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Well, I blame Stef.
A few weeks ago, she offhandedly mentioned something like “I wonder what our next RV will look like” as we were driving along on an RV trip. Well, Lance must have heard, and it must have pissed him off… because now, he’s in the shop with a blown head gasket. But there’s a lot to this story, so stay with me here.
First off, remember this?
This was us a couple years back, loading Lance onto a flatbed for a trip back to the dealer who installed his second alternator. We were test pilots for a lithium battery system that went on to become optional equipment on Coachmen Class B motorhomes. Lest you think that the life of a blogging RV test pilot is all glamorous, remember this: sometimes, test pilots crash and burn.
It turns out there were issues installing that second alternator, but the dealer in question fixed the problem to specifications and at their expense, and Lance is no stranger to riding on a flatbed…
Fast forward 40,000 miles to the present day and I started to notice that Lance seemed to be using up coolant faster than I would have expected. I also noticed too much white smoke when the engine was running. I went to the local RAM dealer (a different one since we’ve moved), and asked them to look into it. They found no exterior coolant leaks whatsoever. So they marked the coolant reservoir, and asked me to drive a while and come back for a level check. Well, we never made it back.
After visiting Death Valley (thank goodness we didn’t break down there!!!) we were headed to Sacramento for an event, loaded up with the trailer and Mel the cat. Suddenly, on the outskirts of Bakersfield, California… BAM – Instant overheating.
There were still no external coolant leaks. I added the gallon of coolant I had available and gingerly rolled into Bakersfield where there was apparently a RAM dealer. Lance had consumed the gallon of coolant by the time we arrived.
Now here’s where it gets a little ugly, but the long and short of it is:
We will never again, for any reason, patronize Haddad Dodge in Bakersfield, California. I mean this in the most literal way possible. If our ProMaster broke down on the street directly in front of Haddad Dodge, I would PUSH the RV to a dealership in Los Angeles. Our experience there was that disappointing. We really do try to keep things positive here on The Fit RV, so for me to come out with this is really saying something.
Now, if you’ve had good experience with Haddad Dodge, I am happy for you. Please comment below, because perhaps our experience isn’t the norm. But I can only report what happened to us, and that experience was a dirty dealer cliché. We thought that was a thing of the past, but apparently not.
We were initially pleased when they agreed to look at our van that same day. That quickly turned sour about 30 minutes after they started to look at our van. At the 30 minute mark, our service advisor, Keith, approached us with an estimate for NINE THOUSAND DOLLARS. He wanted us to replace the entire engine at our expense.
“The coolant has disappeared, but there’s no coolant leak. Wouldn’t this be covered by the extended powertrain warranty?” we asked.
“No. Overheating issues are never covered by warranty,” was his reply. (That’s actually what he said. It’s also a big, fat lie.)
“Wouldn’t it be more economical to just replace the head gasket?”
“No, because I’d charge you $5,000 to tear it down, and then several thousand more depending on what we find.”
“Uh. OK. We’re going to… uh… think on that.”
“Well let me know right away.”
Yeah. I’m not making this up. But it gets worse.
Our immediate problem was how to get to our engagement the next day in Sacramento. They offered to rent us a truck. We told them that was great, since we had a trailer to tow. They took my driver’s license and credit card to process the rental.
TWO HOURS LATER they came back and told us they wouldn’t rent us anything with a trailer hitch. 20 minutes after that, they finally brought back my driver’s license and credit card. This was at about 4:45pm. Frantically, we found an Enterprise Commercial rental that agreed to stay open late so they could rent us a pickup with a hitch. The “courtesy shuttle” had disappeared, and we were running out of time. I Ubered over to Enterprise while Stef stayed behind with Mel. (Oh yeah! Remember Mel? He spent most of the day in the service waiting area terrified and confused. He just wanted to get back into his van, and kept trying to get back to the last place he had seen it.)
While I was trying to get the rental pickup, our service advisor swung by to tell Stef, “See ya! I’m headed home. Good luck!” And then he really did just leave, with our van torn apart on a lift and locked in their service department with all our belongings in it, and our trailer stranded in their lot.
By the time I got back, the service department had closed. Doors and gates locked. Luckily, we spotted a kid working there sweeping up, and he agreed to stay late so we could get our clothes and food out of the van – which was still on the lift so the whole operation was kind of precarious – even more so because we were trying to hurry because things were closed. Anyway, whoever you are, nice young man, you’re a lifesaver.
Well, between 2 trips to Tractor Supply (first, because the rental truck came with a receiver, but it didn’t fit our ball mount so I needed an adapter… and second, since the truck rode what seemed like 24 inches higher than our Travato, I needed a new ball mount with a big 10 inch drop after all) and one trip to Wal-Mart (where we had to buy a cooler so all our food didn’t spoil), we finally hit the road to Sacramento at about 10pm at night.
