Home » I Found A $1 Million RV Abandoned Off-Road. Here’s How It Failed (UPDATED)

I Found A $1 Million RV Abandoned Off-Road. Here’s How It Failed (UPDATED)

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The most LA thing happened yesterday while I off-roaded my newly-acquired 1991 Jeep Wrangler: I spotted, stranded on that off-road trail, the enormous $1 million Ford F-550-based camper called the 27North Ascender 30A. It was just sitting there like a beached whale, immobile, with a winch rope slung over its driver’s side mirror. It took my friend Chris and me a few minutes to figure out what went wrong, but a quick peek underneath made it all clear: This thing had failed quickly and catastrophically.

I’m currently in the process of writing up how my bone-stock 1991 Jeep Wrangler did at Rowher Flats, a great off-road trail not far outside of LA. My friend Chris Rosales from The Drive had asked if I wanted to off-road with him and his Ford Bronco Sport press vehicle, so I slapped some new tires onto my YJ and headed out to the hills to find that, to be honest, the Bronco Sport and a bone-stock YJ are quite evenly matched on that kind of terrain.

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While climbing one of the most challenging trails at the off-road park, Chris and I happened upon this:

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Holy crap, it’s the ~$1 million 27North camper we saw (and wrote about) at the LA Auto Show! Look, my colleague Mercedes even took a photo of me in front of what looks like this very truck!:

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This camper, by the way, is bonkers, as I’m sure you surmised by the seven-figure asking price. Just look at the interior!:

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Screen Shot 2023 06 05 At 7.40.51 Am
Image: 27North

 

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Image: 27North

 

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Image: 27North

 

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Image: 27North

What was going on? Why was the machine just sitting there on the trail with the engine off and the winch line out? I yelled to see if someone was inside. Nope. The thing had been abandoned. What the hell had happened? Chris, a rather technically-savvy car journo, and I decided to assess the situation a bit.

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First off, the truck appeared to be in a tight spot. The right rear tire was in a moderately-sized rut, and the front axle was articulating, with one tire up high and one down low:

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You can see that the truck is so twisted up that the camper appears to be offset from the cab:

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Is it possible that the driver had to apply some extra gas to get out of this precarious position, and this caused a failure? Or was the truck actually towed to this spot (as it was off to the side, allowing for others to easily drive past). It wasn’t clear if this was a factor.

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We wondered if the driver had popped a tire, as the front right one looked fairly flat. But I think it had just been aired down; it looked flat because it was propped up on a bump. Hmm.

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The front tires were pointing in approximately the same direction, so it hadn’t been a tie rod failure (a fairly common issue with larger vehicles), and there was no oil or coolant on the trail, so the engine hadn’t blown a rod through the oil pan and it probably wasn’t an overheating issue. I hopped down into the dirt to look underneath, and then things became clearer.

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Aha! The rear driveshaft had come apart at its pillow block, and was being held up off the trail via ratchet straps. “Ah, they must have flexed out the suspension, and the driveshaft fell out. I’ve had that happen on my lifted Jeep XJ once before,” I thought to myself. But then I looked towards the front of the Ford F-550-based camper:

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Holy crap!

Let’s zoom in on that a bit closer:

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The driveshaft had come apart not due to the axle moving down and away from the transfer case during articulation; it had gotten shorter by twisting up like a wet towel ready to be snapped in a high school boys locker room.

Slight aside: That driveshaft, like most rear driveshafts for heavy trucks, is hollow, gaining its torsional stiffness via its second polar moment of area, which increases with diameter to the fourth power, so you can get a really stiff shaft — even if it’s hollow — by having a large outer diameter. This lets you keep the shaft light (imagine how heavy a driveshaft would have to be if it were solid!).

Yikes! So this thing really was stranded; I suppose it could try to drive out using only its front wheels, though I regret not having peeked at the state of the front drivetrain, as the added load on it was probably significant. I reached out to 27North’s CEO Paul Bosovik to get the lowdown on what happened here, and he was actually quite nice about answering my questions.

 
 
 
 
 
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A post shared by The Autopian (@theautopian)

“It was our prototype truck,” he said. “We had given it to [a media outlet] to do extreme off-road tests.” Apparently the vehicle was being put head-to-head with a Toyota 4Runner, so these trails were more inline with the 4Runner’s capabilities, the CEO implied. I would agree; both Chris and I were surprised to see this truck on this trail in the first place

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As for what happened, Paul told me this: “Bearing seized up. That pressure damaged the driveshaft and twisted it. Now Ford is getting it towed back… to their facilities to rebuild the rear axle.”

Paul claims that a failed rear wheel bearing — a part that Ford has allegedly recalled (I haven’t been able to find the recall notice) — caused additional strain on the drivetrain, leading to the factory driveshaft twisting up like a pretzel. “It all came back to defective bearing and Ford’s been covering everything under warranty,” Bosovik told me over the phone.

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I’m a bit skeptical about this for a number of reasons. First off, who off-roads a truck with a failed wheel bearing? Bosovik claims his team “hired one of the best drivers [they] could find,” so that seems a bit odd. Or did the wheel bearing catastrophically fail off-road? That seems unlikely to me.

