Worst Vacation Ever - Fiberglass RV


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Old 09-03-2013, 07:57 PM   #1
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Name: Dave W
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Worst Vacation Ever

OK, first let me say that I am used to looking for the positive in life. I believe that life is such a huge experience, you must pick what part of life you look at. I prefer the experience of the positive over immersing myself in a detailed examination of the negative. This vacation, I found it very difficult to practice this. So, let the detailed examination begin.

This story is mostly about car troubles, but there were other issues as well, but in the interest of maintaining family harmony, I will mostly keep the details to my self. Lets just say that my fathers wife found hosting the eleven of us, (my brother and his three adult kids, and the seven of us) more then she could tolerate. We are an unruly lot.

The trip started out kinda late. I had to finish the repairs to the trailer, and the family had their own packing issues. No problem. Factored into the equation. I think it was Tuesday before we set out on what was supposed to be a three week vacation. As I write this I am on a Grey Hound just leaving Thunder Bay. It is 11:30 pm Sunday 25/08/2013. I am scheduled to arrive in Calgary on Tuesday at 7:30 am, I think. I have informed my employer that I will not be into work till Wednesday. There goes all of my vacation time.

The trouble started in Brandon Manitoba. We stopped at a light on the highway, and the van refused to shift any gear higher then second. It was also coding Engine Temp Sensor Out of Range. We limped it to the local dealership, which was closed for the night. We camped out in the local Target parking lot. Not cool, I know.

First thing in the morning, we were at the dealers door. I discussed the possible causes. They said it was either the engine sensor, or the ECM, (Engine Control Module, (brain)) The dealership said that the might be able to get it up on the hoist some time in the afternoon. It was quite late in the afternoon when they called. The day was spent at the mall that said Target was in. No codes, come pick up your van.

OK, I think, a gremlin, I will have to get that looked at. When we picked it up, it was shifting into third around town, so out to the highway. We got to Carberry. Then it dropped to second and refused to shift up. I guess the problem was only apparent when the transmission was warm. There were two garages in Carberry. One the guy left early, so we went to the other guy. He cleaned my mass air flow sensor, (because the air filter was installed incorrectly). It did have a few bugs in it. We went for a ride with his code reader. He said that he could not see what gear the transmission was in.

I am not sure if this was a defect, or a function of the fact that as a 1996, this van is the first year of OBD 2. And it has less computer then most. It also has a distributor, not electronic ignition. GM doesn't even make the ECM any more. The only alternative is an aftermarket unit. Probably a rebuilt factory unit. It costs $550, and was at least a week out. but I am getting ahead of myself. The guy with the code reader, said that the transmission has a faint burnt smell, but not bad, and lots of fluid, too much in fact, but he did not seem concerned.

He could at least tell me that at 80km per hour, I was at about 3700 RPM. Not too high. I figure limp it to Manitoulin Island at 80. Questionable decision number one. A risk, but I figured if it makes it to the family reunion, I can get it repaired while we vacation, as opposed to miss the family reunion and shop at Target.

Well, first let me say, we made it. But, by the time we arrived, we could only maintain 60 and much less up hill. The transmission was slipping badly. It was totally fried by the time we arrived. So a rebuild at Tann`s Transmission, "Your only transmission specialist on the Island".

$2000, and a few days later, the transmission is rebuilt, but it is still slipping. He disassembled it twice, The problem was not with the transmission. He said the ECM was not giving the correct pressure signal to the transmission. This was making it slip. It was coding bad throttle position sensor now. So he replaced it. It was still coding TPS after he put a new one in, and it didn't help. He advised me to take it to McQuaries in Gore Bay, the GM dealership on Manitoulin Island.
I drove it there with my dad following, just in case.

It made it fine, since I drove it like I did when it slipped at 60. No problem. I told them that Tann`s said ECM, and he had already replaced the TPS. I was a bit surprised when I called the next day for status, and found out they were putting in a new TPS. I explained again that Tann's did that. He said something flippant about diagnostic procedures. I called the next day. The TPS did not help, but they found the problem. The ECM was cracked and rusting. Imagine my surprise.

OK now the $550 part, but this time it is only two and a half days out. Go I say.
I pick it up, three days later. 4.5 hours labor and parts, $1000. The old ECM, is obviously problematic, (see pictures). I think right on, problem solved. A 40 minute drive, including some intentionally heavy acceleration to test the transmission. Everything seems fine. The next day I drove it to Espanola, with my four oldest children, slightly more then an hour away. We run a few errands, then gas up. After gassing up, when I tried to start it, the engine cranked fine, but no go.

We pushed it to the Canadian Tire, which was in the same parking lot, but past the grocery super store, (see picture). One of my 16 year old daughters steered, while we pushed. More pushers joined in. My daughter has never driven anything, So at this point, a more experienced driver should have taken over, but that did not happen. She went through the bay door at an angle and when she tried to straighten it out, she cut it too close and ran the side of the van into the door frame of the service bay. Only fiberglass damage. I know how to fix that, I think.

