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Old 05-20-2009, 10:41 AM   #127
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Alpine Steering/Updated Status on NHTSA Investigation

I've had continuing conversations with Dan Hillman, the DOT Investigator who is handling the Alpine Coach steering issue. In our discussion yesterday, Dan advises that the response from the Alpine owners has been surprisingly strong, in that he now has some 35 filed complaints. This is a key element in "getting their attention", which at this point we've clearly done. That said, if there are others out there who would like to have their concerns counted, there's still an opportunity to do so -- and the numbers do help.

According to Dan the one key element that would really help get a positive outcome here would be a still picture that depicts damage to the original bracket. He's seen the video posted by Dale, which may demonstrate an impending failure. But my sense is that in putting together his final report he's only able to use a still photo to demonstrate that not only is there substantial movement/sway in the original bracket design, but that the projected metal fatigue and/or failure can also be documented. I infer from my discussions that such evidence would likely be a deal closer.

Of further interest is that they have done a bit of research as well into identifying the party that they believe would be financially responsible for the problem -- and should there be an affirmative finding of an actionable defect, the matter would then go to their lawyers to pursue an appropriate remedy on behalf of Alpine owners. Without expressing an opinion here, let me just say that should they be successful in doing so it could have potential implications that go beyond the immediate issue of the steering bracket.

Bottom line: Should anyone have a digital (still) photo that shows damage/stress attributable to the steering bracket, it would be extremely helpful to get that information to them. You could either send it directly to Dan Hillman at Daniel.Hillman@dot.gov -- or if you prefer please feel free to send it to me at rversonline@mac.com and I'll be happy to handle it with Dan. In either event, it would be helpful to have a description of exactly what the photo depicts.

Many thanks to all who have contributed in a variety of ways to address this potentially serious safety issue to all Alpine owners who are dealing with this concern. And if I can provide any further information, or respond to specific questions, please feel free to send me a PM.


2007 34' FDDS Ltd SE
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Old 05-20-2009, 06:41 PM   #128
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Dale Gerstel's rig had a stress crack starting in the "hinge" between the rear face & rear flange of the steering bracket. Dale's would not make a good case for the fatigue portion of this issue. However, in thinking like a beauracrat, one part of the findings here is that there should be an inspection of each 04-09 coach steering bracket to pinpoint any additional coaches that have the internal welds missing (basically incomplete manufacture), for which the up-from-the-bottom photo of Dale's bracket is a good photo.

As far as fatigue crack- there was one coach I crawled under in Quartzite that had the fatigue crack starting. I believe I mentioned it to the owner & pointed it out as something to be monitored. But I don't remember who(se). Anybody? This is the crack in the rear flange/rear face bend line, not weld cracks.

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Old 05-21-2009, 05:10 PM   #129
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I just received an email from Dan Hillman today. His text follows


Please describe the driving symptoms of the Alpine Motor Home Steering Gear Box concern Such as
2.Hard to stay in proper lane
3.All over the road
4.You may describe in your own words if you wish

Thank You

Daniel J Hillman
Safety Defects Investigator
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
US Department of Transportation
Phone: 202-366-6761
E-mail: daniel.hillman@dot.gov


My answer to him will be "None".

Mike and Mike (Michele)

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Old 05-21-2009, 05:17 PM   #130
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I also received the same request from Dan this morning. I decided to write in my own response since there were no symptoms displayed by my coach. Despite our "wandering" steering box bracket, the Alpine coach is the best handling motorhome out there.

2006 36FDDS
Bracket repaired
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Old 05-21-2009, 05:26 PM   #131
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Same here. Although I did note that my 05 does not handle a strong side wind as well as I "remember" my 2000 Alpine did.
Wayne & Kathy
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Old 05-21-2009, 10:35 PM   #132
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Here is my reply to Mr. Hillman.

There are no symptoms.................yet. The concern is the failure of the bracket as it twists back and forth when turning the steering wheel. A bracket failure while driving would be catastrophic, causing complete lack of steering control of a 30,000lb vehicle.

Jerry Davis
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Old 05-22-2009, 07:24 AM   #133
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We also received the email from Mr HIllman. In retrospect, my response was probably a little verbose, but it does express my concern.

