Wiring issues (why would I think it would work the first time?) - Fiberglass RV


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Old 10-15-2017, 09:44 PM   #1
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Name: Slade
Trailer: Little Bigfoot
Alberta
Posts: 20
Wiring issues (why would I think it would work the first time?)

Hello friends. I had great luck with responses to my last post, so I will try another one on you. I looked through previous posts but couldn't really find anything that covered it fully, so here goes.
So just got my Little Bigfoot 13.5 this weekend. Background- I went to pick up the trailer after getting my van wired for 7way ( there are brakes and a battery involved). When I hooked up the trailer to my van, there were no lights. Bummer, but they worked when we hooked it up to the original owners van. Figured my new wiring was wrong somehow, but when I checked it at home all of the outputs were working exactly as they should, even the electric brake control could be ramped up and down. So I figured the camper end plug just wasn't making proper contact somehow with my van ( the plug was pretty old and scarred....). The original owner graciously delivered the camper for me, and I got to work cuttting off the old plug and rewiring a new one on, in what I had thought was the same way. Apparently not! No lights, and at some point I blew the fuse on my van so that even the van outputs would not work anymore. Fixed that, so the van is good, but am stumped with the trailer lights. I have exposed all of the 7 wires (no plug on there now) and tested each wire with the battery after identifying the ground. The brake wire works ( I can hear the brakes clank on when I power it) and the 12 V works ( I can get the interior lights to go on no problem). But when I touch the running lights, signal lights and reverse lights, nothing. Except one time, when my wife came home and I showed her how everything I was doing was failing- I hooked up the running lights and suddenly they all came on both sides. Totally excited, thinking somewhow it was good now, I disconnected the running lights and tried the right signal light. Nothing, and now I can't get the running lights working again either. What the....?
I am pretty new to this stuff, but learning as quickly as I can. I don't think the taillights have a fuse, do they? And if they do, why did they light up just one glorious time and never again? Is it somehow a ground problem? My testing works with the 12V and the brake, so why not the lights? Seperate ground somehow? I am prepared to strip everything back to see if there is an obvious connection problem somewhere, but figured this would be a great place to maybe get some ideas. I won't be able to work on the camper until next weekend, so hopefully I can glean some knowledge from you folks before I get started.
Sorry for the long post- just didn't know how to say it in fewer words
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Old 10-15-2017, 09:58 PM   #2
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Name: Eric
Trailer: 1987 Casita 16
Illinois
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wiring diagram and wire color

Do you know if the setup uses the standard wire colors? If you look at the wire setup on the van, make sure that the wire colors and position fit with the diagram. Then check and see if the box in the camper where the wire harness connects to the interior wiring passes the correct colors through. You might want to take some pictures and post them, that way people will be able to look at what is going one and make suggestions.
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Old 10-15-2017, 11:13 PM   #3
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Name: Slade
Trailer: Little Bigfoot
Alberta
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Pretty sure the wiring color is standard. White for ground, blue for electric brakes, green for running lights, red for right signal, brown for left and yellow for reverse.
The problem just seems to be that the green,red ,brown and yellow signals won't go through.
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Old 10-15-2017, 11:34 PM   #4
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Did the previous owner put in LED lights for turn signals and running lights? LEDs are polarized hooked up backwards they won't work. Just a thought.

