Wind up camper lifting systems

Wind up campers use a system of winch, cables, pulleys and pushrods to lift that heavy roof. Sometimes they fail - here are some suggestions on what might have broken and how to fix it.

Firstly, a disclaimer. We aren't caravan repair people, we are completely unqualified, and we don't present ourselves as an authority. We have though had a variety of wind up campers over the years, from an aged (but awesome) Coleman Viscount, through to varying vintages of Jayco Swans, Eagles and Flamingos. We have had problems with winder systems in the past, and found that with a bit of patience we have been able to fix them - at least well enough to not ruin our holiday, and in some cases permanently.

Almost every wind up camper uses the same basic system - a winch, connected by a plate to four cables that go ultimately to each roof lifter. The cables are routed to the lifters through tunnels and channels in the camper, often through cupboards, and use pulleys to go around bends. At each corner there is a slug that forces a pushrod into the three stage lifter, which in turn push the roof up.

In all, there are quite a lot of components and many of them move, which can cause wear.

The most common failure that we have seen is the failure of one corner - we have only ever seen it when the roof is being or about to be lifted; we haven't come a cross a roof collapsing once up BUT we always recommend that a safety pole is inserted into two opposing corners just in case.

When failed, the corner simply doesn't go up with the others - it is pretty obvious when you see it!

Most times we have seen a failure, it has been at the eye bolt that connects that corner to the main winch. The eye bolts either open up, or simply snap - there is a fair amount of strain on them, especially if the roof gets wound too far up.

If you have this problem when you are on the road and away from help, you may be able to repair it. Firstly you have to access the winch mechanism, as that is where the 4 corner cables ultimately terminate. Find your winch door on the outside of the camper (they can be at the front or back, left or right depending on model and age of camper - its where you put the handle in to wind the roof up). Then see what access you can get to the other side from inside the camper. This is often under or behind a panel that you can unscrew.

You may be able to do this by crawling in with the roof closed or you may need to manually lift the broken corner as someone else winds the mechanism to lift the other corners - but be careful as those roofs are HEAVY! Chock the broken corner up with a piece of 4x2 or similar so it doesn't fall while you are under it.

Once accessed, check where the single winch cable connects to the four corner cables; if there aren't four cables there it is likely the eye bolt. If the eye bolt has opened up, then it has to be replaced. Don't try to close the eye with a pair of pliers, it won't have the structural integrity to stay closed once you stress it by lifting the roof.
If the bolt has snapped, there may be enough thread on the wire side of the bolt to allow you to refit it, albeit slightly shorter than it was before. Your roof will lift but will be slightly uneven - it will keep you going until you an get the eye bolt replaced.

If the cables are all there and connected then your problem is likely to be one of these:
  • Cable has snapped - not good - the entire cable to that corner has to be replaced; this means routing it through the camper, through any pulleys, swaging it onto an eyebolt and refitting the slug at the other end.
  • Slug has slipped/broken - the slug will be at the opposite corner to the broken roof, left to right - i.e. if the front right corner won't lift, the slug you are looking for is on the front left. The slugs can break, in which case they need to be replaced, but they can also open up in which case you can re-close it - but again consider this to be a temporary fix until you can replace it.
  • A pushrod has broken - the pushrod slides up into the three stage lifter (the room lifter that you see once the roof is up). They are a long spring, and if broken they have to be replaced - again, no field-fix.

There are lots of great resources on the internet that cover this, many with videos. While they may not be for your specific camper, the principle and components are (mostly) the same.

Again, we can't stress how important it is to have a qualified repair person check any repairs you have made on the road, and if one corner has gone you should consider having the entire lifting system checked and some or all of it replaced.

Finally, and again, the roof is heavy - take care that you don't put yourself in the position of being under it without it being fully supported.

Best of luck!

Happy hiring,


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