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SP (Single Axle Pusher Unique Issues) If you have a unique issue with your SP model coach and it can't be answered in one of the other forums here, then this is where you can list it....List your SP parts here too.

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Old 01-29-2012
Jim Magowan Jim Magowan is offline
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Join Date: Jan 2008
Location: Anchorage
Posts: 114
Default If I were a rich man

If I were a rich man the SP wouldn't have broken us in less than 10 years. Unfortunately I am not and it has.

When we bought the Bird in April '02 it had what the owner called a 'new' engine because he had burned up the old one when a radiator hose failed. Turned out the 'new' engine was a short block reman sort of installed by Ringhaver in Naples FL. Among other issues, it layed down more smoke than a WWII destroyer. After a battle with CAT they agreed to replace it and I paid extra thousands to get a long block replacement because I wanted to get as much of what Ringhaver did out of the coach as possible.

Just to list a few items to show the quality of Ringhaver work; the clamp for the turbo intake was lying loose on top of the block so air was bypassing the air filter (can you spell 'dusted' engine)? One engine mount was missing and the other was so loose the bolt had reamed out the frame so it had to be built up to reinstall the mount. (I shudder to think of the engine tearing loose on the winding Glenn Highway above the Matanuska River). Ringhaver claimed they did not remove the mounts. NC here in Anchorage did the replacement. They said the engine could not be removed without removing the mounts so how did Ringhaver do the replacement without removing the mounts? The mount that remained also had a replacement bolt, not what was originally used. There was a lot more including damage to the alternator because the 'mechanic' (to abuse a term) tried to jump start the coach when he was unable to start it because the A/T was on.

After the new engine was installed the smoke was greatly reduced and it stopped burning oil.

Since then we have been trying to get the cabin hydronic heat to work. We even installed a Webasto which worked great unless the ignition is turned on or the engine is running, in which case the water would not circulate and the heaters blew cold air (great at 30 below).

I finally discovered that the take-off for the hot water heat exchanger was in front of the frame mounted circulation pump instead of after the pump as it should have been, according the the Blue Bird diagram. So a genius at the factory didn't' think he should follow the plans when the system was installed and the result was a 'short circuit' allowing the coolant to return to the engine without going through the heater cores.

I had the system re-plumbed and it now produces some heat even when the engine is running. My jubilation was tempered by the fact that it seemed to me that it should produce more heat than it did.

We have never been able to bleed the system and get the air out of it. We have spent, literally, weeks trying to get the air out and no matter what we did as soon as we tried to drive the coach the air blew at least three or four gallons of coolant out.

Finally, back at the shop when they couldn't get the air out either, they got serious about checking for air leaks from a cracked head or bad head gasket. Sure enough,the diagnosis is that we have one or the other (or both) and they can probably fix it for about $20,000 (silly me, I thought $17,000 to overhaul the tranny when it failed was a lot).

Looking back it appears that the factory reman from CAT came with a bad head(s) or head gasket(s).

Our plans to get out this winter and do a lot of photography and writing have been shelved. We have a 20 ton anchor sitting in our driveway because we haven't got 20 grand more to put into this thing; it has already devoured most of our retirement.

One thing is for sure after my experience with the quality of CAT products and support, I would never own another CAT product.

We used to say that the way to make a small fortune in aviation was to start with a large fortune. At this point it looks to us like Blue Bird goes aviation one better; it doesn't leave you with any fortune at all.

in addition to the money, what really hurts is that the Blue Bird would be great if the systems had been better designed. I love driving it and we love camping in it, even with a few things always not working, but unless we can come up with a way to get the engine problem fixed that we can afford we wont be doing much Blue Birding. (My friend Gregg, a great mechanic had one comment every time we worked on something on the Blue Bird (which was all the time); Why did they (Blue Bird) do that?
Jim Magowan
90 36 SP
Anchorage AK
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Old 01-29-2012
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GreenBird GreenBird is offline
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Join Date: Oct 2010
Location: Trufant (stump fence capital)
Posts: 1,122

That really stinks but I'm glad you shared it. Reinforces why I'm scared to death of anything that's not original. Sounds like my worst nightmare when we bought our Bird.

