Replacing the Awning Spring – Dec. 2013.
I’d finally had enough fighting with the loose actuator arm on the awning that when I happened to see a truck with ‘Awning Repair’ vinyl magnetic sign on it’s door, I immediately went over and talked to the guy. After he finished up the job he was working on, he came over to my site (here at Blue River RV in Parker, Arizona), looked at my awning, and gave me a written quote right then and there. Parts, labor, and tax would come to $174. Whoopie! I was so tired of fighting with it.
He gets the ball rolling and orders the part, and a couple days later he shows up with the new spring and actuator assembly (it all comes as one assembly). It’s installed and working within minutes. It makes a nice clicky ratcheting sound when I operate the lever to retract or extend so I trust it enough that I no longer use the latching system I installed a few years ago (see below).
Repairing the Awning…again.
My Colorado Carefree awning spring let loose again a couple months ago while I was up in Fairbanks. It’s an 18′, SpiritFX, purchased in ’99 by the previous owners. I didn’t really need the awning in that coolish weather so I didn’t do anything about it until I arrived here in Walla Walla under sunny skies and with 80°F temperatures. I had had to rewind it the first time in Mazatlan back in March of ’07. Taking it apart back then I found that nothing was broken, but the spring had just slipped on the post it’s friction fitted to. Discovering how to rewind it took a couple of hours of internet searching. I found that Carefree Awnings has a website with PDF files with exploded views and instructions, including the number of turns needed on the spring. But the instructions I found were not all that clear for a first time rewinder so I’ve included some advice here.
Back in ’07, I undid the rear assembly and found that the rear spring was fine (my awning has two springs, a front and a rear). But I did let it unwind, cleaned things up, got rid of some of the rust in and around the spring, wiped it down with oil, then rewound it to 15 turns. Then I went to the front end of the awning and did the same thing there. At that time, the spring grabbed the cone in the endcap very tightly. The spring seemed to be happy and my awning worked great up until June of ’09. That’s when I heard that ‘sprong-rattle-rattle-rattle’ noise springs make when they unwind rapidly.
Now that I’m in a warm & dry area with lots of sunshine, somewhere where I actually need the awning, I thought it was time to see what I could do to re-repair it. Again, when I took the front end apart there was nothing broken, just the spring off it’s post. So, thinking that was all that was wrong I tried to rewind it but it would get 12-13 turns on it and then let go of the post. It appears that the post has gotten smoothed out by the spring as it’s spun those times when it has let go previously. There are some faint lines in the metal that suggest it used to have grooves that corresponded to the spring but they were pretty much worn away.
Did I mention that everything is aluminum? Except the spring? At my sons suggestion, I go get some sticky backed tread tape, the stuff you use on steps to prevent slipping, thinking that would do it. It didn’t. Get it up to 14-15 turns and it gives way again, winding the tread tape off the post. Seems the sticky back isn’t strong enough. Though it did seem like it was going to work there for a while.
I thought I’d finally try that Gorilla glue everyone raves about. After two hours of drying time, I find that the spring still turns on the post so I leave it to dry overnight. It did get down to 59°F during the night but the glue seems nice and hard the next morning. A couple tests show that it’s probably going to do the job.
So, here’s what I did with the spring holding nicely to the post:
First, the awning is extended and the rear end of the awning is supported by the support arm latched in place. The lower support arms, both front & rear, are not extended. Then the pull down strap was tied to a nearby tree to prevent the single spring in the rear portion of the awning from winding it up. The front awning support arm is removed from the upper support member by removing an Allen screw (go take a look at your awning, you’ll see it near the RV end of the lower support arm channel). Taking the front awning upper support out of the assembly makes it easier to reattach the locking mechanism once the spring is wound and less chance of knocking the release mechanism open, which would cause it to unwind wildly. I whacked my hand badly when this happened to me. You should wear leather gloves for this work. Have your tools handy so you don’t have to drop everything in the middle of the job to grab something. Note that there are only 3 screws required by the awning. Have them nearby, like in your pocket, with the tools needed to tighten them. Make an index mark on the roller and the endcap.