"The driving characteristics are typical of a motorhome of it's size and wheelbase. It wanders some, but my complaint is not related to the driving characteristics. The complaint I filed is based on an extreme concern as to the life expectancy of the mounting bracket that supports the power steering gearbox assembly. I have observed the torquing-bending of the welded mounting bracket when the wheels are being turned, and the potential for fatigue failure of the bracket appears to me to be significant. Other acquaintances who also have late model Alpine Motorhomes that I have discussed this with have similar concerns, and I am trying to be proactive, and, to hopefully not be a victim of a catastrophic failure of the mounting bracket. I have examined the bracket on my vehicle visually and have not found any cracks yet at about 25,000 miles, but I don't know if the paint or hidden areas might yield a different answer, After several decades in the aerospace industry where "everything" is subject to fatigue analysis, I cannot ignore this."
John & Carol Randolph
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Old 05-22-2009, 10:24 AM   #134
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I replied today indicating similar concerns regarding potential disaster rather than current handling problems.
2005 40' Limited FDTS

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Old 05-22-2009, 02:25 PM   #135
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Questions from Dan Hillman

I hadn't realized that Dan would be contacting others who may have filed the form concerning the Alpine steering bracket. However, I do take this as an indication that the matter is being fully investigated -- and a positive sign. I think it's important for them to understand that this condition is actually *more* dangerous because it does not provide the usual symptomatic warning signs. I pointed this out to Dan in my own reply which provided in part:

"I understand completely why you've asked these questions, as it would tend to further document "trouble" with the steering bracket. Having said that, one of the most serious issues we're dealing with is that there simply is NO WARNING of this condition. Alpine coaches are well known for their unusually good handling characteristics. I know ours surely fits that description even though we were experiencing the same severe stress on and movement of the steering bracket. As a practical matter, the stress is of course greatest when the coach is stationary -- or moving very slowly -- such as when maneuvering in or out of a parking spot. That's when the stress is greatest, and when the movement of the bracket of course is subject to the greatest movement. Going down the highway at 60 mph the stress is far less; and while no one knows how to video that thesis, one would expect since the tire friction vis a vis the road is far less, the stress on the bracket is correspondingly less. So the real stress to the bracket is occurring while stopped or at very low speeds, thus blunting any feeling of wobble or wander. While this is in some respects not the helpful response you'd be looking for, on reflection it's actually a description of a condition which is essentially not noticeable while driving at highway speeds -- and thus gives no warning to the driver of the coach.

Again, from my perspective at least, it's the complete lack of warning (or putting an owner on notice of a potential steering problem) that makes this a particularly dangerous condition."

Once again thanks to all who have assisted in pursuing this issue.

2007 34' FDDS Ltd SE
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Old 05-22-2009, 06:06 PM   #136
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Tom- Whether stress is most when doing low speed maneuvering is the subject of theory only, and I think predicated on driver's preconception of an "average" mile under way, which is a straight-away freeway mile.

I have nothing beyond mildly informed speculation behind my alternate opinion, that the worst stress is under way at speeds equal or slightly above (since nobody ever goes more than slightly above) posted warning signs for curves, and maybe at low speed cornering around town. Based on steering wheel feedback while cornering, I'd guess the highest stresses are encountered when full steering wheel pressure is required in a turn, and then you hit a pothole or other surface unevenness pushing impact stress into the bracket on top of ordinary steering stress. I believe I may have a vague recollection of a very brief, in fact perhaps momentary period where I might have slightly fractured the speed limit in a curve, where the excellent handling characteristics of the Alpine were appreciated in maintaining control of the vehicle. After which I immediately decelerated and thereafter maintained strict adherence to all motor vehicle safety laws and practices and returned to my customary pro-forma as a model citizen. During that very brief moment, I recall a lot of pressure on the wheel, and perhaps a tad bit on my marriage as well , but I digress.

On another occasion, on a narrow highway with a recent pavement overlay, leaving a large (maybe 4") shoulder drop off at the edge of paving, I slipped a front tire off the paving. Wrestling the front end back onto the paving took a good hard pull as the pavement lip pushed against the tire (this particular episode caused a rather sharp spike in marital stress also, tho I believe that to be mostly unrelated to the steering bracket issue ).

