No better way to start the new year than to reminisce about 2016 and plan a trip (or two) for 2017.
Some quick stats for 2016
Miles traveled in Abby: ~ 13,800
Time spent in Abby: ~12 weeks
Longest stretch of time in Abby: ~ 4 weeks
National Parks/Monuments visited: 18
State Parks visited: 13
BLM lands camped on: 8
Private campground: 6
Family members/friends imposed on: 6
Canadian Provinces visited: 2
States visited: 22
Home brews: 12
Home brews dumped: 1
New pieces of brewing equipment purchased: 2
Looking back 2016 was a chaotic year. We didn’t travel in California as much as we had hoped when we were living there. Our move to Colorado involved two too many visits to emergency rooms. We didn’t spend as much time in any one of many amazing locations as we would have liked. But we had a lot of fun and saw some truly amazing sights. We’ve watched Alex grow and develop an enjoyment of the outdoors.
Our 2017 RV travel schedule is complicated by the fact that Jess is now employed. The copious free time of unemployment has vanished. We also need to consider visits with family so Alex can continue to develop a close relationship with his Mimi and Papa and uncles and aunts and cousins. We also hope to change our trips slightly. Instead of the wheels are always rollin’ mentality where we average 250 miles of driving per day of a trip, we want to focus on a deeper exploration of an area.
This means we will have to stop using a shoe horn to add destinations into our itinerary that are *only* 150 miles away. We will have to leave some amazing destinations off our list, for a future trip (or when we win the lottery).
And to add to the list, we found a house that we liked and are in the final stages of the purchasing process. Remodeling fun also awaits us in 2017 (and 2018 and 2019).
Symptoms: Grinding noise while braking, brake pedal feeling like one was stepping on a wheel of baked brie.
Problem: Abby still had her original brakes and rotors. These poor pads and rotors had 86,000 or so miles on them. Several thousand of those miles had some extra abuse because we were hauling our cargo trailer. Which didn’t have brakes so Abby was responsible for stopping not only her weight, but the weight of the cargo trailer.
Solution: Have Dave replace the brakes! We were fully expecting this replacement, so we are considering this to be a maintenance activity.
When Dave got one of the rear rotors off (pictured) there was a significant crack formed and others starting to develop. All the brake pads were worn, not far from the point of the wear sensor.
Dave purchased the rotors and brake pads from Advance Auto Parts.
Degree of Difficulty:
Moderate. Front and rear brake replacement should each take approximately 3 hours. Bravery and a good jack is required because it is such a large vehicle. Caveats to the degree of difficulty are
Dave has replaced the brakes and rotors on smaller vehicles.
No unexpected challenges arise during the replacement.
Flattened cardboard box (cushions the gravel of the storage lot)
Knee pads (like floor tilers wear)
An extensive repertoire of curse words (Sailors should be jealous)
Unlike a typical Mercedes sprinter chassis, the rear brake pads and calipers are the same as the front brake pads. Winnebago wanted to make sure there was stopping power, because there is a large amount of momentum in a RV lumbering down the road. One only discovers the ‘oh, haha, you thought you had regular rear brakes’ switcheroo after the RV is up on a jack, completely apart, and nothing fits.
The rear (front!) brake rotors are a snug fit and require some persuasion when being put back on (tapping with a hammer). The hub assembly is hollow and releases a very fine rust dust that can settle into the threads of the rotor bolt holes. Blow out the bolt holes with compressed air BEFORE putting the bolts in.
If you didn’t blow out the bolt holes with compressed air and the bolt threads freeze up, brute force is required to remove the bolts. The bolt holes will need to be re-tapped, and you’ll need to stop at 4 different hardware stores to see if anyone carries a Grade 8 14mm bolt with a 1.5 thread pitch (start at Ace, and you might have to stop at only one hardware store). Mind you, it’s 3:30pm and snow is forecast for the next day.
Stop at one Advanced Auto Parts store only to be told the part is in stock at another location? Purchase said part at first location and drive to the second to pick it up, only to be told they are out of stock? They have a special area where they set aside parts to picked up. “Oh, sorry man. We found your brakes.”
Manufacturer recommends to change the oil every 10,000 miles, but Dave changes it on an as needed basis. Need is determined by how much we have traveled, the wear on Abby, and if we are towing. We put approximately ~7500 miles on Abby since her last oil change (move to California, northern California vacation, move to Colorado). The majority of these miles were done while towing our small cargo trailer; it is best to increase the frequency of all maintenance when additional stress is present.
