Of balky brakes and the trip that wasn't-- an exisitential crisis - Fiberglass RV


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Old 07-11-2015, 06:44 PM   #1
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Name: John
Trailer: 1985 Scamp 16, 2013 VW Tiguan SEL
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Of balky brakes and the trip that wasn't-- an exisitential crisis

Almost ten years after buying my 1985 Scamp 16, I think I've reached the low point with it. My attitude towards it resembles Desi Arnez, about ten minutes from the end of "The Long, Long Trailer," when he's ready to leave Lucille Ball, if she'll take the trailer with her.

Today, my wife and I were packed up for a one-night "shakedown cruise" with the Scamp, just after an expensive round of maintenance. Our trailer's had lots of downtime as we negotiated the tail end of our kid's high school years, when she was usually too busy with homework, music, etc, to camp with us. As reported in my earlier post, our trailers seem to wear out just sitting still. It was time to replace the aged tires, do a full wheel bearing replacement, get a new battery, fix running lights and update the registration. That totaled nearly $1000, almost half what we paid for The Skimp originally.

As we pulled out of the driveway this morning, I plugged in the control module of the trusty Draw-Tite 1Stop brake controller (aka Prodigy RF). The letters "n.c." appeared, indicating Not Connected, and we had no brakes. So we spent a half hour reading the pairing procedure for the two-part unit, but to no avail. None of the several trailer shops nearby could help us, because it now was Saturday afternoon. Nothing to do but drive back home, park and empty the cooler.

I feel totally blindsided by this latest snafu. The brakes worked perfectly two weeks ago when I drove to various shops doing my prep work. They never failed to work in any previous tow with them in the three years I owned this brake controller. There was no way to anticipate this-- was there? I've begun to feel that a 30-year-old trailer might be too unreliable to trust, but this failure hit its newest component!

Next month, we've planned to haul the trailer from Denver to Seattle to deliver our daughter to college. That's an emotionally charged mission even without worrying whether the brakes will work then, or what else will break down next. Thanks to the cruel logic of the workweek, we'll be leaving on a Saturday then, too. She has a date when she needs to be present and accounted for on campus, down a long and very lonely road. How can I rely on this fickle piece of equipment?

Previous trips with the Scamp have been successful and enjoyable. Maybe we're just going through a rough patch. It's rough enough that, for me, I'd prefer a tent and a small utility trailer for the dorm gear, but it's not just me deciding. My wife adores her trailer, since she loves to camp but her knees don't favor sleeping on the ground. Carrying the kind of gear she'd want (cots, large tent, big coolers, six pillows etc.) would demand a bigger car than our tow vehicle.

I welcome advice from anyone who's faced failures of the Prodigy RF system. (We suspect a hardware failure with the in-car control unit. It will go back to the shop that installed it next week.) Is there any other mission-critical part left to break on this thing? And does anyone else fear using their TT on a critical mission?
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Old 07-11-2015, 06:54 PM   #2
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I'd go back and manually activate the trailers brakes via a jumper in the cable and see if you have brakes. After many years of rest (rust) you may have a simple wire connection or brake magnet failure to deal with. Not common or uncommon on rigs that are used after an extended period of non-use. The fact that they worked two weeks ago should not be a part of the proof, it's today that's the issue.


As far as 30 y.o. reliability, there is sooo little to the brakes that you could replace all of the components and have NEW brakes on a 30 y.o. chassis for not that many $$$
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Old 07-11-2015, 07:01 PM   #3
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Ten years, 1000 bucks, thats just a hundred a year.
That might get you one night in a hotel.
Anything that sits up has more problem that happen all at once , so the solution to this problem seems to be GO CAMPING MORE OFTEN .
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Old 07-11-2015, 07:23 PM   #4
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You said you were pulling out of the driveway and plugged in the control unit. In that order? If not, was the ignition in the off position? The manual for the Tekonsha Prodigy RF states that on some factory wired tow vehicles disconnect the Battery Charge line when the ignition is off which will give you an n.c. signal.
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Old 07-11-2015, 08:15 PM   #5
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Don't blame the Scamp, sounds like the entire frustrating problem is with the brake controler. I agree with getting a hard wired system, i don't trust the reliability of wireless.
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Old 07-11-2015, 11:09 PM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ian G. View Post
Don't blame the Scamp, sounds like the entire frustrating problem is with the brake controler. I agree with getting a hard wired system, i don't trust the reliability of wireless.
I'm with Ian. I know too much about the wireless systems to trust them with my life.
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Old 07-12-2015, 01:22 PM   #7
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Trailer: 1985 Scamp 16, 2013 VW Tiguan SEL
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To Bob-- I'm pretty sure the brakes are working fine. The drums were removed and the mechanism was examined as part of the recent bearing job. The control module was showing the proper ".c" indication on every previous occasion, but this time, it wasn't.

