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Observations: When Things Go Bad on the Road

| Updated Oct 17, 2015

We return from most trips with a short list of things to do or fix. These are seldom anything to interfere with trip enjoyment, but little things to make life on the road better or more comfortable. Things like a bungee cord across the inside of the closet at latch level to prevent a stray shirt sleeve from blocking the latch. Or yet another fridge ventilation improvement to try. Stuff like that.

But what if something major went wrong? As we approached the magical 200,000-mile limit of Dodge transmissions we began to worry. And our transmission was slow to up-shift. We decided that we must have the transmission rebuilt before our big trip out west. But when? We had something planned every month. We finally decided that August was the best time – a four-week gap between planned trips.

Transmission Apart
Transmission rebuilt at 178,000 miles

After much debate we opted to have a well-regarded, long time shop in our area rebuild it. It went well, and we headed out for a long weekend over Labor Day. Then we hit the hills. It was clear that something was wrong, and it was getting worse. End result was a 85-mile (free with AAA RV) tow back home. At least we could wait the 2.5 hours for the rollback tow truck (on a holiday weekend) in comfort with the Onan generator running our house A/C.  It was our first breakdown in 98,000 miles of traveling in our Roadtrek.  Back to the transmission shop. The new torque converter had a “catastrophic” failure and had self-destructed. The shop was suitably embarrassed by the whole thing. The entire transmission was rebuilt again under warranty. Finished four days before we left on a six week trip!

On Rollback
First breakdown after 98,000 miles

We could hardly complain about six years and 98,000 miles of trouble- free RVing (we don't know about the 80,000 miles the previous owners traveled), but we were feeling a bit gun shy as we set out.  The engine seemed a little noisier than usual.  What was that odd sound?  Is that hill steeper than we thought or do we have less power than normal?  On the fourth day the Check Engine light came on on a very rough stretch of washboard gravel road.  That had never happened before!  It went out. Somewhat paranoid, we sought a mechanic.  He said he did not have the equipment to read the codes and to see a Dodge dealer.  At our request, he listened to the motor.  He agreed there was an odd noise, but it didn't get worse when we gave it gas.

Several towns later we found a dealer.  No chance for them to look at it, but the service guy said if the light wasn't on, the code could not be read anyway (pre OBD-II vehicle).  He didn't seem  worried about it being anything serious.  The light never came back on.  We continued on with our previous plans.  The following night as we pulled into a KOA  after a long day the belt started squealing.  At least we didn't need a dealer to look at a squealing belt!  But the next day was Friday.  What were the odds of finding someone to look at it before next week?

Getting Water Pump Replaced
Mobile service – Diagnoses failing water pump

The next morning, Lynn flagged down a KOA employee and asked him for advice.  Oh, he said, there is a mobile mechanic who comes out here often, I've been really impressed with his technicians.  We called him.  He took our information and said he was trying to figure out his day and would call back.  We started breakfast.  Thirty minutes later a truck pulled up to our campsite and a guy knocked on our door.  We explained the problem to Brian.  We started the camper.  It didn't just squeal, it shrieked.  Brian quickly figured out the water pump was going out (we had replaced it once before) and removal of the belt showed the bearings were really shot.  And the belt tensioner pulley bearings were noisy.

New Water Pump
New water pump installed

Brian headed off to get the parts after calling to verify the parts store had them. After awhile he returned with the parts, the first store didn't have the correct water pump.  Getting the fan shroud off requires removal of a lot of stuff under the hood.  Once that is done, things are fairly straightforward.  Then comes reassembly, and refilling of the coolant.  And testing. When the engine was started  all the mysterious odd noises from under the hood were gone!  Whoopee!  We were off again.

So in the span of a few weeks we have dealt with a major breakdown and a long tow, and finding a mechanic on the road to fix a problem that could have stranded us somewhere.  Quite an adventure.  But the joy of having a camper is having adventures.  And having a good story to tell afterward.  But we hope our Dodge Roadtrek goes another 178,000 miles before having this kind of exciting adventure again.

Mike Wendland

Published on 2015-10-17

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.

One Response to “Observations: When Things Go Bad on the Road”

October 17, 2015at10:35 am, rhiebert said:

My comment is not to taken as blatant promotion because I’ve experienced it. Petroleum based drive train lubricants are unable to protect drive train components like synthetics. The change intervals of quality synthetic automatic transmissions are double that of petroleum products. The kind of conditions I see the RV’s in these articles would be “singing” a different tune if they had synthetics.

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