The Awning of a New Age
We saved enough clams and did the research to decide on a Fiamma F35 awning for our Eurovan camper. We chose the 8′-2″ version since it covers plenty of ground and cost a lot less to ship to us from the Florida factory than the longer one.
I received the small box with the required bracket kit (Fiamma part number 98655-111) first, which was good since the instructions – if you can call them that – left a lot to be desired and required a bunch of research before I even began.
On the surface, the instructions look very simple: drawings only, no text. Step 1 shows tracing the bracket holes to locate where you’ll drill three holes (per each of the two brackets). Step 2 shows the drilling getting done, with a slashed-circle and numeral 9 above the drill bit, which means nothing to me since I have a Ph.D. in the humanities. I’m guessing it means 9mm, but it could mean don’t drill these holes unless it’s 9 a.m., or if it’s 9 a.m. Call me anal, but I like clarity when I’m about to drill six holes into a $35,000 piece of sheet metal.
Step 3 caused the biggest concern, as it showed a strange looking tool that looked like it was required to insert the threaded sleeves into which the brackets are to be bolted. So I spent a couple hours searching for information on installing one of these awnings, and found nothing. GoWesty sells the more expensive F45 awning, and mentions that a rivet nut tool is required for Eurovan installations. $27. Seems a bit steep, but that’s GoWesty for you. I looked for a rivet nut tool at Harbor Freight ($16), but learned that you need to know the thread specs to get the proper “nosepieces” and “mandrels” (not mandrills, even though a monkey could probably figure this out easier than I’ve been able to) for the tool so that it will install the threaded sleeves. But the Fiamma website (not to mention the bracket instructions) do not give any specs for any hardware, or even if the inserts are metric or SAE; you’d assume they’re metric since the brackets (or at least the instructions) appear to be fabricated in Milan, but who knows these days? Which left me wondering how these awnings, which I see on at least half the Eurovan campers out there, got installed. Obviously I’m either making this way too difficult or am retarded, or both. Clearly I have a problem here, but because of the lack of clarity on how to install this thing I feel compelled to write a blog to assist other idiots like me who might want to do this.
So I emailed Fiamma tech support, asking the size of the drill bit and the thread specification for the rivet nuts. That’s a sentence I never thought I’d write. Anyway, they got back to me pretty quickly: 9mm drill bit, 6mm (M6) rivet nuts. Wahoo!
The next day I headed over to Home Depot to find a rivet nut tool. The biggest one they had only went to M5 (5mm). Not surprised (Home Depot almost never has what I need), I headed over to Sears since I’ve had pretty good luck with their tool department. They don’t carry any metric rivet tools. So I checked our local tool rental company (Tates Rents): strike three. I called Harbor Freight since I couldn’t determine from their website if they had metric rivet tools. The person I spoke to had no idea what I was talking about. My neighbor Dave, who’s got more tools than I knew existed, didn’t have what I needed, either. I found a kit on Sears.com for $65, but didn’t want to spend that much. Back to GoWesty and their $27 tool, which I ordered out of shear despairation (intentional conflation of despair and desperation). Call me old fashioned, call me anything you want for all I care; but it would seem – given the necessity of having this tool to install the awning brackets – that Fiamma might raise the price a bit and include this little tool to get the job done. My time is worth nothing, but I still have several hours invested in this, hours I’d gladly have returned to me for organizing my sock drawer or de-greasing used Ziplock bags. Hopefully my tribulations will benefit other otherwise hapless readers in this regard, or at least give them something to laugh about.
The big day came. I’d been dreading it, mostly because I hated the idea of drilling holes in the Eurovan. I needed a 9 millimeter drill bit, but didn’t have one and didn’t want to make another fruitless sojourn into the bowels of Boise to look for one at the non-metric conspiratorial network of commercial establishments some over-generously refer to as stores. I searched the Internet for an SAE equivalent: the closest was 23/64 (.359″), which equates to 9.128mm. I drilled one hole with my 23/64 bit into a piece of plastic (one of my Nordic ski wax scrapers), and tested the rivet nut: fit like a glove. So I traced the bracket holes with a pencil onto the van and drilled a hole, sweating bullets with every revolution of the over-sized bit. Seemed a little bigger than the one I’d made in the plastic, so I took the 11/32 bit and used that to drill the second hole: too tight. So I went back to the 23/64 bit and got all three holes for the front bracket drilled. Stressful.
The first rivet nut was tough to set because I didn’t know what I was doing. It took a while to figure out the position to get the tightening bolt in and where to hold the stabilizing bar. I also wasn’t sure how tight to make the rivet nut, but the tool ran out of threads at what seemed like the perfect spot. The rivets seemed tight, so I put the silicone sealant around each one, placed the bracket and its rubber pad over the rivet nuts, and tightened them down with my 10mm ratchet. Again, I wasn’t sure of the torque to use on these aluminum rivet nuts, and I’m still not. (Stay tuned to this blog for our road trip plans; if you want to follow us and I didn’t tighten the bolts enough, you might end up with a free awning.)
I made them as tight as I dared, but hope to get more info from Fiamma about this when I talk to them on Monday about the damage to the awning I discovered upon installing it.
To place the rear bracket, I went to the Internet to look for photos of awnings on Eurovans. I wasn’t sure whether to have the front of the awning hang over the front passenger door. Since we have the 8′-2″ model, and the sidewall mounting brackets for the awning legs (if you don’t want to or can’t stake the legs into the ground but want to secure the support legs onto the van, like if you were camped in a Wal-Mart parking lot) would need to be clear of the front passenger door, that pretty much sold me on keeping the awning mounted just to the front edge of the sliding door. Which meant that I had 97.5″ from outside to outside of the brackets. I gave myself some breathing room on the rear bracket mounting spot, and drilled the holes, deburring with a flat file, and installed the rear bracket in a fraction of the time it took to do the first.
Once both brackets were tightened down, I took the F35 awning itself and test hanged it on the brackets – miraculously it worked out, but because of the cracked plastic end cap sustained during shipment I couldn’t finish the job and tighten the awning down and do a test set up. I’ll have to get Fiamma to send me a replacement cap and figure out how to remove the busted one and reinstall the new one, which I’m a bit concerned about since they appear to be riveted in place.
Anyway, most of the job is done (as far as I can tell). I hope this sheds some light for the next fool who decides they want to do this themselves. One thing I know is that we had damned well better use this thing on our next trip. I’ll be looking for places that are awning-worthy campsites. If we find any, we’ll post some photos. Stay tuned.