The Power Gear leveling control operators pad was originally laying on the surface of the dash. It was very difficult to see the buttons. The buttons are surface type with embossed ridges.
And although you can see they were surrounded by white printing, they were very hard to see from the driver’s seat. Especially at night. I’d have to grab a flashlight. In addition the tiny ‘Jacks Down’ LED couldn’t be seen either (there’s two of them shown above, a little one, and a large one at the top of the black metal plate). The larger black panel with the ‘Jacks Down’ label had a hole there, but no light installed when I bought the rig (I added the one shown there now). Checking the records I could only find the barest of information on this Power Gear system. The operator’s manual was there but it was for an older model. So I have to assume the original owners (I bought from a consignment lot) must have had trouble with it and swapped out the controller. The tech that worked on it didn’t even bother to screw it back down to the dash. The screws were just laying there loose.
I decided that the system needed an Off/On switch that I could shut off after I was satisfied that the jacks weren’t going to scrape the road. So I’d not have to wait while the jacks slowly retracted. Here’s a view of the added Off/On switch on the backside of the small angled stand I built. I didn’t want it to be too accessible, I wanted to have to think about it each time I used it to help prevent driving off with the power off and the jacks down. I usually have to turn it on to drop the jacks when I stop for the night, and then I just leave it on. Next time I start the rig, it’s beeping and the LEDs are flashing.
And here’s a back view that gives a view of how tall this homemade backplate is…
All this woodwork (a small job involving 3 pieces of plywood) took just an hour at my brothers house. He has a nice table saw. It wasn’t until a couple years after I bought the rig I made this stand for the Power Gear panel and by that time, I was really annoyed with the control pad being so hard to see and difficult to use. I’ve been very happy with this mod as it solve both those issues.
Here’s the story of how and why I ended up mod’ing the jack controller: As I drove the rig off the lot just after I bought the rig, I heard it beeping and at the same time the ‘Jacks Down’ light would flash as I made turns to the right. I did pull over and make sure they weren’t down, and while doing that noticed that they were pulled up with large springs so no worry there.
Over the next several trips I made with the rig, the beeping became continuous and eventually I had to crawl under the dash, find the control box (which was just hanging down there by it’s wires), pull what appeared to be the power connector, just to shut it up. When I’d arrive at a destination, I’d plug it back in and lower the jacks to level the rig. That got old quick but I was always in a hurry so eventually I just cut the red wire going to the 6 wire connector and put a switch in series. That way I could just reach down by my ankle and flip the switch. But I also forgot to do that several times as I drove away from a campsite and it would start beeping at me. Then I’d have to fumble for it and drive at the same time. Here’s a picture of it now that I’ve mounted the controller on the side wall. There is plenty of room here so I never accidentally bump it with my knee or anything. I also dressed all the wires with zip ties. See that translucent connector there next to the yellow wire nut? That’s the main power connector. There is a red wire that goes to that connector you can’t see in this picture that I cut and added a switch in series to be an ON/OFF switch.
Finally, I was parked at a campground for several days with bad weather and nothing to do so I pulled the system controller and switch pad, grabbed the book, did internet searches about it, and took the controller thing apart. That’s when I discovered it wasn’t the original system but a replacement…and brand new. Or at least so lightly used as to be nearly new. Because of the way it was designed, I only had to add a few components to allow the addition of a nice LED light that I put in an older neon lamp holder that fit in the empty hole (see first picture above). There is an integrated circuit that has several high current transistors in it that seems to be the device that actuates the pump solenoids. And now the LED.
After that I built a little box for it out of wood where I could angle the switch panel up away from the dash so I could actually see it while sitting in the drivers seat. That was really handy. Can’t believe the manufacturer thought laying it down was a good idea.
Then I got to reading the operator’s manual and discover that the beeping could be caused by low oil. Added a half quart of ATF to the reservoir and the beeping stopped. That lasted through several weeks of operation but later I also noticed a puddle of ATF on the foot pad of one of the rear jacks – passenger side. So, I have a jack with a bad ‘O’ ring. Took a while online to find the repair kit and it turned out it was over $150. For ONE jack. I wasn’t in a place to do the work myself and I balked at the price. So, I ignored it. I’ve since learned that practically any hydraulic shop will do the piston maintenance much cheaper and according to most DIY’ers, the toughest part of the job is to break the big bolts free and remove the pistons.
Ignoring the problem did make it go away. Sort of. If I filled the tank with ATF I could use the jacks several times before the beeping returned. I noticed there was always oil in the tank even though it might be beeping, enough that it wouldn’t be so low as to damage anything, so I went back to my idea of switching off the power and added a switch to the power line of the Power Gear controller. That’s now mounted on the back of the stand I built for the control pad. I can easily reach up and flip it off if the oil level drops and the beep returns and I can’t be bothered to go out there and top off the tank.
It has been 5 years now and I’m kind of use to it. I’ll try AT stop leak here soon. Next time I’m in Mexico I’ll have one of the great mechanics they have in Mazatlan repair the jack for me if the stop leak doesn’t work. In the meantime, I don’t mind switching it off if it beeps and adding a little ATF once in awhile.
