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General Discussion of preventative/corrective maintenance and other technical issues regarding your coach that are not covered in other Mechanic's Corner categories (ex. refrigerators, water heaters, and compressors).

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Old 09-20-2013
technomage99 technomage99 is offline
TECHNOMAGE
 
Join Date: Sep 2009
Location: bolton
Posts: 307
Angry A BROKEN BELT UNLEASHES **** (for awhile)

The moral of the following adventure is: Don't ignore strange sounds from your vehicle and put off repair.

Here's the story:

We had just left the campground in Eastham on cape Cod at about 8:30am for our ]return trip and were driving our SP36 "Plum Crazy" toward the Orleans rotary when the power steering quit. That was frightening (an RV with a tow car needs all the power steering it can get!). Only with extreme effort could I turn the steering wheel while the RV continued forward at about 20mph. The combined weight of the RV and the towed car probably amounted to more than 35,000 pounds. I found a spot on Old Harbor road parallel to Rt 6 (the main Cape Cod highway) about 1/4 mile from the Orleans rotary and wrestled it onto the sand.

The problem was a broken power steering belt (dangling) that took out the other belt and became mixed up with other engine belts. Not an easy fix since the Power Steering belts are at the "bottom of the belt stack". That means ALL the other belts must be removed before that can be done.

So now we sit stuck on a day that's warming up with my Saturn "toad" still attached and the A/C off. I figured that I could just call "Good Sam" club for a tow to the nearest shop qualified to do the belt change. After an hour of waiting I called them back and they said that they found a repair shop 3mi away in Orleans, but hadn't found a tow truck company that would take the tow -- they never did find a tow service and never got back to me. I talked to the shop they had "found" and the guy sounded a little too eager to work on my baby (I figured that any shop in a "tourist" area would have some way of taking his time and running up costs).

Next, I figured I could just start my diesel generator to run the roof A/C. The generator started, but the transfer switch didn't work, so no volts made it to the coach's main power panel. I had to leave all the flashers on for safety (lots of light bulbs sucking current from the coach batteries for the rest of the day).

Meanwhile my wife got the idea of calling AAA since we had AAA GOLD with RV. We got the same runaround about finding a tow service for a large RV. We needed a BIG tow truck with a "stinger" which would reach 9' back and engage the front axle (now we're talking "heavy truck/bus s**t"!). It turns out that the Hartford AAA is not the same service area as where we were located, so when we called and told em our location, they switched us the the Rhode Island AAA. After much back and forth neither AAA could "find" a tow service. My wife was ready to explode, so she got a "supervisor" and they said that WE would have to pay for the tow and they would "reimburse" us. They "found" a shop who had a tow service that said that they could fix it "right away". The shop charge I knew I was on the hook for. The shop they found was BIG WHEEL in New Bedford (about 75 mi away). With a name like that how can you go wrong? I talked to the owner Bob and he said that he and his guys were familiar with a CAT engine of that vintage. To make things quicker, I gave him all the Gates part numbers for the belts, so that he could obtain them while waiting for RV Plum Crazy to arrive ( he did get all the belts by the end of the day from four different vendors). He called Cape Cod Tow to retrieve Plum Crazy. Bob said that his shop charge was $95/hr (reasonable compared to Ct. auto repair shops in my area) and he figured 4 hours work. As I mentioned before, AAA said that the cost would be $4.25/mi "round trip" for the tow truck (that came to 150mi total). There would be additional charges for hookup, hours spent hooking up etc. etc.

When the BIG tow truck arrived it was about 1pm and HOT. A fellow by the name of Dean was the tow truck driver. He immediately went to work trying to get the "stinger" extended way underneath Plum Crazy w/o hitting the generator mount nor its exhaust pipe hanging underneath.

Dean ran into a "whole bunch" of problems. First of which was that the bus wasn't level. Dean "engineered" his way around that in an hour or so and got the front hooked up to the stinger (a lot of precision adjustment). Next he had to run a compressed air hose all the way from his tow truck air system to a valve in the back of Plum Crazy (that's to supply 115psi air to release the air brakes and pressurize the 8 air springs -- typical on heavy trucks and buses) . It took some fiddling around, but between the two of us we got it operational.
He also had to strap on an external warning signal assembly to Plum Crazy's rear and run its long cable back to his truck.