Once you have ascertained that the spring is nice and tight on the endcap cone, you can proceed with reassembly and winding the spring. The first time I did this job, the spring grabbed without complaint, and held tight, but it let go after two years. This time I added Gorilla glue after messing around with other methods that didn’t work. Like roughing up the cone with a file (made it worse and the spring just spun on the cone), bending the coils of the spring so it would be tighter (didn’t seem to do much, I could get maybe 5-6 turns of the spring), adding sticky backed tread tape (after a few winds of the spring, it just tore the tape off the cone), and using a hose clamp (not enough clearance). Since a rod goes through the cone, there wasn’t enough metal in the cone to drill holes and add threaded screws to hold the spring.
Here’s the instructions for rewinding AFTER you have the spring nice and tight and grabbing the cone without slipping:
1. Line up the index mark made on the roller to the one on the endcap, rubber hammer it onto the end of the roller with NO tension on the spring;
2. Install the two screws that hold the endcap to the roller, note that at this point the awning roller is supported at the rear end by the rear support arm and in the front by laying the assembly on the front lower support arm, which is still attached to the bracket on the RV. It’s prevented from trying to wind up by the pull strap tied to the tree (or cement block);
3. Grab the endcap with vise grips. Using the vise grips for torque, turn the endcap 14 turns (the installers manual says 15 but I think that’s too tight as it bangs too hard as it hits the stop when it rolls up), the arrows embossed on the cap by Carefree show me which direction to wind and the internal ratcheting mechanism prevents it from spinning back when ever I relax to regrip the vise grips (but it remains attached to the endcap, just my hand moves to a better position), but be careful here too. Don’t put your hand(s) where you might unlatch the latching lever;
4. After 14-15 turns, remove the front lower support arm from the bracket on the RV (I had been using it solely for support of the awning tube while I wound the spring) and carefully work the lock/unlock bale (which is attached to the lower support arm and slides up and down) over the release latch, then insert the arm into the endcap assembly (since the arm has been removed from it’s attachments, this should be easy). CAUTION: Avoid bumping the Lock/Unlock lever on the endcap as this can cause it to release and rapidly unwind the spring with a dangerous and rapid spinning of the endcap assembly;
5. Insert and tighten the 1/4 -20 X 1/2″ screw through the endcap into the support arm, after doing this, it’s pretty safe;
6. Fit the front lower support arm back into the latching bracket on the side of the RV, insert the front upper support arm into the channel and install the Allen screw to hold it in place (the front upper support arm was only removed to make it easier to manipulate the lower support arm);
7. Untie the pull strap from the tree or cement block or where ever it’s tied, unlatch and slide the rear support arm back to stored position, do the same to the front support arm;
8. Using the Lock/Unlock lever, lock the awning, which should cause it to wind up if you turned the spring the right way. Keep a hold of the pull strap.
Done! So far the Gorilla glue is doing the job and the spring is holding. Just hope the glue finally fixes it permanently.
One of the accidents I had was to allow the front lower support arm to be moved to much fore and aft. This eventually broke the pins in the latch which make an axle. I had to remove the assembly, carefully drill a hole through the latch where the pins use to be, and insert a rod (I used a 10-24 screw that I’d sawed the head off) as a replacement. All is well and the latch gets used so seldom, I expect it to last many years. Just a note if you need to do this, there are two slots that are slightly smaller then the pins (and the bolt I used as the axle) were. Tapping on the axle with a screw driver and a mallet helped snap the new axle into the support. There is a little play between the axle and the axle slot and I guess that’s to allow for some fore and aft movement of the arm without breaking the OEM axle…I just went to far, I suppose.
Further awning repairs…
After I got the awning spring rewound, I decided to work on the rear upper support arm. The cinching screw that keeps the arm from moving to much in the wind was rusted in place so I couldn’t turn it. First I soaked it in PB Blaster to try to unfreeze it. I let it soak overnight, that didn’t seem to do much. So I grabbed some tools and tried to turn it. It finally started to move but all that did was strip the threads in the big nut. So, off to the RV store where I was lucky enough to find a bag of replacement knobs (2). Back home, I found the only way to get the thing of the arm was to hack saw it off. I used a small saw that I could get into the space I had and hacked away at it until I could break the bolt. That did damage the nice baked enamel paint but I had to to get it off.
