Step Well Cover…

Back in February ’16, when this RV was still on the consignment lot, on one of my visits, I saw the tech working on the ‘step well cover’ operation. I wasn’t sure if he knew what was wrong, but later on, when we were doing the PDI, the step cover worked fine. And it did for the next 3 months I owned it. And then my brother came to travel with me on a trip up to visit our sister. And the well cover was one of the casualties of the ‘jinx’ that he carries around as part of his persona. One morning, as we prepared to leave, he closed it too early in our preparation and when he tried to retract it using the switch, nothing. It just stayed in the extended position.

I climbed over the step down to the ground and operated this manual/auto switch…which fell apart sort of. At least the back portion separated from the handle type front. It was obvious that it’s an air valve as there’s no electrical wires going to it. And I don’t know much about air systems so it was all a bit confusing.

I had noticed the day before that he was resting one of his shoed feet on the manual air release so that’s probably why it came apart…most likely. I messed with that assembly for a bit, put it back together, but still wasn’t able to push the step well cover in to allow easier access to the RV. But then, after starting the engine, and it pumping up the air, the cover moved to the retracted position. Great. But the switch to close it next to the passenger seat had no effect. Anyway, off we drive. Problem is that having the cover retracted is not comfortable for the passenger. He had to turn the seat nearly 90 degrees to have somewhere to put his feet. I sure wasn’t going to let him put those grimy things on the dash. Eventually I remembered I had one of those little collapsing steps and he used that for the rest of the trip.

Later, I inspected and put the air switch back together, after I’d snaked the other half up to the opening from inside the wall there…I tied a length of cord to it in case it ever drops off again, making it easier to pull back up. It seem to snap together and operate correctly afterwards, but still no operation from the well cover. This was was early in my learning process so I wasn’t exactly sure how it all worked…

Anyway, after that trip, and dropping him off at the airport for his trip home, since I really don’t need to use the cover that much, I didn’t think much about it. Just left it retracted. Eventually, I knew I needed to get it working again in case a friend wanted to visit and travel so a few weeks later, I did some testing.

First thing, I pulled this switch right next to the passenger’s seat, and darned if it didn’t read high ohms occasionally when you push it to the ‘Extend’ position. Hah! So after some online work, I found the exact replacement switch and ordered it from eBay. Installed it a couple weeks later and, nothing. Noticed that the push on wire terminals were rather loose on the switch’s spade terminals. Hmmm, well, my pliers aren’t nearby right now so I’ll get back to that. Anyway, operating the new switch didn’t do anything!

Had to leave the RV park the next morning so put everything back together and promptly forgot about it. Weeks later, decided to work on it again, and checked a few things in the documents I have from Winnie…couldn’t find much about the system, so started a thread on web site

The great answers I got from members there lead me to the front of the RV, under the hood, not under the front of the RV like I’d expected. No need to crawl around in the dirt banging my head on the undercarriage.

Just had to unlatch this ‘hood’, open it up, and you see all this stuff inside, including many fuses, relays, and circuit breakers for 12 volt under that cover in the center…naturally, I checked for a ‘Step Well Cover’ fuse or CB but didn’t find anything. The drawings Winnie provided weren’t much help either. Down below the left edge inside there is a small air tank with a gauge and Schrader valve on it. So that’s the air source for the step cover system.

I wasn’t sure what I was looking for but someone on iRV2 give me enough to go on. I was looking for a solenoid because of the switch next to the passenger, but am not familiar with air manifolds. Eventually, I found it, thanks to the advice from iRV2. The step well cover is air operated using this air manifold (aluminum block rectangle in the next pic) with, it turns out, a solenoid on top and bottom. With air lines going to it. Seems as though when the button next to the passenger is pushed, it operates one of these solenoids, which Extends/Retracts the cover using an air ram under the cover. OK. Think I have a handle on this now. First I got my air compressor (little one, but capable of reaching 300 psi) and pumped up the air bottle under the hood to 120 psi. Which is what the engine would pump it to.