The last thing was to drop the drive shaft so that the transmission wouldn't be damaged by
towing . Dean refused to crawl under to do that. I suspect that that is an awful job if you have frozen bolts etc. and if the air springs deflate for some reason, you are a "flat" tow truck driver. Dean had another way (which I'd never heard of). That was to "pull the axle". Sounds simple, but that is not so in this particular case. The axle flange is covered by a decorative stainless steel cover that covers that ugly flange. This is held in place by five of the ten 33mm lug nuts that secure the dual rear wheel rims to the brake drum. Dean attempted to remove the five nuts so that he could access the axle, but he couldn't get all of the nuts off with his 1/2" drive battery powered impact wrench nor with a 1/2" drive muscle powered "breaker bar". After some time he was bushed and the remaining nuts were holding fast so he had to call one of his guys to bring out a service truck with a compressor and the heavy duty air wrench. That took maybe an hour since that fellow had to drive from Hyannis.

If you think at this point we were home free and ready to tow, not quite, because one more battle had to be hard fought. The ten nuts that held the axle flange assembly in place came off in seconds, but pulling the axle out was hard. It turns out the each of the studs protruding through the flange of the rear end assembly had a "conical" bushing to keep the axle and flange perfectly aligned and sealed tight. The axle had probably never been pulled and these
bushings were not going to come loose without a fight. Dean had probably run into similar situations before and his answer was to "whack" the axle flange/cover with a sledge hammer. The whole idea was to vibrate those bushings enough so that they could be pulled out with pliers. He ended up whaling away with a large long handled sledge maybe 150 whacks. I got tired just watching him do it. Eventually all the offending bushings were pulled and I
put them in a bag for safe keeping inside Plum Crazy.

As all this was going on, dark clouds were starting to come our way from the West. The remaining two operations to be done were to pull the axle and put a temporary cover over the opening because 80 weight "dinosaur oil" was starting to run out. Dean and his assistant put the oily axle in a trash bag. He next put a cover over the open end (he had an assortment of them on his big truck) and bolted it in place.

At this point the rain was starting. Dean started towing by driving up the street about 100yds and executed a multipoint back and turn around using the Orleans municipal building's driveway (that blocked traffic for about 5 minutes) so that he could drive up to the Orleans rotory and thence onto route 6 heading off the Cape. That long section of route 6 is divided highway one lane each way so it was a long slow "caravan" of cars the whole way til the road became two lanes each way.
The rain was coming down in buckets equivalent to having my windshield sprayed by a fire-hose. This went on for miles along with intense lightning and thunder. The drainage on Rt 6 was not up to the job so the safest place to be was close to the center of the road to get some traction and tight behind Plum Crazy. At 35MPH the whole tow truck and RV combination was throwing up walls of water either side and temporarily making a drier path immediately behind on the road
which is where I stayed for most of the journey on Rt 6. Some "type A" drivers attempted to pass Dean and his tow and found out that was dangerous because the water was deep on the left side of the passing lane that their left wheels would catch deep puddles and that would just about throw them off the highway. Potential "passers" had to give up until we got to a better drained part of the highway. Dean kept his left tires precisely on the dividing line to minimize the effect of standing water on the right side of his truck. (Big heavy trucks with deep grooved tires don't "hydroplane" while light cars do).

What would have been an hour drive to New Bedford was more like 1-1/2+ hours due to terrible driving conditions. I gotta say that Dean was an experienced careful driver. We reached Big Wheel about 6:45pm and Bob the owner was still there waiting for us. He had bought all of the belts that I'd given him the part numbers for at four different places. Because it had taken so long to get the tow set and the slow driving, he'd sent his crew home for the night so repairs would have to wait for morning. I was thinking of living in the RV for the evening, but since the generator wouldn't start by this time (the coach batteries were pretty flat by now) we decided to drive home in the Saturn. Before leaving I asked Bob if he could run an extension cord out to the RV and connect to the battery charger. That didn't work because the charger needed too much current to start and kept popping his shop's circuit breaker (flat batteries will do that). We drove home with dog Ollie (a Lab) and got home around 10:30 and we were burned out.

The next day I got the bright idea of asking Bob to connect his cord to the refrigerator's power cord accessible from an outside access panel which he did. That avoided food spoilage until we got the RV going and back on the road Thursday.

Early Wednesday afternoon Bob called to let me know that all the work was done and give me the total bill of $1,735.43 (choke!). That wasn't the worst part since he didn't take credit cards -- only debit, certified checks, and cash which neither he nor triple A mentioned. The AAA "supervisor" said that they would reimburse us for the tow. Since I was home, I had to "scruffle" around to gather up the certified checks. The tow charge alone was $1,077.50!