It's really difficult to trouble shoot problems from a distance.
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Old 10-16-2017, 12:47 AM   #5
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Slade, you just never know how a PO has changed things around. You said the PO delivered it to you so I have to think the lights were working fine with his tug. That really only leaves the connection you have on your tug for a miss match. I've wired a slew of vehicles & trailers and have to admit I've put a wire or two in the wrong spot a couple of times...hands in gear before the brain kicked in . If'en I was you, I'd open up the tugs connection and take a test light and mark/write down the pin each function is on. Some plugs are labeled for function though but...then use a 12V battery to test the TT's pins to determine which lights up what.
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Old 10-16-2017, 07:20 AM   #6
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Name: Kevin
Trailer: 28' Bigfoot Silver Cloud
Woodstock, IL
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You mentioned early in your post that you had your van wired for 7-way. Did someone else do the work for you? It sends like the problem has to be in your van wiring if everything worked for the previous owner (or he miswired the trailer to match a miswiring situation on his own tow). If someone did the van for you, you should probably take it back for another look-see. Having worked on old trailer wiring on almost every camping trip for 12 years, I feel your pain.
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Old 10-16-2017, 07:28 AM   #7
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Name: Slade
Trailer: Little Bigfoot
Alberta
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Thanks for the input so far.
The light bulbs on the taillights are standard bulb ones, not LED.
I have checked my vehicle's outputs with a tester, and everything is working there as it should. I have tested the trailer's wiring with the battery, and like I said, I could get the electric brake to work, and the 12V system to work, but not the running lights, taillights, or reverse lights.
I have a 4 pin adapter for the 7 way receptacle on my vehicle, and have hooked up a set of accessory taillights ( the magnetic ones you stick on the bumper), and they work perfectly, so it really doesn't seem to be my van that is the problem, it is something within the trailer wiring ( which is totally weird, I know, because it worked on the previous owner's vehicle ). When I asked him about it, he didn't think there was anything unique about his setup.
I think maybe Bob is right, take this to my mechanic and see what he can do with it.
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Old 10-16-2017, 07:58 AM   #8
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Name: John Michael
Trailer: Scamp 13
Madison, Wisconsin
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My local very reputable shop mis-wired my Subaru's 7 way jack which left my trailer brakes getting energy but not braking. The Prodigy/Tekonsa help line folks knew right away which wire was wrong and I asked the shop to make the change. Now all is hunky dory. Even experts make mistakes. The wiring seems simple, and I've wired lots of trailers, but my brain gets foggy sometimes. Seems expert brains do too. I almost bought one of these wiring testers. I wish the shop had used one.
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Old 10-16-2017, 08:04 AM   #9
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Trailer: 1979 Boler1700
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Try running a new ground wire to one of your running lights and see if it works. It seems to me that the one thing all the lights have in common is the ground. If the ground is faulty then all the lights wouldn't be working except the electric brake because it is grounded at the frame. If there is a broken ground inside the trailer then all the lights will not work.
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Old 10-16-2017, 09:08 AM   #10
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Trailer: Escape 21 & Jeep GC 5.7 (Previous 2012 Casita FD17 & 2010 Audi Q5)
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Slade,

There are two different wiring standards for small seven-wire trailers, not counting the standard for large commercial connectors. Fortunately the difference is not in which connections power which circuits, but only in the wiring colors used for different connections.

Then, there are two diagrams for each standard, depending on whether you are looking from "inside" or outside the connector on the vehicle. One is the mirror image of the other.

A fault is a case where there is no connection. A short is a connection that shouldn't be there. A trailer's four-wire wiring for running lights, brake lights and turn signals should be completely independent of the trailer's convenience wiring other than perhaps sharing a ground connection. A seven-wire system additionally includes a connection to the trailer's battery, and what should again be completely independent connections to the brakes and back-up lights.

In electrical work, if it tests bad it is bad. That's simple enough. However, if something tests good, it might be good. It also might not be 'good'. This is usually because of intermittent faults and shorts caused by unreliable connections or intermittent connections. It can also be caused by connections that will carry the small amount of current typically used for testing, but which will not carry the higher current required to sustain operation of a device.

It can take a great deal of time and occasionally being humbled to find the problem, whether an incorrect connection, a poorly-made or failed or intermittent connection, or some hidden place where the insulation was scraped away causing a short. I recommend someone use a tester, be methodical, try to isolate what you are working on or testing, study or develop your own wiring schematics, observe closely, unwrap heavily taped connections, and be sure to test anything that you or anyone else has 'touched' or otherwise worked on at least five times.

