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If you read my post on our Generator Free RV, you know that one of the main components of that install is a second alternator. You also know that said second alternator rides pretty low up front. It’s all but daring me to run over road debris, curbs, gutters, and what have you. Doing something to protect that very expensive second alternator was one of the items on my “Next Steps” list in that post.
Since that time, I’ve been wondering what exactly to do about it. Out of desperation, I even started checking out HymerTrek rigs at Pomona to see what they were doing (since they have a similar alternator set-up). I saw that they were doing pretty much what I had already with the plastic factory skid plate, except they made a “bubble” of sorts to allow the alternator some room to breathe. The HymerTrek “bubble” was actually just made of flexible plastic as well.
So the HymerTrek solution still didn’t even get me what I wanted. And then there was this:
As you can see from the picture above, banging that alternator into things is a very real possibility. Frankly, I don’t recall hitting anything at all, but apparently, it happens. Seeing this only underlined the need to do something to protect the second alternator. With no options on the market that worked for me, I needed to build something. And while I can build nearly anything out of wood, but I’m just not very experienced with metal.
While I was at the Pomona show, I had the good fortune to meet up with Gordon White, from Edge Motorworks in northern California. Edge Motorworks typically specializes in performance and track needs for German vehicles. That seemed like a good background for fabricating a skid plate. A few emails back and forth, a few pictures and measurements sent, and we were off on a quest to build a skid plate.
There were a few things we wanted to accomplish with this skid plate, so let’s lay those out up front.
- More substantial protection than flexible plastic
This was the main goal. The factory skid plate was flexible plastic. In fact, it was flexible enough that it was basically stretched around the alternator, as you can see here:
Even the HymerTrek solution used this factory skid plate as a starting point, cut a hole in it, and then riveted more flexible plastic on top of it. That just didn’t seem sturdy enough to withstand an impact from, honestly, anything at all. So the first version of our skid plate was to be made out of 16 gauge steel. That should protect better than plastic, but still allow for easy enough machining as a prototype.
- Adequate clearance for alternator and hoses
As you can see from the picture above, the factory skid plate was actually touching the alternator near its exhaust ports. That can’t be good for cooling, so we wanted any new solution to stand off from the alternator a bit. Further, there’s this:
That 3/8 of an inch of clearance is all that separates the belt running the second alternator from the nearby radiator hoses. If something moves 3/8 of an inch in the wrong direction, the belt will cut through the hose, and it’s sudden death for the engine. Lance was already taken out by this once. So besides protecting the alternator itself, another reason to keep things from making contact is to preserve the integrity of this 3/8” gap.
- Protect hoses left exposed by factory solution
The factory skid plate protects the belt side of the second alternator. That’s great, but there are some re-routed coolant hoses that curve around the alternator and hang low on the other side as well. We wanted a new skid plate that would also protect these hoses because that just seems to make sense. The HymerTrek version doesn’t protect these hoses at all either.
Fitting the First Prototype
After a few weeks, Gordon had version 1.0 of the Fit RV ProMaster Skid Plate ready, and it was time for a test fitting. This meant a trip to Mountain View, California that Stef deemed completely uninteresting. So I was on my own on this one. After a halfway stop in Winnemucca , Nevada:
It was on to the Edge Motorworks facility in Mountain View. This parking lot is where Lance would spend the next few days.
The first thing to do was to fit the first prototype version. This initial prototype was a steampunk sort of affair, with rivets, bolts, and extra flanges. It had a “Mad Max” appearance to it when mounted up, but basically looked more or less OK.
This version provided adequate protection for the extra belts and hoses, but it came up short in the clearance department, as you can see here:
So we resolved that the next version would be machined to have a bit of a “bulge” in a couple places to provide the extra clearance we needed.
With data from the fitting of the first prototype, Gordon set out to make version 2. Meanwhile I worked from inside Lance (while he was on a lift in the garage, which is one of the more interesting places I’ve ever worked from).
Making the Second Prototype
Much of the work on the second prototype was done at the nearby “Tech Shop”. This is an interesting facility. It’s kind of a shared-use workshop that offers memberships which include use of the tools. It’s a great idea, actually, and if they had something like this closer to home, I’d probably be a member because they had all kinds of cool CNC machines, 3D printers, shop-bots, etc.
They also had this thing. And since I’m not really a metal worker, I had to ask someone if the warnings on this machine were a joke or not:
They just told me that the machine was a “finger brake”… Which left me still wondering if the warnings were a joke or not!
Anyway, the second prototype was cut out of a single piece of steel, which was then welded back together to form the curves.
After that, there was some polishing up of the weld, which made lots of gratuitous sparks that I have to include pictures of because I’m a guy.
And after that, some additional forming to get the clearance we wanted around the alternator and the hoses. Then, we powder coated the part and baked it in the oven at the Tech Shop (have I mentioned how cool the Tech Shop is?). When it was done, we had this:
And when we put it on Lance, it looked like this:
The clearances to the alternator and the hoses looked good:
And from the outside, it blended in with the rest of the undercarriage pretty smoothly, like so:
After that, it was time for a road test. Thankfully, we got no strange whistles, rattles, hums, clanks, or other strange noises or behaviors out of the skid plate. And finally, it was time for the all-important curb test, which we passed!
So we’re calling version 2.0 of the prototype Fit RV ProMaster Skid Plate a success.
So while this one fits well and is riding on Lance today, there’s always room for improvement. We’ve already started working on improvements for version 3, which would be closer to a final production version. Some of the improvements we’re working on are:
- Thicker Material. 16 gauge steel is fine, but for real bullet-proof toughness, we’re thinking of upping the ante to 11 gauge steel – think diamond plate. That way, if we ever wind up off road, we’ll have a better chance of keeping things protected.
- Better Mounting. Currently, the skid plate is mounted in more or less the same way as the factory one. But if the skid plate is to be tougher, then the mounting needs to be tougher as well. We may have to make a bracket, or do something else to make sure it’s mounted securely.
- Angles. We need to angle or curve the front section to avoid presenting a 90 degree face to obstacles. This will make it more likely to encounter a glancing blow rather than a full-on whack.
So that’s where things are and where we’re thinking of taking them. It’s not totally dialed in yet, but we’re closing on it. When we get it finalized, I’ll post back here. (And maybe take orders? Who knows!)