First thing Thursday morning we drove up (with Ollie) to Bob's shop to pick up Plum Crazy. Bob had it all set to go and parked it in a spot where we could hook up the Saturn toad. Bob had topped off the rear end "dinosaur oil" and put the wheel cover back on (the differential and axle use FIVE gallons of 80W dinosaur oil!). After alot of checking, double checking and triple checking we drove off for a pleasant afternoon drive home. The engine ammeter started out reading 100amps! and slowly dropped to about 40amps by the end of the journey. Those deep cycle marine batteries were really flat! I did bring two brand new spare deep cycle batteries with me just in case. I may just use those old batteries for some less essential power around the house -- they are getting old.

So far I cannot fault Bob for anything other than springing the cash, certified check, and debit card business on me late in the game. I could have spent Wednesday morning doing my $$$ roundup instead of in the afternoon. The Big Wheel shop charges were within reason and probably cheaper than most shops in Connecticut. Dean the tow truck driver/owner earned every penny and was really careful with our "big baby". Those gleaming big tow trucks cost $300,000 on up so that investment has to be paid back and setting a tow properly can be "brutal" work.

The generator's failure to kick in the transfer switch really bugged me. At about 3am Wed. morning I had a Eureka moment (couldn't sleep with a problem like that bugging me). There is a 50amp double pole 240VAC circuit breaker box on the front wall of the left storage compartment behind the left front wheel. That breaker is the generator's overload protection and it feeds the automatic transfer switch which in turn feeds the main 120/240 circuit breaker panel. I guessed that the lawn chairs that we stored in that compartment might have snagged the breaker's toggle
switch on the front of that box while being loaded or unloaded. When I got to Big Wheel and the first thing I checked was that breaker and sure enough its toggle was flipped to the off position (that is going to get some protection henceforth!). Before we left I tested the generator and after 20 seconds of running the transfer switch dutifully switched to the generator and the front roof A/C came on -- a good thing.

POSTMORTEM, LESSONS LEARNED, POSSIBLE IMPROVEMENTS

Now the fun of dealing with Good Sam Club and AAA begins. We intend to become a "burr under their saddles" if they renege on paying the tow charges. The shop charge is not the problem.

I am going to have Ron the mechanic over to re-tighten the belts (you are supposed to after 100miles or so).

I am going to investigate various ways of getting "lots of money" fast for an emergency (stuff happens). Plum Crazy has a hidden "vault" bolted to the frame -- that's good for a starter.

The generator's 50A breaker will get a protective cover for the toggle and maybe some "pilot lights" (its dark in there).

I'm going to investigate buying a 3/4" drive "torque force multiplier" ratchet wrench rated for 1000 foot pounds torque or more. If one will fit into the rear wheel rim that will be a good thing.

I already have a 3/4" drive air impact wrench and "impact" sockets and extensions. I need at least 90lbs of air pressure at a fairly high volume to run that impact wrench. I don't know if I can find a safe place in the RV air system to attach such a wrench though there is a quick disconnect fed by the chassis air system, but it is only 1/4"OD plastic tubing (don't think that will supply the volume -- an easy experiment). I'll talk to Ron about that.

I'm also going to investigate getting a quality belt tension tool.

The engine powered cab A/C which pooped out last year ran perfectly this year after Ron found a leaky Schrader valve and we recharged the system -- it blows cold.

Five florescent lamp fixtures have been rebuilt with LED "warm white" strips and they all run perfectly at much lower current. Anyone could make a workable light fixture using LED strips with a little ingenuity for very little money.

How this adventure began:
For quite some time I've had a belt on the engine of my RV which did sporadic screeching over the last 4 years. It sounded like one of two belts driving the power steering hydraulic pump. They are pretty hard to get at since the engine is in the rear and "buried pretty far in and those belts are at the "bottom" of the belt stack which means every other belt must be removed before they can be attended to. That's MY dopey excuse for putting off getting serious with
the offending belts. They were made by a reputable manufacturer (Gates), and according the the gent at Fleet Pride truck parts shop, where I bought them, Gates no longer made belts in matched sets because their manufacturing precision was such that they didn't have to. According to my mechanic Ron, he found that one of the pair had slack while the other was
pretty tight and he was afraid to tighten it any more for fear of damaging the power steering pump bearings. I didn't have time for him to do a replacement ( a lot of wrench work). And that is how all this started!
Sometimes you just gotta learn the hard way!

