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Old 08-31-2015, 08:33 PM   #1
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Large Gel Coat Cracks At Door Base

I know before I even post this that some will say not to worry about gel coat cracks. I would generally agree about small ones, but while waxing the trailer for an up-coming trip I found gel coat cracks at the base of the door frame area on both sides.

These are not small, they are 12 inches and slightly more in length. On the left side, several divide and rejoin and you can feel the gel coat raised with your finger nail.

I would expect to see large stress cracks after many years, but after only two? I would suspect that these have formed because of a lot of flexing. They are in an area of the door opening where there is only the thickness of the shell with no additional framing. It appears that this may be an area of weakness in design or building.

I would be curious to know if anyone else has noticed cracks forming at the base of their door openings as well?

I will attach a picture, but it is difficult to photograph fine lines on a white background, but it will give you an idea of the location. You will have to expand the picture to see the cracks. Contacted ETI but no response as of yet.
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Old 08-31-2015, 09:56 PM   #2
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I looked at that area on my year and half old 19. There's no cracks at all. I pushed and shoved on the area to see how much flex there was and it was pretty rock solid. Mine has 2 layers in that area. The first is the exterior shell. The second is the interior molded door frame, back to back with the shell.

Can you flex that area? If so, then your layup must be lighter than mine. If your's is solid feeling then perhaps it isn't flexing that caused the cracks but some sort of impact. I've seen that happen on boats

At any rate I'd probably want to repair and seal them rather then leave them exposed to the elements.

Ron
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Old 08-31-2015, 10:04 PM   #3
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After reading about solar panels coming loose I checked the thickness of our trailer fiberglass and found it 1/8" +\- which is thinner then I expected. IF yours is that thin any crack would be important to seal up ... If nothing else.

I disassembled the dinette seat and bed upper frame components and put them back together with adhesive and the original screws. Many of the screws were coming loose in the pine and I could feel the looseness. Firmed it all up nice.

At that location it could be from the weight of trailer settling down on the metal frame? I will check ours in the morning.
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Old 08-31-2015, 10:14 PM   #4
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Thanks Ron for some thoughts. I have the frame behind the outside as well but I don't think they are laminated together in any way. As to impact, trying to think of anything that could impact that low on both sides only on the frame and not affect the door. Nothing has ever hit the frame with the door open. I'm still concerned that the cracks may reflect underlying cracks in the fiberglass itself.


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Originally Posted by Ron in BC View Post
I looked at that area on my year and half old 19. There's no cracks at all. I pushed and shoved on the area to see how much flex there was and it was pretty rock solid. Mine has 2 layers in that area. The first is the exterior shell. The second is the interior molded door frame, back to back with the shell.

Can you flex that area? If so, then your layup must be lighter than mine. If your's is solid feeling then perhaps it isn't flexing that caused the cracks but some sort of impact. I've seen that happen on boats

At any rate I'd probably want to repair and seal them rather then leave them exposed to the elements.

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Old 08-31-2015, 10:50 PM   #5
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Opps, have to read more carefully, didn't see "both sides". Yes, that would be less likely to be anything related to an impact.

It is a puzzle though because I've laid up dinghies, canoes and kayaks with layups about that thick. Some of them have been severely abused without any stress cracks forming. Gouges etc., yes, but stress cracks, no. Much older f.g., yes, I've seen stress cracks.

Trying to figure out the cause might be only speculation. Perhaps something like the shell being grabbed and pushed when it was still green and pliable set the events in motion.

At any rate the cracks should be sealed. Before doing that though I'd push and pull on the flange and see if you detect weakness. As I said, as a comparison, my similar areas are rock solid. If your's also seem firm then I'd go ahead and seal the cracks.