Hope something good comes out of this for you.
Leonard Campbell
Trufant, MI
1986 PT40
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Old 01-29-2012
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Rick Rick is offline
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Join Date: May 2009
Location: Bellefonte
Posts: 13,226

Part of the expense could be where you have decided to live. I'am sure you read my post about our ZF transmission. Prescision Transmission did R&R and went through ours for 54XX. Not cheap but not 17000 bucks. The engine in our FC was a Rebuilt long block. Never had a problem other than a failed fuel pump seal. Perhaps the snake has bitten.
Rick Shawver
1SG Ret
2000 LX
Vise Grips
Bellefonte, AR
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Old 01-29-2012
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Randy Dupree Randy Dupree is offline
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Join Date: Dec 2007
Location: Port St Joe,Fl
Posts: 36,216

Sad story for sure.
If your Bird was a classic example of all birds none of us would have one (anymore).
email me at randy@randydupree.com only.

Randy Dupree
2000 LXI 43
Port St Joe Fl.

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Old 01-29-2012
Jim Magowan Jim Magowan is offline
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Join Date: Jan 2008
Location: Anchorage
Posts: 114

Where we live is definitely part of the problem. The transmission had to be sent to Seattle. there was also the fact that it totally failed. For example, one part, the 'basket' usually doesn't have to be replaced, but ours did. An extra thousand dollars. I suspect the failure was triggered when the engine was burned up.

As far as the engines are concerned, the original one was destroyed when the radiator hose blew and the temperature rise was not noticed. Pilot error??

The bad long block I attribute to the fact that 3208's were built as throw away engines (dealer's words) and rebuilds tend to be problematic. I got a bad one and in a motorhome they aren't driven enough to catch some problems during the warranty period. There is also the matter of 'factory trained technicians.' When they replaced the engine here in Anchorage the factory trained technicians couldn't even get the belts properly tightened. I finally found a mechanic who said that on a 3208 if you tightened them as tight as you could they were almost tight enough.

The incorrect plumbing of the heat system was a factory problem. And of course, there were the 'factory trained technicians at the factory. In 2004 after RIV they worked on the heating system at Ft. Valley. After 3 days they said it was fixed. When we left on a cool rainy day we found we had no heat. All they accomplished was to replace the fans on the cockpit heaters so they sounded like a 747 taking off and blew cold air. I called and spoke to the service manager. He apologized and said he would refund the $900 they had charged me for the heater work and also for checking a voltage problem.

When I drove at night the voltage kept rising and falling and they said it was probably the regulator. They were unable to duplicate the problem.

Blue Bird changed service managers and had no record of the refund I was supposed to get and refused to even discuss it.

We stopped at Buddy Gregg in Texas and they fixed one problem with the heat, the thermostat was cycling on and off and only stayed on for 5 seconds at a time. That cost $1,300+.

When we left Texas the alternator failed so we ran the generator until we got to Seattle and had it replaced at NC. The problem that Blue Bird could not identify was a generator that was putting out 12.4 volts and intermittently dropping to 10 or eleven so the lights dimmed. At the time I did not know what the voltages should be so when I saw 12.4 on a 12 volt system I thought it was working O.K. I sure know better now.

If you live in an area where you don't have to run the heater fans and you don't run the headlights all the time the original SP system (alternator and converter) were still inadequate. The idea was that the converters would keep the batteries at 12.6 volts and they would be fully charges by the alternator when the coach was driven. After going thru a lot of batteries including a pair of Rolls L16's I figured out what was going on (the batteries were never fully charged because even driving we never had more than 12.5 volts going to the batteries because of the draw from all the heaters, etc. Cured that problem with a Xantrex inverter 3 stage charger (and $2500).

We have literally had this coach in shops from Florida to Alaska and rarely have they been able to find and repair a problem until I figure out what it is and tell them.

The coaches themselves, at least until 96, were built like tanks. I love that. The systems and the engineering behind them leave a lot to be desired. It's like having a Rolls Royce built by shade tree mechanics.