I used a paperclip as a jumper on the 7-way plug to test a repair on the Casita's turn signal circuit a while back as I didn't want to take the time to open a heavy gate and move the tow vehicle to where I could connect it to the trailer. The fault (no turn signal on one side) tested as having been successfully repaired. Later, once I connected the tow vehicle to the trailer, the problem re-emerged and I once again had intermittent operation of that particular turn signal lamp. My third repair in that case turned out to be replacement of the Bargman LED fixture which did the trick nicely TYVM.

For what it may be worth, I suspect that this was actually highly unusual to have to replace the sealed tail light unit. In fact, that mindset is probably part of why it took me three tries to effect the repair.

The connectors typically used on trailer wiring are often not of very good quality and/or are poorly implemented and/or will often fail over time. U Haul will guarantee your hitch forever, but your wiring for only two years. That says something in itself.
  • When we install a hitch on your car, you can add guarantee replacement with no limitation for any damage, including collision, corrosion, accidental overload, jackknifing and theft of vehicle. Also available is a wiring service plan to cover you for two years.
That guarantee statement tells us that welding is a lot more reliable than wiring connections. Wiring fails over time as necessary connections pull apart or fail due to vibration or corrosion, or new and undesirable connections are made due to vibration, moisture, and/or chafing. And, while we tend to think of this wiring as binary, meaning either on or off, poor or intermittent or inadequate connections can add another dimension.

Good luck and post further if you think there's something specific that someone can help you with.
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Old 10-16-2017, 09:09 AM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ststefan View Post
Try running a new ground wire to one of your running lights and see if it works. It seems to me that the one thing all the lights have in common is the ground. If the ground is faulty then all the lights wouldn't be working except the electric brake because it is grounded at the frame. If there is a broken ground inside the trailer then all the lights will not work.
Steve, this looks like an excellent place to start here.
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Old 10-16-2017, 09:24 AM   #12
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Name: Daniel A.
Trailer: Bigfoot 17.0 1991 dlx
British Columbia
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Working from memory here as I redid mine this past summer.

You say reverse is yellow, on mine the center pin is reverse and light green. You don't mention if your four way flashers work.

I am pulling with an Astro van this is the order of wires on the van side.
Counter clock wise colors are Blue, Dark green, Orange, Black, Yellow, White, and center pin is light green.
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Old 10-16-2017, 10:10 AM   #13
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Name: Ken
Arkansas
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Originally Posted by Civilguy View Post
Steve, this looks like an excellent place to start here.
In my experience with utility trailers, travel trailers and popup campers, 95% of the time this kind of problem is a faulty ground. Maybe even higher percentage.
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Old 10-16-2017, 10:10 AM   #14
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Name: Jim and Kathie
Trailer: 1979 Surfside
British Columbia
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Why Did I think it would work the first time?

I am laughing at the title - a question we all ask.

I am also saving this post, so my husband can try and figure out why our wiring didn't work the first time.... with the exception (so far) of the fuses, it sounds similar!

Anyway, that title made my day!
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Old 10-16-2017, 04:12 PM   #15
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Name: Randy
Trailer: 2013 Escape 19
California
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I have owned many trailers and everyone I have owned the wiring is :
White ground
Blue Brakes
Yellow left turn and brake light, remember this yellow has L's for left
Green right turn and brake light, remember this green has a R in it for right
Brown is running lights
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Old 10-16-2017, 04:20 PM   #16
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ken.hibbs View Post
In my experience with utility trailers, travel trailers and popup campers, 95% of the time this kind of problem is a faulty ground. Maybe even higher percentage.
Yup all electrical problems are ground problems. Now if we just knew what "ground" is.....
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Old 10-16-2017, 04:41 PM   #17
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Name: Gordon
Trailer: Trillium
British Columbia
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Glad to see I am not the only one!

I pulled out all of the old wiring in my Trill, and replaced everything (added a few more) plus ran all new wiring.

So, after I got everything hooked up, back up the truck, plug everything in, everything works!!!

Except the rear two side markers.

I thought I had done everything correctly. New wires, slightly heavier than the old. LEDs for all of the lights. All the wiring in protective tubing, heat shrink over all of the joints. All nicely anchored, etc.

Turns out I had connect the rear marker ground, to the lights, properly. But, I had neglected to join that ground to the main ground bus.