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Old 09-01-2015, 12:09 AM   #6
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I will attach a picture, but it is difficult to photograph fine lines on a white background, but it will give you an idea of the location. You will have to expand the picture to see the cracks.
The cracks show quite well in the photo... after clicking the thumbnail to open it, clicking again to open it in its own window, and clicking once more to zoom to 100%.
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Old 09-01-2015, 10:24 AM   #7
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I now have a theory, so bare with me:

The length and location of the cracks in the frame are not due to an impact. They are also not do to flexing inward or outward. They are the result of flexing DOWN. This is why the cracks are so long and why they are more severe on the left side of the door frame where one enters. If one examines underneath, there is no support directly under the door frame. This section of fiberglass extends almost 18 inches aways from the nearest frame member and would appear to be prone to flexing when one enters or leaves the trailer.

I think they have shown up on our door after two years for several reasons:

ONE: we have almost 30,000 miles on the trailer and have used it extensively. (Ahh, but one would say, why you and not Jon V. who has more miles? This brings me to two.)

TWO: our floor plan in the 15 doesn't just use the entry space to get in and out of the trailer. Most of the Escapes only use this area to enter or leave. In the 15, this space is in front of the kitchen and is used extensively while camped.

The combination of these two factors greatly accelerated the use and pressure on this section of the trailer floor. I would predict that these same crack lines WILL show up on other trailers as they reach the same degree of use and flexing that we have on ours.

LONGTERM SOLUTION: I believe that additional support is required under the door area. This seems simple enough to do. Additional cross bracing on the top of the step frame could be placed to support this section of fiberglass and limit the flexing. I think this might be done on all trailers as I believe this is a weak spot on a heavily trafficked area.

I welcome responses to my thinking on this problem. See the pictures below. Thanks.
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File Type: jpg IMG_4404.jpg (190.3 KB, 66 views)
File Type: jpg IMG_4406.jpg (215.9 KB, 22 views)
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Old 09-01-2015, 11:59 AM   #8
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On aircraft we always looked for belly cracks in that area and below. Add the weight of the roof and hanging cabinets shifting during normal road travel and it 'works' the cracks open.

I would add support/stiffeners from the floor or cabinet top to ceiling to minimize the weight bearing. If you only stiffen the floor under the door it will probably shift the cracking fore and/or aft.

The part I don't fully understand is how to repair it without moving the stress to a different location ....

I found many flying joints under the seats an bed of our 19'. Without adhesive they will slowly loosen up and the belly flexes. That may be a factor too. I rebuilt ours.
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Old 09-01-2015, 02:33 PM   #9
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I'm having trouble understanding how either situation could cause the propagation of vertical stress cracks.

The molded shape of the f.g. gives it a lot of strength. Any load would be spread over a large area with smooth curves etc., not likely to induce stress cracking. Short of hooking up strain gages, I don't know any way to test that theory.

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Old 09-01-2015, 02:47 PM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ron in BC View Post
I'm having trouble understanding how either situation could cause the propagation of vertical stress cracks.
I was wondering the same thing. If it cracked due to vertical loading, the cracks would be horizontal, along the belly of the flex.

Maybe the door closes tighter at the point of the cracking? Just a guess.
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Old 09-01-2015, 05:03 PM   #11
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Back in the day I was a riveter/mechanic at Boeing and they showed us 'scare' movies about how the engineers design the riveting pattern and material shapes to transfer loads etc.

When I see his cracks they appear in an area that is formed to add stiffening to hold up the roof and create a door opening. That door opening itself , as the largest opening in the shell, would be the spot most likely to show stress? ... unless the trailer has wings, then it would be near them ... So that 'inner' area, as it continues to crack, would result in horizontal cracks in the lower belly next. The stress cracks start somewhere and it depends on factors I can't reproduce, only guess.

My intuition is that the weight above and shifting in normal driving has created a crack where the belly bend is the greater coming down from above. It makes more sense to me that the entire shell has created the cracks at the most vulnerable place that is 'stiffened', the doorway.

I'm thinking of adding a 'stripper pole' from the counter to the ceiling. It could also hold up the headliner as a bonus!

PS looking at the picture again maybe it's just the layup is thin due to going around the corner? and all else is ok?
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Old 09-01-2015, 05:14 PM   #12
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Roof support is no issue on the bath/fridge/closet side of the 19, and there is a gable at the end of the galley to support the roof in that place.