For example: in 2004 when we were in the Bird's nest after RIV I had a chat with a guy who installed the roofs on the coaches. He mentioned that the problems with the M380 were because the coach was never prototyped. they designed it and started producing it without testing. He said they learned a lot and were prototyping the 450.

He described his experience installing roofs. The metal roofs had to be stretched when they were put on. This was done, by hand, with a come-along. They had a lot of send backs from the assembly line because the roofs leaked. This guy was pretty sharp. He investigated and saw that the leaks were because the holes for the rivets were too large.

He asked the guy who trained him how they determined what size to drill the holes. He was told that the guy who trained him was told what size to drill and he passed that size on. The guy I spoke to, on his own, found self-sealing rivets and he determined the correct size hole to drill. He virtually eliminated returns from the assembly line due to roof leaks. He got no recognition for doing so.

The 3208 O.K. as long as you don't have problems with it. In an RV that doesn't spend a lot of time in a tough environment , a good one properly installed is fine, although I think the SP is underpowered. My neighbor has a 2000 Tradewinds with a 300 horse CAT (the six, not the 3208) and he loves it. He is also 10 or 15,000 pounds lighter than the SP.

I would guess that your transmission was not as fried as mine. Mine needed a lot of parts and ZF parts are expensive. The retarder stopped working a couple of years ago (after the rebuild). We found there was no current going to the solenoid. This is apparently a problem with the controller. I called the shop in Seattle and they told me a controller was $1200. This gave me two problems, I couldn't find the controller (and haven't to this day) and $1200. I asked why I couldn't just run 12 v. from the inverter switch to the solenoid and was told that if the solenoid power was the only problem that was a good solution and about $1200 cheaper so that is what we did.

One of the things that Blue Bird did right on the SP is the domestic water supply. We were stuck in Destruction Bay on Kluane Lake for a day and a half, at 30 below. As long as the Webasto was kept running (it is in the bay with the water pump) the water system does not freeze up. For us this is wonderful.

One thing I don't like is that with all the relays, timers etc on our coach, unless you physically disconnect the batteries there is so much parasitic draw they go dead in 7 to 10 hours (depending on the temperature) unless the coach is plugged in or the generator is running, when you are not driving.

It is true, where we live affect the cost and availability of service, however this coach has have expensive and ineffective service clear across the country. Until now we have been year round campers, in Alaska, so the coach does not sit in a park with a hook up all summer followed by a winter of non-use. We actually put a lot more hours on the generator than on the engine (I wish the engine was a Kubota). In the almost 10 years we have owner the SP it has probably been in a park with hookups about 15 times including the RIV's and Bird's nest.
Jim Magowan
90 36 SP
Anchorage AK
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Old 01-29-2012
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moonbeam express moonbeam express is offline
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Join Date: Jan 2011
Location: spring hill
Posts: 816


It's sad to read a story like yours. It sounds like one bad domino started the catastrophic chain of events. If not for that, perhaps you would still be among the satisfied owners here.

With your experiences, what would you have done different to lessen the risk? Assuming you were still compelled to take the plunge to buy a RV.

Corey Noble
Spring Hill, FL.
2000 43 LXI Millennium Edition
“I haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on my list.”

Last edited by moonbeam express; 01-30-2012 at 12:17 AM.
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Old 01-29-2012
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w4swk w4swk is offline
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Join Date: May 2011
Location: Anywhere, USA
Posts: 243

Wow Jim! Sounds like you have had some problems! Seems odd that you wait 10 years to vent, though. Maybe I'm a little too sensitive, but you seem to be lumping ALL SP's together.

I own an SP and I absolutely love it. Sharlene and I have been in 10 states with it since November and every mile has been flawless. We still have all the oil in the engine that we left with! My engine is quiet and smooth and the ZF shifts like glass. I trust our bus and would not hesitate to drive it anywhere. All systems work well (OK, the Primus is shaky but thats accepted).

Your understanding of the 3208 is completely opposite of what I hear. I too have friends that are diesel mechanics and they all tell me of how great the Cat engine is.

