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.
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.
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.
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.