What is there for roof support in the 15B? I would suspect there is at least one support on each side, no?
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Old 09-01-2015, 05:28 PM   #13
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In university we did some stress analysis and material strength etc. type testing. We often used plexiglass models with polarized light. The results are graphic.

Too bad this is such a complex shape to model in acrylic. It would be interesting to see the results. I'm still in the "it's not related to vertical load camp"

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Old 09-01-2015, 06:00 PM   #14
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OK, thanks to all. I will continue to look for your advice in this area. Looking at all of the experts responding I think we can agree that my "theory" of vertical load is pucky, but hey, give me credit for trying.

Too many ideas to quote, but let me go through some of the things.
The 15B has the fridge cabinet immediately to the left of the door supporting the left side. The kitchen counter is to the right, but nothing goes up to the ceiling except the framing for the screen door. Still, most of the cracks are on the left side, the most supported side.

The cracks are at the thinest area where the door "stop" is formed. It is only one layer of fiber glass in this area, and I can flex the area to some degree. ETI did put some extra foam behind the door gasket because it was not sealing and you could see light, but when I close the door I don't see any extraordinary tightness hitting that part of the frame first. The door seems to be tightest around the lock area not at the bottom.

These are some of the largest cracks I have seen in a fiber glass trailer; right now, 12 inches, and I will have to see if they grow more. It also does no good to repair the gel coat if the underlying cause remains as I assume they will just return.

I remain puzzled that we are the only ones to have experienced this cracking, however, there are not that many 15B's out there and certainly not so many with the miles on it as ours. So, it still may have something to do with the design of the 15 coupled with the miles traveled/used.

Perhaps it will be worth it to dismantle the internal trim and get a look at the fiber glass behind this area to see if there is cracking in the fiber glass itself. Thoughts on this?

Again, I greatly appreciate all of the thoughtful comments and helping me refocus on other theories of the causes. Any other ideas are more than welcome. Thanks.
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Old 09-01-2015, 06:04 PM   #15
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These are some of the largest cracks I have seen in a fiber glass trailer; right now, 12 inches, and I will have to see if they grow more. It also does no good to repair the gel coat if the underlying cause remains as I assume they will just return.
I think this is your best bet, to monitor to see if things change any more, and under what conditions any change might happen. Gel coat itself has no bearing on strength, but is often an indicator of something happening underneath.
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Old 09-01-2015, 06:32 PM   #16
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Tim,
I assume you're just out of warranty, but have you contacted ETI to inquire about this. You're not far from Chilliwack and they may want to take a look at it.
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Old 09-01-2015, 06:51 PM   #17
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I'm with Greg on this. I wouldn't mess with it myself.
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Old 09-01-2015, 06:56 PM   #18
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It's been a few decades since engineering school; but my guess is that you are flexing something when you open and shut the door. Probably not a problem; but I'd want to look behind it.
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Old 09-01-2015, 07:04 PM   #19
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Quote:
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I remain puzzled that we are the only ones to have experienced this cracking,
I don't want to slag fiberglassers but it's not an exact science when it comes to the actual layup. There may be exact materials and layup schedules but the actual results may differ. I've seen gelcoat differ in thickness ranging from paper thin to almost 1/4" thick. Layup usually is pretty consistent but it's not unusual, in areas that you know are going to be cut out, like doors and windows, to not do the full layup. Your affected area is very close to such an area. It is possible that the layup was a tiny bit under spec. The fact that you can flex it may confirm that.

I'm still not sure that your setup is the same as mine. On the 19 there's the outer shell, the part where your cracks are visible. On the interior there is the molded door frame assembly, back to back with the shell, shiny f.g. on both the interior and exterior. Is that what you have?

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Old 09-01-2015, 07:11 PM   #20
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Tim,
I assume you're just out of warranty, but have you contacted ETI to inquire about this. You're not far from Chilliwack and they may want to take a look at it.
Yes, one of the first things I did. No response from ETI yet. I did send a picture.
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