When we purchased our Bird, we knew full well that maintenance would be at a different level than our last motorhome. We knew that we would have to do our own maintenance or have to pay dearly for someone else to do it. In other words, one can't have champagne on a beer budget.

The only issue we have with our SP is that we just feel it is too small for "our" full timing needs. Other folks do it in SP's but we just have too much stuff! We will be selling our Bird very soon and whoever buys it will get a great coach.
Ken and Sharlene Stapleton
Lake Dallas, Texas
1990 SP36 (Former owners)
"The Great Escape"
1941 Taylorcraft BC12-65

-.-. --- -- -- ..- -. .. ... -- works only in .... . .- ...- . -. where they don't need it, and in .... . .-.. .-.. where they've already got it.
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Old 01-29-2012
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Lance Lance is offline
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Join Date: May 2011
Location: New Caney
Posts: 140

I sounds like a very small compression leak on 1 head gasket. There is a product out there that works on head gasket leaks and it is a permament repair. I have used it, and watched it work on vehicles that had water running out of the tail pipe and running on 5 out of 8 cylinders. It is called steel seal. It is a clear liquid that will not plug heater cores or other bad side effects like most block sealers. Most Block sealers are temporary repairs anyways. I have several customers still driving vehicles I have used this product on 2 years later.
It has a money back warranty, but you will have to call them as I'm not sure how much you will need to do a SP. Probably would be best to bypass the whole heater loop until it seals up, just to cut down on the amount of product needed'
I am a mechanic and Io not believe in many "man in a can" treatments but I have seen this work time and time again, on vehicles that i would have bet my bottom dollar that it would not fix it. It works plus it has a money back warranty, so not much of a gamble at this point in time...
Lance Clawges
New Caney, Tx.
89 BB FC 40
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Old 01-29-2012
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RGloverii RGloverii is offline
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Join Date: Jan 2008
Location: Linden, MI
Posts: 1,556



I'm really sorry to hear about your long troubling saga.

While I've only owned my coach for 4 years now, my experience thus far has been exceptional, especially considering the coach's age.

I had a steer tire blow out, but that was probably my fault. It was only months after buying the coach, and I neglected to check the dates on the tires. (duh!)

The only major thing on my coach to fail so far was when a belt broke and snapped into the radiator, causing a small hole. In the scheme of things, that belt snapping was probably a good thing, because if it hadn't impacted my radiator, I probably would have not noticed that the radiator was rotting out.

While I agree that some of BB's engineering was crude, I can't get past the fact that a 21 year old coach is still quite happily wandering wherever I take her. And she doesn't ever complain. I doubt many SOB owners could say the same.

Unfortunately, I think the experiences you have had with your coach are the extreme. Not the norm.
Robert Glover, II
91 SP36
Linden, Michigan
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Old 01-30-2012
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Hank Hannigan Hank Hannigan is offline
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Join Date: Aug 2007
Location: Drouin
Posts: 109

I just tuned in for a bit of relaxing read from Australia and I read your bit first.........this probably means I can't use you as a reference as I am trying to sell my 90SP36. Sorry to hear you had all those problems.
I have always liked my coach, in fact most of my SP buddies are very happy with their SP's. All BIRDS have their "issues" but your bird really choked. One thing I have found in common with the three birds I have owned (77fc33,80FC31 and 90SP36) is that most fixes are usually simple. I have always look for the easiest, most simple fix first before jumping off the deep end. Ask Ralph F., he will probably agree with me. Maybe your bird was a FRIDAY LEMON from the factory as you mentioned front end reroute factory problems etc. Maybe the "trained" guys were off that week and left the future M380 guys in charge! Sorry, I should not have mentioned M380..I don't want to start something.
Anyway hope NOBODY reads your comments..har har....
.....It is hot as **** here in Victoria, Australia...and by the way, I became an Australian citizen on 26 January; Australia Day! Now a Yank/Aussie owns a BEAUTIFUL 90SP36! Take care all.
90SP36 4 sale
Henry Hannigan
Drouin, Victoria, Australia
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