OK, so I haven’t posted in a while because life has been…um…eventful.
Had another business trip to Seattle (someone was shot on the street just down from my hotel while I was there). After I got back from that, we packed up the camper and dogs, hooked up to the truck and headed out to The Estate.
So, we got there fine, but it had been raining for most of the week, so it was too wet and muddy to try to get the camper up there, so we found a KOA RV park to camp out in. The camper worked out great. Enough room for us to do our thing. Everything except the water heater worked as advertised, and I think the water heater was user error. What was happening is that the water heater was coming on OK, but the hot water was intermittent and coming out of whatever faucet it felt like, hot or cold. The only water that was consistently hot was the flush water for the toilet. We just shut it off and used the stove to heat water. Come to find out, there are bypass valves that basically connect both sides of the water heater to the entire plumbing system…this is for winterization to ensure that everything is equally winterized.
I didn’t know about that so I didn’t close those valves. I’m pretty sure that’s what the problem is. Anyway, everything else worked well. On the property, not so much. As I mentioned the ground was very wet and it continued to rain through the weekend. I didn’t want to take a chance so I decided to cancel my tractor rental that I’d reserved. I’ll do that at a later date. I did get a little more clearing done and I got the power company out there to take a look.
They said that the supply lines, transformer, pole, meter, etc all looked good. All I need to do is get wired up everything I need to get wired up, get it inspected and they can turn the power on. So, slow progress is better than no progress.
So, things got interesting on the way back home. One of the dogs had not been doing so well while we were there. She’s an older dog (about 12 we think) and in hindsight we think it was just the stress of the trip, but she wasn’t eating, was spending a lot of time just laying around and her stools were very runny.
After about a half hour on the road on the way home, she started whining. I looked for a place to pull over, but before too long, the smell started. She’d messed herself, her dog bed and the blanket that was on it. We pulled into a truck rest stop and cleaned everything up as best we could. Got back on the road and as I was accelerating into traffic there was a “bang” from the engine compartment and then a familiar “thump, thump, thump” sound.
I’d blown a spark plug. If you’re not familiar, most gasoline engines these days use aluminum cylinder heads. They’re lighter than steel and dissipate heat better, but aluminum is a relatively soft metal. The spark plug threads that screw into the head are steel. What can happen is if something goes wrong, the spark plug can start “working” in the threads and, over time, will basically wear down the aluminum threads to the point that, during the combustion cycle, especially under a heavy load, the threads in the head give way and the spark plug basically is ejected from the head. The coil pack usually keeps the spark plug from flying out, but it is generally destroyed in the process as well.
This has happened to me twice before. After the second one, the mechanic told me he thought the issue was my coil packs were all old and the boots were deteriorating, which was causing arcing, which was causing the spark plugs to start “working” in the head. I replaced all the spark plugs and coil packs a few years ago and hadn’t had a problem since. I don’t know specifically what caused it this time, but it happened.
When it does happen, the solution is to ream out the spark plug hole in the head, to a slightly larger size, tap it and thread in a helicoil that’s the right size for the spark plug to screw into. It’s labor intensive and takes a couple of special tools, but not overly complicated.
Luckily we weren’t too far from an exit so we pulled off into the town and found a gas station to pull into. We found a couple of mechanics, one said he couldn’t do it at all, another said he couldn’t get to it for several days, we finally found one who said they “might” be able to get to it the next day.
I sweet talked the manager of the gas station we were parked at (which was about 2 miles from the mechanic we found) and got her to allow me to push the camper back into the corner of the lot to keep until the truck was fixed. Drove the truck down to the mechanic and dropped it off.
Now, remember we had a sick dog and we were frankly very worried about her, we wanted to get her home and to the vet so we decided to rent a car for the Wife to drive her and the dogs home and I’d stay with the truck and camper. The problem is that she doesn’t have a major credit card. The other problem was that the rental agencies we normally deal with didn’t have any one way rentals so she would have to take the dogs home, drop them off with someone, get someone else to drive her car, drive both vehicles back so that she could drop the rental back off and then drive home again in her car.
We had pretty much resigned ourselves to this plan but I had to go pick up the rental car (since I had the credit card). I took a $140 cab ride (there was no uber or lyft drivers in the area we were at) to the airport which was on the same exit as the RV park we’d been staying at and had departed from just that morning, and went to the rental car area. Out of desperation, I checked with every rental agency there and, lo and behold, at the last one I checked, they had a one way car (actually mini-van) we could rent. I quickly canceled the other reservation and booked the mini-van. Drove it the 40 minutes back to where the truck was, transferred everything hey needed from the truck to the rental car, got the dogs settled and got the Wife on the way home.
