Trouble With a Capital “T”

Posted October 27, 2016

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Airstreams and towing vehicles demand attention!

We’re not experts, but we’re not entirely incompetent at vehicle maintenance and repair. Long, long ago, Jim rebuilt his VW van engine and, while in our 30’s, we went through a vintage automobile phase.

Then, our son came along and we transitioned into sensible vehicles. Over two decades – with no free time, little garage space and the help of a good mechanic who sent reminder cards – our sedans lasted well beyond shelf-life.

Three years ago, we made a practical decision to purchase a hybrid or complete electric when Jim retired – something like the Chevy Volt or the Nissan Leaf. But, that would never be. Once we took the leap into full-timing action, we forfeited our place in line for a Prius.

Chevy Volt
Nissan Leaf
Toyota Prius

The Beast – our Ram truck – came as the biggest surprise of our lives. Never in a million Honda lifetimes did we expect to be driving such a muscular vehicle. It was a necessary, strategic purchase. But, from the moment we stuck our heads in the cab, that synthetic “new car smell” knocked us over and blinded us to the 33,000 miles on the odometer. Never underestimate the power of your olfactory glands and those who know how to use ’em.

It took over a year to find our perfect used Airstream. By comparison, finding the ideal truck was a breeze. The best sources directed us toward the Cummins diesel engine for reliability, and in 2014, Ram was the only truck with that engine.

Cummins Diesel Engine

My daddy, Allen Perry, found The Beast near his home. While we remained in San Diego, Dad helped us negotiate a great deal with Barbara Brogle at Johnson Dodge Chrysler Jeep. Two months later, in July 2015, we flew into Jackson, Mississippi with nothing but our carry-on backpacks. Dad met us at the airport and took us to his house where we first beheld our glistening and gallant Beast parked beside our shy and radiant Beauty.

Here is our 2014 Ram truck and 2001 Airstream, the day we first saw them in July 2015

On our maiden voyage back to San Diego, and during all our camping trips the following year, The Beast served us well. We marveled that it didn’t stink of diesel; had gratitude for the 4-wheel drive that pulled us out of the Mississippi mud; and luxuriated in the many extra features we’d never experienced before in any vehicle. It would take something big as the Mojave desert to come between us and our beloved Beast … That moment was July 2016 – (same day of the trailer tire blowout) when the %#@& engine light came on …

As we waited in Mammoth Lakes for new 16″ wheels and Michelin tires, we researched Ram dealerships who’d honor our warranty. The closest service department was 140 miles away in Carson City, Nevada. As it was 110 degrees in Carson City, we made an appointment for a few days later, and set up camp 40 miles up the mountain in South Lake Tahoe.

Carson City Ram dealer

The technician ran a routine engine light diagnostic scan and determined the error code meant either our catalytic converter was malfunctioning or our diesel exhaust fluid, DEF, had gone bad due to overheating in The Mojave. He told us that DEF can have negative results when heated above 90 degrees. Since their diesel mechanic couldn’t see us for a week, the technician reset the engine light and suggested we visit another dealership up the road, along our planned route.

Before we left he told us about a dreaded, but potential, dashboard warning (see below) Should it appear, beware. The engine would stop in 180 miles.

Our friend Vinnie from Vinnie’s Northbay Airstream Repair got this warning on his Ram truck in September 2016 while delivering an Airstream.

Whew. We needed a drink!

Next stop, Sonoma wine country!  Yes, because there is wine … and, because Santa Rosa has a highly-rated RAM dealer. We crossed our fingers, knocked on wood, threw salt over our shoulders … Would we make the 200 mile trek without the dreaded engine failure?

50 miles in, the engine light came on.

We arrived! Immediately, we scheduled a full-day inspection. The technician confirmed our problem was a faulty catalytic converter. He regretted to inform us that more than 18,000 RAM diesel trucks were in line for that part. Would we mind waiting 60 days … ? Now, we love Santa Rosa, but even all the great breweries and wineries and top-notch California cuisine couldn’t make us stay for two months!

Santa Rosa Ram dealer

At least the technician reset the engine light for us. We set off for Mount Shasta and – no surprise – in 50 miles, the engine light came on.

At least, the RAM dealer in the small town of Mt. Shasta had an appointment for us … in 5 weeks.

Mt. Shasta Ram dealer

We hit the road for Klamath Falls and Medford – a large city, over an hour away … even has a Trader Joes!  We were anxious about making it the 90 miles to the dealership from our campsite. They got us in quick and immediately performed an engine light diagnostic to confirm the catalytic converter problem. Hallelujah! They had the catalytic converter in stock and would hold it for us when they had time to do the job … in 3 weeks.

After begging them to move us up in their schedule, the technician suggested we move along and continue combing the country for another dealer with the part and more time and service people to handle our problem …

Medford Ram Dealer

…but before we left, he covertly whispered that we should go next door to the Walmart and buy a OBD2 scanner…

 

… so we can diagnose and reset the engine light problem ourselves. Before we left the service people reset the light.

Within 50 miles, the engine light came back on – but, at least this time we used the OBD2 scanner. Same thing, every 50 miles now, we’d reset it.

Twin Falls, Idaho! Same story. No part, no time … move along.

Twin Falls Ram dealer

By now, Jim’s cold virus should have run it’s course, but he was still suffering. So we headed for Ft. Collins since Colorado has a Kaiser Health System and is home to one of Jim’s favorites, New Belgium Brewing Company.