The fuel filter should be changed every 20,000 miles (manufacturer) but there is not consensus on the Winnebago View forums. Some people change it every 10,000 miles, others 40,000 miles. We (Dave) changes it more frequently. Why? If the fuel filter fails, the injectors could get clogged and the injection system would need replacing. Might as well spend the few extra dollars to save thousands.
Follow the manufacturer’s specifications for the oil, and all other fluids with the exception of the windshield washer fluid. Don’t cheap out.
The fuel system needs to be bled of air when the filter is replaced. The filter replacement is easier done with two people. One person turns the ignition to the point where the glow plugs are turned on and the fuel system is pressurized (do not turn over the engine). The other person watches for the air to bleed out and for fuel to flow. They then holler at person one to turn the key to the ‘off’ position.
The fuel pump runs for a few seconds even after the key is off. Consider getting a fuel overflow container larger than a beer bottle. There may have been some swearing. Eau de Diesel is not sexy.
Experience level: If you can change your car’s oil, you can change the oil in the RV. The fuel filter is more difficult to do and requires bleeding the system. Increases the routine maintenance skill level to intermediate.
Symptoms: Partially downpassenger side window dropped completely down when Jess’ arm was rested on the window.
An open window in June may not be a problem, but we were camping in the Sierras and had witnessed snow flurries the night before. Having an open window would result in a rather chilly night. We were also in bear country. Top Gear may not be the most educational show, but the one thing we did learn from watching the Botswana special (go to minute 34), is when you are in an area with predators, you best animal proof your car. An open window is not animal proof. Thus it was decided we (Dave) would fix the window.
Problem: The window likely came off the track within the door.
Solution: The door paneling had to be removed to access the window. Close investigation showed that the arm of the the opening mechanism was bowed. This allowed the glass to slip off the track during a certain point of window travel and fall into the door cavity.
To straighten the arm, Dave employed a lever in order to apply sufficient force. Jess was concerned with the lever slipping and breaking the glass, so the glass was removed while Dave worked on the arm. With the arm straightened, the glass was returned to the track and the window was tested to ensure smooth motion.
The final step was putting the door back together; make sure all the tabs are lined up correctly.
The hardest parts of removing the plastic door paneling was figuring out where the two screws were hidden and which way to lift the panel to remove it without breaking the plastic tabs. This also required unplugging the electric window control so the wires could be threaded through a hole for easier removal of the panel.
The glass was not broken and the window motor was still functional. If the motor had been broken, we would have likely had to figure out a way to block the window in the up position.
Dave has restored cars before, so he was familiar with this repair. Otherwise, it may be higher on the challenge scale. Go slow and take the time to thoroughly look over the problem.
No trip would be complete with out some mechanical issues. Especially on a holiday weekend traveling the loneliest road. Fortunately, the check engine light and the flat tire were not as serious as the failed turbo resonator or transmission breaking.
Check engine light:
The check engine light came on coming into Carson City, Nevada after dropping down the Sierras. Dave used an OBDII reader to obtain the error codes associated with the check engine light.
Error codes: Cam position sensor, O2 sensor error
Fortunately, where we pulled over in Carson City was not far from the Dodge dealer. The shop manager reviewed the codes and said that the cam position sensor can ‘hiccup’ especially when traveling from high to low altitudes. This results in a cascade effect that causes the O2 sensor to error as well. He was happy to report that as long as the check engine light wasn’t flashing, we could continue to drive Abby. If we wanted peace of mind, we could have it checked out, but the soonest he could get to it would be Tuesday. As much fun as a two night minimum in Carson City sounded, we decided to push onward. We bought a Good Sam towing membership.
Total time lost: 1 hour
Repair difficulty: Easy, it was simply getting advice from a shop guy. Google indicated that replacing the sensors was not difficult and could be done in a parking lot or campsite. No auto part stores had the parts in stock. Abby is due for a thorough tune-up, including a transmission flush, at the end of this trip. We are going to pay the money and let a Dodge dealer give Abby some TLC.
Our flat tire occurred approximately 40 miles west of Austin, NV. We were losing approximately 2 lbs of pressure every mile. How did we know? Dave purchased and installed EEZTire Monitoring system that reports the pressure in each tire via RFID. Fortunately, the Edwards Creek historic marker was close by and we were able to pull over in a safe place to change the tire. As Dave changed the tire, Jess wrangled the dogs and Alex, with marginal success. The dogs had to be returned to Abby. Alex ran around with tools key for changing the tire and found every bit of dirt on the Abby and transferred it to himself. Inspection showed that the valve stem had failed. To add to the fun, the spare tire and the other dualie tire needed to have their pressures increased. Our 12V electric pump burned out; fortunately, we had a bike pump with the appropriate fitting in the trailer.