The only reason I'm writing this is to remind myself of some of the errors in judgement I made (not counting forgetfulness) and some of the above may serve as a useful example for others AND some of this will be included on the AAA tow reimbursement form.
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  #2  
Old 09-20-2013
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White Hat Guy White Hat Guy is offline
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Cal

Check into CoachNet, they are experienced with big rigs. And, I think better service/coverage.
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  #3  
Old 09-20-2013
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Cal.... Sorry you weren't able to access any of us that live on Cape Cod......there is a truck shop close to that rotary... I have had work done there.... They are not my favorite but they could have done your belts! Sorry it all got so complicated for you and hope that all is well now!!
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Old 09-20-2013
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ironmike ironmike is offline
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I am going to think about switching from Good Sam to CoachNet after reading your description of their "help".
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Old 09-20-2013
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Mike Hohnstein Mike Hohnstein is offline
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I must be pretty crazy driving my FC 'armstrong' from Sundance SD to Rockford IL a couple years ago.....when the PS pump pulley fell off. That would have been a real expensive tow.
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Old 09-20-2013
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thats some rotten luck...hope you got smooth sailing from here on....mike
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Old 09-20-2013
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Turbokitty Turbokitty is offline
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You really can't beat an ACCU-LINK belt for just in case... As many of ya'll do, I carry 2 complete sets of spare belts plus an ACCU-LINK belt. It can be installed along side the road to drive the water pump in order to get you to a safe local or service facility. What a shame to have to go through pulling axles etc. just for a broken belt

http://www.harborfreight.com/vibrati...elt-43771.html
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Last edited by Turbokitty; 09-20-2013 at 10:46 PM.
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Old 09-20-2013
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I have Good Sam and had an experience with them about getting a service truck to take care of my two inside drive tires, which were both flat and off the rim. Partially my fault, because Equal got into the valve stem and let the air out when I checked them. I didn't hear the hissing sound because I'm very hard of hearing those types of noises especially. I haven't heard a bird or cricket in years. Anyway, I went around and around with the gal on the telephone because she insisted that I needed to buy new tires. I told her no, and that it was only a valve stem issue. She couldn't get it through her thick skull. She finally said that I had to find my own service truck and submit it for reimbursement. I said fine, give me the numbers of the places to call. She did. I got them out they re-seated the tires, aired me up and I was off. Total charge of $230. I submitted the reimbursement request along with a letter of explanation of the issues. The customer service guy called me to apologize and said that he listened to the recording of the conversation and understood my frustration and that payment would be to me within a few days. I got the check for the full amount in less than a week.

Point is this. Good Sam, CoachNet, AAA all hire people and train them, but some just aren't trainable, if you know what I mean. I'm sure the pay for that kind of job isn't the best and they just hope the phone person doesn't screw things up too bad. Having dealt with so many of those types of people for so long, I have almost gotten over being pissed. Not quite, but I'm getting better. I keep telling myself, I will call or write to someone with authority and get it taken care of. That so far has been working. It is too bad we have to go to those extremes and extra steps, but it seems to be SOP (standard operating procedure) these days.

Glad you got her fixed and got what seems for the most part competent people to work on her.
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  #9  
Old 09-20-2013
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Belts on the side of the road are a pain in the back. With a little practice you could have changed these belts before the wrecker got there. Anytime you hear the belts squeal heat is being generated because the belt is slipping. Good belt tension gauges are available from NAPA. I carry one after the deal with my belts last year.
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Old 09-21-2013
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Default LEDs are a good thing

Quote:
Originally Posted by technomage99 View Post
..... I had to leave all the flashers on for safety (lots of light bulbs sucking current from the coach batteries for the rest of the day).

.....
Five florescent lamp fixtures have been rebuilt with LED "warm white" strips and they all run perfectly at much lower current. Anyone could make a workable light fixture using LED strips with a little ingenuity for very little money.....
This recommendation doesn't jibe with the cause of the low batteries in the post (although helpful in and of itself). So with this in mind:

As someone who has replaced all except the taillights and front blinkers on our SOB (unique dimensions - I'm still looking) I can wholeheartedly suggest finding a suitable LED bolt on replacement for every clearance, side and other external light including bay lights and porch lights that is possible on a coach. Not only will the color be brighter, but usually LED's are more vivid making you more visible. I did around twenty on our Safari and the cost was a little over $6 a piece using some from TruckLite. Even took a yellow Peterbilt led and put it above the entry steps in place of the tiny pathetic white license plate light there. 20 times more light, and doesn't attract bugs when just the screen door is closed. Exterior Porch light is also yellow. 20 clearance lights at 12 watts or so apiece (conservatively speaking) is no joke. Cutting 2/3 of that power draw by going to LEDs is a good thing. The brake and turn signals are easily 15-20 watts each. There's another 8. Conversion will also make your light switch last longer and if you can get your brake and turn signals done it should make your turn signal last longer too as less power is running through it. You will need to replace the flasher replay with one made for LEDs (it'll blink too fast otherwise) but thats a minor thing.

Just my experience/thought on this.
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