Monday, January 30, 2012

The Long Road to a Lazy Daze – Part 4

By Joan Taylor

Note: Comments and opinions expressed in this 4-part series refer primarily to the 2003 Lazy Daze 23.5’ TK model; my personal experiences with this particular chassis, design/floor plan, model year, and set of options may not apply to other Lazy Daze models and production years, and, except as noted, reflect only my views and experiences.

Four Years Later and 43000 miles Down the “Long Road…”

In Part 3 of “The Long Road to a Lazy Daze”, I wrote: “Is it true that time goes faster when one is older?” It was “yes” then, and it’s sure “YES!” now; it’s hard to believe that I’ve stacked four registration stickers on the license plate since picking up my 23.5’ TK in November of 2003 in a thunder, lightning, and blinding rain storm and driving I-10 and surface streets to a “never been there before” overnight spot in the dark!

The previous article in this series was written in early February of 2005; at that time, the LD and the dog and I had traveled about 16000 miles; since that time, we’ve gone “down the road” for another 27000 or so throughout the western U.S. and Canada, including a stop at Lazy Daze’s 50th Anniversary hoopla in Cheyenne, Wyoming in late June, 2006.

The miles traveled (in “widely varying weather, road conditions, and trip lengths”) and the coach, engine, and chassis experiences of the past 2 ½ years since Part 3 was written have continued to provide evidence that my original choice of a Lazy Daze was a good one! Here’s the current report…..

The Ford E450 V-10

As I mentioned in Part 3, this Ford was my first ownership experience with an “American-made” vehicle. I was somewhat skeptical at first of the Ford engine’s reliability, but in over 43000 miles, I’ve had a very good experience with the V-10; so far, it has performed much better and has had far fewer problems than I anticipated.

The engine has received regular servicing; I follow the recommended maintenance schedule and use Ford-recommended products.

I do change the oil and filter every 3000 miles; some might feel that this is overkill, but, as mentioned before, changing the oil and filter at shorter intervals is pretty cheap insurance against premature engine wear! The oil filter on the V-10 is easily accessible, the air filter is easy to remove, clean, and re-assemble, and the all the “fluid fills” are within easy reach, so, if one is so inclined and able, high shop charges for these very routine services can be avoided by doing it yourself!

The gas mileage on the V-10 continues to be as expected from a “big” engine hauling a substantial amount of weight; as near as I can figure from the ScanGauge II® readouts, the mileage averages around 10.5 mpg. So far, the lowest readout was 2.9 mpg (pulling a 10% grade), and the highest, 39.2 mpg – going down (slowly) the same grade! These wildly varying figures provide good entertainment value, of course, but the most useful information comes from keeping track of the readout variations as one travels a variety of roads in all kinds of weather and over different types of terrain. The down-the-road weight of my 23.5’ is under 12,000 pounds, and I routinely travel at speeds (when on straight and level roads) between 55-58 mph. According to the ScanGauge II®, the rpms at these speeds are usually around 2000; it’s interesting to have translated into numbers what my ears told me was the right “cruising” rpm for that engine! (My model year [2003] did not come with a tachometer.)

Obviously, fuel is heart-stoppingly expensive; the experience of watching the fuel gauge drop and the numbers on the gas pump whiz by can make one lightheaded! Fuel will undoubtedly continue to increase in cost, so maintaining the engine in top condition, keeping the rig’s weight down (and, I don’t tow), and driving at very prudent speeds all help to squeeze maximum efficiency out of each gallon. Going back to work to pay for my travels is not an option!

The Ford Chassis and Aftermarket Suspension Add-ons

I’ve had no problems with “popping” spark plugs, brakes, steering, or the transmission, including the TSB dealing with fluid leaking from the vent on the transmission-mounted parking brake assembly; so far, all these systems are functioning as they should. I’ve tightened the frame bolts that connect the coach to the chassis; this is a “routine” maintenance task. (Check the LD message board for extensive discussions of this topic.)

