Blown Engine – April 2012

Headed out of San Tan Valley, AZ around 10am and skirted Phoenix. Up into the mountains on highway 87. It was kind of cool and there were dark clouds here and there but I’d checked the weather the night before so I knew it wouldn’t be too bad of a trip. This route was a short cut to Winslow. And since we planned on heading east a bit then north, in order to visit some ancient Indian ruins, it would cut over 40 miles off the planned trip. As we headed up into the mountains, it got colder and colder until it was very close to freezing outside. The RV was running fine. Shortly before we got to the summit, it started sleeting, than snowing so I was going pretty slow. Probably averaging 35-45. Right after the summit, I began to hear a weird noise from the engine. Opened the driver’s window and poked my head out to hear better. Crap, something was seriously wrong. So, I pulled into a ranger station hoping there might be someone there. Left the engine running while I checked it out. Really sounded bad. Clattering valve or something. Shut off the engine and walked over to the ranger station to see if anyone was a motor head, but the place was all closed up for the season.  By now I knew my engine was having serious problems and we were 60 miles or so from Winslow. But, it did start up again. Didn’t run fine, but at least it started. I already knew I’d lost power so I couldn’t go much more than 45 MPH on the straights. And I might do even more damage to the engine trying to run it. But, we had scaled the summit and were on the downhill side. Crossing my fingers, we set off coasting much of the time so maybe, I thought, I’d be able to make it to Winslow.

Keeping my speed under 35 for the rest of the trip, we made it to Winslow in around 2 hours. I’ve been to Winslow several times so I knew a little about the area and where the RV parks were so we bee-lined it to Winslow Pride RV Park. Turned out they don’t have WiFi, so we walked the 1/4 mile or so over to the Flying J with our laptops. I did some searching for diesel shops but wasn’t able to concentrate enough in a crowded restaurant and as a result, I didn’t find much. A couple leads though. Decided to give it a rest and let my blood pressure drop (from the worry) and try it again the next day.

Settled in at Winslow, Arizona.

I did find a diesel shop, Chaparral Tire & Truck Repair, less than 2 miles from where we parked and after checking their customer reviews (all good), made an appointment the next day.

The next day, drove into their parking lot, walked into the office and was greeted by a good-ole-boy from the south. Missing some teeth. Told him my story of woe and pretty soon there were 3 guys under and over the engine checking it out. They were all missing teeth, all had an accent. I’m thinking that maybe I picked the wrong shop and that they’re going to take me to the cleaners. After an hour or so, the guys have listened to the engine enough and pronounce it something they can’t work on. Something inside the engine let loose/broke/whatever and they only worked on fluids, filters, alternators, rads, and such. Nothing inside. I asked what I owed for all that attention from three techs for an hours work and the owner says, ‘Nothin’, cus we didn’t fix anything’. Surprise!

Now trusting these guys, since they seemed to know what they were doing, I asked for a reference to a shop. The owner says he wouldn’t send anyone to any of the shops in Winslow for internal repairs, unless I had money coming out of my ass. I don’t. He recommends Northern Arizona Diesel (NAD) in Flagstaff. Around 70 miles west. So, I call up my emergency road service company, CoachNet, and they arrange a tow up to Flagstaff the next day. I call NAD and make arrangements for them to look at it after arrival.

Next morning, this huge flat bed truck pulls in and hauls my rig up on the trailer. I had to drive it a little up on the platform as he didn’t want to break his winch. Off we go to Flagstaff and get there early afternoon. NAD gets someone on it quickly and it’s not to long after they start that they give me the bad news. Possible busted piston, valves, bad turbo, etc., etc. Scott, the manager, is hesitant to even tell me what it might cost, says he needs to check prices. But it’s a lot. At this point I start letting them know I’ve JUST officially retired and JUST got my SS started. Been living off the proceeds of the sale of my house for 8 years so my funds are depleted. So, I ask for some time to see if I have the money for any of this. Or if I should just abandon the rig along side of the road. I do have a healthy 401k but I didn’t want to dip into that if I could help it. Plus, I’d wanted to save a big chunk of that for a newer RV this year.

Found a source of funds, my 401K, called NAD and told them to go ahead and start on the engine. Went into the shop and they showed me the burned piston with the broken valve imbedded in the top of it later that day so I knew it was bad. They also insisted I needed a new turbo.

Sitting in the parking lot, ready for the techs.

The shop…

The NAD shop, my rig was worked on in the far right vehicle bay.

On April 20th, they called and let me know it was ready to go. I checked out of the motel, took a taxi down to the shop and wrote out a check for $5734. I’d found a notation on their web site about a 10% labor reduction if you mention their web site. I mentioned it just as he was finalizing the bill. I like discounts.

Bad piston. Bad, bad piston. With the business end of the valve stuck in the top.

A little burnt and scored too.

They have reamed the piston cylinder, had the head resurfaced and all that other stuff that needs to be done, the head work by an outside service. Got a new piston, valves, etc., and a new turbo too.

They had me drive it around for around 10 miles and all seems fine. Except the fuel pedal sticks. When I got back they spend another hour finding and fixing the broken return spring.

Stayed in town a couple more days at a local RV park. Left town the following Saturday morning via AZ-89. Which is kind of steep. As I was climbing that steep grade, going around 35 MPH, suddenly the rig just died. Had to coast over a mile back downhill to find a flat enough spot that the rig wouldn’t roll.

Called the NAD shop and although it was Saturday, Scott was on call. He made it out in 30 minutes, put a wrench on the crank and says it needs to go back to the shop.

Stuck alongside the road.

Hours later I’m towed back to the shop but have to park on the road outside their fenced lot since it’s the weekend. They won’t open until Monday.

The following Monday the techs soon have pulled the head on my rig again and find that the same piston and valves were burned. Going to need another entire job almost the same as before.

Back at the shop for the second repair.

So now that we know what’s wrong with it, I have to go back to the motel and sign in again since this will take another 3 days and NAD won’t let me live in the RV on their property.

Burned piston.

On the third day, I head over to the shop and Scott shows me that my air filter is just clogged with fine dust. Thinks that had something to do with the problem. Kind of insists. But while talking to the mechanic after Scott wandered away, I find out that the guy Scott would call for these kind of jobs was a drunk and probably screwed up the work. I didn’t think about all the money I’d paid while waiting that NAD would be liable for if that was the case.

My brother is a mechanic and a couple months later looked at the picture above and below and says that NO, it wasn’t a plugged air filter that did that damage because if it was, they would all show evidence of overheating. What he thinks is that they used the wrong valves.

A different shot of the bad piston.

NAD did all the repair work for free. Even gave me a free brand new air filter. Great shop. What they should have done though, since they suspected the problem was caused by their contractor, was to have paid for my motel, rental car, and expenses. Or at least let me stay in their parking lot. It wasn’t until my brother looked at the damage that we realized why Scott insisted the damage was caused by the clogged air filter…so they could get out of paying all my expenses. When I came back a year later for other work, Scott no longer worked there.