To the rest- - I had a safety reason to prefer the RF brake controller, too. The usual underdash mounting of a controller puts it right ahead of your knee, ready to mangle it crash. Other locations would be ugly or intrusive during the 95% of the time that I'm not towing. Floor mounting would be dusty and hard to see and reach. Anywhere else in an interior, a brake control module would be ugly and quite possible unsafe, if one of the may air bags turned it into a projectile in a crash. Also, I was tired of paying hundreds to install a controller every time I swapped vehicles. The Rf controller just seemed like a wiser choice.

to Tractors-- I don't think I've ever had anything close to a life-or-death situation where having trailer brakes saved my life. Hitched up, I drive conservatively. On the steepest downgrades of Colorado's I-70, I barely have use the brakes to maintain a steady speed; engine braking and wind resistance are sufficient. I certainly do want workable brakes, which is why I didn't proceed with the trip yesterday.
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Old 07-12-2015, 05:24 PM   #8
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I'm thinkin' that if a mechanic told me that he was only "Pretty sure" that the brakes worked that I would find another mechanic.


It should take less than 10 minutes to check the brake wiring & magnets from the plug to the brakes, just jumper the 12VDC pin to the brake line or pull the safety wire and see if they lock up when you try to pull the trailer forward, if they work, it's going to be the controller..
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Old 07-12-2015, 05:33 PM   #9
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Common issue with electric brakes---- Electric brakes still seem to use the frame as part of electrical connection. One wire from each magnet is attached to the frame. It is well known by many of us that electrical connections to frame corrode and fail. My 2005 Scamp 13' has had that happen to each side at different times. Take the advice from above and make sure you can hear the click of each magnet when a direct connection is make. If you have a breakaway switch simply have somebody listen then activate the breakaway switch. Rest and check the other side the same way. Easy test...
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Old 07-12-2015, 06:13 PM   #10
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Byron is on the right track but...
I just learned last week, while working on a non-FGRV, that you may not always hear a click. If you don't hear a click when expected, try pulling the trailer forward a few feet to engage the brakes.


As I said, until last week, I always insisted that you had to hear a click.
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Old 07-12-2015, 06:51 PM   #11
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Trailer: 1985 Scamp 16, 2013 VW Tiguan SEL
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You folks sound plenty knowledgable, but I really do doubt the problem has anything to to with the brakes themselves. They've worked fine both before and after the bearings job. This time, the in-car RF controller was indicating a fault : " .nc" = not connected. If the controller was acting normally, it would have showed a ".C" followed by a numerical value when actually using the brakes. Thats's where I'll look for the problem tomorrow, after I call the shop that installed it.

I see that the hand-hled controller has a five-year warranty. Has anyone else experienced a failure of this unit?
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Old 07-12-2015, 07:13 PM   #12
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On wired controllers NC usually indicates that there is a faulty connection in the wiring. It means that the controller is not sensing the complete circuit through the wiring & the brake magnets to ground. It's smart that way....
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Old 07-12-2015, 08:43 PM   #13
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Bob and I have both tried to tell you that you probably have an open connection near the brakes. As you noted N.C. means NO CONNECTION. How would bad connections at the brakes be indicated? AH. that's easy N.C. meaning no connection. Hmmm sounds like there NO CONNECTION..
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