Coleman Popup Trailer ABS Roof Repair

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:

  1. The awning rail had opened up and was cracking
  2. 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:

  1. Replaced the awning rail
  2. 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:

  1. Inspect the roof and fill any large cracks
  2. Coat the roof with Grizzly Grip

Repairing Cracks

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.

Lots of small cracks

Lots of small cracks

And some bigger ones

And some bigger ones

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:

  1. Purchased ABS pellets from Apache Replacement Parts
  2. Placed them in a small canning jar in a ratio of 1 part pellets to 1 1/2 parts acetone
  3. Let it sit overnight
  4. 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.
  5. 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).

ABS plus acetone plus time equals ABS goo

ABS plus acetone plus time equals ABS goo

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.

One problem with acetone over MEK is that the work time of the paste is just a few seconds. So filling went like this:

  1. Open the jar
  2. Using a coffee stir stick scoop up some paste and dab it along the crack
  3. Immediately scrap it in with a putty knife
  4. 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

Additional Supplies

  • 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
  • Acetone
  • 3M 6211 Paint Respirator

That last item is important! The Grizzly Grip is pretty nasty and I was very thankful I used the respirator.

Supplies

Supplies

Coating the roof went like this:

  1. Wash the roof well. Might as well do the whole trailer!
  2. Mask rubber gasket that is attached to roof and protect sides of trailer with plastic drop cloth and newspaper
    1. I chose to leave my gasket in place. If you are replacing your gasket you can remove it.
    2. Oh, you might want to mask around the awning rail and clasps.
  3. Wipe roof down with acetone (or MEK)
  4. Open a gallon of Grizzly Grip, add the accelerant, stir like crazy
  5. Roll on first coat
  6. Wait until it has dried to the touch (about 2 hours for me)
  7. 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.

Conclusion

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.

Update: 3 months later and the roof looks great. The Grizzly Grip dries to a hard epoxy like finish, and it really does look like it just came from the factory. I highly recommend this repair.

No more cracks!

No more cracks! You can see little bits of roller foam here and there. I’ll live with it.

Looking better than it did

Looking much better than it did. That squiggly line is some dirt on my camera sensor.

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Coleman/Fleetwood Popup Trailer Awning Rail Replacement

We have a 1996 Coleman Cheyenne, one of the first years  with an ABS roof. In this article I will discuss how I replaced the old, cracked awning rail with a new one. In another article I describe refurbishing the roof.

Replacing the Awning Rail

A few years ago the plastic awning rail started to open up and lose its grip on the awning bag. As a stop-gap I drilled some holes in the rail and droIMGP7821ve screws through the top of the rail and into the bag bead. That worked for a couple years, but the awning rail continued to sag and crack. Time had come to replace it.

There were a couple challenges:

  1. How to remove the old awning rail? It was glued to the roof.
  2. How to attach a new awning rail? An ABS roof isn’t really meant to be screwed into.
  3. What awning rail to use? Metal? Plastic?

This is what I did (at the end of the article is a series of photos illustrating the procedure).

Removing Old Awning Rail

I considered a couple of choices:

  1. Pry up the old awning rail and hope the old adhesive lets go before it pulled up pieces of the roof.
  2. Admit prying up the old rail will damage the roof, so cut around the old rail so that as it pulls up the ABS skin it will do so cleanly
  3. Cut off only the C channel of the old rail, leaving the flanged base.

I initially tried #1, gently probing and prying at the old rail with a putty knife. My evaluation was if I was going to pry it up then I was going to damage the roof. I considered #2, but decided it was best to leave the roof as intact as possible, so I went with #3.

To facilitate cutting off the C channel I purchased an inexpensive Oscillating Multifunction Power Tool from Harbor Freight ($15 on sale!) along with the 3/4″ cutting blade. I did my best to cut the old channel off flush without gouging the base and was, for the most part, successful. Any cosmetic issues would eventually be covered up by the new rail or the Grizzly Grip coating.

Attaching New Awning Rail

Research on the web uncovered three techniques for attaching a new rail to the roof:

  1. Glue it on with a suitable adhesive. 3M 5200 Marine adhesive was the most commonly recommended.
  2. Bolt it on by drilling all the way through the roof and using  bolts with nuts and washers on the inside.
  3. Screw it on by embedding drywall anchors into the roof (secured with Gorilla Glue)

I had some concern with #1 especially since it was unclear how well 5200 works with plastics. I initially considered #2, but decided I did not want unsightly washers and nuts on the inside of my roof. So I decided to go with a combination of #3 and #1 — belt and suspenders! Also the 5200 would act as a sealant (in addition to an adhesive).