I slept in the camper and then walked back to the mechanic the next morning.
Several times during the day, if I asked how things were going, they’d give me a song and dance about how they were putting me ahead of other customers and they were so busy and they were doing me such a big favor by fixing my car. I kept reassuring them that I wasn’t trying to rush or pressure them, just trying to keep up with what’s going on.
At about 3:00, they told me the truck was finished. When I went to pay them and sign the paperwork, something interesting happened. The day before, when I was messing around with the truck in the gas station parking lot, the spark plug still seemed to be threaded into the head but was just loose. I thought it couldn’t hurt to try putting in a new plug and coil pack and giving it a shot so I walked to a nearby O’reilly’s and bought the parts. Because the head was so bunged up, I couldn’t get the new spark plug to thread in, which is the point at which I decided we weren’t going anywhere for a while.
So, when I dropped the truck off at the mechanic, I told him I had a spark plug and coil pack but he told me “we don’t use customer provided parts”. I said that it was no problem, I could return them to O’Reilly’s for a refund.
The interesting thing is, the next day when I was paying for the repair, they told me that they’d used the spark plug and coil pack from O’Reilly’s…exactly what they told me they wouldn’t do the day before. They had me sign a waiver form saying they weren’t responsible for the quality of the parts they used since I provided them. I assumed that they’d done it to get me back on the road faster and I was appreciative. Anyway, I paid them, drove the truck back down to the gas station, hooked up the camper and was on my way.
For about another hour and a half. Right outside of Salem, VA, I again heard the all too familiar “Bang” followed by “thump, thump, thump”. Again, lucky to be close to a populated area, I pulled off. At that point it was too late to find a mechanic so I put “Walmart” in my GPS and by luck there was one right at the exit I was pulling off at. I parked the truck and camper in a corner of the lot, went in and verified with the manager that it was OK for me to leave it there, and settled in for another night. I did check the engine and realized it was the same spark plug that had blown and had just been repaired.
The next morning, I took the truck to the first of three mechanics in the same general area of town. They got me right in, but within a half hour had a verdict:
The mechanic who’d done the repair yesterday had screwed it up. They drilled the spark plug hole at an angle and then couldn’t get the helicoil to go back in right. They just sealed it up with JB weld as best they could and let it go.
No, I’m convinced the reason they used the parts I provided was as an excuse to have me sign that waiver. I haven’t spoken with them yet, but my guess is they’ll try to blame it on the parts instead of their mechanic. We’ll see when we get to that point.
At any rate, they gave me quotes for replacing the head and replacing the engine, the only two options left. I decided to get a second opinion so I took the truck to one of the other nearby shops. The second place specializes in trucks. Shockingly, they got me right in too, looked it over and came to the same basic conclusion as the last guy…the prior mechanic had screwed up the repair.
The second shop, however, said that they “might” be able to fix it without replacing the head. They said they have a kit that uses thicker helicoils so they may be able to redrill the spark plug hole even bigger and straighten it out, then use the thicker helicoil for a permanent fix. Unfortunately, they were too busy and the earliest they’d be able to get to trying that was on Monday (today). Because they had another option, I decided to leave the truck with them and let them give it a shot. If they can’t get the bigger helicoil to work, we’re back to a new head (about $3k) or new engine (about $5k)…I’ll probably just go with a new engine and be done with it.
At any rate, I still had to get my camper home, so I took an Uber (they did have Uber service in Salem) to the nearest U-haul place to rent a truck that could tow the camper. They went out of their way to help me. The only one way truck that could tow the camper was already reserved, but they called that customer and transferred the reservation to a different u-haul place so I wouldn’t have to take another uber to another location. Nice people.
Anyway, I rented the U-haul, went back and loaded it up with all the tools and stuff (including a 150+ pound generator) that I had in the back of the truck to use on the property, went back to walmart and hooked up the camper and finally, finally got on my way home.
So now the camper is back in the driveway at home (Side note: backing up a camper hooked to a box truck that you can’t see behind is an adventure in and of itself), the truck is still in Salem and I’m riding the motorcycle everywhere I go for the duration.
I hope to hear back from the mechanic in Salem today so I’ll at least know whether they’re going to be able to fix it or not without replacing the engine. After I find out exactly what the repair is going to take I’m going to call the first mechanic that screwed up the job, tell them I got opinions from two different mechanics that the problem was the work, not the parts and see what they’ll do to make it right. I’m not holding my breath. I’m not sure it would even be worth a lawsuit, but I suppose if they refuse to take responsibility, it never hurts to at least get a consultation with a lawyer.
So, to put it lightly, the past couple of weeks have been eventful. And expensive.