We left early that morning. Like 4am early.
The plan was to drive 10 hours. We had to cover the distance from Yosemite National Park to our next stop in Crescent City. If you’re unfamiliar with the area, that’s a 547 mile trip to the Pacific Coast.
Yes, I know. A very ambitious distance but what the heck?
We are The Roving Foleys- intrepid explorers!!
We don’t need no stinkin’ short trips!
And so the story begins.
Our plans were solid.
We were headed West toward Merced where we could pick up Highway 99 north through the Central Valley. Then we’d cut across to San Francisco to meet friends for lunch.
After filling our bellies, then we were back in the truck to take 101 north to Crescent City.
Like I said. Solid. Planning.
We got on HWY 99 and I decided to pass a semi. Suddenly, the truck made a HUGE book at 65 mph and immediately lost nearly all power.
Of course, I was in the left lane. With a semi beside me.
Left with no choice, I pulled off on the left shoulder. Luckily, it was a decent-sized shoulder and I got completely off the highway. The truck sounded terrible. And my keen automotive-guy senses (not) had me convinced I had either blown my transmission or sucked up a low flying duck and passed Duck McNuggets through the tailpipe.
LESSON 1: Don’t be in a rush.
I very rarely go over 60mph while towing.
What was I thinking here?
I could have slowed down a whole one mile per hour and stayed behind that truck.
But remember, I was trying to travel 547 miles in a day… with a stop in San Francisco to meet friends for lunch.
But I’ve learned my lesson. Slow down- enjoy getting there.
A quick inspection under the hood revealed no duck.
However, there was a BIG pipey thing that came up the side of the engine and connected into the doo-hickey on top (keen automotive-guy lingo).
Only it was not connected- it had come off.
I figured this had to be some kind of air intake tube, so if I could jerry-rig it and get off the highway, I’d be good. I’d head to the auto parts store, get a replacement part and a proper hose clamp and bada-bing bada-boom.
We’d be back in business.
So I shoved the connection back together, got some duct tape and zip-ties out and went to work repairing the connection.
As I was finishing up, a friendly California Highway Patrol officer stopped.
I explained what happened and asked if he would be so kind as to clear the insane-light-speed traffic so we could cross and exit the highway. He, of course obliged.
The truck sounded normal again and we had power again to pick up speed… for about 10 seconds.
As you guessed, the pipe blew again and we were back in low power.
Later we learned low power is known as “limp mode.” This is a protective state the truck goes into when things go wrong. It is meant to prevent things from going REALLY wrong. (Thanks truck!)
Lucky for us, there was an Advanced Auto Parts just off the highway.
We learned the air intake (pipey thing) for the turbo charger (doo hickey) had disconnected.
Good news right? Buy a new one and put it on right?
Not so fast.
This turned out to be a high pressure hose that was factory installed and could only be repaired at a dealership. AAArrrgg!
LESSON 2: The guys and gals at ANY major auto parts chain are usually fantastic.
Be nice, and clueless, and they will almost always go out of their way to help you. Bonus: they also have that super cool handheld computer to tell you what is wrong when you have funny lights showing up on your dashboard.
The auto parts team called around and found a dealership a couple of hours down the road that had the part in stock.
So I put a hose clamp on the pipe and headed out. Once again the repair did not hold for long and we fell into limp mode. It is safe to drive in limp mode, but with the rig in tow, we could only get about 35mph- slower on hills.
But what the heck, we are The Roving Foleys- intrepid nomads. We don’t need no stinkin’ turbo charger…do we?
Now, I can’t say enough about the California drivers- such a welcoming group.
So many honked their horns and gave us a one-finger show of support and understanding of our situation. Really made us feel like “number one.” Of course, as a neighborly visitor I returned their salutes in kind.
Lesson 3: When it rains it pours, my friends.
So there we were, limping down the highway when Grainne says just the words I want to hear: “Hey, is that smoke?”
And wouldn’t you know? Yes it was.
Just billowing from the trailer tires on the passenger side.
Once more to the shoulder of the road we went to enjoy our first trailer tire blowout.
