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Old 04-13-2009, 08:48 AM   #1
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Solaris T1550 - GVWR towing and owner's manual

Hi fellow Sunline fans. I have a little 15' Solaris T1550, manufactured in 1995. I'm single, and I really think the commercial seller saw me coming. I wanted to tow it with a 2001 Ford Escape that has a towing package, making it capable of towing 3500 pounds. The seller told me the camper only weighs 2200 pounds. Since I didn't understand what GVWR was, the sticker on the camper meant nothing to me. The dealer also didn't caution me about sway bars, auxiliary brakes, or give me any manuals. So the first time I took it out, I nearly rolled the Solaris and my car. I was ready to abandon it on the side of the road! Since then, I've had the frame repaired (lots of damage from the near-roll), learned about proper winterization (had to replace the hot water tank and toilet), and have had successful camping trips on my own. BUT....my Escape is obviously not enough to pull this camper, the transmission boiled over last year about 2 hours from home. I'm ashamed to admit my trips have been just an hour away from home, and I pull over to let my car cool down. LONG STORY, I know. Now I'm shopping for a new vehicle to tow. Will someone please explain to me about GVWR and trailer weight and what I need to tow it with? I'm guessing another Escape isn't a good idea, maybe I should get an Explorer (sorry Ford anti-fans, I get the Z plan for now, so it has to be a Ford). Please help! Also, if anyone has an owner's manual, would you please share some infor with me?
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Old 04-13-2009, 09:13 AM   #2
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T1550

I have a 1982 Sunline 15.5 SB which is virtually identical to your model, maybe a little lighter becaus I don't have an awning or air conditioner.

I tow it with a 4 cylinder, manual transmission Honda CRV rated in the USA for 1500 pounds, rated in Europe for 3500 pounds. We have towed it some 15,000 miles, including some 1000 miles of rough dirt roads through Labrador. Over the last 8monts we've completed a loop of the USA and our Honda has over 100,000 miles on it.

I put little arrow on the outside of my temperature gauge to indicate the normal operating point, in all our travels it has never moved off the mark.

I'm trully surprised by your problems. I believe the horsepower of your Escape should have been adequate, the cooling of your transmission inadequate. What engine do you have?

On any tow vehicle with an automatic transmission not specifically designed for towing one should have an auxillary transmission cooler. They are really inexpensive and do protect from overheating. The fastest way to ruin a transmission is overheating. In my motor home I have the transmission fluid changed every 25,000 miles.

One of the nice features of our trailers is the trailer brakes, connecting them is mandatory. In general if your trailer starts to sway you can just tap the trailer brakes on your brake controller and immediately stop any sway.

As well I have a friction anti sway bar. It really dampens most sway tendencies and is an inexpensive addition, about $60 and self installable.

If you're anywhere near southern NH feel free to stop by my home and I'll show you are setup.

Best of Luck,

Norm Milliard
1982 Sunline 15.5 SB
2004 Honda CRV
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Old 04-13-2009, 05:00 PM   #3
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I would think, as Norm said, that you just need a transmission cooler and a proper hitch set up. We had a 1660 years ago that we towed with an Chevy Celebrity station wagon and it did just fine. That was their midsize wagon with a 6 cylinder engine, and I'm sure it wasn't rated to tow more than your current vehicle. If you do get an Explorer, that will tow your 1550 like a dream, but you'll still want a transmission cooler.
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Old 04-13-2009, 05:35 PM   #4
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if you can afford to upgrade to an explorer I would do it . it will be all that much safer ,and more enjoyable for you. and why alway have to worry about being over weight . it is better to have more than not enough. as far as gvwr ( gross vechicle weight rating) that is the max that your camper can weight with it loaded and that includes , water in your tanks propane, and all your gear, as was mention earlier I would invest in at least a friction sway bar and a set of light weight load bars I believe that reese make a light weight load bar set up, you may want to check out there web site it will explain alot how all this stuff works . and have someone that knows what they are doing to set it up for you . I think that you will feel so much safer on the road .and back to the Explorer the longer wheel base will make a much more stable tow vehicle than the escape . I am sure that so one with more info will chime in soon with some more tips , oh by the way welcome to the site , I am sure between all of us here we will get you on the right track to being a happy camper
if you have any other question dont hold back ..good luck Dan
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Old 04-13-2009, 06:33 PM   #5
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Honda CRV

We are continualy approached about our use of the Honda CRV as a tow vehicle. It tows our trailer like a dream, so well that at times I sometimes forget the trailer is there; when I forget I get a little upset with myself because it's not smart to be not conscious of the situation.

