Caravaning together to the recent FMCA Winter Convention in Pomona, CA, we were all naturally parked together. So, when one person worked on their coach or needed help, we were all around to see what was going on. On the last day of the rally, there was a lot of banging and legs sticking out of Ned Reiter's coach. He was having his bell crank replaced. Ned felt he had some steering problems and decided to replace the factory bell crank with an aftermarket product.
The bell crank is a part of the steering assembly located on the left frame rail just forward of the front axle. It is a guide and keeps the steering mechanism in line. If the bell crank starts to have a problem, it will usually show up as looseness in the steering. There will be a lot more play in the steering wheel. A problem in the owner detecting this is that the deterioration in the steering will happen very gradually over a period of time and you won't notice the difference, but you will expend a lot more effort driving a straight line.
About six or seven of us at the convention had Ned's installer check our bell cranks also. Our coaches had between 8000 and 38,000 miles on them. Nearly all of them indicated some degree of looseness. One coach, which even had the bell crank replaced previously, was starting to lose the second one.
I think about five of us decided to have our bell cranks replaced by the after-market product, which was done while we waited during the Happy Hour. When we got to Las Vegas for the Freightliner Chassis Owner's Club Rally that followed, we asked the Freightliner Service Rep about the problem. His response was that normally bell cranks last up to 100,000 miles and there isn't much of a problem with them. Since he considers it a safety issue, he "probably" would have replaced them without charge, since our mileage wasn't very high, or in the case of the 38,000 mile coach, wasn't very old. Our concern was that we did have a high percentage of failures among us at relatively low mileage levels, we were not aware of any such factory policy and weren't sure whether our next failure, if factory replaced, would also be covered. The aftermarket product also seemed much stronger and came with a lifetime guarantee.
We were all very pleased with the handling of our coaches on the drive from Pomona to Las Vegas. There was a world of difference in the steering and tightness of the wheel. I am not necessarily recommending putting an after-market bell crank on your coach. I am strongly recommending that the deterioration of your bell crank can be very slow and unnoticed by you. Have your Freightliner dealer or mechanic have it checked the next time you are in and wee what he says. If you need a replacement, lobby heavily for 100% warranty coverage or consider the aftermarket product.
The original article appeared in The Freightliner Flyer, the newsletter of the Freightliner Chassis Owners Club. The author is Bernie Dobrin, F243254, email firstname.lastname@example.org
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