As noted in Part 3, I added a Safe-T-Plus® steering control and heavy IPD® front and rear sway bars after about 5000 miles; my 23.5’ was delivered with Bilstein® shocks, despite Ed’s insistence that these were not needed on the shorter wheelbase chassis. These aftermarket suspension add-ons have definitely improved handling and control, and have given satisfactory performance overall, but I offer three observations on the performances of these specific brand add-ons:

The Safe-T-Plus® does improve handling and control, but it’s a little “touchy” and needs adjustment more frequently than I think it should; this is inconvenient and can be costly. Obviously, the Safe-T-Plus® should be adjusted after a wheel alignment and balance, but it should hold its adjustment and keep the steering “true” between alignments -- unless something major happens to knock it out of whack, of course! An alternative to the Safe-T-Plus® is the Steer Safe® stabilizer; I haven’t investigated this unit, but it may be a replacement option.

The rear IPD® bar drops just below the differential, and the bar can hit a speed bump or strip unless one is driving very slowly and easing over the bump(s). Since the resulting whump sounds like the rear of the rig should be scattered all over the parking lot, I learned very quickly to crawl over any “rise”!

The Bilstein® shocks have been very durable and have contributed to the firm, stable handling that I enjoy with this coach. These shocks might be a bit “stiff” for some who prefer a softer ride, but, so far, they have worked for me. Thanks to a heads-up from an owner on the message board, I became aware of a potential problem with worn Bilstein® bushings; reports from several Lazy Daze owners indicated that they had discovered worn or excessively compressed (or gone!) bushings! My inspection didn’t reveal any problems, but the tech will get his chance to look when I have the 45000-mile service done in a couple of weeks.

The 23.5’ “Box”

Note: I travel solo and I don’t fulltime, so the wear and tear on the coach, especially the interior, is less than with two people, and definitely less than with a family with kids! The dog does count for at least one dirty-footed kid’s worth of mess-making ability, though!

In Part 3, I wrote: “The selling points of all the Lazy Daze models are practical, livable designs, high-quality materials, solid construction, and careful workmanship.” After 43000 miles, the overall build-quality of the Lazy Daze is even more apparent; with a few exceptions noted below, almost all of the elements of the “box” itself have held up well, requiring only routine (but diligent!) maintenance and cleaning.

Coach Exterior

My LD has experienced some minor, primarily cosmetic, rear end cap separations. I have re-sealed the “lifted” areas three times with the appropriate sealer(s), but small gaps consistently reappear, especially when the sun heats and “lifts” the affected areas. The gaps are currently not significant enough to warrant concern about potential leaks (which Steve claims won’t happen even if the end caps fall off!), but even small separations don’t do much for the appearance of the rig! Lazy Daze says that it is now using a different adhesive in an attempt to control this problem, but according to some owners’ reports on the LD message board, it doesn’t appear that the new adhesive (used as a re-seal and/or on new coaches) has been a completely effective solution.

I re-sealed the seam between the edge of the fiberglass nose cap and the aluminum roof sheet with Eternabond®. The use of Eternabond® as a DIY seam repair/sealer doesn’t thrill the factory; the tape is difficult to remove (that’s pretty much the whole idea!) and the factory guys like to re-seal seams without using it. However, the original seam was sealed very sloppily when the coach was built; the poor seal had allowed water and dirt to leak into the seam, and bubbles appeared along the seam line. Thankfully, no leaks into the overhead had developed. I dug out all the old, loose sealant, thoroughly cleaned and dried the seam line, applied sealer, then topped the seam with Eternabond; I expect the repaired seam to maintain its integrity. The roof seams around the sides and rear of the motorhome and around the vents are discolored and “checked”, but they appear to still be sound; the roof should not need re-sealing for a couple years yet.  See also

Note: I might not have found the potentially leaky seal if I hadn’t read posters’ comments on the LD message board describing gaps in the seam line between the front end cap and the roof; my previous roof inspections hadn’t revealed any problems. A very close look at the seam line showed the bubbles in the sealant; water and dirt dribbled out when the bubbles were gently “poked” with a screwdriver. The “messages” are pretty clear here; follow the LD message board to find out other owners’ experiences, and thoroughly and frequently inspect the LD’s roof!

