Its a design flaw...
Just got my trailer back from being inspected. The guy said that the undercoating on the bottom is flaking off like nobody's business and that the steel frame underneath is only 1/8" thick; he couldn't believe a company would manufacture a trailer that big (its a 3-horse) with such thin steel. He said that even if I have Sundowner sand blast and re-coat it (under warranty), it can only be done once since its such thin steel. After that-it will be useless.
His advice is to dump it now. And, it has NOTHING to do with maintenance. ..the actual (aluminum) floor is pristine. Too bad the frame holding it up is a piece of crap. Very disappointed- off to try and trade it in for something else.
I want to add to this thread and bring it back up to the top as this is a big problem for many. Sundowner Trailer owners have much to be concerned about.
I have a 2 horse straight load w/dressing room that was manufactured in 1999 and I bought new in 2000. I am an antique car restorer (hobbyist) and spend a lot of time under antique vehicles and am no stranger to a welder, rust and restoration issues. I offer this to give some credence to my analysis of this Sundowner Trailer frame rust problem.
My original dealer, Orchard Trailers in Hatfield , MA , no longer carry Sundowner trailers. They have "piles" of Sundowner frames behind their shop and are replacing frames on Sundowner trailers every month. The cost ranges from $7-$10,000.00 depending on the size and type of trailer. A basic 2 horse bumper pull with no dressing room is $7k to replace the frame and it goes up from there.
The problem details:
Sundowner makes aluminum skin and floor trailers with steel frames. The steel within the trailer was all powder coated by Sundowner at time of original construction. Powder coating is an excellent coating system (in my view) when it is properly applied. The emphasis here is "properly applied".
My trailer has corrosion of the steel frame, complete failure of the powder coating, and is generally a total disaster on a trailer with less than 7,000 miles on it.
The powder coating failed and as a result, the coating separated from the steel base exposing uncoated steel to the weather. In painting terms, you'd say it looks like was never put in primer, but in powder coating terms I'd say that they had a combination of very low grade steel components, and a very low grade powder coating backed up by lack of preparation. Those to elements combine in an exponentially damaging way to have the failed powder coating now trap water, salt brine (winter driving), and dirt under the powder coating and against the raw steel setting up corrosion and failure of the frame at what I can only describe as monumental levels!
Here's a photo of the 1" steel tube that houses my brake controller wires before I cut out this failed piece and replaced it all: http://www.englishe
s.com/photos/ BrakeWiresCondui t1.jpg
Yes the only thing holding it together is force of habit and the wires which control the brakes of my trailer. Lovely - if the wires chaffe through, I lose the brakes in addition to the floor and horse!
That photo tells you a lot and you can see the level of corrosion is extensive. Sundowner of course wants to hear or know nothing of this and while they are trying to offer a "warranty" repair of these failures on any trailers which are within the warranty period, in my opinion the method of repair actually worsens and INCREASES the problem so caveat emptor there.
Sundowner is proposing to take these failed powder coated steel frames and put the trailer up on a lift and wire brush all of the corroded steel areas, then shoot rattle can undercoating goob over the affected area. The problem with this approach is that the powder coating failure is on all sides of the steel frame, however only the bottom portion of the frame rails, cross members, long sills, and conduit are exposed and accessible from the bottom. The top of those rails in contact with the floor and trailer are not reachable and cannot be brushed cleaned and undercoated without removing the trailer body which would be a very extensive repair and costs, so they just are covering up the portion of the problem you can see so as to put off the problem until the trailer is out of warranty. Why do I know this? Because this trailer WAS repaired in exactly this way 5 years ago by Sundowner.
So by covering the affected areas with undercoating from the bottom, they are now trapping water and salt brines which enter by gravity through the failed top of the frame rail. With no way to drain out, that brine sits under the coatings and goes to work overtime to dissolve the steel. The fact is that I have seen substantially less failure of the frame on antique trucks that are 60-80 years old than I see on this Sundowner trailer. Yes, I'm NOT happy about this at all and Sundowner's obstinance about the problem, and lack of professional resolution, lack of backing up their problem as the manufacturer is very disheartening to say the least.
Bottom line, before buying any Sundowner trailer, make sure you get a creeper and look more closely at the frame and chassis than you do anything else.
Here's another undercarriage shot that should be burned into your mind on this topic. This is looking up at the front face of the trailer and this is the frame that is holding up the dressing room floor. Does this look like something you'd be comfortable putting your prized show horses in to ride down the interstate? If it does, then I have a killer dealer on a trailer for you! http://www.englishe
s.com/photos/ Trailer_1inchSqu areTubeFailure. jpg
Remember that this trailer has less than 7,000 miles on it!
I work for an equestrian magazine and one of our readers just brought this issue with Sundowner to our attention. The more I research, the more I find out that this has been a problem for a very long time.
If any of you on this post would like to formally speak out, or even anonymously share your stories, please private message me and we can set up an interview time.
Thanks in advanced!
My Dad is a Metallurgist, or Material's Engineer in more "modern" terms, and has been since 1962. I sent him an email and the pictures that were posted above. Here is what he said:
Putting steel and aluminum in contact in a moist environment creates galvanic corrosion. With the materials involved in this case the aluminum is more active than the steel and would corrode more rapidly than the steel. The reason for powder coating the steel is to make it more compatible with the aluminum thus preventing galvanic corrosion.
I do agree that the basic cause of the problem is inadequate powder coating. There is no way the steel could corrode to the extent is has if the coating was properly applied.
I don't like the idea of undercoating to correct the problem either. Undercoating is OK if done during the original manufacture but applying it on parts that are already corroded is poor practice.
It has come to my attention that there is a serious design flaw in the powder-coated steel frames on the "Valuelite" models of Sundowner Trailers causing these frames to rust at an accelerated rate. Further, I understand that the manufacturer has not alerted the owners of these trailers to the damage occurring and the danger of a major frame failure.
In 1999 Sundowner began building "Valuelite" trailers using power coated steel frames. There is an inherent design flaw in the engineering of this type of frame. Powder coating does not flex with the trailer, and what happens over time, as the trailer travels and vibrates, the powder coating over the steel frame splits apart at the frame joints. Moisture is then trapped between the frame and the powder coating, causing the steel to rust at an accelerated rate, as it has no way to dry out.
Sundowner is aware of the problem. However, to my knowledge, I have never heard of any type of factory recall nor even any type of notice of concern being sent from the manufacturer to all affected customers. It is reasonable to assume that almost every "Valuelite" trailer presently on the road has this problem, and that most owners are blissfully unaware of the problem.
The only solution I know of to "band-aid" the problem is to have the entire frame sanded with a power sander, then a "metal cleaner" should be applied, then a "metal ready" product applied, and finally at least 3 coats of "POR 15" should be applied to stop further deterioration. POR 15 will need to be applied every few years to insure full rust prevention.
If the trailer is still under warranty, Sundowner will do the work, although the trailer owner should make sure that all of the above procedures are done. It is interesting to note that this winter Sundowner announced that they have stopped making Valuelite trailers without any explanation as to why they were discontinuing the model.
I hope this information is helpful to any owners of Sundowner "Valuelite" trailers