Also, take a look at the photo above that Mercedes took at the LA Auto Show back in November. You’ll see that 27North converts dual rear-wheel (dually) F-550s into single rear-wheel trucks. This, you would think, would increase the moment arm on the wheel bearings, reducing their lifespan. How could that not be a factor in wheel bearing longevity? Bosovik told me his team hired an engineering company to assess their design, and that rear wheel bearing failure is actually due to Ford’s rear wheel bearing defect — an issue that has allegedly be plaguing other 4×4 camper companies like Earthroamer (I’ve reached out to Earthroamer to confirm). Bosovik says his company has now “transitioned to the new year model,” so these issues should be a thing of the past.

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Anyway, it’s a 16,500 pound truck dry, and 18,500 pounds when filled up with fluids, per Bosovik. So go figure off-roading the crap out of it would strain the stock driveshaft.

We’ll find out from the media outlet that took this thing off-road how a wheel bearing seizure factored into this whole thing, why they took the truck off-road in the first place with a bad wheel bearing, or if this was just a case of too much weight plus too much pedal equals too much torsional strain on a stock driveshaft.

All I know is, this is yet another reminder that, no matter how badass and unstoppable a big truck might look, the reality is that size is a bad thing off-road. Not just because it makes maneuvering more difficult, but because that added weight puts lots of strain on components, and once you’re stranded in an 18,000 pound truck, getting it off the trail isn’t easy. The media outlet driving the 27North had to abandon it.

Update (June 5, 2023 2 PM E.T.): EarthRoamer’s CEO Scot Allen responded to my inquiry about wheel bearing failure, saying: 

Ford did have an issue with F-550 rear wheel bearings during 2017-2019 due to non-Timken bearings being installed. This impacted approximately 15 of our vehicles in that timeframe. There was never an official recall, but Ford did require that replacement bearings be Timkin’s. EarthRoamer has since delivered over 100 F-550 based vehicles on 2020 and newer chassis with zero wheel bearing issues.
 
In our opinion, to have a wheel bearing failure on a 2022 chassis would be due to a gross exceedance of the rear axle rating of 14,706lbs. We have seen the pictures of the 30A Ascender pulling a large ski boat and would never recommend that to our customers. We have never been able to see actual weights of the 30A Ascender, but would not be surprised if it exceeds GVWR when fully outfitted with water and gear. 

Update (June 5, 2023 3 PM E.T.): Here’s a link to an EarthRoamer owner claiming a wheel bearing issue:

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Updated (June 5, 2023 4:22 P.M. ET): Here’s how Scot Allen, CEO of EarthRoamer, responded to the Instagram image above, which was sent to The Autopian from Bosovik:

Greatly appreciate you updating your recent article with our comments.

Just FYI and to add context to the IG post that was added.  ER93 did suffer a rear wheel bearing failure at over 70,000 miles and is a 2008 F-550.  Not sure it’s great to compare a 15 year old vehicle to a brand new one when it comes to failures.

 

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Mack
Mack
11 months ago

Apparently the vehicle was being put head-to-head with a Toyota 4Runner, so these trails were more inline with the 4Runner’s capabilities, the CEO implied.

So… the truck that “can offroad anywhere” can’t offroad where a cheap DIY 4Runner can go? I’m surprised it was taken here too, but congrats to [media outlet] for testing their hyped up claims. What an expensive piece of junk.

Nick Stone
Nick Stone
11 months ago
Reply to  Mack

Lol, it wasn’t even something as capable as a 4Runner that it was being tested against – it was a Tacoma (granted, the Tacoma in question had been upgraded from stock, but still……)!

As for the media outlet who beached it there, it was Donut Media (from YouTube). They had two teams drive it: the first team made it up that hill on the trail, but only just barely. Then they backed it down that hill & switched teams, and the guy driving it up the hill the second time appeared to just send it.

With that much weight, on that kind of terrain, it was a given that trying to use speed to overcome that hill would only break crap.

They have a video of the entire ordeal on their channel on YT:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G3uQcxdyAA0

That said, the camper was rocking & swaying all over the place even well before the thing reached that part of the trail – it looked like it didn’t have the least bit of rigidity in its structure between the cab and the actual camper part. So I absolutely agree with you that it’s just a super expensive piece of junk.

Last edited 11 months ago by Nick Stone
Groover
Groover
11 months ago
Daniel Green
Daniel Green
11 months ago

Matt’s Off Road Recovery just posted a video on their YouTube channel rescuing this. When I saw the thumbnail I thought it looked just like the one David wrote about, turns out it was!
https://youtu.be/lha1PmfRAvw

LTDScott
LTDScott
11 months ago
Reply to  Daniel Green

Beat me to it. I’m watching it right now, thanks for not spoiling the end for us! There’s also a tie in to another very popular Youtube channel that I won’t spoil.

Last edited 11 months ago by LTDScott
LTDScott
LTDScott
11 months ago
Reply to  LTDScott

And as I watch it I realize I have likely been inside this RV at SEMA. Can’t be too many other dark blue bed-liner exterior 27North mega RVs out there.

Davey
Davey
1 year ago

Glad to hear the 4Runner made it out lol

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