The tech gets in and starts it. A rough start, but it starts and runs fine. He shuts it off, and restarts it several times. It has coded 1361, but it is not currently coding at all. 1361 is low supply voltage to coil for cylinders 1 and 3. A strange code for a vehicle with a distributor. The tech suggests trying to limp it back to the cottage and then the next day take it back to McQuaries. I pay the bill and the tech goes to start it one more time. No go. Then he puts his code reader back on. He complains that it is a Snap On code reader, and not the factory one. It is coding 1361 and not starting, no matter how long it is cranked. Then he looses communication, with the ECM, gets it back, then looses it again. Totally dead. The tech tells me that the upside is that McQuaries has a branch in Espanola, the town we are in. I suspect that they programmed the ECM incorrectly.

We push it back into the parking lot. It is now Friday night, they wont open till Monday. We are all a bit down. I called my dad and he is on the way. It will be an hour and a half before he can get there. I stand there trying to comfort my kids. The I remember that there is a traveling carnival with about ten rides in the parking lot across the street. My 18 year old boy expresses no interest in such things, and stays with the van to play on his portable video game.

The three girls and I go and have a great time. $15 for an all you can ride ticket. What a deal! There are no lines for any of the rides, so they hit every one in short order. One of my daughters complains that the rides are too long. They picked their favorites and had a blast. My dad and his wife picked us up. By this time it is quite dark, and the moose and deer are a concern at night. We made it back to the cottage.

It will be two days before I can do anything about the van, but now we are at the time we were supposed to leave, and my wife drives a school bus for a school that has a short summer and longer Christmas, and Spring break. Her route starts on Wednesday. She takes our youngest and rides with my mom to the Toronto airport. $1000 for the two of them to fly back to Calgary.

My brother is going back on the following Monday. He drove out with his son in an Intrepid that is going to tow Launch Pad, a (Trillium 4500) back to Calgary. I ask them to take some of my kids too. My 18 year old son and one of my 16 year old twins went with him. This left me with the more responsible of the twins, and my 9 year old daughter.

Now my vacation was supposed to be over and I was supposed to be back in Calgary by Monday, to fly back, on Wednesday, to Toronto for a class. This is a product training class for a product that I am the specialist on. Our supplier is putting on a two day course on Thursday, and Friday.

On Monday I made some calls to the dealership. Eventually I get the Customer Service guy. He is going to get it to their shop and take a look. Later that day, he says that the tech looked at it and besides the battery being dead, it works fine, come get it. Well, at first I ask some polite questions. Like could he please explain why it would not start. He said because the battery was dead, (I think my son left a ceiling light on) but it is fine now, so drive it away. I tried to explain that the van was cranking fine when it refused to start, and the battery was fully charged at the time. This type of exchange went on for a few cycles, then I just lost it.

I started to get quite belligerent and demanding. I used words like defective ECM, and law suit. I was mad. To his credit, he did not hang up on me. I would have. On the way to the Grey Hound in Sudbury, we stop in to see him. His position is still that there is nothing wrong and I should drive it away. I decline this suggestion, asking if he will sign a guarantee that the vehicle is sound to drive to Calgary. He says, “What do I have to do to get you out of my office?”. He finally says, give us till Friday, when your course is over, to look at it.

We take the Grey Hound to the Toronto airport. I put the two girls on a plane, ($815) the day before I was supposed to arrive in Toronto, and get picked up at the same air port. I stay at the Sheraton at $200 a night, I talked her down from $240. My boss authorized a hotel, so not my money. No free in room internet, no extras. Nice room, but way over priced.

The course is great! They take us to Niagara Falls and the most expensive dinner I have ever eaten, at the tower there. They put us up in the Holiday Inn Express near the air port. He has negotiated a group rate for the class. It is about $100 per night. Free internet, free hot breakfast. What a great hotel!

I had canceled my flight from Calgary to Toronto, but I kept the return ticket for the flight home. If the van was not fixed by the time that flight leaves, I planned to leave it in Espanola, and impose on my dad to deal with the retrieval of the van after it is repaired. But, they called Friday, the last day of the course. They found the problem. They have replaced the Ignition control module (ICM). Come pick it up. I can`t get there till after they close, and they don`t open on the week end. I ask them if they can bill my credit card from the previous transaction, and leave the van unlocked with the key in the glove box. Sure they say. My phone dies after this. I had planned to take the Grey Hound back to Espanola, but it leaves Toronto a 1:30am. The president of the company that put on the course, offers to drive me there. This is a 7 hour drive. I am already not going to make it to work for Monday, so I humbly accept his offer. The drive up was nice.

I get there and there is a sticky note, they could not get the credit card number. Please call. The number provided was the dealership, which is not open till Monday. I leave some desperate voice mails, but the person who gave me the ride is in a bind. It is now 11:30pm, and he has a 7 hour drive ahead of him. I said its fine, I will just use my sleeping bag and sleep at the dealership. OK, I was not thinking straight. Then I thought, lets find a hotel, better idea. The Alta Vista in Esanola, ($100 per night) was not the best place I have slept. I just used my sleeping bag on top of the comforter. Not the best sleep, no internet.