After completing the tire change, we stopped in Austin, NV to fill Abby up. Dave inquired about tire repair and was directed to Wayne, the tire guy. He provides 24/7 service for this isolated area and was able to fix the tire.
Total time lost: 2 hours
Repair difficulty: Easy. If you know how to change a tire on a car, you can change a tire on an RV. Parts are just bigger and heavier, technology and theory are the same. This is a key skill otherwise you will be waiting for several hours in the sun for assistance. And there may be no cell service.
The younger the kid, the more items you need to bring along to make life a little bit easier. That being said, traveling with Alex and Abby was easier when he was younger than 1 year compared to his 1 to 2 year old self.
Car Seat: Alex travels in Abby in his car seat. Besides being legally required and the fact Abby is essentially a giant fiberglass box, what other reasons does one really need? Alex is a curious little boy and climbs around non-stop while we are camping, he would be thrilled to be able to be up front in a prime viewing seat. Just too much chance for serious injury. Alex’s car seat provides protection.
The car seat is stored in the driver’s seat when we stop and camp. This has two benefits. First, it is out of the way. Second, it keeps Alex from climbing into the driver’s seat and flashing Abby’s high beams at the poor folks camped across from us. Alex really likes the driver’s seat because of all the buttons and knobs to with which to fiddle.
Sleeping: Alex slept in this Fisher-Price Rock-‘n-Play Sleeper up to approximately 8 months in age.We LOVED this sleeper. Folded up compact and fit in the drop down bunk above the cab and had a very small foot print. This sleeper easily fit near the sleeper sofa and the dogs had the dinette benches to sleep on. Wins all around.
Then Alex got too big and too mobile to safely use the sleeper. So we changed to the Pack ‘n Play. More room for Alex means more room needed for the Pack ‘n Play. We actually fold down the dinette and place the Pack ‘n Play on top; it takes up 2/3 of the dinette sleeping space. Now only one dog can sleep on the available bench. It is also a pain to break down the dinette nightly and put it back up in the morning. Oh, and the TV has to be unplugged because Alex and reach up and turn it on. And the light bulbs need to be taken out of the kitchen light because he can reach the switch. Minor, nerve grating points.
Our troubles with the Pack ‘n Play will soon be a thing of the past since Alex is now getting too big for that. We will be investigating new sleeping arrangements – the current top contender is Dave sleeping on the top bunk and Alex sleeping with Jess on the fold out sofa. We are looking to add a barrier to the front of the top bunk so Alex can safely sleep up there by himself. This will require Dave’s tools, which happen to be in our storage trailer, which, at this time, is still located in upstate NY.
Clothes/Diapers: Little baby, small clothes, many more items that can be packed in the same space as the larger, bulkier, toddler clothes. Same for diapers. With diapers, we have a small shelf that can fit about 32 diapers and a package of wipes next to the TV. Extra diapers are stored under the sofa. A project is in the works to make this into a more accessible storage space. Found these organizers on Amazon for storing Alex’s clothes. Purchased three. They work very well and we are pleased with them. They take up the large cabinet above the dinette bench next to the fridge. Overall, the system works well.
Toys: This was one that was much easier when Alex was less mobile. A limited selection of toys was required since Alex slept a good portion of the day. As he has gotten older, a more diverse set of toys is required to hold his interest over his waking hours. We have blocks, puzzles, magnets, books, crayons, paper, trucks, trains, and stuffed animals. Our current storage system is less than ideal: center cabinet above dinette and the dinette bench while underway, cab when stopped. Include the fact that Alex is very mobile and likes to dump his blocks, poor Abby is brimming with chaos.
Alex and Abby met for the first time when Alex was just shy of three months old. It was not love at first sight. Alex was tired and cranky and didn’t seem to appreciate the test drive. But good parents that we are, we overrode Alex’s objections and purchased Abby.
August 2014: Alex’s first trip in Abby was an overnight shakedown run to Pequea Creek Campground in Pennsylvania. It was on this run that future thoughts for organization started to present themselves. But nothing too disastrous and we were only an hour away from home.
October 2014: Alex and Abby had more time to bond on their next trip to Cooperstown, NY area over Columbus Day weekend. We dragged Alex not to the Baseball Hall of Fame, but to Brewery Ommegang. That’s just how we parent. We were fortunate because Alex was still at a stage where he slept – a lot. And wasn’t super mobile so he perfectly content to hang out in his car seat at the table while we ate and chatted. We stayed at Beaver Spring Lake Campground, which had full hook ups. This was very fortuitous because the overnight lows were high 20s. No water lines froze despite our lack of an arctic package. Alex seemed to enjoy himself on this trip and it was deemed rather successful.
