Hellwig Product’s Melanie White, Marketing Manager, and Dave Wheeler, Engineer, talk to us about their new Big Wig sway bar designed especially for the truck camper market.
It’s not often that a gear company targets the truck camper market with a specific product. When Melanie White, Marketing Manager for Hellwig Products, contacted us last spring, she told us that Hellwig was up to something big for truck campers. She wouldn’t tell us exactly what, but she had our attention.
When Melanie finally revealed the product was a sway bar, we were a bit skeptical that a sway bar could really make much of a difference for a truck camper rig. Then we visited the factory and Hellwig’s Dave Wheeler installed a sway bar on our rig. Our truck already handled our 2010 Adventurer 90FWS well, but the Hellwig sway bar made it handle even better. Immediately we noticed that the rig leaned less when entering highway on ramps and off ramps or turning corners. In fact, it barely leans at all now. Sway control? You bet.
Now the question is how did Hellwig take a good product and tune it for the truck camper market? To find out more about Hellwig’s new Big Wig, we talked to Melanie and Dave.
TCM: Melanie, you’re fourth generation at Hellwig. What are your earliest memories of being at Hellwig?
Melanie: My earliest memory is Dad bringing us after hours to the office and letting us play with the phones. It’s kind of nostalgic now. My sister and I would also pretend to drive the forklifts when Dad was working on a project out in the shop.
TCM: How old were you when your family got you involved with the business?
Melanie: It was after I graduated high school. Each summer through college I would change over the files for the fiscal year. I would do the jobs that other people didn’t want to do.
TCM: When did you decide to make Hellwig a career?
Melanie: When I was twenty-six I came back to help with outside sales. I was living in Northern California and we had customers there. I also spent time in Sacramento, the Bay area, and Redding. I made cold calls, got doors slammed in my face, and shed some tears. I’ve gotten a thicker skin working in sales.
A few years later, my husband and I decided to move back to Exeter. That’s when I got more involved with marketing, sales, and everyday operations.
TCM: For his interview, your dad spoke fondly about your family’s RVing adventures into the desert with quads and motorcycles. What are some of your favorite early memories of RVing?
Melanie: Every summer he would take us on a vacation and we would have a great time. All four of us girls and my parents would be in a trailer. Our biggest trip was to North Dakota. We went all over the place. We traveled with my great-grandparents and visited some of their relatives who still live there. They had a farming operation. It was always a little crammed with all of us, but we got to see a lot of places by RVing that we wouldn’t have normally seen. I remember my baby sister would sleep in the bathtub.
TCM: Do you go RVing with your family now?
Melanie: My husband and I enjoy RVing. We are looking for a new RV right now. We are not sure what to get, but after our time with you, we have started to think more heavily about the truck campers. We haven’t made up our minds yet.
TCM: A truck camper would certainly be the wise choice! Speaking of truck campers, let’s talk about the new Big Wig. What problems is the Big Wig designed to solve for the truck camper owner?
Melanie: The Big Wig is a load specific sway bar meant for someone who has a larger load and a higher center of gravity. We came up with the idea specifically for the truck camper market.
TCM: Dave, tell us about the research and development process for the Big Wig.
Dave: The Big Wig was designed to increase the roll stiffness of the suspension to keep a high center of gravity under control. The roll stiffness is the resistance to leaning one way or another. The bigger the diameter of the sway bar, the bigger the roll stiffness you are going to have.
As the center of gravity is moved higher, it has more leverage on the suspension, and more roll stiffness is required. With the Big Wig, you can adjust the roll stiffness to match your vehicle’s requirements with firm, medium, and soft settings.
TCM: How did you know what diameter to make the Big Wig?
Dave: We do stress calculations to make sure we don’t exceed the stresses in the bar. It’s a durability issue. We want to make sure it’s durable in the field. We also test drive the vehicles with different diameters to make sure the end product will work in as many situations as possible. With the Big Wig, we upsized all of the hardware to handle the increased loads commonly found with a truck camper.
Melanie: Lance Owners of America had a member of their forum help us with the testing and there’s a technical article coming out about it.
TCM: Please let us know when that article debuts so we can point our readers to it. Were there any surprises during product testing?
Dave: There were not really a lot of surprises. We had to stay in the parameters that the truck gave us, making sure that we maintained the vehicle balance and didn’t override the stability control that is built into the truck. There is electronic stability control in the 2011 models. The Big Wig has to work in concert with those.
We tested every vehicle that we developed the Big Wig for. We also did our testing with and without the camper loaded to make sure the results were not too extreme.
TCM: What trucks will the Big Wig fit?
Dave: The Big Wig is good for the Chevy HD 2001 and later, the Dodge Ram 2003 and later, and the Ford 1999 and later.
TCM: Is there a different Big Wig for dual rear wheel trucks?
Melanie: Dual wheel and single wheel applications will be the same part number for the Chevy and the Dodge, but there will be a different part number for the Ford dually trucks and that will be coming soon.
TCM: Is the Big Wig a product the customer can install or does it need to be installed by a local Hellwig dealer?
Melanie: You can do it yourself or have a dealer install it for you.
Dave: It’s a bolt on. I would say a majority of customer’s can install it in their driveway in an hour and a half. Make sure you read the instructions first, lay out the kit, and make sure you are familiar with parts and pieces. If you can change your tire, you can put our sway bar on your truck.
TCM: How do you find a local Hellwig dealer? And do all Hellwig dealers offer the Big Wig?
Melanie: We have all of the dealers listed on our website. It’s all listed by states. Yes, all Hellwig dealers offer the Big Wig. We also have an application guide that’s on our website.
TCM: What does the Big Wig cost? And tell us about the warranty.
Melanie: The application and the vehicle will the determine cost. Retail prices range from $475 to $575. Installation is extra if it’s done by a local dealer. There is a lifetime warranty.
Dave: We have a lifetime warranty on our products. If the part fails, we’ll give you a new one. This has only happened with extreme applications like a bend in the end-link. We don’t ask questions, even though warranty claims usually happen after abuse. We’ve had this policy for sixty years.
TCM: What is included with the Big Wig kit?
Dave: Everything you need to bolt it on. In addition you will need a basic socket set, half inch sockets, 9/16 inch to 7/8 inch. You will also need open end wrenches. It depends on the kit, but basically you need common hand tools.
Melanie: We also recommend our front sway bar for the ultimate experience for truck campers. Our Big Wig is designed to work in conjunction with a larger diameter front sway bar. The front sway bar provides more vehicle balance.
TCM: Do you have matching front sway bars for all trucks available?
Melanie: We’re working on the 2011 Ford front sway bars now. We are also developing a front sway bar for Dodge trucks. In all reality, the front sway bars probably won’t be ready until December or early January. They are fantastic for truck camper applications.
Dave: The Dodge front sway bar has historically been stout, but Ford and Chevy needed upgrades. Our biggest difficulty is that the 2011 vehicles are trickling into the market, and that there are only one or two on the dealer lots for us to work with.
TCM: You’re also making some changes to your air springs (also known as air bags). Tell us about those developments.
Dave: Our new air springs are going to be the biggest air springs on the market with more air capacity than our competition. The product is being finalized right now. Larger air springs mean a softer ride with less wear on the suspension. The larger air spring will also extend further and provide more articulation.
TCM: Thank you for the information on the new Big Wig. Let us know if there are any more developments.
Dave and Melanie: You’re welcome.
To learn more about Hellwig, visit their website at www.hellwigproducts.com.