By this time, we’d given up on the truck problem. We were just about to call the dealership in Mississippi to make an appointment when – just for the sake of consistency – we took our ailing Beast to the local RAM dealership: Ft. Collins Truck and Fleet Service Center.

Ft. Collins Ram Truck Service Center with our truck, The Beast, up on the rack.

WHAT A DIFFERENCE!!!!

The moment we walked in and explained the problem, the Truck Service Advisor, Jesse Rascon, took control.

He knew the problems the catalytic converters were having with the DEF, and also knew Ram had upgraded a new generation of catalytic converters to address it. He immediately called the RAM headquarters and appealed for our status as a “disabled traveler” which grants special consideration. He told us that resetting our engine light ourselves was a disaster waiting to happen. He sent us back to our campsite and told us to wait for his call. He’d take care of us.

Within 5 hours, Jesse called reporting that he’d secured permission from Ram to send one of his service employees 100 miles away, on a special trip, to pick up a catalytic converter just for us … and the person was already back in the shop with our part!  He actually got two in case there was a problem with one of them.

Two brand new Ram truck 4 feet long catalytic converters.

Jesse told us to drop off the truck in the morning, and it would be fixed by the afternoon.

Early the next morning, we arrived and Jesse provided us with a free rental and suggested a diner, The Breakfast Club.

The Breakfast Club in Ft. Collins Colorado

After a great brekkie, we did some shopping around town. By mid-afternoon our truck was ready. The catalytic converter was replaced. In addition, Jesse did a complete safety and fluid inspection before he’d send us on our way … all for no charge, under warranty.

The Beast up on the rack getting a new catalytic converter

We’re old, and we simply cannot remember ever getting better service anywhere, for anything. We whole-heartedly recommend Jesse Rascon for his professional attitude and uncommon compassion for travelers in need, and his willingness to go the extra 100 miles to deliver on every one of his promises.

Jesse Rascon, our savior in Ft. Collins, Colorado
Jesse Rascon, our savior in Ft. Collins, Colorado

 

16 thoughts on “Trouble With a Capital “T”

  1. What an incredible adventure! Such perseverance and faith. Thanks for the travelogue replete with the pioneering spirit!

    1. Teresa,

      Thank you for your kinds words.

      Hmmmmm…”words of wisdom”? We are such newbies to this wonderful world of full-time RV travel, that we are not sure what we write could be deemed as wisdom.

      We are trying to show the reality of selling all our possessions (98% of them at least) and hitting the road in a exploration of simplicity and wonderment. Yes it is exciting and adventurous and we wake up every day trying to bask in the realization we no longer have any roots in any location and everything we own is either in the Airstream or our truck. It is freeing to own so little and when we talk to each other about what we are doing, we smile and say out loud “We are living in Beauty!”

      While we always try to focus on the positive, we are aware that not every day, every moment is bliss. We have had truck trouble, tire blowouts causing cosmetic damage to the Airstream, furnace failures, leaky faucets, bad propane regulators, broken steps, illness and stumped toes. In our blog, we not only want show the fun, which there is a lot of, but the challenges of this lifestyle as well.

      Glad to have you on board.

  2. Hi I have a question on how well Kaiser is working out with You on the road? We just signed up with Kaiser and hope to hit the road full time mid 2017. Thanks Mike

    1. Mike,

      Welcome soon to the world of full-time travel. Hope to see you on the road.

      We loved Kaiser in San Diego and since I retired I was offered Cobra coverage with my former employee. The Cobra option has limits and I needed to stay with Kaiser at least for 18 months. I was able to go to a pharmacy in Santa Rosa and see an urgent care provider in Ft. Collins. Both were great to be able to do on the road. Our insurance allows us to go to any urgent care or emergency department anywhere in the USA and still have coverage, as long as the incident at that moment is determined by Kaiser to need at level of urgency. They also will ship our medicine anywhere we tell them (we get 3 month supplies) I also can email my physician anytime and get feedback via email or a phone call. Kaiser is only located in these states below, so going in for chronic care or something non-urgent will be a challenge, if not impossible outside these states.

      1. California
      2. Colorado
      3. Georgia
      4. Hawaii
      5. Oregon
      6. Washington

      Hope this helps.

      Jim

  3. We’re glad to see that the Ram is alive and well……enjoy your time at TCPC, then on to Alabama, where there’s some single malt just waiting for y’all…
    Larry and Jacquie

  4. Glad you got that problem resolved. I hope my 2015 Ram has the newer generation of converter. Keep your DEF topped up. I would top it off at a truck stop every. Time it gets to 1/2 full.

    1. What brand of DEF do you use, Kelvin? I’ve been reading about the Valvoline Blue Shield – costs twice as much – but most of the reviews are from public sources like firemen and emergency vehicles.

      1. I had DEF topped up from dealer during an oil change. Much too expensive. I’ve put in one 2 1/2g bottle of Peak. The last DEF top up was from a local truck stop which is the cheapest and most convenient way. So far with 8000 miles it’s been fine.

  5. Whew!!! Renews my faith in the God shaped heart of mankind! So …profoundly crazy for you guys! Praying for your health. (I am captivated) Chris

    Sent from my iPhone

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  6. Wow! Gives me renewed hope in humanity! If I were i in that town, I would personally get him some cigars!!! Again, -a profound learning journey for you! Praying for good health too!!!

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