One corner of the rear window leaked; I repaired this by easing the rubber gasket away from the edge of the glass, cleaning and drying the area, then using butyl rubber sealant under the gasket to fill the gap. I ran an additional thin bead of sealant along the outside of the gasket, smoothing it well into the corner; so far, the repair has stopped the leak.

Coach Interior

My rig’s upholstery and carpeting are in great condition, primarily because they’re kept covered! I made throws of heavy twill fabric for the couches and the front seats, and use throw rugs over the carpeted area; the throws and the rugs are washable. LD uses a tightly-woven, sturdy cotton-polyester-olefin upholstery fabric, but the carpeting is of average quality; LD has changed some patterns and color combinations (for better or worse!) in the model years since 2003, but as far as I know, the overall quality of all the “coverings” is pretty much the same. The upholstery and other interior surfaces and materials have been very durable, but I still wish that Lazy Daze would offer an all-vinyl flooring option; carpeting floors in RVs is impractical at the very least! (Maybe if the guy that thinks carpeting in an RV is such a swell idea was the same one who had to clean it….?) If the carpeted areas in my rig, including the cab, weren’t always covered (and vacuumed and spot-cleaned when something sneaks under or around a rug) with frequently-washed throw rugs, the carpet would likely be a matted, grungy mess in no time, just from normal, everyday wear.

Other interior “warts” are very minor; most result from simply using the motorhome for four years! A short list….

The door to the cupboard under the sink needs a couple of coats of (sanding and) polyurethane sealer along the top molding; the cupboard is frequently opened and closed, often with wet hands, and the door’s finish is a little “patchy” along the top.

I finally replaced the cheesy, “thwaaaapy”, tear and fray and annoy the *&$^@!*!! out of me pull-down shade on the door with a double-fabric café curtain that I made from a double layer of fabric; the curtain slides easily on rings on a tension rod (the rod isn’t visible under the valance) and ties back with the same tie that’s used for the overcab bed curtain. This tie-back set-up works on the 23.5’ TK because of the location of the door relative to the overcab, but on another model, one would have to figure out another way to neatly tie back the curtain besides looping it over the valance.

The backing on the front cab and overcab window curtains has cracked or become a little thin in a few places; I think that the curtain fabric that LD uses is pretty much on the same quality level as the carpet. I’ll replace these when I feel up to making curtains with headers and pins!

I Still Wish Lazy Daze Would …

… Change the pull-down window coverings; unlike blinds, curtains, or the Duette®

shades mentioned below, I can’t look out when the shades are down, and air flow from the windows is restricted. Depending on where and how one camps, pulling the shades down for privacy is desirable, and lack of air circulation can make for uncomfortable sleeping, especially when it’s very warm outside. The pull-down shades do provide some insulation; they’re more efficient against heat generated by direct sunlight, but much less so at insulating against cold temperatures. The shades can be awkward to raise and pull down, especially in models with wide rear windows. The back side of the shade is also very difficult to clean; there’s no vacuum attachment made that fits behind the shades! Additionally, although the valances can be removed, the “rhomboid” shape of the windows and the very small amount of clearance at the corners make installing other window covering choices a challenge! I’ve heard very positive comments from an LD owner who has installed the opaque Duette® honeycomb shades in her rig; these shades are available in different degrees of opacity, offer similar insulation to the existing window coverings, are easier to clean, and open from the top down. The “open from the top down” feature alone makes them very functional and practical for the LD window covering! Of course, outfitting three long windows with Duette® shades can also be pretty pricey, but these shades could be offered as an extra-cost option! Since the annoyance factor with my current window coverings is approaching red line, I’m considering the Duette® shades.

… Lose the black-painted “faux windows” on the overcab. The raised black surfaces look phony and are difficult to clean and maintain. The surfaces retain bug innards and whatever else has been deposited on them from any source; they tend to scratch and/or “dull” when rubbed, even with a plastic “scrubbie” designed not to mar surfaces. Obviously, the overcab is subject to a lot of “blasting” from whatever is smacking into it when going down the road, but the black rectangles (on my rig, at least) do not even hold a wax/polish much past leaving the driveway. I’m familiar with LD’s contention that the overcab would look like a “bread truck” without the fake windows, but I don’t necessarily agree; most respectable bread trucks that I’ve seen avoid any undesirable “whiteout” with a creative logo design and placement. A front end logo re-design consistent with LD’s “retro” look should not be that difficult to accomplish.

