When it comes to knowing what a towed car is doing, RVers have little recourse than an on/off indicator light or just white-knuckling the steering wheel, assured only by faith that the brake system is working.
“What we do is different. We monitor the car,” said David Robinson, vice president of aftermarket supplier Roadmaster. “We want to know whether the car is braking or not regardless of what the system is doing. We do that because many braking systems – even if they’re not on – might still be braking the car if the installer set it up wrong.”
Roadmaster recently took a two-fold approach to help with this. The first was the universal braking system monitor. Released last month, the monitor reports braking activity up to 1,000 feet away from the motorhome, and, unlike many monitors, is not vehicle-specific.
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Another dangerous factor is that the driver’s seat in the towed vehicle could shift, Robinson said, meaning that the brake could be depressed when it shouldn’t be.
“But you wouldn’t know it because the brake system isn’t on,” he said.
It’s why Roadmaster wanted to develop a system to monitor the braking activity. At first, the engineering team developed vehicle-specific brake light switches. But the universal switch adds a new level of ease.
How it works is a beam of infrared light is shot from the switch on the brake pedal arm to the vehicle’s floorboard to measure the distance.
“When that distance changes, the switch says, ‘Oh, I’m braking,’” Robinson explained. “The beautiful part about it is that often times dealers know they’re going to install a braking system, but they don’t realize that car’s switch doesn’t work until they’re in the middle of the install and now they need a vehicle-specific install switch.”
The brake light switch becomes available around June 1, joining the universal braking system monitor.
Working on a universal level is a philosophical motivator for the company.
“As the cars have evolved, we’re usually first on base with product that accommodates those new things that we’re seeing,” said Michael Cannon, new product engineer. “That’s what drives us.”
Many of the company’s products, and innovative upgrades made to products, began as a “seed idea” from a retail customer, explained Robinson, adding that Roadmaster attends numerous national rallies throughout the year.
For decades, the most common and unaddressed issue has been the suspension on towables.
“When you’re towing a trailer or fifth wheel, it’s like a little earthquake going on back there,” said Robinson. “No one’s really back there, so you don’t appreciate how rough it is. … It’ll shake, rattle and roll to death.”
The erratic displacement of this moving home is self-evidential with clothes flailing onto the floor and go so far as separating structural seams of the trailer, possibly leading to water leaks and wood rot. Suspension on trailers and fifth wheels have remained largely unchanged possibly due to the amount of space underneath units.
But the Stalwart Design Group, owned by Sonny Dismuke and Bob Mater, created the Liberty Rider suspension system. Tests conducted by NAVISTAR on Forest River’s XLR – equipped with the suspension system – showed a reduction of impact from bumps and gravel roads by 94 percent.
Roadmaster has licensed the design from Stalwart Design to produce a variation of the suspension system for the aftermarket.
“We changed the extension plate on the axle bracket for the U bolts so that it accommodated a better application range of trailers,” said Cannon. “We simplified a lot of things about it, so the installer wouldn’t make mistakes along the way.”
The recently dubbed Comfort Ride shock system has been released but is in limited quantity for the time being. But Roadmaster intends for the tweaked version to be widely available.