Fleetwood Folding Trailers (FFT) (which sold trailers under the Coleman brand) began using an ABS roof in 1996 on their Coleman popups. The idea seemed sound: a strong one piece roof with no seams to leak. Unfortunately these roofs have had their share of problems: sagging, bowing, cracking and delaminating. FFT phased out these roofs around 2003.
FFT became FTCA and continued to replace roofs under a lifetime warranty, but in 2008 FTCA was acquired by Blackstreet Capital Management which then shutdown FTCA in 2011. No company means no more warranty service. So what do you do if you have ABS roof issues?
Fortunately there is lots of information on the web about repairing these ABS roofs. If you have serious bowing or sagging you are probably out of lucky. But there are solutions for cracking and delaminating. Just Google “Coleman ABS roof repair” and you will find lots of information.
We have a 1996 Coleman Cheyenne, one of the first trailers with the ABS roof. After a few years it sagged, and we had it replaced under warranty with a new roof. The new roof had an improved shape (crowned in both directions) and a metal support brace. It has resisted sagging and bowing, but after over a dozen years the roof was showing its age:
- The awning rail had opened up and was cracking
- The roof was covered with cracks, most small but a few larger ones.
In this article I will go over what we did to repair our roof. Fortunately our roof had no delamination, so I won’t be covering that. But there is plenty of information on the web for that if you have delamination issues.
We repaired our roof in two phases:
- Replaced the awning rail
- Repaired cracks and coated roof with Grizzly Grip
The awning rail replacement is covered in a separate article. The rest of this article will focus on refurbishing the roof.
Refurbishing the Roof
Since our roof did not have any delamination the steps were pretty simple:
- Inspect the roof and fill any large cracks
- Coat the roof with Grizzly Grip
Our roof was covered with many cracks. Most were small, but a couple were a bit larger. None seemed to be causing structural issues, but I was concerned that left over time these cracks would result in delamination.
Since we had so many cracks I decided to fill just a couple of the larger ones, and then let the roof treatment (Grizzly Grip) cover the rest. If you have fewer larger cracks then you might want to check out this blog posting on Coleman ABS Roof Repair where the author does a more complete job than I cover here.
The most recommended way to fill cracks is to use an ABS paste made of Methyl Ethyl Ketone (MEK) and ABS plastic (either purchased pellets, or shaved directly off of scrap ABS). The problem is MEK is not available in California, so I had to go with a substitute: acetone.
Making the ABS Paste
I was unsure how well acetone would work compared to MEK. In the end it worked out OK, the biggest challenge is that acetone is very volatile (it evaporates almost instantly), so your work time with the paste is just a couple of seconds. Here is how I made the paste:
- Purchased ABS pellets from Apache Replacement Parts
- Placed them in a small canning jar in a ratio of 1 part pellets to 1 1/2 parts acetone
- Let it sit overnight
- Stir mixture with screwdriver. The ABS had separated into a liquid slurry and a gel-like chunk. I had to work a bit to break up the chunk and blend it.
- Add a bit more acetone, stir, let sit for a couple more hours, add a bit more acetone, stir some more
At this point I had a nice paste a bit thinner than toothpaste (and BTW, a week later the paste was still in good shape in the canning jar — so you can make this well in advance).
Filling the Cracks
I decided to go quick and dirty, and just fill the cracks. I did not drill holes at the ends of the cracks, nor bevel the cracks with a dremel (as described here). If you have large structural cracks then I think those extra steps are a good idea.
Warning! I should have spent more time filling cracks. See “Update” at the bottom of this article.
One problem with acetone over MEK is that the work time of the paste is just a few seconds. So filling went like this:
- Open the jar
- Using a coffee stir stick scoop up some paste and dab it along the crack
- Immediately scrap it in with a putty knife
- Close the jar
So filling my cracks took just a few minutes. Then on to the Grizzly Grip!
Coating the Roof with Grizzly Grip
Grizzly Grip is a bedliner, and has become a popular material for coating aged ABS roofs. Any white bedliner will probably work, but Grizzly Grip is nice because it is designed to be rolled on — so it’s easier for DIYers.
First step is to order your Grizzly Grip. Here is what I ordered:
- 1 4 X 8 Aliphatic Bedliner Kit, Snow White, Fine (comes with 2 4″ rollers)
- 1 additional quart (turns out I did not need this for my 7×10 roof. Although if I had extra rollers I could have done an extra coat)
- 2 9″ rollers
- Shipping was $39 to California. Kit came with instructions, a pair of gloves, and an accelerant to use with the coating.
- Total Cost: $217.36
- 9″ roller handle
- 4″ roller handle
- Metal roller pan
- 2 2″ cheapo brushes (NOT plastic)
- Tape and plastic drop cloth
- Paint stirrer (used with power drill for stirring paint, make sure yours is small enough to fit into the gallon jugs! Mine was too larger so I had to resort to stir sticks at the last second).
- Extra stir sticks
- 3M 6211 Paint Respirator
That last item is important! The Grizzly Grip is pretty nasty and I was very thankful I used the respirator.
Coating the roof went like this:
- Wash the roof well. Might as well do the whole trailer!
- Mask rubber gasket that is attached to roof and protect sides of trailer with plastic drop cloth and newspaper
- I chose to leave my gasket in place. If you are replacing your gasket you can remove it.
- Oh, you might want to mask around the awning rail and clasps.
- Wipe roof down with acetone (or MEK)
- Open a gallon of Grizzly Grip, add the accelerant, stir like crazy
- Roll on first coat
- Wait until it has dried to the touch (about 2 hours for me)
- Roll on second coat using new rollers
A couple tips:
- Do not do this in direct sun. I did mine in late afternoon shade.
- I used the 4″ rollers for the sides and 9″ for the top
- I used the 2″ paint brush to daub paint around the awning rail, etc.
- Bits of the rollers pulled off and embedded in the Grizzly Grip. I’ve heard this complaint from others. The Grizzly Grip does degrade the rollers, so maybe I took too long or overworked it. I dunno. It doesn’t look too bad, but I do have some bluish speckles in my roof now!
- The Grizzly Grip handles differently than paint, and my first coat went on a little gloppy in places. You might want to go with a light first coat.
Overall I’m very satisfied.
If I had to do this over I would consider ordering extra rollers and do 3 thin coats instead of two medium ones. I had enough extra Grizzly Grip to do this.
Did it hide the cracks? Yes! Not all of them perfectly, but overall it came out very good.
No more cracks! You can see little bits of roller foam here and there. I’ll live with it.
Update (July 9, 2018)
Three years after the repair and there is good and bad news.
- Good: the Grizzly Grip has held up great. No oxidation, no flaking, still a very nice finish.
- Good: the larger cracks I filled with ABS paste are holding up pretty well.
- Bad: other cracks are starting to re-appear. Both the hairline cracks and some larger cracks that I did not fill and should have. I don’t blame this on the Grizzly Grip, but on my insufficient crack filling.
Some lessons learned:
- Fill those cracks! As many as you can.
- Unclear if there is much to do about hairline cracks other then maybe skimming them with ABS paste.
- It’s possible you’ll need to do a touch-up every few years.
But overall I’m still pleased, and so far this is the only practical solution I’ve seen to prolonging the life of a Coleman ABS roof.