Now – this isn’t the first time we’ve broken down in the RV. We were once stranded in Medford, Oregon for a week or more, while our Sprinter needed repairs. But the experience could not have been more different. At Mercedes of Medford, we were provided with a rental Mercedes (for a week!), a night in a hotel, an attentive service provider who made sure our every need was met, and Stef got free massages by a licensed therapist in their waiting area. People might think that service is more expensive on a Sprinter than a ProMaster – and perhaps it is – but once you’ve lived through the experience, any difference in price doesn’t seem like a big deal anymore.
But back to the story: At this point, I was determined that whatever happened with Lance, it wasn’t going to happen at Haddad Dodge. So I made some calls.
Long story short – you remember Gordon? I worked with him on developing a skid plate for the ProMaster. Well, he has a garage in the Bay Area… Edge Motorworks. He agreed to take Lance in and perform whatever repairs were necessary… and ONLY those repairs that were necessary. A few more calls and I was able to arrange transportation for Lance on a flatbed. It cost $1,300, but it was the best $1,300 I could have spent.
Gordon took a look at Lance and agreed that yes, Lance had a blown head gasket. But before he started to fix it, he encouraged me to try again to get it serviced under warranty.
Gordon took Lance to a local dealer in the bay area, and lo and behold, they agreed to fix the head gasket under warranty. So a quick cost comparison looks something like this:
Haddad Dodge: $9,000
Another Dodge Dealer selected from the Internet: $0
So where would you want to have your rig serviced?
Four things to take away from this:
- Those of you with ProMasters – please don’t be afraid that your engine is going to blow a head gasket at exactly 60,000 miles like ours did. We’re pretty sure our case is unique.
- We did hear that our service advisor at Haddad Dodge, Keith, had been let go by the time the tow driver came to get Lance, so maybe there’s hope for Haddad Dodge.
- Gordon rocks. Tow your rigs to Edge Motorworks. It’s worth it.
- If you’re going to RV with a trailer, a cat, and a tight schedule… you really need to have a solid backup plan.
And with that, I’ll let you go. So yes, Lance is in the shop. But like his namesake, he’ll be back!
Hi Stef and James, I just saw your new update on Lance. So sorry you are still dealing with this. We had a similar issue as the RAM dealership told us they couldn’t put Lady and the Tramp on their lift. However, they should be able to tell you where there is a RAM Promaster dealership that services trucks and can handle the Travato. There are two in our area. We just didn’t know where they were. (Joe called Promaster and all they told him was where the dealerships were but not which ones handled trucks.) He called all the dealerships in our area and that’s how he found out which dealerships have the lift that can handle the Travato. Good luck you guys. Hope this gets resolved soon.
I think in our case, this dealer actually *could* lift a ProMaster. They were just claiming that they couldn’t because of the levelers and air suspension that we have installed…
Do they have a drive-on lift or just those center pole with arms lifts? Got the same line from my closest RAM Businesslink dealer. Had to drive to one that has a big drive-on lift. They’ve been great to work with too – though we’ve never had any issue even remotely as serious as the one you’re dealing with.
I believe it was a center-pole lift and that was the problem.
Seems like a head gasket repair would take place from the top though… don’t you think?
James; I have 2005 Dodge Sprinter crew van conversion with a rear carrier on the hitch with led taillights, that always stay dimly on. Would you know if Mercedes has a module in the rear pillar like your ProMaster that needs to be changed ? I don’t trust Chrysler since Fiat bought them! Sincerely Gordon
It depends on what hitch and wiring setup you have. I just don’t know offhand.
In our case, the hitch was an aftermarket Curt hitch and wiring harness installed by Winnebago. It was not a ProMaster product.
I replaced the light control module in it with an updated Curt product and all has been fine since.
If you have an aftermarket setup it may be worth checking out.
Yikes! A long time ago in a previous life and career I was a manufacturers rep and hauled samples around in Ford Aerostar panel van. It had an A4-LD transmission. That I know the actual name of the transmission is all you should need to know. Very stressful getting repairs done in the middle of nowhere … For me is was multiple middle of nowheres multiple times for rebuilds. I had no money for a new van but I could swing a tranny. It got so bad that in NJ where they don’t let you pump your own gas I would pull in to a station and say, “Fill ‘er up, please check the oil and please replace the transmission”
How many miles were on Lance when this happened? Just curious if this is a real proof of concept case for the rest of us on the additional 40K mile FGP5100 Fleet Commercial Powertrain Warranty (over the usual 60K limit) we’ve been hearing about recently. Love the idea because I’m seeing it on my VIP Summary too, but we’re only at 40K right now. Haven’t heard of anyone else in this situation (over 60K). Good luck with the repairs. Hope you’re back on the road real soon. BNR will be here before you know it!
Bakersfield is known for this type of experience…lots and lots of breakdowns in the Death Valley heat and upward slope of the road there. When I was a teenager (and I’m now 70!) the same scenario happened to my dad’s Mercury Monterey while we were on a cross country vacation. The family spent several days in a hotel there while hugely expensive repairs were done to our car. Same as you, I would have my car towed out of there, no matter the cost or inconvenience….it’s a predatory area.
Interesting. Like a Bermuda Triangle area it seems.
Mmmm, wow, and nope. I don’t think there’s much hope Haddad Dodge.