I'm hoping to get amplification from Roy Burrell who posted (here) about his 2004:
...mine finally broke at the bend in front of the huck bolts. I got a slight warning when I noticed that the horizontal part of the steering wheel was not horizontal when driving on a straight road. If your steering wheel position while driving on a straight road changes, beware, crawl under and check the bracket for cracks!!
Roy's actual conditions of driving would be good instruction to us all; he is going to send me photos of the bracket repair and I hope to get a fuller description of the break & how it happened.
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Old 05-25-2009, 05:47 PM   #137
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Actual Fatigue Failure

Here is an overall view of a repaired 2004 steering bracket w/55,000 miles that came separated at the back flange:

The owner noticed the steering wheel was off center by 90° and the steering response wasn't quite right. He crawled under the coach & saw the steering bracket had come partially undone and was pushed about 1" forward, making wear marks in the 1/8" sheetmetal bulkhead below the DS firewall.

My conclusion is that the fatigue failure of the rear flange is a real issue that 04-09 owners will need to deal with.
Here is a closeup where you can see the tear originates in the upper corner of the fold between bracket & flange, then proceeds down the fold till the path of least resistance is ~45° toward the lower Huck bolt:

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Old 06-01-2009, 04:40 PM   #138
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In August 2008 we were traveling a bumpy two lane road in Colorado when I experienced severe wheel shake to the point it was difficult to hold on to the steering wheel. I was going about 30 MPH and was able to slow the coach and pull to the side of the road. A person driving in the opposite direction stopped and turned around and came up to inform me that the front wheels were moving back and forth such that he thought I had broken the steering. I crawled under the coach and inspected the drag link and any other suspension parts I could see. I started the coach and turned the steering several times but I could not see anything wrong. We continued on down the road and no more wheel shake all the way home to the Phoenix, AZ.
Late in August I had the coach in for other service at Massey’s Truck & RV Repair in Phoenix and explained the problem to Tom the Service Manager, who has done all the work on the coach, and he did an extensive inspection of the suspension and could not see anything wrong. I took one other short trip after his inspection and had no steering problems.
Then in December 2008 Dale Gerstel posted his now infamous “CAUTION Late Alpine Owners”. I forwarded the post to Tom and he said to bring my coach in ASAP. He performed the static wheel turn and confirmed that the steering bracket was flexing excessively but all welds were there and no cracks were visible. He wanted to review the other posts on IRV2 to determine the proper way to fix the problem. His concern was that this was a safety issue and should be reported NTSB which now I see has been done. At that time I had not incurred any more wheel shake and Tom was not certain that the bracket flex caused the wheel shake.
In February 2009 I took the coach to Massey’s for annual service and mentioned to Tom that the steering had a squeak when turning in tight quarters. We both thought the boot in the steering column needed lubed. After further inspection the squeak was coming from the steering gear box and there was metal in the gear box and in the oil reservoir. The steering box needed to be rebuilt, bearings and seals replaced, and the oil reservoir flushed. The rebuilt steering box was installed in the coach. It was then driven on a road test and the wheels shook uncontrollably. It was then determined the steering bracket flex was causing the steering problem. Tom reviewed the further posts on IRV2 and then had a certified welder add bracing to the bracket in two different areas to stabilize the bracket and this eliminated all wheel shake.
I believe that the initial wheel shake I incurred damaged the steering gear box. When the rebuilt box was installed, the steering angles were changed such that the bracket flexed immediately and excessively caused the problem to occur.
We are on a cross country trip and now in Virginia and the coach drives like an Alpine should.
I want to thank Dale and all other contributors to this post for your diligence in helping us with this serious safety issue.
John Neff
2005 34' Alpine
Anthem, AZ
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Old 06-05-2009, 04:40 PM   #139
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Steering box mount

A long time ago Dale G wrote in about problems with the steering box. I went back 15 pages and couldn't find anything. Does anyone have an update/solution? My front end guy said the best way to stabilize it would be to put in supports between the frame horns. Big problem-that's where the generator is. Has anyone else arrived at a solution?

Also, my ball joints need replacing and my front end guy couldn't find any. Anyone know where to get the replacements?


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Old 06-05-2009, 05:00 PM   #140
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Joe, check out the thread "Caution late Alpine owners". It is on the first page of the Alpine forum and has lots of information.

Raymond, Leda and Lady
Morgan Hill, CA
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