Nothing like that first moment of: "Oh crap"
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Old 10-16-2017, 04:43 PM   #18
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Name: Steve
Trailer: 1979 Boler1700
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My Boler has yellow reverse. Green running and tail lights. red left turn and brake. Brown right turn and brake. Blue brake controller. White ground and Black power.
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Old 10-16-2017, 04:54 PM   #19
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Name: Slade
Trailer: Little Bigfoot
Alberta
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Thank you all for the input so far. I have a work friend's husband ( who is an experienced mechanic ) coming over tonight or tomorrow to have a look. I will post the result of this consult when I get it. Along with some of you, I am thinking there is a ground problem- this makes sense since those problems make no sense, if you feel me. My limitations are finding WHERE that problem is, so hopefully I will get some input into that from the mechanic. The suspense is killing me.....
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Old 10-16-2017, 08:11 PM   #20
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Name: Slade
Trailer: Little Bigfoot
Alberta
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OK, so update time. The mechanic was here to help me diagnose a bit. We'll call him Doug, because, well, that's his name. There is good news, and bad news. The good news is that the bad news is correctable, it's just going to take some time and patience and learning how to solder a connection.
The nuts and bolts of it is that there is a good power and ground coming from the battery into the trailer, but as soon as it gets inside all hell breaks loose. We lifted the bottom bunk platform to check out the wiring as it enters the camper, and what looked to me like pretty solid stuff looked to him like a nightmare. Once we untaped all of the electrical wire that was holding it all together and basically hiding everything, we found active wires and ground wires that were spliced and diced in probably 20 spots, using every type of connector known to man. It was similar in the back when we opened up the panel that gives access to the rear wiring for the lights- splice city. Basically Doug says that my problem could be coming from any one of the splices, and we could spend a few hours trying to find the exact break (not what he signed up for or what I was expecting of him) or I could spend a couple of days and make each and every one of the connections solid by soldering it together and wrapping the exposed join with good electrical tape. He advised against using any type of snap connector, wire nut connector or anything else like that, saying eventually any one of them would fail again, leaving me in the same boat, not knowing where the fault is. Doug says that overall the wires appear good, not 'rotted' or corroded or showing excessive signs of water or anything like that. He advised me to test along the way using a long ground wire directly from the negative on my battery, so that I know I have a good ground as I go. Apparently this is one of the drawbacks of a fibreglass camper- no metal frame to access unless I want to start drilling through the floor. NOT.
This is going to be some work, but once it is done I will have a much more solid system, and he figures everything will light up just fine as there seems to be no fatal flaw anywhere aside from the poor splicing. The fact that I was able to get all of the taillights to come on once during my farting around the other day is a good sign that the lights themselves (bulbs, housings, etc) are good and I don't need to worry about them right now, although he did show me how the bulbs are susceptible to corrosion in the connectors and recommended using dielectric grease or even vaseline on the bulb ends and then putting them back in, as this is a common problem he sees.
The other good news is that the wiring color stays pretty consistent all the way to the back of the trailer, so it is pretty easy to see which wire is which for the most part. Because all of the lights are affected, the ground is the primary suspect, so extra care will be taken to make sure this one is solid.
One last think- Doug advised against taking it to an RV place to get it repaired. He says they will find the fault, and make that correction, but will not fix all of the other potential problem areas unless I am willing to fork out a bundle to have them rewire the camper. Again, NOT. I don't want this to happen again when I try to hook up after a weekend of camping to come home and find myself without lights again.
I will update when I am done the repairs, and hopefully will be able to report working taillights. I am optimistic that I can get this done before it gets too cold- only have a few weeks at the most probably before the snow flies and we get socked in for good with below 0. If that happens, this will become a spring project. Worst comes to worst, I can hook up my accessory trailer lights and duct tape them to the back of the camper if I want to get out for some early spring camping before it's completely done.
Moral of the story- don't take shortcuts with wiring. It WILL come back to haunt you later ( or the poor unsuspecting noob that buys your trailer, more likely).
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