Then pressed the little blue buttons on the manifold shown here and viola’, the cover extended, and retracted. Great. Air manifold, air tubing, air ram, all working. Next I checked the brand new switch I’d installed a few weeks ago, and the cover would Retract, but not Extend. Doh!

And that’s when I just went ahead and cut the wires to the ‘Extend’ solenoid. (I just guessed that it was the lower solenoid…and that turned out to be correct). The black device with the yellow and white wires going to it at the bottom of the air manifold. Annnndddd, it’s open circuit. Jeese. Bad switch, and a bad solenoid. Along with the Auto/Manual air switch that fell apart. The triple threat to a technician, 3 problems all in the same system.

Again with some online checking, I find a set of 2 of the Rexroth solenoids available from an eBay store for $20. I’m ok with that. A couple weeks later, I get the solenoids and get to the job of installing the lower one. There’s a plastic knob with threaded insert that holds the solenoid coil in place and screws onto the metal shaft that the coils enclose; removed that, slipped off the bad coil, cleaned up the shaft, slipped the new coil onto the shaft and tightened the knob back on. Reconnected the wires. Still doesn’t work. Gah! Will it never end! Well, at least the weather is nice here in Mexico. Lots of 70 degree weather and sunny skies.

Today I decided was the day to work on it again, and measured the voltage at the solenoid. And I was reading 12 volt on each lead at the solenoid while someone operated the switch for me. Hmmm, that’s not right. Means the ground wire is open circuit.  And that’s when I pulled the switch out of the passengers side plastic molded side cabinet and discovered that both of the wires that were loose weeks ago had fallen off of the ‘Extend’ and ‘Retract’ terminals of the switch. Probably just from road vibration during my trip down here. That’s when I remembered that back then I should have squeezed the terminals before attaching them to the switch. My fault.

Once the switch wire terminals were squeezed a bit, and pushed back onto the switch terminals, all was well. The step well cover now operates just fine…as long as there is air. If the air pressure has bled off, and the cover is extended, you just need to operate the manual switch and you can push it back in.

How I think the circuit works (the schematic I have isn’t easy to follow) is the white wires come from the solenoids and that go to the switch are ground wires, but are only grounded when the switch is operated. The yellow wires going to the solenoids come from a fuse somewhere and are hot (have voltage on them) all the time. Even with the key off. Which explains why I read +12 volt on either lead of the Extend solenoid when I was testing out there under the hood. Pressing the passenger side switch applies a ground and operates one or the other of the solenoids to either push the air ram one way or the other. So, yellow wires Hot, white wires switched Ground. Got it.

Once it was working again, I did some operational testing:

  • First, the cover works as long as the air pressure in the reservoir is high enough, no matter the position of the key. Which makes sense, you park the RV, turn off the key get up and discover the cover is extended. Push the button next to the passenger, and no need to turn on the key.
  • If you are standing on the cover, and press the ‘Retract’ switch, it doesn’t have the strength to move. That’s a safety thing most likely. Once you step off, it’ll retract.
  • If you try to hold it back from extending, like if your leg is in the way on a step, takes a bit more force to stop it, but doable. It won’t cut off your leg or anything…not strong enough.
  • If you need to retract it with the Auto/Manual valve, that works fine, but you can’t pull it back to the extended position UNLESS the air is bled off, and there’s a Schrader valve under the hood on top of the air tank for that.
  • You can press the upper or lower blue button on the manifold to either operate the cover, or release air to allow manual operation. Some readers have said their buttons are yellow.
  • Keep kids away when operating the cover. Don’t even show them where the passengers switch is as the solenoids are made for intermittent duty and the cover is not a toy.

The big thing is if any of the electrical components give out, or the fuse blows, (wherever that is), you can use those handy little blue buttons on the air manifold to operate the cover in either direction until you can get the time or place to service it.

So there you have it. Instructions on how to deal with the Air Operated Step Well Cover for a P36L model Journey.

It’s great being retired and having the time to thoroughly investigate a problem…than fix it. Breaks up the day a little.