These diesel-pusher platforms are designed to go 450,000 miles; proper and timely maintenance stacks the odds in the owners’ favor
This article is the second in a two-part series on diesel motorhome chassis maintenance. For this series, we visited the plants to get firsthand information on the maintenance resources, requirements and major misses that RV owners need to know about. While we can’t cover all the required maintenance in this article, we’ll tell you how easy it is to find it, and how simple your maintenance can be.
It’s easy to fall in love with a big, beautiful new Newmar Essex, Entegra Aspire or one of the nine other motorhomes built on a Spartan platform. They’re all high-end machines with lots of space and residential appeal. However, get into the driver’s seat, and it’s another world. Driving these motorhomes requires a whole new approach from tooling around in a passenger car, and robust instrumentation and controls make it evident that there will be a learning curve in how to handle these heavy — and expensive — vehicles. Fortunately, it’s not as difficult as owners might think.
We recently had the opportunity to visit the home of Spartan Motors in Charlotte, Michigan, to ascertain what customers should know about maintaining Spartan chassis. We were greeted by Greg Rinehart, service development and training lead, and Mike O’Neil, the company’s tech trainer, who is familiar to many RVers as Big Mike. At just shy of 7 feet, Big Mike is a towering fellow, but one of the nicest guys you’d ever want to meet. He has been training coach owners for 21 years through the company’s Spartan Academy for RV Owners.
Spartan Motors is best known for its fire apparatus chassis business, but has been building motorhome chassis since 1985. Currently, the company builds five, and soon to be six, chassis models, all with different frame styles and powertrains, Rinehart says.
These chassis models include the K2-450 (two versions,) the K3-500, K3-605 and the K4-605, powered by 450- to 605-hp diesel engines. Rinehart says the chassis are built for the specific coaches, and even floorplans, specified by the manufacturers. Currently, they can be found under the Entegra Anthem, Aspire, Cornerstone and Insignia; the Newmar Dutch Star, Mountain Aire, London Aire, Essex and King Aire; and Foretravel’s Realm FS6 and ih-45.
Purchasing a coach with a sophisticated diesel chassis like the Spartan does require owners to be proactive about maintenance to ensure the longevity and reliability of their vehicles.
The chassis warranty starts with a basic three-year, 50,000-mile transferable coverage. The Cummins engines have a five-year, 100,000-mile warranty and the Allison transmission is protected for five years or 200,000 miles. The frame carries a lifetime transferrable warranty. All models utilize a Selective Catalytic Reduction (SCR) type exhaust system, which uses a urea-based fluid as the catalyst.
All new owners will receive a CD that includes the owner’s manual and the maintenance schedule, plus suggested intervals and fluids. Supplier information is also on the CD, but filter and part numbers are not provided. “Our chassis are not cookie-cutter,” says O’Neil. “They’re built around a particular floorplan and contain different components. A call to our customer service center will get you the specific parts you need based on your VIN.” The customer service number (800-543-4277) is answered by factory personnel during business hours. Coach Net (888-890-1741) is available for roadside assistance 24/7, and the customer should have the last eight digits of the VIN and the mileage when they call either number.
Online training courses for owners are coming soon. In the meantime, the company’s Connected Care smartphone app is an all-inclusive resource that has contact information, maintenance intervals, diagnostic codes, a pre-trip inspection checklist, warranty information, training, parts and accessories, and more. Also, the company’s parts website, www.rvchassisparts.com, includes parts not just for Spartan, but every other chassis manufacturer, including Monaco’s old Roadmaster chassis.
The company has more than 400 Spartan RV-friendly service centers, including the 45 Cummins Coach Care centers, which can be found at www.funroads.com. These centers have technicians trained to work on RVs and offer overnight facilities; many of the sites are equipped with hookups.
As with other chassis companies, Spartan is proud of its owner-training program. The company runs, on average, 21 sessions on the main Michigan campus from May to October, and five regional classes, which for 2017 were in Georgia, Texas and Arizona. Thirteen of these are done in partnership with Entegra Coach, with a four-and-a-half-day chassis course and a one-day coach course (led by Entegra). Newmar has also participated in these courses. To keep the classes as informative as possible, each is limited to seven coaches, so the company has a continual waiting list for attendance, according to Rinehart.
The company’s basic maintenance schedule, which is outlined on its app and owner CD, lists specific activities that must be done every three months or 5,000 miles, six months or 15,000 miles, 12 months or 15,000 miles, 24 months or 30,000 miles and finally at 200,000 miles. In addition, the company recommends a 34-point pre-trip checklist for the chassis, and a specific startup procedure, which ensures the air-brake system is operating properly.