Update: April 2011
The Power Gear system hasn’t been much trouble for the last couple years but I would like to mention some of what’s happened and what I’ve done to live with it. First a picture of the ‘works’ of the system. This is right under the front grill (this is a diesel pusher so the engine is in the back). Below where the passenger would sit but in front of the wheel.
You can see how grungy with road grime this assembly becomes after a few years. The large black metal cylinder is the oil reservoir and it does leak a little from the seal and probably from the hydraulic block on top of it as well. One of my upcoming projects is to pull the assembly out and clean it up.
I did try a hydraulic leak stop a year ago and that actually migrated back to the leaking rear cylinder and plugged it for a while but one of the parks I stayed at was so uneven, that that cylinder got extended to far and started to leak again. But I’ll try the stop leak again this summer and then avoid having to extend that one cylinder to far again.
Update: Haven’t had to add stop leak much at all. Haven’t had any more big leaks from the system. Though it seems that I’m having to add stop leak every two years or so. If I park on a pad that’s not level enough, and have to extend that jack a bit farther then normal, then a little oil will leak out. Once I park at a flatter site, no leak. The large leak I had years ago, where it would practically fill the landing pad with oil every time I stopped for any length of time, was pretty much fixed with the AT stop leak.
I have also have an electrical problem with this system every once in awhile. It simply won’t operate. The control pad lights up and all but when I press a ‘Down’ key, nothing happens. Then I have to go out and wiggle all those wires going to the assembly until it starts up again. Like I said, I need to pull it out and do some maintenance on the whole kit-n-caboodle.
Update: (Feb. 2013)
The system failed recently. I have no leveling. The lights come on, on the controller, but the pump motor does not activate when I try to extend any of the jacks. It’s pretty easy to work around the issue by choosing RV parks that are nice and flat. I lived with it for months until, after settling into a nice RV park with flat pads, I opened the hood and looked around the hydraulic jack system area. It’s housed just in front of the passenger side front wheel well. You can see the ‘Oil’ dipstick for the reservoir in the picture above.
The motor and hydraulic routing block is just above the large black ATF holding cylinder. Along with an automotive type solenoid to power the pump, then that bundle of wires were all connected to the various valves for the system. There’s the solenoid for the Right Rear, Left Rear, Front, and finally, the ‘Retract’ valve. In the below picture, I’ve removed the coil that is the one that I found had a broken terminal. I’d missed that it was loose and intermittently connecting the other times I’d glanced in there looking for a problem. Usually I’d wiggle the wires and the system would start working again. When I discovered that this time the red wire was just dangling, that was kind of a tip off that the system wasn’t going to work. So I pulled off that solenoid…not that hard, see the big grey nut on the right of the shaft below? Unscrew that, and the coil just slides off.
After removing the coil and bringing it into my ‘shop’, I grabbed my little high speed rotary tool with the grinding disks and proceeded to grind away the plastic around the broken off terminal.
You can see where I’ve ground off some on either side of the stub (what’s left) of the old terminal. I was able to determine that corrosion had eaten away at it until the natural fatigue it got from vibration riding down the road eventually caused it to break off.Once I’d exposed enough metal, I took a new spade terminal from my stock, cut off the working end and soldered it onto the stub. And now, a working coil. Taaadaaaaa!
Cleaned up the area, cut the old terminal off the wire and replaced it with a nice new one. Cleaned all the other terminals and squeezed them a little so they grabbed their terminals better, used contact spray on everything, and everything was back to normal. Now had working leveling jacks again. Yeah!
Later that year in Mexico, I had my mechanic replace the main solenoid. It was looking pretty poor after 20 odd years of age. More rust than metal on the case. It still worked, but I didn’t want to worry about it.
Update: Dec. 31st, 2015
I’m having a brake job done on the fronts here in San Felipe, Mexico and the mechanico used my front jack to lift the rig enough to get the wheels off. When I went to lower it today, it ‘jumped’ down just a tad, and the controller turned itself off. WTH?? I’m scratching my head, but I go ahead and turn the controller back on and try to retract the jack again. Same small jump and it shuts off of the controller. So I just keep doing that until the rig is down, then go out and open the hood for an inspection.
See the coil behind the one in the picture just above? When I wiggled the wires to that coil, one of them just fell off. AhhhHAH! Another corroded terminal has broken off. And it was just dangling. Well, this isn’t good. I’ll have to perform the same job I’d done with the last one. This time it’s on the ‘Retract’ solenoid and the brake mechanic is coming back to do the other wheel this Saturday and I have to get it fixed before then (today is Thursday).
But, since I’ve done it before, it only took me a couple hours and it’s all back installed and working again. It’s handy that since I’m having the plastic wheel well surrounds painted that they were at the paint shop and so not in my way while I worked on this. Soldered a terminal tab onto the stub of the one on the coil, cleaned up the other tab, and put a layer of solder on it too, and I’m ready to go. Tested fine. I added some heat shrink tubing over the terminals that might help reduce any corrosion but these have lasted 23 years so far so it’s lifetime is not all that bad as it is. Maybe now I’ll get another 23 years out of them?