…Get rid of the hinged skirts over the rear duals! I can’t count the times I’ve cussed this dopey design (a “Lazy Daze exclusive”!) while trying to prop the skirt up with whatever is handy, usually my shoulder or my head, while trying to inspect the tread or clean and/or “303®” the whole tire! (The awkward skirt design is not real popular with tire guys or RV techs or mechanics, either!) I suggested an alternate design in Part 3: “a clean-trimmed over-the-tire cut-out in the siding of about half the depth of the current skirt”, but so far, LD hasn’t taken my suggestion to heart; imagine that!

A Few Changes and Add-ons…

Most of the additions or changes made to my 23.5’, e.g., suspension add-ons, wide-angle Velvac mirrors, etc., were described in Part 3 of this series; except for the items noted in following paragraphs, I’ve made very few changes to the rig since Part 3 was written, primarily because the LD as it is works well for me without adding much more “stuff”! (I do plan to make a couple of replacements/equipment additions in the upcoming months; these are described in the paragraphs following this section.) I wrote in Part 3: “Unlike some LD owners, I fall toward the lower end of the “tinker and tweak” scale.” This statement is still accurate, but I’ve made a few changes and added a few practical and useful-to-me upgrades to the rig in the past several thousand miles…

In addition to the curtain or the door window, I added a wire shelving unit to the wall area between the galley and bath; the shelves serve as a “snack rack” and hold bulky but lightweight packages of stuff that would otherwise take up too much space in the cupboards and that I can’t get when there’s no Trader Joe’s within hundreds of miles!

The folding stove top was removed and stored away; it was of little use as a work surface, and it tended to rattle going down the road no matter how well it was “padded” with pot holders! I bought a mystery-wood “cutting” board (made by Camco) that was designed to fit on the stove-top; after replacing the crumbling rubber mesh backing, re-finishing and mineral-oiling the tops and sides, and screwing rubber “bumpers” to the bottom so the board fits on the grate without sliding, it’s great as an additional work surface. (I use a maple or thin plastic board on top of the stove-top board for food preparation, including cutting anything.)

I put on six new tires at about 35,000 miles; despite very good care, frequent applications of 303, and being covered when parked, tiny surface cracks were beginning to appear on the sidewalls of the outside duals. I don’t take chances with age, condition, or quality of tires, so after researching several tire replacement options, I stayed with the OEM Michelin LTX M&S tires. (Not that I travel in “M” [mud] or “S” [snow] if I have a choice!) I was not able to find Goodyear all-steel tires that were of a sufficiently current manufacturing date (Goodyear had been on strike for some time, so tire stock was limited to whatever the shop had in the back room), I don’t like the Michelin XPS ribs, and I wasn’t able to get the “correct” tires (the tires I wanted, not whatever the guy could get from his distributor) from Kumho or Goodrich. Appropriately-sized (225-75R-16) and weight-rated (Load Range E) tire choices (with efficient tread designs) are limited. The Michelins work well for the smaller and lighter LD, but if I drove a 26.5’ (or a 30’) motorhome, all-steel tires would be my choice.

I resisted buying a Pro-Fill battery watering system for some time; I felt that it was overpriced. However, everybody has a ¡ya basta! point (Spanish for “enough already!”); after one too many times doing the awkward and time-consuming mirror, flashlight, and turkey baster routine to check the batteries’ electrolyte level, I relented and bought a Pro-fill battery “waterer”:

I still think the thing is overpriced, but I can’t deny that it makes checking and filling (but not overfilling) the batteries easy, fast and pretty much idiot-proof!

At last May’s LD Caravan Club outing, Terry Tanner installed LED taillights (I bought the last set of Maxxima® lights; Terry now installs the slightly-brighter-than-Maxxima Peterson® LED lights) and an LED third brake light relay on the spare tire cover of my “Covered Wagon”. The LED taillights (and “Slimline” brake light relay) provide an amazing improvement in brightness and visibility over the wimpy, dull bulbs that LD installs. And, the “light cans” on the LD are integrated into the rear body panel; this panel is painted as one unit, so the color of the light can is the same as the “stripe”, i.e., green, in the case of my rig. Any dark color is not an effective reflective surface for a taillight bulb; after seeing the difference between the stock tai/brake lights and the LED tail/brake lights, I’m surprised that drivers behind me could even see the puny stock lights!

