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Stranded in Montana: It’s all good

| Updated Nov 6, 2021

So, what's your worse nightmare about an RV trip?  Having a mechanical breakdown in the middle of, say, Montana, at the start of a weekend?

Trust me, it's not so bad.

I can say this because it happened to us last weekend, just as we were leaving Glacier National Park and the Many Glacier area, about as remote a place as you can find, where even the cell phones don't reach.

This was the culprit…the sensor (black) at the right of the fuel rail

There is one inescapable thing about RV travel. Stuff happens. Things break. No matter how well something is engineered and how well it is maintained. Truth is, that's part of the adventure.

And it's how that breakdown is handled that determines the end of the story. And in our case, it was handled very well. So well, I want to share it with you. Our breakdown led us to some of the most fun we've had on this long four month trip we've been on. We learned first hand there's a great network of Sprinter dealers out there who really do go the extra mile to make sure Sprinter owners can put on those miles.

What broke in our Sprinter-based Roadtrek Etrek was the fuel rail sensor. I'm not a mechanical guy but it has something to do with the way the engine gets fuel. Our unit failed and led to a stalling engine. The engine would start, but as you pressed the accelerator, it would be unresponsive for a couple of seconds and then just die. The check engine light has come on several times during this trip but would usually go off after a short drive. At Glacier, as it kept stalling in the middle of a cold rain on the side of a gravel road, it would start with increasing difficulty and cranking, but then cough and stall. I was about to hike out and get to a place where I had cell phone coverage so I could call for a tow, which would be covered under my Coach-Net road insurance.

But eventually, I got the engine started by revving it up and keeping my foot on the accelerator as I dropped it into gear.

There was one hairy moment. Literally hairy. As we started to drive out of Many Glacier, a car in front  came to a sudden stop as a black bear dashed across the road. The people in that car naturally stopped and started taking photos as the bear nibbled on some roadside berries. I could not risk a stop so, keeping the engine going with one foot on the brake and one on the accelerator, I swerved around them and kept going. I’m sure they thought I was very rude. Wish I could have explained.

After a half hour or so of driving at 70 mph on the main highway outside of the park, the engine seemed to be running just fine.

We made it all 250 miles south and west to Missoula, Montana and Demarois Buick – GMC Truck, an official Mercedes-Benz Sprinter dealer. Travis Cook, the Sprinter Service manager, got us in before the shop closed down for the weekend, put a computer on the engine and verified the fuel rail issue. The soonest the replacement sensor would arrive would be Tuesday.

So, rather than take the chance of driving on and another breakdown, we opted to stay in Missoula until the part arrived and could be installed. To make it easy for us, Travis supplied us with a loaner – a Mercedes-Benz ML350 SUV, a very nice ride.

Downtown Missoula music festival
I could have done some Christmas shopping for Campskunk at the music festival

We drove the Roadtrek to a campground about six miles northwest of town, where we kept it parked for the next four days. We used the little SUV loaner to take us sightseeing throughout the area, attending a music concert downtown, checking out a local museum, visiting the Rattlesnake Recreation and Wilderness area and even venturing out into nearby mountain communities for wildlife viewing and hiking.

Perhaps the most unexpected amusement we found was watching young people surf on the Clark Fork River at a place called Brennan's Wave, where white water in the in the river  in downtown Missoula underneath the Higgins St. Bridge draws wet-suit wearing adventurers. Here, kayakers and surfers alike frequent the natural wave machine, and give spectators a good show.

Downtown river surfers in Missoula

We’ll share some of those Missoula-area attractions in separate reports.

The point of all this is to say what we thought would be disaster turned out to be a blessing in disguise. We fell in love with this part of Montana and, thanks to the network of Sprinter service dealers around the country and our fall-back road towing insurance coverage, it’s all good. We need not worry.

As we picked up our Roadtrek Tuesday morning, Travis, the service manager, remarked how well built Mercedes is. He told us how the Sprinters used by the Federal Express delivery service routinely get 350,000 miles. “They'd get more but the bodies start to fall apart after all that intense use,” he said.