I admit to being a cautious person. We don't drive fast, buy the best tires we can, check the air pressure regularly, touch the trailer bearings each time we stop, and touch the tires on both the tow and trailer at each stop. On the other had, we travel a lot more than most is a year.

We have no weight distribution system and really don't think it's needed on this trailer.

We travel with at least a half full water tank, one propane tank, a full set of tools, food and clothes since we're usually gone for a long time, sometimes away from a place to buy a banana for a month. Fully loaded we weigh about 2200 pounds.

After this years modifications I expect the weight will be up to 2400 pounds. I believe that the additional weight will be no prolem for our Honda.

I would suggest that you check the color of your transmission fluid. Ours should always be pink, never brown, no burnt smell.

I agree with those that suggest a larger vehicle will make towing easier, the bigger the tow vehicle the less significant the trailer effects. However it does add to your costs and flexibility.

In our travels it is nice to have a 28 mpg vehicle to explore with, happy to have its, though limited, 4WD. Even better we love the Honda's reliability - the last three have each clocked 250,000 miles, in our hands or childrens. It's always a good feeling to be no where some where on the surface of the earth and know that Honda engine just keeps going.

As to the little Sunline, it is a true joy, meeting our every travel need. We feel so special and close in it when we travel. Some how it's like living in a small town, small and simple enough to know it all.

I wish you well in your search for a tow vehicle. I will say you have a nice little trailer that can service you for many years, ours is now 27 years old, just amazing how well it still works.

By the way our Honda has a manual transmission, giving me full control of shift points.

Safe Travels

Norm and Ginny Milliard
1982 Sunline 15.5 SB
2004 Honda CRV
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Old 04-14-2009, 10:04 AM   #6
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Thanks, everyone

Thanks so much for your input, everyone. I did add a sway bar and a braking system. I bet the culprit is that the Escape had the "towing package" added as an option and from what I can tell, all that meant was a heavy-duty transmission. There is no aux cooling system on my trans. (My future son-in-law is a hobby mechanic, but certified). Other theories are that the flat surface of the trailer added unexpected drag to my load. Since I am a one-car woman (I have two now, but would rather not) I want a vehicle that I can use daily as well as for towing and I really love my Escape. I guess I'll be having a chat with a Ford dealer about the capabilities of the new Escapes. Both my 2001 and the 2009s are rated to pull 3500 pounds. I really should not have had so much trouble with it. I admit that part of my problem now is that I'm scared after what happened on the highway and I need to get my confidence back. Of course, having a safe vehicle will help a great deal. I agree the Explorer will do the trick but I don't need that much vehicle for day-to-day use.

You have all been so helpful with your input and I really appreciate that! I have to say that the types of people who are campers and all the people I meet at campgrounds are what gave me confidence to camp alone. I feel perfectly safe and have learned so much from my fellow campers!
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Old 04-14-2009, 11:25 AM   #7
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Here's a link that you may find useful. It pretty much is a general primer on towing RV's and other trailer types. Poke around and read up on every aspect of trailer towing.

http://auto.howstuffworks.com/auto-parts/towing

Also, I would strongly recommend reading as many threads as you can in the Towing and Tow Vehicles fourum here on SunlineClub.com - there are a number of topics about towing with smaller vehicles there which should give you a good understanding of proper towing setups for your situation. There is much detail there that I am not going to hit in this post.

This is a very brief summary of things...

First, your '01 Escape should pull the T-1550 better than it did. As Norm mentioned, a tranny cooler is cheap and a must. But, the Escape is rated to tow 3,500# and the T-1550's maximum GVWR (Gross Vehicle Weight Rating = combined weight of trailer and everything loaded into it) is 3,500#. Conventional wisdom in the TT towing world suggests you should have somewhere between a 15 and 25% safety margin between the GVWR of the TT and the towing capacity of the TV (tow vehicle.) But, since it's unlikely that you'd put 1,300# of gear in the TT, your Escape (like Norm's CRV) should be very adequate to the task. (You can help this by travelling with empty black and gray water tanks, and less than a full tank of fresh water. Water is heavy.)

Before you do much else, get the trailer weighed so you know what numbers you are really dealing with. Norm's 15.5 is around 2,200# fully loaded, but the spec sheet for your year 1550 says the TT should around 2,125 dry (empty + no airconditioner or awning) and have a max GVWR of 3,500#. That's a big difference and you need to know this weight before dealing with the rest of the problems, even if you buy a more capable tow vehicle.