Terry also hooked up a ScanGuageII®. This little sits-on-the-dash box is a “trip computer” that connects into the engine’s computer system; the gauge can be programmed to track and display four sets of “trip data”. The gauge also displays engine error codes; very handy! The driver can choose which specific data to display; newer models area able to show additional engine functions. The gauge in my rig is set to read out mileage, engine RPMs, coolant temperature, and voltage. The ScanGaugeII® website offers all the details about the product, and Article 19 on the “Techsnoz” website offers a clear explanation of how the gauge works and explains the how-to for installing the gauge (a straightforward plug-in) and setting the readout choices.

“Next Up” …

Since my 23.5’ is a 2003, it came with the little whirring, chattering, 4-blade fan in the bath that accomplishes little beyond making a racket. Lazy Daze discontinued the use of these fans in later models and replaced them with larer, quieter, and more efficient fans from Fantastic Fans; I’ll replace the bath area fan with a model from Fantasic from Maxxair.

Satellite radio is still on my wish list; I have to look at current channel offerings on XM and Sirius to see which system better suits my eclectic tastes!

I much prefer to boondock, and don’t often camp where I have access to hookups. With only one 85 watt solar panel, even my very modest power needs can deplete the 12V “juice” supply pretty quickly unless the panel is receiving enough “full” sunlight to keep the battery charge ahead of the amount of use. The batteries can be very slow to charge in “low sunlight” conditions; cloudy, overcast weather, time of year (sun angle), and tree cover can leave one in the dark pretty quickly! Installing another solar panel (and probably an upgraded charge controller), an AM100 from Amsolar, should make a very positive difference.

The Balance Sheet (2003 23.5’ TK)

The strong V-10 is a good match for the smaller Lazy Dazes; the engine provides adequate power and runs smoothly and reasonably quietly. The engine has been reliable; beyond the already-noted TSBs and recall “glitches”, the V-10 in my rig has required no repairs or service other than regularly-scheduled maintenance.

The coach’s low center of gravity contributes to a stable, smooth-driving machine; the aftermarket suspension upgrades obviously provide improvements in handling and control, but I believe that most people would feel that the coach “drives” very well even with the stock suspension components. The adjustable seat is supportive and reasonably comfortable unless I spend too many hours in the saddle; when everything starts to hurt or go numb, it’s time to stop!

(Aside from the minor end cap separations and a small leak in the rear window), my 23.5’ TK has maintained its structural integrity very well; the coach has proven to be solid, strong, and durable. The overall paint quality is excellent; except for the black-painted rectangles on the overcab, the finish has been tough, easy to maintain, and has not faded or oxidized.

Due to the TK’s design, the three outside storage compartments are “height-challenged” and access to the entire compartment is not always convenient, but LD has maximized the compartments’ capacities as practically as possible. When organized efficiently, the compartments are adequately-sized and accessible for carrying my traveling and camping essentials. None of the compartments has leaked.

My TK has a plethora of CCC; of course, this is largely moot since I can’t think of where I’d put any more stuff!

Overall, the interior is well-designed and space has been utilized efficiently; the TK layout is open and accessible, and the large windows contribute to the spacious and “livable” feeling. Closet space is ample for one person and adequate for a couple, but I organized additional shelf/storage space at one side of the closet (for a folding table), on the closet shelf and on the closet floor (for a rectangular canvas laundry hamper, shoes, and my laptop in its padded case. Except for floor-level compartments (and the useless and long-gone medicine cabinet in the bathroom, replaced with wire shelving), the interior compartments and cupboards are generally easily accessible and adequately-sized; I’ve “customized” some of the cupboards to increase storage and make the contents easier to see and reach. Except for the very small bit of discoloration from water on the below-sink cupboard door, all the cabinetry has maintained its integrity, function, and appearance.

