Monday, December 17, 2012

Truck Troubles

We were having a good time visiting my mother (Gracie and Blaze have lots of fun running around in her fenced back yard, too).  One night after dinner, Earl and I got in the truck to return to the fifth wheel, started the truck, turned on the lights only to discover the dash lights were out!  The map lights and the ceiling lights didn't work, either.

OK, easy fix...just replace the fuse, which Earl did the next morning.  Lights all back on except now, the ABS light and the brake light continued to be illuminated, and the speedometer, cruise control, and PacBrake didn't work.  Earl took the truck to Stampede Dodge in Nampa where they diagnosed the problem as the ABS module, which they had to order.

The next day...the day we were supposed to leave...Earl took the truck back to Stampede Dodge so they could replace the ABS module.  Everything now worked...ABS and brakes lights off and speedometer was back to working (everyone claimed that the ABS module had nothing to do with the speedometer, but they also couldn't explain why it started working again after it was replaced...curious, eh?).

The PacBrake apparently still wasn't working (and the Dodge dealer didn't have the knowledge to fix it), so when we left the next day (Friday, November 2), we were headed for Reno where we hoped to be able to find a PacBrake dealer...if not, then we'd continue on to Las Vegas where we knew there was a dealer.  Heading south on US-95 there is about a 2,000' gain in elevation between Marsing and the Idaho/Oregon border near Jordan Valley.  We made it up the grade just fine, passing a semi while doing so.  However, sometime after that, Earl said that second and third gears were intermittently not working...then they stopped working altogether.  We were headed for Winnemucca, but because Burns was closer, we headed for there.  We dropped the fifth wheel at the casino's RV park and drove over to the Dodge dealer, Teague Motors.  They put the truck on their computer and claimed it showed nothing wrong with the transmission.  Say what?!  They called Chrysler who said it sounded like a plugged fuel injector, so we set up an appointment the next day.

Returning to Teague Motors the next day, before they did anything, two of their mechanics hopped in the truck to take it for a test drive.  When they returned they declared that the PacBrake was the problem...when they drove the truck with the PacBrake off, the transmission worked just fine, but with it on it was missing second and third gear.  Unlikely, but we could see we weren't going to get any help here, so the next morning we continued south on US-395, spending the night at the casino in Alturas, CA.

When we left Alturas the next morning continuing south on US-395, we were south of Likely and starting up the grade to Sage Hen Summit when the transmission light came on.  We pulled over at a wide spot in the road to let the transmission cool down.  Once it did, Earl tried to move the fifth wheel and said the truck just didn't have any power...we certainly wouldn't be able to make up over the summit and into Susanville, the next large town.  Fortunately, we had cell phone service (just barely, but it was usable) so I called the tow company and had them send two tow trucks out...one to tow the truck back to Alturas to Alturas Tire Center (a BF Goodrich dealer who had a transmission specialist on staff) and the fifth wheel to Sully's RV Park in town.  (The tow truck they sent for the fifth wheel was a pickup set up with a fifth wheel hitch, driven by a young man who had his wife with him...nice young couple.)

We ended up having to have the transmission rebuilt and a new planetary gearset installed.  The transmission specialist at Alturas Tire Center, Frank, said we were lucky that we stopped when we did because the transmission fluid was so hot that if we'd tried to drive much farther, it probably would have caught on fire!

The transmission was rebuilt using heavier duty parts and, instead of the aluminum 4-speed (or 4-gear) planetary gearset that came from the factory, we had a 6-speed steel one installed.  All of this stuff had to be ordered from Los Angeles, so we were stuck in Alturas for eight days...without any transportation.  Fortunately, the managers of Sully's RV Park had an old beater pickup they let us use for those times when we had to do grocery shopping or have a propane tank refilled. 

It got cold in Alturas while we were there...one night, the low was 8 degrees!  And it snowed a couple of times.  Here's what it looked like one morning when we got up and took the dogs for their first walk:



Finally, the day came when we could leave (cost us a much larger arm and leg)!  We made it to Fallon and stayed at the Churchill County Fairgrounds, where we usually stay when we stop in Fallon.

The next day we were going to turn off at Scotty's Junction off US-95 for Mesquite Springs Campground in Death Valley National Park, but there was a sign at the junction that said the road was closed about 25 miles down the road (around Scotty's Castle), so we continued on to Beatty RV Park in Beatty where we found out the road into Death Valley from Scotty's Junction has been damaged by a flood several months ago and hadn't yet been repaired.

The next day, Thursday, November 15, we made it to Las Vegas Bay Campground in Lake Mead NRA, east of Henderson, NV.  On Friday, we drove into Henderson to do laundry and do shopping at Wal-Mart.

On Saturday we went to Sears to buy a compressor (since our PacBrake wasn't working...it has a small air compressor on it that we use to fill tires).  While we were driving around, the engine light on the truck came on.  We had to drive a long way north on Boulder Highway to get to Chapman Dodge in Las Vegas.  One of the first things they did when we came in was to enter the VIN number into their computer where they found out there was a recall that we had never had done.  The recall came out about the time we'd moved to Spokane in May 2010, so we must have missed it.  It brings up the question, though -- why didn't the other Dodge dealers find this out???  Apparently, neither Stampede Dodge in Nampa, ID, or Teague Motors in Burns, OR, bothered to enter the VIN number into their computers or they would have found out the same thing! 

Being Saturday afternoon, they would not be able to get to the truck until Monday.  Fortunately, in Las Vegas -- unlike Alturas -- one can actually rent a car!  Which we did.

We got the truck back on Tuesday with the recall done...that, apparently, was why the engine check light had come on.

At that late date, we decided to stay in Las Vegas for Thanksgiving.  We left on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, spending the night at Burro Creek Campground off US-93.  We got back to Gateway Ranch RV Park on Sunday.

Frank, at Alturas Tire, had recommended that we have the transmission oil changed again once we got back so Earl called Larry Green Dodge in Blythe, CA, where we had bought the truck.  When they found out about our transmission problems and that we'd had a 6-speed steel planetary gearset installed, they said "Oh, that's wrong, the guy who did the work didn't know what he was doing.  Bring the truck in and we'll redo the work and put it back like it's supposed to be."  Yea, right...we didn't just fall off the turnip truck! 

Since the transmission was still giving us a bit of a problem at low speeds (hunting between first and second), we checked around and were finally referred to Marcelo's Auto Repair in Coachella, CA (just south of Indio).  Earl drove the truck over there where they replaced some additional parts.  The mechanic there said that Frank in Alturas did a good job...everything he did was 100%, but there were some additional things that needed to be done which Frank, not being a Chrysler engineer, probably wouldn't have known.  We had the valve body, press switch, and safety neutro switch replaced (don't ask me what those are...I haven't a clue) as well as another transmission flush and new oil. 

In the meantime, we've had new front brake pads installed and a front-end alignment.  Whew!  I hope that's it for awhile!

The only thing remaining is the PacBrake which works on and off.  The guy who installed it, Eric at Eric's RV Performance Center, will be in Quartzsite in January and February, so we'll have him take a look at it.

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