Upgrading an Older Carefree Awning to a Pioneer System – my (safer) way

I wrote this at the end of last August, but it wasn’t really the right time to post it. Now with spring hopefully appearing soon, it is.

My trailer was built in 2000, and I’ve not used the awning an awful lot – maybe once or twice a year on average. Up until a year or so ago, it was pretty easy to unroll and set up; however most of the time we’re camping the weather really isn’t “awning weather.”

So it’s never gotten much use. Then the last couple times I’ve gone to use it, it was a bear to get out, and worse to roll back up. I even got paranoid and resorted to zip-ties to make sure it stayed rolled up.

I concluded that I had either one or two busted torsion springs in it. So after reading horror stories about people who tried to turn up the tension on their springs, I thought that there just has to be a better way – eliminate the springs! Because if the springs lose their tension once, then that means they’re fatigued; they’re going to do it again, until they fail altogether.

I found that Carefree makes an “Upgrade Kit” called the Pioneer. It’s not inexpensive (about $150 on average, with shipping) but it eliminates the springs and all the fiddling with the in/out latch and that silly black strap in the middle of the shade that tries to lift you off your feet when you close the awning. Here’s a hyperlink to the Pioneer. It’s also a positive-lock type of system in that the awning won’t roll up or unroll at all without the worm gear being turned.

While I was waiting for the parts to come in the UPS, I got the online documentation about the conversion. After looking at it, I decided I’d do it a bit differently for the sake of safety regarding those deadly torsion springs. When you unroll the awning, you wind up the springs, storing energy in them. Carefree’s method has you unrolling the awning all the way, and it looked like you could break a finger or a wrist when releasing the tension.

I thought that if I could avoid unrolling the awing, that would keep most of the tension off the springs.  My instructions here are meant to supplement the online instructions.

I want to emphasize: All of the cautions from the manufacturer still apply. There’s still some tension on the springs; that’s what holds the awning in. But at least this way there is a LOT less.

My method differs in that I don’t pull the awning out – doing so winds up the springs and makes them more dangerous when releasing the tension. Instead, my nephew and I got on ladders, lifted the awning off the supports, and then we did all the replacement work on the ground.

This method is simple, quick, and safe. It takes two people and two ladders, one at each end of the awning. You could actually do it by yourself, but it would be something of a hassle, because you’d have to find a way to hold the one end still while you took the other end out.

Before you do anything with the awning, Carefree cautions you to put a cotter pin through the back support end – what Carefree calls the “Idler.” You must still do that, if the rear spring is intact. Otherwise the torsion spring still has some energy in it and it can still hurt you.

Here’s how to do the rest of it our way:

  • Position a ladder at each end of the awning, and two sawhorses in the middle, to hold the awning once you have it loose.
  • Open the road locks and loosen the support bar knobs so the awning is free and ready to extend.
  • Put the awning in the ‘extend’ mode and unroll it at the back end (the “idler” end) until the holes in the rotating part line up with the holes in the axle. Check Carefree’s documentation for the location. Put the cotter pin in and bend it open so it won’t fall out. You don’t have to worry about the front end, because it has a ratchet.
  • Remove the big screws at each end in the middle of the end caps that hold the ends onto the support arms.
  • Lift the awning off the support arms, and walk the awning down the ladder, opening (unrolling) it as you go. The support arms may or may not stay up by the side of the trailer. If they fall and hit the ground, it’s no matter. Any mark you make on them will be covered by the new end caps.

Now you can work on the awning at hip level, where it’s safer.

First thing to do is to unwind the torsion springs. By taking the awning straight off the trailer and therefore not winding the springs up (by unfurling the awning), they are at least somewhat less dangerous. On my trailer, the back torsion spring was broken, so there was no need to worry about any problem there. But we still had tension on the front one.

Here’s how to release the tension safely. It’s pretty much taken from Carefree’s documentation, but we have some photos for assistance. Clamp a good pair of vise-grips on the end cap to give yourself leverage. Don’t worry about marking it, because you’re going to throw these away anyway.

Have a helper hold the awning tube so it doesn’t get away from you. (If the awning springs had been wound up, there would be a tremendous amount of torque on them right now.) This procedure would be much the same for the rear (idler) end, but we’re demonstrating on the front end. Get a good hold on the vise-grips, then flip the latch to the ‘Retract’ position; you may have to wiggle the end cap to release the internal cam and allow the end to rotate. Using a hand-over-hand method, unwind the spring tension until it’s fully released. You would do this for both ends if both springs were good.

Now you can remove the screws holding the end caps on and pull out the old torsion springs. Note how the back spring on our trailer is rusty and broken. It was therefore harmless. The front spring was in good shape and had to be unwound.

The end caps are keyed so they fit only one way. Carefree has put some thought into the replacements, so when they go on, the new screws will be going through fresh metal. Use a screw-gun to run the new self-drilling screws in, but NOT down tight. You should hand-tighten these only until snug, because the material you’re going into is soft aluminum.

We finished by unrolling the awning all the way, and slipping the new end caps over the supports; then we put the new screws in (again, hand-snug only) and we’re done.

The awning is now a complete joy to deploy and stow. The new end caps allow for a rain-release feature so that you can have one end very much lower than the other for rain release. THIS is a welcome feature where I live!

Hope this explanation and photo-documentation helps de-mystify this conversion. I heartily recommend it for anyone who doesn’t like the way their Carefree awning currently works. It for sure eliminates the adrenaline-rush I would get when closing the awning.

One thing about this material: Please feel free to copy and share this information, but I request that you attribute this material to me.


2 thoughts on “Upgrading an Older Carefree Awning to a Pioneer System – my (safer) way

    • I bought everything by checking Carefree’s dealer network; I’ve had experience with big, splashy online RV outfits that claim to have low prices; they send you a bag of parts and say, “This is all you need,” when it really isn’t, and isn’t even the right stuff.

      The best way is to go to the Support section on their website to find a *current* dealer. From there, you can do some price-shopping. This was a number of years ago, so I can’t have confidence that the outfit I bought from may still be there.

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