Overall, the electrical, plumbing, LP “parts and systems” and the appliances have functioned without problems except for the following “warts” (which probably sound worse than they are!):

The “prevent the stove top from sliding” tab on the underside of Atwood stove top broke off and disappeared. (A fix for this is still in the “thinking” stage.) The Dometic refrigerator in my rig was under the “possible fatigue crack in the boiler tube” recall; it received its sheet-metal band-aid. The plastic gas line on the generator (see #71197 on the LD message board) was replaced. The tabs on the water heater’s circuit board were cracked; see # 53044 on the LD message board for the repair. And, all but one of the little “grabbers” on the plastic LP gauge broke off; the gauge is now secured with a thin strip of clear duct tape.

I have the same feeling and attitude now about buying factory-direct as I did when I ordered the rig almost five years ago; I wouldn’t do it any other way! Not having a dealer in the mix is a big plus! Although some things have changed at the “mothership” in the years since I bought my LD, buying from a long-established manufacturer who takes pride in its high-quality products has provided consistency and a feeling of “connection”.

The rig has been to the factory for a repair (a bumper bash that was my own dumb fault!) once since the Part 3 16000-mile report; as with previous service calls, the repair was done promptly and professionally, and at a very fair price. I live within a (very) long day’s drive of the factory; this reasonably-close access was definitely a consideration when I chose the Lazy Daze, and I have not regretted this choice. In the case of the Lazy Daze factory, the rig can go “home” again!

One great perk of ownership is other “Lazy Daze people”! I’ve met many knowledgeable, experienced, and technically-savvy owners who understand, value, and appreciate the overall high quality of the design, engineering, materials, and construction of the coach. Many enthusiastically share their technical expertise and the “how-to” of their innovative projects; the creativity and skills of many LDers seems limitless!

Even Lazy Daze says, “We’re not perfect”! Well, no; I don’t know of anything that’s wart-free, especially if it has wheels or an operating system! But, two issues on my coach (and these may have been resolved in later model years) are still of concern:

The unloaded weight difference between the right and left sides of my motorhome is significantly more than the factory-acknowledged weight discrepancy. (This problem was detailed in Part 3, and remains unexplained and resolved only to a point. A few other owners of this model have also reported the weight difference.) According to the factory, the 23.5’ TK (at least, the 2003, and the issue may affect other manufacturing years) does have a 200-pound weight differential between the right and left sides; the right is understandably heavier because of the placement of the refrigerator, the generator, and the batteries. However, two separate weighings (with all the compartments unloaded and the water tank virtually empty) of my rig showed a side-to-side difference of close to 500 pounds; the rear of the rig sat 1” lower on the right. A “shim” was bolted into the leaf spring assembly to correct the sag, but the weight differential is obviously still present. To additionally compensate and balance the side-to-side load, I usually travel with a close-to-full tank of water.

My coach is not particularly well-insulated against heat or cold. In cold weather, the interior can be heated to a comfortable temperature, but, as soon as the heat source is turned off, the heat isn’t retained for more than a few minutes, even with vents closed, all shades pulled down, and a heavy insulating drape placed between the cab and the coach living area. The situation is similar in hot weather; the AC cools the “closed-up” interior, but as soon as it’s off, the coach very quickly heats up. Lazy Daze claims that the floors, walls, and ceilings of its coaches contain “2 ½” of insulation”, but, in my experience, the quantity/application and/or the insulation product/material type isn’t as efficient as it could and should be.

Down the Road…

In Part 3, I wrote: No coach or manufacturer is perfect; all coaches have a few “warts” and features that don’t please everybody. But when considering the products’ overall designs and quality, the commendable customer service, and the value for the price, Lazy Daze is way out in front of any class C competition. Lazy Daze is a unique manufacturer, proud of its singular products and dedicated to its business model and ongoing vision of producing and supporting the best class C; they’re doing that job very well.

My sentiments haven’t changed in the years and miles since that statement; I still feel that Lazy Daze is by far the best overall “bargain” in its class! My coach is good for many more “long roads” yet to come, but if I were ever to get another class C, I’d stick with a proven winner!