Our Sprinter has now racked up 60,000 miles in the almost two years we've been driving it. I can honestly say, it has been amazingly reliable and the best vehicle I have ever owned. We've taken it coast to coast, up and down the Rocky Mountains, camped in every weather condition imaginable from two feet of snow at 21 below zero in Northern Minnesota to 105 humid degrees in the Deep South, and it has brought is more fun and adventures than we can imagine.

But there's even another benefit from our extended stay in Missoula.

After putting in the new part,  they even washed the Roadtrek for me, something Jennifer has been after me to do this entire trip.

My cost for the repair: Nothing. All covered under the Sprinter-Mercedes five-year, 100,000 mile warranty.

It really was all good.

Mike Wendland

Published on 2014-08-28

Mike Wendland is a multiple Emmy-award-winning Journalist, Podcaster, YouTuber, and Blogger, who has traveled with his wife, Jennifer, all over North America in an RV, sharing adventures and reviewing RV, Camping, Outdoor, Travel and Tech Gear for the past 12 years. They are leading industry experts in RV living and have written 18 travel books.

12 Responses to “Stranded in Montana: It’s all good”

September 02, 2014at8:37 am, Elaine said:

It sure is neat how car trouble can be such an adventure. I had the same exact problem with my 89 Vixen gas engine RV last fall going from Detroit to Florida. All the way from mid-Ohio to central Florida, no idle. There I was, accelerator mashed down, neutral -drive, neutral -drive, brake foot ready through Cincinnati, Dayton and Atlanta traffic. We now have a Roadtrek Ranger on the Chevy base. I sure hope it behaves for the next 20 years or so, but if it doesn’t, we know we can handle it.

September 01, 2014at11:41 am, Leslie and Keith Flanders said:

We had a similar experience after leaving Glacier NP. A wonderful GM dealer in Cranbrook, BC replaced 2 sensors in our 2013 210P and we were back on the road! Our engine roared like a lion but purred after the repair. Maybe Glacier NP has a Kharma problem?

September 01, 2014at9:13 am, Teresa carr said:

Love that area….thanks for sharing your pics.

It’s good to know there are good dealerships out there.

September 01, 2014at7:40 am, Jonathan said:

If you are retired or live on the road, yeah sure a breakdown is no big deal. But if I had a 4 day delay during my highly choreographed vacation it would be disatrous. Fuel rail sensors should not be failing, period. That is why it is covered under warranty because it’s supposed to last the life of the vehicle. that doesn’t sound so well built to me.

August 30, 2014at8:41 pm, J. Dawg said:

Good to learn what the symptoms of a failed fuel rail pressure senor are and how to get the rig going if it fails I’ve had a few CELs light come on in my Sprinter based Winnebago and it was the fuel rail pressure sensor giving high readings. It has always cleared itself. Now I know what to look for. Thanks.
J. Dawg

August 29, 2014at10:39 pm, Frank Gochnour said:

i would love a mercedes benz roadtrek these vans are great from what i have seen and read i agree with patricia’s comment, i also want a roadtrek so bad! just can’t afford one.

August 29, 2014at12:50 am, Marjorie Stewart said:

That is very cool that it was all under warranty! And I also love the area you were in and the people !! Good rolling guys great incentive for those of us who are still undecided !!! /*

August 28, 2014at8:05 pm, Patricia Hollingsworth said:

I want a Roadtrek so bad!

August 28, 2014at2:39 pm, Katie Harville said:

We just left Bozeman and I just have to say, thanks to your writing I don’t worry near as much about problems on the road. We don’t have a RT but it is a Mercedes on sprinter.

August 28, 2014at11:43 am, Mike Wendland said:

While we were there we met a guy towing a Fifth Wheel whose towing truck developed problems… they needed parts and hooked him up with a loaner, too. It is so great to see places like this that really do treat the customer well.

August 28, 2014at11:09 am, Kymmy LaVasser Nicol said:

Nice! We stayed in that same park, a couple of spots down, Jellystone, it was a nice place!

August 28, 2014at10:33 am, Kim Kaufman said:

DeMarois GMC Mercedes is a great dealership. I broke down one time on my way to Spokane and had a great dealership experience as well.

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