 5th wheel with their dually as the best. Newbies need the voices of experience such as yours and articles like this to be better informed when they make their decisions. Doing a test drive around the block is nothing like a 500-mile trip and we don’t get the option of the latter before signing the sales contract. Three RVs ago, we had a 30ft MH on an F53 chassis and learned the hard way, despite reading about RVs for years.

Karel Carnohan
2 months ago
Reply to  BryanC

Thank you Bryan. Internet capabilities are making it easier to “drive” a coach virtually but as you say nothing compares to a 500 mile trip on today’s highways. This is why I think the manufacturers should address this issue. They know the problems – it’s shown all over the internet.

BillMFl
2 months ago

I am a very long time river having owned 3 mhs, 2 5vers and 2 hightop vans. My current 32ft Integra is the easiest MH I have owned to drive. It rides very smooth, handles easily, and is a pleasure to drive. I barely feel the push from passing trucks, steering is firm and true and aside from the v8 being a bit louder than the v10 the ride and handling are excellent. Now I must point out that I no longer pound down the interstates at 75mph! I do go 70 on smooth flat roads but back off the speed when conditions are poor due to rough, detiorating road surfaces. Many interstate roads are beaten up pretty bad by the heavy traffic and huge number of semis. Also I no longer stuff my storage bins to the max. And I rarely drive in the left lane like I used to when I was younger and always in a hurry. Instead of 500 to 600 mile days I now do 350 to 400 max. I get to my eventual destination less stressed and way more relaxed. And not pushing your rig to the max is a way better ride.

Randy Moss
2 months ago

The only people who think an F53 chassis rides like a truck are the people who have never driven a medium duty Ford truck They compare it to the car or suv they normally drive. I drove Ford trucks for many years and my 2 F53 equipped motorhomes were a delight in comparison.

Steve
2 months ago

(Bleeped by Diane. Sheesh, Steve!) Have you ever driven a BIG truck? You want a 40 foot rolling house on wheels, expect it to ride like your spongy ride SUV and want to pay for a used V-Dub bus. You are driving a 27000 pound box sail on wheels, it’s 40 foot long, has the aero-dynamic characteristics of a wall and you wonder why it rocks when you pass a semi. I drive a farm truck the weighs 70,000 pound and when I meet other big trucks, it shakes and overall it ride terrible. I agree it could have more power (I miss my 400 hp 350 diesel) but overall I think it’s a good ride for the money. If you want the ‘liquid-spring’, pay for it. You want a diesel pay for it. Yes, I have put better overloads on it and may add more, but it drive as one would expect. When’s the last time you rode in a Greyhound bus, they rock like crazy. Overall the F-53 is an excellent chassis. No other mfg offered an alternative. Rock on!

Admin
RV Staff(@rvstaff)
2 months ago

You go get him, Karel! (I removed the rudest part of his comment, BTW.) Have a good evening. 😀 –Diane

Daniel A.
2 months ago

After reading “pt 2 Rant” I felt compelled to add my comments and obversations. I do not own a class A, but have driven my parents’ class A (2006 38 ft Ford V-10). I had no problems driving it. It had truck handling because it is on a truck frame…period. It will not drive like your family car or pick-up. I own a 3 year old Ram truck and 3 year old 27 ft trailer. Why is it that the overwhelming majority of class a owners (and most rv’ers in general) insist upon driving70-85 mph. SLOW DOWN. You will save $$ and wear and tear on your rv/rig if you just slow down. I seldom go over 60 and if I do, I NEVER go over 65. It’s good common sense. If your dishes go flying and your cabinet doors fly open you are driving TOO FAST. When big rigs or large RV’s pass me I move to the right instinctually. If the wind starts pushing me around I’m done for the day…it’s not worth risking my rig, my life, and the lives of others. One other thought…STAY OFF THE PHONE…I see it too often.

Neal Davis
2 months ago

Very sorry that you have had so much trouble. I had no idea that Newmar sold RV kits that lack all the necessary parts, or something approximately that. We have a 2022 New Aire that is due in early January in Nappanee for 3 weeks of warranty work. Guess it is up to owners to identify manufacturer short-comings for them. Safe travels!

Joel L
2 months ago

While I have never had an F-53 chassis I. have owned 2 class C Born Free coaches on Ford E-450 chassis which can sometimes have some of the same handling issues that the F-53 chassis has. On the first I went through some of the common chassis improvements such as improved shocks and sway bars but on the second I ordered it with Liquid Springs. The difference was amazing. One test drive with a liquid springs equipped coach sold me. The Liquid Springs company is also a breath of fresh air in the RV industry. Their customer service was outstanding.