The Awning Rail and Other Supplies

I considered three replacement rails:

  1. Flanged metal
  2. Flanged PVC
  3. PVC Flex-A-Rail

Since the roof  line curves I figured PVC would be more flexible (although I’m sure a metal rail would have enough flex). I also figured white PVC would look better than metal. One small issue I had was that the flanged PVC rails I found had a base that was a tad bigger than the base I had left behind from my old rail. I was concerned that that would leave a pocket for moisture to collect in. So I decided on the Flex-A-Rail from Sailrite since it was similar to the C channel portion of the old rail I had cut off. And since I was screwing and bonding the rail I was not overly concerned about the narrowness of the Flex-A-Rail base. Finally the screws are hidden in the C-channel improving appearance.

Update: After completing this project and using the awning with the new rail on a camping trip I would NOT use the Flex-A-Rail if I were to do this project over. The reason is that with the Flex-A-Rail the C-channel opening is perpendicular to the base of the rail (see photo at end of this article), while the old rail’s opening was offset more towards the side of the trailer. This means the awning bag bead bends at a sharper angle and the bag itself is about 3/4″ higher than before. I noticed on our camping trip that the horizontal awning poles no longer pressed completely on the flat face of the roof — instead resting a bit higher where the roof side starts to curve. These are not big problems, and I’m still happy with the repair. But if I were to do this over I would used the Flanged PVC rail mentioned above.

To save on shipping costs I ordered 44″ sections. Here is what I ordered from sailrite.com:

  • 3 Flex-A-Rail White 44″ Long
  • 3 10-pack 4 x 6 x 3/4″ screws (special small headed screws are needed to fit down in the rail).
  • 1 #0 square head screw driver (the special screws need a square drive).

Other supplies

  • Plastic Anchors #4-6 x 7/8″, 100 pack (I used 25)
  • Acetone
  • Gorilla Glue
  • 3M 5200 Marine AdhesiveIMGP7842

Tools

  • 1/8″ drill bit
  • 3/16″ drill bit
  • Drill
  • Hammer
  • Blue tape
  • Measuring tape and pencil
  • That square headed screw driver from Sailrite

The Procedure In Pictures

IMGP7831

Cutting the old C channel off with the budget oscillating multi-tool from Harbor Freight.

IMGP7835

C channel all gone. Hey! That worked pretty well.

IMGP7849

Drilling pilot holes through Flex-A-Rail with 1/8″ bit. Let the bit kiss the old rail base to mark it so you know where to drill for anchors. I drilled 1″ from each end and then every 5″ to 5.5″. Sailrite recommends spacing the screws every 4″ to 6″.

IMGP7857

If you look closely you can see the divots in this photo that mark where to drill for the anchors.

IMGP7859

Next drill with 3/16″ bit for the anchors. I used some tape on the drill bit to act as a depth gauge.

IMGP7863

Gorilla glue works best if there is some dampness, so toss the anchors in some water.

IMGP7865

A little glue goes a long way since it expands.

IMGP7867

Anchor glued in.

IMGP7866

Looking good! I let these dry for a few hours before moving on to the next step. As the Gorilla glue expands it might seep out of the anchor. I cleaned that up with a bit of acetone.

IMGP7870

3M 5200 Marine Adhesive Sealant. You can find it at Lowes and Home Depot. This tube was plenty for the job. The 5200 is supposed to provide a permanent bond. But if I ever need to remove the rail I should be able to with the help of heat and a chemical debonder.

IMGP7872

The 5200 was thinner than I thought it would be. Here it is running a bit. You might want to put it on the channel instead of the old base Don’t be afraid to use a decent amount. You can wipe off the excess with a paper towel wet with acetone.

IMGP7873

I went ahead a added tape in between the screws. The 5200 takes a couple days to fully cure.

IMGP7875

Awning bag slipped in for a test fit. Note that since the channel opening is perpendicular to the base (instead of opening more towards the side of the trailer) the bag bead bends at a sharp angle. This also raises the awning bag a bit, resulting in the horizontal awning poles hitting the side of the roof where it curved. I recommend using a channel where the C opening is tilted down towards the side of the trailer.