Second, your near rollover situation most likely resulted from one or more of these conditions:

a) No weight distribution system meaning that the full weight of the trailer tongue was on the rear of the TV which can severely lighted the weight on the front end of the TV. That results in a serious potential for loss of steering control. Tongue weight should be somewhere between 10 and 15% of the TT's weight. Even empty, that'd be 2,200# x 10% = 220# on the extreme rear of the vehicle. Imagine a heavy adult standing on the rear bumper of the Escape and how much that might affect the safe handling of the car at 55 mph under varying conditions. EVen with weight distribution, how you pack the TT can drastically alter the tongue weight. Again, there are a number of posts in the Towing section that give great detail about the geometry of weight distribution. A weight distributing towing system requires the TV to have a Class III (or better) weight distributing receiver hitch.

b) No sway control so that when the TT starts to sway, you have nothing to prevent it from getting worse. If the driver is inexperienced at towing, the wrong move in attempting to correct sway is almost certain to make the sway worse. Spiralling uncontrolled sway will usually result in a rollover.

c) No trailer brakes so that when attempting to slow down in any situation, the TV's brakes rapidly become overheated and begin to fail al most immediately. And, without trailer brakes, the trailer wants to go places on its own when you attempt to stop. Bad karma there. Trailer brakes are required by law in every state in the US.

It is possible that the Escape may yet be an OK tow vehicle for you. A number of our members here tow pretty much the same TT with a wide variety of smaller TV's.
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Old 04-14-2009, 02:46 PM   #8
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Trailer Setup

I believe that one of the most important factors in towing a light trailer successfully are the electric brakes. When we first purchased ours we towed it home on the Interstate with out any issues. However since then we have had a couple of moments where the trailer swayed, not severly, even with the friction anti sway bar.

The solution to sway is not to try to correct the sway but rather to tap on the brake controller's trailer brake activation switch. This lightly applies the trailer brakes tugging it straight in a second. (Generally I find sway is created by potholes or bumps and wierdly shaped trucks like car carriers.)

In a typical three or four hour drive I probably activate the trailer brakes once or twice.

It appears that your trailer is about 200-300 pounds heavier than mine empty. Our axle is only rated for 2600 pounds versus your 3500 pound axle. I'm sure some of the extra weight is the axle.

We do carry a lot of stuff because of the nature of our travels. In the rear of the Honda we carry three metal chairs, a generator, compressor, bottle jack. To counter the additional weight in the rear of the Honda and the tongue weight of the trailer, we increase the rear tire pressure beyond normal, to about 38 pounds.

We carry about a half a tank of water, primarily for lunch stops, except when we're dry camping we then fill the tank. We hardly ever carry anything in our black and grey tanks except for a couple of gallons that we put in the black and grey tanks before we take off to slosh around while we're driving. We have also put ice cubes in with the water on occassion to help shake loose 'stuff'.

We also only have only one propane tank (full about 40 pounds a tank for the normal tank). We thought this might be a problem, the potential to run out of gas somewhere. The fear was needless. Gas lasts a long time if you're not running the furnance and when it gets low, feels like 25 lbs, I just have it filled. In a year of RVing I would guess we filled it 4-6 times.

I think trailer tires are important. We use Goodyear Marathons and keep them at 45 pounds, rated for 50 pounds max.

As to Tow vehicle brakes, I think it's rare that the tow vehicle can't handle stopping for normal every day stops, but not if you drive like some do, race up to a stop light and put on one's brakes. Without Trailer Brakes that trailer can do some awful things in emergency stops.

The real scarry times we've had have been in long twisty down hills in our motorhome. Brakes can heat up fast, no matter how big the brakes. We have learned to downshift on any long hill - we use the Mountain Directories to know where the hills are.

I agree with Steve, trailer brakes and a brake controller are a must.

I also agree that the first thing to do is to weigh the trailer and determine the hitch weight. The latter can be done with a bathroom scale. There is also a way to measure the trailer weight at home if a truck scale is not locally available; most truck stops have one.

Regardless of the tow vehicle I would get an antisway bar, the price is right and they are very easy to use, about as complex as the safety chains.

Though I don't own a weight distribution system and haven't personally felt the need on a small trailer. I do notice that most of the larger Sunlines have one.

Reese makes a weight mini distribution system for small trailers with hitch weights of 100-350 pounds, it costs less than $300. The following is a connection to this hitch

http://www.etrailer.com/p-66041.htm

In terms of priority the trailer brakes and tire pressure are first. weighing the rig and adding some kind of anti -sway device next.

Safe trailering,

Norm Milliard
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