J J
2 months ago

The Ford F-53 has been in production since the latter part of the 20th century with numerous changes, as one would expect. The original one used a 2-valve V10 engine with a 4-speed transmission, then a 3-valve engine, then a 5-speed transmission, and then the 2016-2019 V10 chassis went to a 6-speed transmission. Now the F-53 uses a V8 engine. The gross vehicle weight of the various models ranges from 16,000 lbs to 26,000 lbs, a 5-ton difference. The lighter and shorter wheelbase chassis use 19.5″ wheels while the longer, heavier ones use 22.5″ wheels. Larger tires means a better ride and handling. The V8 has massive 2″ wide front and rear sway bars. The shorter wheelbase, lighter chassis with the 19.5″ wheels have the most complaints about the ride and the handling. In other words, not all F-53’s are created equal and articles or comments that make specific statements should note the year, the GVWR, and the wheelbase. Details matter if accuracy is the point of an article or statement.

Jim charters
2 months ago

Many years ago I read an article in an rv magazine, it’s conclusion was that a gas chassis was good up to 32 feet. Over 32 diesel was better. The ccc on over 32 ft gas was to small. At that time I owned a 32 foot class a on a workhorse chassis. I never have driven an f53 so I can not compare it with the ford.

Drew
2 months ago

I too have all the handling issues (’07 F53). However, 90% of the time we camp three miles from where we store the rig so there’s very little driving. During the rare long distance trip I just go under 65 and use caution. After many years of ownership I know what to expect.

Rod B
2 months ago

Most people that are happy with the f53 have 32 or34 ft rvs, not 40 ft which is too much length for the f53. A good web site for different views is irv2.com. Research before you buy.

Joe
2 months ago

My first motorhome was on the F-53 chassis. I looked at the weight to horsepower/torque ratio and decided that 31 feet is about the maximum for the drivetrain. Also taken into consideration was the overhang from the rear axle that takes away control from the steering wheels and contributes to the push when being passed by tractor trailers and came up with about 29 feet was the break point. All in all we ended up with a 29’6” motorhome. We ended up putting sumo-springs, upgraded the shocks, larger front and rear stabilizer bars and front steering stabilizer. Thankfully I could do all the work myself except for the rear sumo- springs that I had installed by Camping World under their “we install anything for $39.00” plan. The coach handled better and the Shocks and sumo-springs took the edge off the harsh ride. Now we own a 42 foot diesel pusher on a Freightliner frame, the ride and handling performance is way better than the F-53 will ever have.

Jeff
2 months ago

A lot depends on how the coach part is built considering weight distribution and the like. I will also add that there are several other variables (chassis length, weight rating, wheel and tire size, not to mention tire PSI). I’ve owned two gas motorhomes on the F-53. On the first I did a ton of modifications (shocks, sway bars, rear track bar, steering stabilizer). It improved slightly. On my second coach it came completely stock and frankly needed nothing. I couldn’t have been more pleased with the ride. No two gas F-53 coaches are alike. The new redesign with the V8 and suspension improvements is reportedly even better. I haven’t driven one yet but I am told they are a considerable improvement over the previous versions.

Matt
2 months ago
Reply to  Jeff

Agreed on this. You’re seeing a drastic difference in responses because the actual coach itself makes that big of a difference. The F-53 isn’t ever going to ride particularly smooth, and that alone is a shame. But it is sensitive to weight distribution just like a truck and travel trailer. I’ve previously been told to ‘watch out for the ones with as much truck behind the rear axle as in front of it’. This makes sense from an engineering perspective. Also, bent components on yours make me think it was run (either previously or not) overloaded.

Ford has made upgrades to the new ones from the factory, which reportedly help. But I agree that manufacturers are putting out some products that shouldn’t be on the road. Some (sounds like Winnebago from the comments) seem to account for chassis dynamics and weight distribution. And some just load it up and long as it’s legal they send it. Again I go back to my travel trailer experience: no amount of upgrades fix improper weight distribution.

Dan
2 months ago

Rather than beating up Ford and the RV manufacturers, you could be ranting about buying a vehicle sight-unseen and then doing your homework to see what the rest of the world thinks. Your articles try to place the blame on product which has been out there for a long time. Once again, caveat emptor.

Bob p
2 months ago
Reply to  Dan

The fact remains that the F53 is a TRUCK chassis that was not designed as a motorhome chassis. The RV industry buys these because they’re cheaper than a chassis designed for the needs of the RVer. The RV industry knows the average motorhome buyer will not research before buying because most buyers buy glitz not performance only later regretting their decision. With articles like this maybe RVers will think about their purchase before it’s too late. It’s good you’re happy with yours, I wasn’t, and being a extruck driver I knew it wasn’t right. The handling sucks, the performance between power and economy sucks.

MevetS
2 months ago

I would suggest that it may be a big assumption to believe that driving a Class A DP, would be a drastically different driving experience. The driving of our, now sold, Tiffin Breeze 31′ Class A diesel, was very similar to many of the comments about driving the gasser. (lane stability and frequent steering correction) And that was after upgrading to Koni shocks and Steer Safer Steering damper.

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