Novermber 2014: Alex took his first trip to Cape Henlopen State Park. This is a beautiful campground area, with some spots very nicely shaded. Being late in the season, the campground was sparsely populated, save some tent campers who were competing in the ‘Skate the Cape’ event weekend. Looked like a fun event; everyone that we interacted with was extremely nice. A drawback at Cape Henlope is the park staff don’t want RVs parking off of the pavement; there are only a few spots that don’t resemble parallel parking. It would be nice if one could be trusted to use their own judgement and park on the hard pack sand, but I am sure experience has taught the staff that most people overestimate their or their vehicle’s abilities. Review the park map and choose wisely. While there are water hook ups, some of the spigots are at least 50′ away from the spot they are assigned to service; pack two sanitary water hoses just in case.
June 2015: 2015 started out relatively quiet with a trip to Cape Henlopen and the Outer Banks as a quick weekend shake down runs ahead of a busy summer travel schedule. After that the travel season became very hectic. First, was our trip to the Firefly Music Festival in Dover, DE the weekend of June 18 – 21. We had been debating on going, but when they announced Paul McCartney was headlining, we decided to go for it. Alex seemed to have a really fun time; we introduced him to the WeeRide which he loved. He had a strong dislike for his bike helmet initially, but once he made the connection between the helmet and going for a bike ride, all was okay. Alex enjoyed snoozing in the hammock and got to “see” Paul McCartney in concert. Never fear, he had ear protection on whenever we were on the concert grounds.
June/July 2015: Less than a week after we returned from Firefly, Abby spirited all of us (including the dogs) off on a 3 week western adventure. This trip started with failed turbo resonator, but there were no more mechanical failures on the trip. Alex had a great time playing in dirt and “driving” the RV.
September 2015: Abby took Alex on his first trip out of the country! We drove up to Saint-Alphonse-Rodriguez, in Quebec. It was a fun trip. We were only a little bit nervous at the border crossings because Alex’s favorite phrase at this time was ‘uh oh’. We didn’t think it would be wise to answer the border guard’s question with ‘uh oh’.
October 2015: Just when Alex and Abby were going to have to say good-bye to each other for a few months, we decided to throw two October trips into the mix. The first was over Columbus Day weekend to the Mansfield area of Pennsylvania. Dave rode his motorcycle up and Jess drove the RV. Alex and the dogs got a bonus visit to the farm to visit Mimi and Grandpa. We stayed at Tanglewood Campground which was very family friendly. Costume parade for the kids and what we heard was a very well done haunted trail ride.
We decided to take a trip to visit all the remaining Northeast states before we moved west. So Alex and Abby hit the road together again to Acadia National Park in Maine. This was the most dog-friendly park we have visited where dogs are allowed on most trails. Our creature triple feature had a great time. Abby was challenged with no hook-ups and short, cloudy days prevented the solar panels from recharging the batteries. We needed to run the generator to charge the batteries. Except we overestimated our propane levels and couldn’t find anywhere to fill up since it was the end of the season and most places had closed down. To add to the challenge, the coach batteries weren’t recharging from the engine. Thus, a very delicate game of cat and mouse was played between propane and battery levels. This trip happened to be the trip that the transmission failed; while Abby didn’t see Alex home to the door, she did arrange a ride for him in a big rig.
December 2015/January 2016: And we can’t forget the cross-country move! Alex and Abby had lots of quality time together as we meandered across the South and up the Pacific Coast Highway to Davis, CA. Check out our detailed blog posts chronicling this journey. There are many more than the one linked, check out the archives or the category ‘Travel Diary: 2016 DE to CA’.
One of our greatest concerns with all the traveling we do is making sure Alex is having fun. We can’t know for sure, but he always gets excited when he sees Abby and wants to climb aboard. All said and done, we let this picture speak volumes.
Pressure applied to gas pedal, engine revved, speed did not increase.
Shifting into various gears and stepping on the gas resulted in more engine revving, and at best, a few feet of movement.
During a test drive at the dealership, Abby threw a fault code that the technicians had never seen before and required a call to Mercedes headquarters (yup, Germany) for correct diagnosis.
There were fault codes, we just don’t remember them. We might have written them down somewhere. Time will only tell if we find them.
Problem: We initially hoped that a failed seal leading from the transmission case to the control board had caused a temporary short. Dave did some parking lot diagnosis, and thought that a failed seal might be causing the electrical connection to the computer to short out. The connection was cleaned, Abby drove for about 30 feet and then died again.