I contacted my uncle in Espanola, (my mom grew up there). I explained my situation. He made some calls and got the name and phone number of the service manager, this was someone I had not talked to before. I met my uncle for lunch. This was one of the best parts of the vacation. What a great guy! The service manager called back. He was playing in a ball game, but came over to the dealership between games. $630 later, I picked up the van and was on my way back to my dad's place to pickup the trailer. One inch from the hitch, the van quits. No amount of cranking would start it.

The Grey Hound to Calgary was full that night, so I am now on the one that left in the morning of Sunday Aug 25.

Day 2 on the bus. Not much sleep, I really should have brought a pillow. The bus has changed, this one has power outlets at the seats, and wifi. I am sitting in the front seat, so my wife`s laptop can open all the way now. Life feels as good as it can be. What more can I ask.

The bus has been having mechanical difficulties since we left Saskatchewan. It was 80 km/hr and 20 km/h up hill. Just like my ride out to Ontario. The bus driver was kinda stressed out. The check engine light was on. He called in the problem, and they told him to keep going. After that they stopped answering his calls. We stopped frequently, and at one point the stop engine light came on. The bus driver stopped at a rest area, and he was able to make contact with his office. They told him to do a manual reset, and keep going.

We kept going and at Strathmore, just outside Calgary, we got out to stretch our legs. It was a bit cold out, so I was behind the building in the sun. I heard the engine of the bus roar, and look around the corner to see the bus leaving, WITHOUT ME! I ran waving my arms, and the coffee I had bought. He kept driving. For about ten seconds I was trying to figure out how I was going to call my wife, since my phone was on the bus. I watched him go down about two blocks and stop. I guess he saw me. I ran and got on the bus. The bus driver said sorry, and I replied, "Yah, make the fat guy run". We got into Calgary about six hours late.

Now I just have to figure out how to get the van and trailer back from Ontario.
Attached Thumbnails
ECM Cracked 01.jpg   Vacation 2013 - Breakdown - Espanola Gas Station.jpg  

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Old 09-03-2013, 08:10 PM   #2
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So sorry, what a sad tale. I hope you get a new tow and everything will be fine.
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Old 09-03-2013, 08:25 PM   #3
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Name: Dave W
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Originally Posted by cpaharley2008 View Post
So sorry, what a sad tale. I hope you get a new tow and everything will be fine.
A new tow is not in the plan. Discretionary spending is kinda tapped out now. I plan to head out there, next year, with another ECM, ($120 with delivery and programmed for my serial number) and a coil, and any other parts that make sense to get the ignition system working properly. I hope to find another ECM in the wrecker as well, I want to cut the harness at least a foot from the ECM and have replacement connectors, should that prove to be the problem.

To get a replacement van, of a similar style, would be ~$80 000 for a new one. Not something I can justify for a couple times a year.

BTW: My dad tells me it is running again.
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Old 09-03-2013, 08:27 PM   #4
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Wow, what type of van is that much?
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Old 09-03-2013, 08:30 PM   #5
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Originally Posted by cpaharley2008 View Post
Wow, what type of van is that much?
It's in my registry.
David Tilston's Trailer :: Life Support
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Old 09-03-2013, 08:46 PM   #6
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Thank you, David. I feel much better about the leak in our Fantastic Fan housing, and the fact that our fridge no longer runs on propane. Our outing was just 8 days, and by day 5 I was telling myself it is time to sell... By day 6, though, I was at peace with it all and glad of the trip. On day 7 my husband lost his set of the trailer keys... but, I said, they aren't "smart" keys so will be cheap to replace.

Best wishes on the next chapter in your story. I hope it all turns out okay.

Remember to breathe.
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Old 09-03-2013, 08:48 PM   #7
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OH,,, that's a terrible vacation !

I sure hope that everything else improves from now on
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Old 09-03-2013, 08:49 PM   #8
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That was an awful trip Dave.........glad you caught the bus and made it back home.
This was so bad I couldn't help but laugh at something that is completely NOT funny.

Only good point I can see is that it "is" a memory.
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Old 09-03-2013, 08:52 PM   #9
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Thank you, David. I feel much better about ...

Remember to breathe.
I believe that every life has a meaning. For some, that meaning is to be a cautionary tale for others.
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Old 09-03-2013, 08:59 PM   #10
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Dave, sure sounds like you need a holiday.

Sorry to hear of your vehicle woes. Man, that would be tough to deal with. I sure hope that things turn around for the better for you.
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Old 09-03-2013, 09:02 PM   #11
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One doesn't often hear such an expensive tale.
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Old 09-03-2013, 09:08 PM   #12
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That was an awful trip Dave.........glad you caught the bus and made it back home.
This was so bad I couldn't help but laugh at something that is completely NOT funny.

Only good point I can see is that it "is" a memory.
As I stood there, watching the bus drive away, covered in my own coffee, I was laughing. Hey, it was funny.
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Old 09-03-2013, 09:08 PM   #13
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Well, it is a great read.
But, that doesn't help much.
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Old 09-03-2013, 09:10 PM   #14
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What a time you've had! And I thought we had a bad holiday when our tow vehicle broke down and we blew a tire on the trailer and the fridge stopped working. That was nothing! Sending good thoughts your way.
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