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Old 03-09-2016, 02:35 PM   #1
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Join Date: Mar 2016
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Newbie With Questions

Hi All,

I am so happy to be here! I bought a 1995 Dodge 3500 with the SMB pop-top conversion over the summer. I sold my 1979 VW beetle convertible to acquire this van. Sadly, it has a few problems, but overall we have enjoyed our two camping trips and look forward to more in the near future. I have several questions, but these are the two biggies:

1. The secondary AC under the seat is busted. The one that runs on 120. The back of the van gets engine AC, but I don't have any AC options while camping. This is Florida and I will be cutting my camping season very short without AC. SMB quoted me $1000 for a few compressor.

What have folks here done to get AC going while camping? Someone suggested a mobile unit from the hardware store and to rig an exhaust line. Any input?

2. Driving this thing is great, most of the time, definitely not in the wind. We recently towed our kayaking trailer on the highway and it was super scary. With or without the trailer this thing gets blown all over the highway. The suspension seems good, and the service records show it isn't exceptionally old. Any suggestions?

Lastly, which isn't as important, is this: if I buy a gel pad for the PH will the top close with it in place or do I have to roll it up?

Thanks everyone for reading! I love the VW forum I am on, and look forward to being a member here.


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Old 03-09-2016, 03:26 PM   #2
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Location: OrangeCounty, CA
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I can't speak to your AC or penthouse questions, but I definitely can offer some feedback/pointers for you on your handling issues.

I bought a 1995 Sportsmobile 2 summers ago and it had downright frightening handling when I picked it up. The tail would wag back/forth at freeway speeds and the steering was super darty. Nervous/twitchy and unstable all around. After a few straightforward changes, the van now tracks true and can be steered confidently on even the most gusty and windy days.

While mine is a Ford, not a Dodge, I think some of the things that I found ultimately corrected/fixed the handling issues are likely just as relevant for your Dodge.

Start out by checking the following likely things first:

1)Tire Pressure
Make sure they're inflated to the pressures that the door-sticker (as installed by Sportsmobile, not the original Dodge van factory tire pressure sticker.) The heavier build of the Sportsmobiles necessitates heavier-duty tires (usually Load Range "E," which are usually 10-ply and carry much higher pressure ratings than your ordinary Light Truck tires.) For instance, my 1995 was rated by Ford to be inflated to around 35psi front/rear --- but Sportsmobile recommends 45 pounds front / 80 pounds rear.)

2) Age of tires --- and brand of tires.
Any tires over 6 years old, and you're officially taking chances with sketchy tires that might look ok on the outside, but could be breaking down internally and starting to get unstable. Additionally, some tires are *known* to be unstable tires --- usually the result of sidewalls that aren't stout enough, and which let the tires "sway" left/right (as well as squirm) and which don't add up to a very confident-riding van. There were Dunlop Rovers on the back of mine when I bought it, and they were horribly squirmy tires. Changing those out *alone* made the biggest improvement in the wandering/tail-happy rear end of my van.

Read reviews on tires (if you do need new ones) and see which ones people get the best RV ride out of. Last I checked, Michelin LTX tires are still near the top for ride/stability/durability/quality.

3) Shocks.
Are they original? Are they 21 years old? They won't be helping things. Have those checked out. Loosey-goosey shocks won't help you keep that 7000-pound SMB under control. If they're shot --- look into Bilsteins. (Which are offered in both "HD" and "Comfort" editions. (**I tried both -- found that the comfort edition rode nicer and offered plenty of improvement over the original/worn-out factory shocks.)

4) Steering/front suspension.
Have it all checked. Regardless of how good you think it is --- have a shop go through it to be sure. Ball joints, tie-rods, steering box. A garage should be able to do this for you pretty fast/cheap (and maybe even for free, you never know.) Any looseness in here (or even a difficult-to-detect-from-behind-the-wheel worn-out pitman arm) will cause compound problems FAST when you go to correct the sway in the rest of the van. You'll be sawing the wheel left/right just to try to "catch up" with the slop in the system....which will be exhausting (and almost impossible to properly control.)

5) Consider a steering stabilizer of some sort, if everything else checks out ok.
Not sure what's readily available for the Dodges, but there's stabilizer that Ford offered/added into the heavier-duty chassis of the vans (E350/E450 and above) that will bolt into any 1992-on E-series, and can make a huge difference in sorting out the wandering antics the big vans can develop.

6: It's also not to be ruled out: ONE BIG ITEM: WEIGHT BALANCE/LOADING
!!!!Make sure your van is loaded wisely/safely!!! On the road, if you've placed too much heavy items in the rear of the van (especially if you have the long-rear-overhang BIG version of the Dodge van....) AND if you're hooking up a trailer to the rear hitch that might have a high tongue weight......well, you're essentially creating a "perfect storm" for an unstable, tail-happy van. This can not be overstated as a crucial (and downright dangerous, if ignored) item that absolutely affects overall safe handling. Weight needs to be balanced front/rear so you don't get a "pendulum effect" with all the weight cantilevered behind the rear axle.