The startup procedure is interesting. It includes a walk around to check for RV-related equipment being properly stowed, and determining whether the coach is sitting at proper ride height. Then a test is performed: holding the brakes firmly down to the floor, to hear the ABS modulators cycle and purge. The test only takes 10-15 seconds to complete. Third, listening for the air dryer to purge after starting the coach, which happens once the system has come up to full pressure. Lastly, and this is important for any coach with air drum brakes, explained Rinehart, is to perform an automatic slack adjustment. After releasing the parking brake, perform two or three full service brake applications, pushing the pedal fully to the floor. This allows the rear drum slack adjusters to automatically adjust for proper braking force application, he says. The disc brakes will adjust automatically during normal braking.
From a maintenance standpoint, there are several important areas that need attention. The dash message center will flash codes and illuminate the standard lights should a malfunction occur. “We recommend the owners turn off the maintenance monitor on the engine,” says O’Neil. “It is mileage-based, and for big trucks that’s fine, but for RVs time is more important because most RVs don’t go the mileage. Use the schedule.” Alternately, the Allison transmission keypad is a useful tool to monitor the transmission, which keeps tabs on many of its own functions, including fluid level and temperature, and even tests the condition of the fluid. This data can be read through the shift pad.
Owners have historically missed a number of service points, according to Spartan, which in some cases have led to very expensive repairs. Here are the top 10 items on the list:
1. Tire pressure — A common theme among RV manufacturers is to weigh the coach and adjust the tire pressure according to the tire manufacturer’s charts, which are available on the Spartan Connected Care app.
2. Air filter — In the previous article (“Diesel Chassis Maintenance: Freightliner,” in the September issue) we mentioned the $30,000 air filter, which had “dusted” an entire engine as the innards of the filter were sucked into the engine. Replace at the stated intervals and watch for animal intrusion.
3. Hydraulic system — There are two filters that need changing.
4. Hub oil — The front and tag axles utilize hub oil for lubrication. There is a window that shows the level of the oil, which should be checked regularly. A failed seal and loss of the oil can result in severe damage. Oil is easily refilled at the hub window.
5. Rear differential — The fluid is often ignored, but should be changed annually.
6. Air tanks — Drain the air tanks at least once per month during use. Halyards that connect to the pull valves on the tanks are accessed through the chassis rails. Some have two locations; others, as shown in picture 7 (right), have them all up front. Pull and hold for 15 seconds to ensure all moisture is released.
7. Coolant checks and change interval — O’Neil hears from many RVers that they look at the window and see red and think all is OK, when it’s not. The coolant degrades over time, builds up acids and needs to be flushed. While there are test strips for the new type coolants, according to O’Neil, they’re so expensive that it’s better to flush the coolant rather than test it.
8. Battery maintenance — Many RVers do not maintain their batteries properly, resulting in breakdowns and often annual battery replacements in some parts of the country, advised O’Neil. Make sure batteries are kept clean and corrosion free, fully charged and filled with distilled water, if applicable.
9. Rubber boots — Spartan utilizes rubber boots around tie-rod ends, and the ball joints need regular inspection, just like on an automobile.
10. Wash the chassis — Everybody worries about how the body looks, but especially if driving the motorhome where roads are treated, washing the underside is essential to keeping the rust and corrosion to a minimum.
O’Neil claims that a lot of owners question the frequency of changing fluids. While testing of some fluids, like motor oil, can be done, the accuracy in an RV environment is poor. Moisture collects in the fluids, as well as other contaminants and acids, often from just sitting. This is why performing this maintenance is so important.
While the company will not sell service manuals to consumers, Reinhart says the component service literature is readily available online. For owners intent on performing their own service, the team recommends having a maintenance logbook where each procedure is recorded and receipts are kept. In many cases, it is better, if possible, to scan or copy receipts and print them out, as originals will fade quickly and become illegible.
Lastly, Rinehart says Spartan’s maintenance schedule is a guide, but to always follow the schedules set by the manufacturers that supply the specific components for the chassis. These schedules are available online.
Owners who have any questions about maintenance, want to order parts for maintenance or get specific part numbers are encouraged to call Spartan at 800-543-4277.
A big diesel motorhome is a sizable investment, and maintaining it properly will help ensure that it is always ready for the next trip, and will help to lengthen trouble-free longevity while at the same time maintaining maximum resale value.