By Russ and Tiña De Maris
If your Class C motorhome is built on a Ford E-350 chassis, you’re far from being alone. There’s just swarms of these venerable RVs out there, and they have their own peculiar praises and faults. Of the latter, you’ll find plenty of E-350 owners who begin to use language that’s not safe for this column when speaking of changing out shock absorbers.
Yep, shocks do have a tendency to get old, and it can affect ride and handling. Plenty of shade tree mechanics who own these motorhomes figure they can change out their shocks – after all, they’ve changed plenty of shocks on other rigs, what can the big deal be with changing them on the motorhome?
Judging from comments we’ve heard, plenty.
The consensus is that the way Ford engineered this chassis makes shock changing pretty straight up on the rear end, and up to the passenger side of the front. But come on over to the driver’s side, and shock isn’t just a word reserved for the part itself. One RVer remarked, “You can’t move the wrench after it’s put on the top nut.” Yes, all reports show that the driver’s side front is just squeezed into a spot that’s a miniature contortionist’s delight.
What’s to be done? Plenty of RVers, who otherwise do plenty of their own work, have sworn off that part of it. If you can get a firm quote from a repairman who’ll do the job on a flat-rate (as opposed to hourly) basis, you may be miles and miles ahead of the game. One owner wrote, “A guy with lots of experience, all the right tools, the proper lift, the proper stand to hold up the hanging wheel(?) took almost two solid hours. I paid about $70 in labor, and a fair price for the [new shocks].” His thinking after the job was done? “There’s up to 8,000 pounds of stuff to fall on me in my driveway, off my jack stands, whatever. Happy to have them do it. I can be certain it would have taken me FAR longer.”
With similar, if not colorful sentiments, another RVer says, “The rear shocks are a breeze. Anyone can do it. I did the fronts once. Never again. I just know that the engineer at Ford sits around chuckling fiendishly every time he imagines anyone changing the front shocks on an E-350. Last time I paid two professionals to do the fronts. It took two men two hours to do it. It was worth what I paid them to do it. I even learned some new words while watching them.”
But there are still plenty of E-350 owners who don’t give up so easily. Here’s a summary of their advice on tackling that stinker driver’s side front shock:
Equipment: Your Snap-On dealer carries a special shock that fits the end of the shock absorber shafts. Another recommended using a flex-ratchet tool – not inexpensive. Or try using a ratcheting box-end wrench.
Be sure to have SOLID jack stands in place. And one sage recommends that you pull a tire and wheel off and lay it under the frame of the RV. If the jack and jack stand fails, it gives you one more “layer of protection” to help save your bacon.
Procedures: The universal advice – lube the old shock threads well with spray lube, days in advance of the change-out job.
Jack up the front end of the rig until the tires clear the ground, and be sure to block the rig well. Take the old shock out from the bottom mount first, and have a helper hold the top mount retaining nut with an open-end wrench. With the nut held in place, turn the shock body to loosen it. You can turn it with whatever tool you have at hand that seems to work, as you’ll soon be consigning the old shock to the trash can. Be prepared to spend a bit of time with this operation.
Look around before you start. One RVer reported he found a body plug under the floor carpeting inside the rig, just above the driver side shock. Getting tool access through the hole in the flooring helped him out.
Can’t get the old bushings to come out? Some report that a “Sawzall” or other reciprocating saw can do this easily.
When putting the new shock in, here’s a suggested procedure that may make things easier: “Compress the new shock first and tie it with wire, insert the top end first, then cut the wire and guide the bottom into place.”