Good luck!!!! It can be sorted out, absolutely.
Just start running through the various likely items methodically, one by one, until you land on the culprit.
Mike T
'95 Ford E250 RB30 PH
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Old 03-09-2016, 07:32 PM   #3
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Assuming you are talking about the SMB Starcool AC, there are other things you can check that are a lot easier and cheaper to fix than the compressor. What are the symptoms?
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Old 03-09-2016, 07:37 PM   #4
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Mike T - Thank you for the response. I think you are onto some things. I will do some further investigating into the tires/tire pressure, but pretty sure we are good there. I blew a tire New Years Eve on our way to our first camping trip. Of course I was on the highway and it caused body damage. But all in all it wasn't too bad and I feel pretty lucky.

The previous owner kept meticulous records and I recall the shocks being replaced, but will confirm tomorrow. What I think you may be onto is with #4 and my steering/front suspension.

I should have mentioned that we have this problem with an empty van that isn't towing.

Do most people take these things to their Dodge/Ford dealer or to an RV shop? My regular VW mechanic says he will work on it, but he grumbled a lot and possibly swore in Gaelic while agreeing

Thanks again for the response. I am glad I am not alone, and that a solution exists.
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Old 03-09-2016, 07:44 PM   #5
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Hi Brian - It is the SMB Starcool system. The compressor has seized. My husband went all through the system thoroughly, talked to SMB in Texas, etc. The general consensus is the compressor. SMB said $1000 for a new compressor. The previous owner said it never worked that super great to begin with (she had the van for 15 years). Hesitant to bite the bullet and spend the money on the repair if it isn't going to be stellar afterwards.

When the system works in conjunction with the engine AC the back of the van is cold, but the system won't work on 120.
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Old 03-09-2016, 07:57 PM   #6
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Hi Elena and welcome aboard.

I agree with all of the above advice, but as a Dodge guy from way back I'll add some additional points:

1- have the alignment done by a shop that works on 8 to 9 thousand pound vans regularly. Truck alignment shops are fine as they are used to heavier rigs.

2- find the factory bumper heights for you exact application and make sure they are within spec. Sportsmobiles on Dodge chassis are prone to droopy ass ends. This messes up handling and alignment so get it sorted out first. Oh, and no add on air bag cheating. No matter how much cheaper! Have the springs and bushings replaced if they need it. Any competent truck spring shop can handle it. Perhaps your grumpy Paddy needs to be replaced with a heavier model...



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Old 03-09-2016, 11:06 PM   #7
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I'd find somebody to troubleshoot the Starcool's problem before doing anything like pulling it. If it's like mine the Starcool and the stock AC equipment is tied together. Sounds like you're saying the 12v rear blower is working OK and that is most of the Starcool. Ripping out the entire system and going back to stock might be costly.
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Old 03-09-2016, 11:38 PM   #8
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Welcome to the forum Elena!

Have you absolutely nailed down that it is the compressor and not the auxiliary condenser, which would be underneath the driver seat area? Just asking because that was a problem on my old van, among other Starcool issues. With the van running and rear A/C on, is the fan under the drivers area running?

As daveb said, it’s all tied in to the factory A/C system.

There’s a schematic of the system in your SMB manual, if you have one. If not, here’s what it looks like…hope this helps.

Edit: As to your question, some people have modified their vans by installing "window" AC units, but I would recommend some more Starcool trouble shooting before going that route as it requires some major modification. No one has ever said the the Starcool system is super-efficient in hot climates, but it could help you keep your sanity in FL if it was working properly.
Old van: 1997 E250 EB30 (Stolen)
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Old 03-10-2016, 05:08 PM   #9
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Good star cool repair

I don't know where your located but if yo u in the DFW area, there is a great A/C mechanic in FT Worth. If you need his info I'd be happy to get It to you. He did wonders on my 07 star cool that I thought was toast.
If it involves outdoors, adventure, family, and God. Count me in!!!
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Old 03-13-2016, 01:35 PM   #10
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Hey All - I spent some time with my van yesterday. All indicators point to a bad compressor in what the book calls the "Starcool II" system. We followed the schematics, the troubleshooting log in the owner's manual, etc. Compressor does nothing more than click.

I am going to take it to a shop, once I find one that knows the Starcool system, and see what they say. I am not pulling the system as it is tied to the engine AC and works well when the engine is on. Since it is Florida I am probably going to bite the financial bullet and replace the compressor if a professional confirms it to be the issue.

Additionally, going through the records I am thinking the suspension/steering need work. Shocks and tires are all newer, but records show no front suspension/steering work.

All in all, I appreciate the feedback. I am going to try and put up a post elsewhere on the forum with pics and additional information on the van.
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