I will say it was lucky we were going so slow. In limp mode, we avoided the usual tire blowout rig damage that usually happens. Also luckily the blow out was on the passenger side- so I was away from traffic to change the tire.
No worries…we can handle a tire change. After all, we are The Roving Foleys- intrepid wanderers of…WHAT THE F&#K !!?
I got the rig up on it’s stabilizers on the affected side and then used the jack from my truck to lift the axle. I got to work on the lug nuts with the lug wrench that came with the RV…which broke in half!
You’ve got to be kidding me.
Another stroke of luck came when I discovered my trucks lugs were the same size as the rigs. So I used my truck’s wrench to change the tire. Unfortunately, it was a very small lug wrench. And it took a lot of blood, sweat, and tears to get the job done.
As I was changing the tire, another friendly highway patrolman stopped to see if we were ok.
And thank my lucky stars he did!
When I told him our sob story he informed me the dealership I was heading to sits in a small adjoining valley.
To get there I would need to go through a mountain pass with an elevation change of about 1000 feet- probably not possible with a wounded truck.
WHAT??!! This day was NOT going well!
LESSON 4: The police are your friend.
So once I got the tire changed, I got back on the phone. I found another dealership in Tracy, CA. They could have the part transferred for the next morning.
So off we went.
We found a small and inexpensive residents park on the south side of town and headed there.
Wow- as is the case with some resident’s RV parks, this place was kind of a dump. The sites were tiny and very close, but for one night we couldn’t be choosers.
So with the visions of broken turbo’s, blown out tires, and California drivers circling my head, I endeavored to squeeze my square peg into a very small square hole.
Naturally, this resulted in me hitting the roof of the clubhouse with my front cap.
Oh great! Now I had a scar on the rig to commemorate the day! What a perfect end to this travel day from hell!
The next day was much less eventful.
We simply spent the morning at the dealership while the truck was fixed.
Then we were on the road again. And I’m happy to report we made it to Crescent City without any more issues.
Of course, a few days later the transmission module fried, but that’s a story for another day…
While our day was terrible, there are a few things we learned.
These have now helped us in our current travels. And we hope they can help you, too.
LESSON 5: Carry tools in an accessible place.
You should always have the hand tools and tire changing equipment that you may need easily accessible when on the road. No one wants to be crawling around or unloading half the rig’s basement to get to the jack handle.
LESSON 6: Get proper tire changing equipment.
Let’s face it- the more time you spend on the side of the highway- the greater the risk of catastrophe. Have the right tools to get the job done quickly:
- Floor Jack: Get a floor jack that is strong enough to lift half of your truck. That way you are covered for pretty much any lifting job you will need.
- 4 Way Lug Wrench: This wrench will give you the torque you need to change tires quickly and correctly.
- Impact Wrench: For even quicker changes, get a cordless impact wrench. Then you can feel like the pit crew at Daytona while you fix your flat. I bought a light weight one that works with my drill batteries. I do the lug cracking and tightening with my 4 way wrench and the speed stuff with the impact driver.
- Safety Cones or Triangles: Make sure you can be seen well by passing traffic.
LESSON 7: Lift your rig the right way.
When you do have to change a tire on your rig, make use of the RV’s own stabilizers. Lift the affected side of the rig so that the weight is off the axles- and then just use your jack to lift the tire. This allows more work room and a much more stable rig while semi trucks are barreling by at 70mph.
LESSON 8: Be religious about your tires.
Always remember to check your tire pressure and torque your lug nuts before every trip. Also perform a tire inspection looking for any signs of wear- bulged, split treads, separation etc. It only takes a few minutes and can save tons of hassles on the road.
LESSON 9: When things go wrong, RELAX.
OK, so your well-planned travel day is out the window. Forget about it- let it go. You need a clear head to make decisions and repairs so that your day does not get worse (that scar on my front cap did NOT need to happen!)
The moral here: Things are going to happen on the road. Slow down, be prepared, and get there in one piece- even if not in one day.
Have you ever had a day like this? We’d love to hear about it in the comments!
And for more stories like this, check out Tales From the Black Tank: A Collection of Hilariously Crappy Stories.