We now know what an emergency, after-hours tow of an RV costs.
We also now know what a scheduled, normal business hours tow of an RV costs.
Solution 1: We had Abby towed to a friend’s nearby shop, where Dave hoped to work on it some more the next day. The next thing to check was the transmission computer. Dave followed the wiring back inside the cab and pulled the transmission computer. As suspected, transmission fluid had wicked up the wires about 3 feet, and into the transmission computer. Dave carefully opened the computer case, cleaned and dried everything off, reassembled it, and reinstalled the computer. Abby was placed in ‘Drive’ rolled about 30 feet, and quit again. So much for that solution.
Solution 2: Abby was towed to Carman Dodge for professional diagnosis and repair. What was projected to take a week took a month. Initially, the error code that was being thrown was easy to diagnose. The technician thought it was a bad shift solenoid on the valve body. This was going to cost a fair chunk of change, but not the end of the world. A new valve body was ordered and installed. Abby started up and ran fine. She made it about 3 miles into the mechanic’s test drive, and that’s when something gave up deep inside the transmission.
The error code Abby threw was something the dealership had never seen before and they had to call the mother-ship in Germany. The new code meant ‘install a new transmission’. Sigh. The dealership called with the bad news. After some pointed questions about having to pay for diagnosis time, a new valve body, AND now a new transmission, things were getting a bit testy. (It should be noted that it was not Jess conducting this interrogation, but Dave. The good cop was having a bad day.) The service manager at Carman admitted that they misdiagnosed it, and they would eat the cost of the diagnosis and the valve body. We have to give them a lot of credit. In a day and age where dealerships are known for ripping people off, they did a stand up thing, and made it right. We still weren’t happy about having to buy a new transmission at 65,000 miles, but Abby got one.
We purchased a Good Sam membership and towing coverage.
Mercedes recommends servicing the transmission every 90,000 miles. Abby had 65,000 miles on her. Reports from the owner’s group is that more transmissions have failed in Sprinter based RVs than probably should. RVs are often loaded to their maximum limits, and may also be tasked with towing, too. The recommendation is to service the transmission every 30,000 miles or so. Especially if the vehicle has been used to tow.
The repairs Dave attempted are not for the weekend mechanic who is used to changing a vehicle’s oil and maybe air filter. Only recommended for a seasoned mechanic. The transmission fix – just send to a professional.
Abby’s stay at the mechanic was not completely unfortunate. We were trying to sell the house at that time, so it was good she was parked somewhere safe during showings. Apparently a RV parked in your driveway is not a selling feature. The month long absence completely threw off our packing schedule and contributed to move out chaos.
Acceleration was not smooth, check engine light came on. Symptoms disappeared on restart of engine.
During hill climbs, acceleration decreased dramatically, symptoms disappeared for time after engine restart. Each successive restart resulted in a shorter and shorter time before symptoms represented. Check engine light came on after multiple restarts.
OBD II P0121: Throttle/Pedal Position Sensor/Switch ‘A’ Circuit Range/Performance Problem
OBDII P0299: Engine Turbo-Supercharger Boost
Problem: The turbo resonator is made of plastic and the seam failed. This is a known failure point according to multiple forums. Mercedes has been through three revisions of this part in plastic and it keeps failing.
Solution: Previous owner had the turbo resonator replaced once by Mercedes dealer and they put in another plastic version. Previous owner decided to purchase an all aluminium replacement part and it transferred to us when we purchased Abby. Repair was simple enough, complicated by rain and being parked in an emergency pull-off area along I-76W. Requires low clearance 1/4″ socket (which we did not have). We limped into Somerset, PA with an escort by a Herring Motor Company tow truck (fortuitously helping an automobile with issues in our emergency pull off), to purchase a $9 socket wrench to properly execute the repair. Dave performed all mechanical repairs. Jess served as chief child and dog wrangler and did not bake cookies while waiting for the repairs to be completed.
Still have the plastic turbo resonator in? Just order the all metal version and replace it before it fails on the road. Repairs are always easier on a nice day, parked in your driveway/workshop, without traffic flying by at 70+ mph. An inexpensive repair (if you do it yourself, several hundred at a dealership) that will save you time and headache on the road.
This is a repair you can do yourself if you are comfortable doing basic maintenance work on your vehicle. It is two hose clamps. That is it. The working space is tight, which adds to the challenge.
Have your outdoor rug easily accessible. It doubles well as a work pad
The metal part does whistle. So don’t panic. It may be noisier, but it won’t leave you stranded on the side of the road.