The hard part to this job was cutting the bolt since the threads were stripped and I couldn’t just unscrew the knob, and then there was trouble lining up the new flat nut so I could get the new knob threaded on. I did use some lithium grease on the parts so it won’t rust for a while. Another maintenance item for me, yea, I guess.
Awning Lock exposed.
A couple years ago, I came up with this awning lock that prevents the awning from unfurling if you’re driving and get hit with a quartering wind. The ratcheting mechanism in the awning wears down pretty quickly, less then a year in some cases, and allows the wind to come up under the cover, pull the awning out and it becomes a sail. Not fun if you’re driving at 60MPH. Dangerous.
What I did was grab a gate latch from the hardware store, had a welder weld that ring bolt to the shaft and then installed it on the rear of the awning by removing the endcap bolt and replacing it with a longer one, then drilling a new hole for a 8-32 bolt with locknut.
The end of the latch bolt slips around 1″ into the hole in the awning and will prevent the awning tube from rotating in the wind.
I use my awning rod to latch/unlatch it but I’ve found that I need a 63″ rather then the 42″ one I’m using. The shorter rod works, it’s just a longer rod would make operating the latch easier. Of course, if I was taller, that would help too.
One hole was already there, it was for the screw that held the end cap on. I bought a longer screw to replace the one that was there, then drilled a new, smaller hole for another screw. Drilled another hole in the latching mechanism as well because the two that were already there were too far apart and didn’t match up to the holes in the awning cap. This amounted in having two screws to hold the latch.
When the awning is rolled up the latch generally lines up with the hole in the awning roller so it’s easy to put my awning hook into the eye of the latch and slide it into the hole. Sometimes it doesn’t line up and I have to unroll and reroll it a couple times. The latch does a good job staying in place over rough roads, I’ve never found it bounced out of place. If I ever do, I’ll just add a bungee cord to hold it.
Lashing the Awning—Preventing a disaster. These pictures show how I lash my awning after I’ve locked and clamped it in place before a trip. The added rod and bungee cords help prevent the wind from picking up the awning and unfurling it while traveling down the road, even though it’s closed and latched in the travel position. The installed locking mechanism sometimes can be vibrated loose by the road or by wind gusts and release when buffeted by a strong quartering wind. RVs that are unlucky enough to have this happen can end up in a ditch or can cause huge accidents. The awning can unfurl and flop over the roof or rip off and fly away or can act like a parachute and lift the RV up and push it over a lane or two, all depending on wind speed and direction. Not sexy. I had my awning unfurl about 12″ once while on the freeway not far from Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, Arizona. I happened to notice it happening just as I was slowing down to make an exit. After I quit screaming like a little girl, I got on line and did some research. I found on my favorite forum, Woodall’s, that this happens often enough, and is dangerous enough to make it a worry. One of the forum regulars had come up with a simple, inexpensive, and quick fix. I had the parts on board so the cost was $0. The following pictures are how I installed it. Since this works so well, I’m not certain I’ll do anything more for this potential problem. There are commercial products for this but they all start around $50 and seem needlessly complicated, often requiring the user to climb a ladder to install the device. The method shown here doesn’t require climbing any ladders, uses parts (usually) on hand and is cheap. Here is the awning pull-down rod (comes with the awning) inserted into the hole in the end of the awning tube, and after the rod is lashed down, it prevents the awning from unfurling:
Here are the bungee cords that hold the rod and after being looped around the arm, they are hooked into the eye of the rod and then the bracket that supports the arm, they are 18″ long and have plastic hooks to prevent marring:
Here’s a side view looking toward the rear of the RV, note that neither the rod nor the plastic bungee cord hooks touch the side of the rig, helping prevent chaffing the paint or sidewall:
Hopefully, this method will save my awning next time I drive around a tornado…
Update: I stopped using the above method to clamp my awning because I lost both of my awning hooks when tree branches hooked them and pulled them out of the awning and they dropped to the ground as I drove off. I’ve since installed a gate latch that I can operate from the ground using my new awning hook. See above…
If I ever have to use this method again, I’ll be sure to use a couple small bungee cord around both the awning arm and the pull rod so if a tree branch pulls on it, it’ll stay attached hopefully.