Lots of 1 star reviews only because they couldn’t rate them lower. I agree that your $1300 was well spent just to get your rig away from their hands.
I’ve not added our experience to Yelp, but it appears others have.
Linda and I never talk about other vehicles when we are in our Travato (Red Rover) or Jeep (Maxine). They get cranky when they hear that. You are right, it is all Stef’s fault. Sorry about your mis-fortune; glad it got fixed. Enjoyed your article.
Was the 2nd alternator installed at a Dodge dealer? And with respect to warranty, has Dodge OK’d the install? On the one hand, I’m questioning if Dodge should pay for warranty head gasket repair that was really caused by poor installation of the add on alternator. But on the other hand, their dealer treated you so poorly the warranty repair seems the least they should do. Then Dodge apply whatever pressure they can to clean up that dealer.
Modifications and changes to your vehicle are not required to be “approved” by RAM for the warranty to remain in effect. (see the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act) Regardless, the second alternator was installed by a RAM Businesslink dealer.
Look at it this way: A van presents with a blown head gasket. There are modifications to the cooling system to reroute hoses. But those modifications are intact, there is no evidence of them failing, and they hold the required pressure. How is that *not* covered? There is no “pre-existing condition” clause in the warranty that excludes repairs performed two years and 40,000 miles ago, to specs, by a dealer.
Really sorry to hear about your experience. I do hope that the custodian who helped you out that night is recognized as a good worker, and not punished by the dealership.
Actually, I’ve heard from that dealer. And while they didn’t think our experience had gone the way they would have wanted it to, I did ask about the porter. They said he had been recognized for providing great customer service. That made us happy to hear.
I invited them to leave a statement or comment on the post. Hopefully they do that, because I would like to provide them the opportunity to be heard.
Thank you James, Stefany and Mel -no matter how diligent we maintain our vans, it can happen to anyone. Hope the guy who helped you get to your van gets some cake for treating people with care (which is more than we can say for that ‘stink, stank, snope’ service advisor’ made out of three-decker sauerkraut, toadstool sandwich, with arsenic sauce).
Yeah – he was the bright spot of the day, that’s for sure. I hope they buy him lunch or something.
Well that sucks. We’ve had three check engine lights on our ERA 70B and as a result have gotten to take tours of Mercedes Dealers in three states. MB takes customer service seriously and we think the problem is now solved. What the RAM dealer did to you was FRAUD and you should complain to Ram. Our last trip had our Winnebago bike rack fail on us in Texas. Worked the problem and before we started driving again I called the Winnebago Service Center in Iowa (a 22 mile detour because we live in Minnesota). They gave us the best customer service I’ve ever had on our RV and they are replacing the rear door and other warranty items as I write. The Service Center is a great resource for Winnebago owners both in and out of warranty. It will be the only place we take Wall-E for RV service in the future. It might be worth a trip for the three of you, including Mel, I’m sure it would make a good story. There is a bike trek across Iowa that the two of you could knock out in a few hours.
The Winnebago Service Center is usually *booked solid* with appointments during GNR each year. It’s quite popular. I think people are probably already booking appointments for this July!
Glad to hear that you are all right. Nightmare of a story, for sure. Your blood must have been boiling that night as you were rushing to set in place some sort of arrangements while under immense pressure.
You should contact Dodge RAM corporate and demand that they reimburse the tow charge to the service shop in Bay area as well as truck renting charges and any incidentals.
If you have original estimate from Dodge dealership, this will act as a written proof of them trying to deny you a warranty service.
The dealerships that are trying to pull this kind of $&!t should be punished or, at least, put on a close watch by corporate and consumer protection agencies.
Well, at this point, I’m calling it a win.
It would be great to be reimbursed for the tow charge, but I can see how RAM would say I should have stayed put and called them first.
I also noticed too much white smoke when the engine was running …
Wouldn’t any white smoke while running be bad ?
Did you have any Aftermarket way to watch the coolant temp?
Well, sometimes there’s condensation in the exhaust system that happens when the vehicle sits outside. I don’t much worry when that burns off. But the white smoke was what prompted me to take it to the local dealer who marked the coolant reservoir.
What is the engine warranty on the Ram set up PLUS how freaking dumb is that shop not to know you had a following bigger than Elvis 🙂 The internet can spread news in a second. Head gasket failure at 60K is kind of weird or is this common with the Penstar engine in this van? Glad it worked out BUT your still out of pocket for tow and rentals which you should have not been.
We’ve got (I believe) a 100k mile warranty on the powertrain, courtesy of Winnebago. I’d have to have a print out of the VIP report to get any more detailed than that.
Did anyone ever check the oil when the coolant level went down? First thing I do before doing a coolant pressure test even. A milky white oil dip stick tells all tails!
Also, did you ever lose your trailer lights? My dealer told me I had to empty my van camping equipment, bed et all, because they said the wiring is all inside when the underneath wiring is okay
I didn’t check the oil, but Gordon did.
Never had a problem with our trailer lights. Though I did replace the trailer light module pre-emptively before beginning to tow. (Our trailer has LED lights, and the stock module would always have them glowing softly whenever the trailer was plugged in. The new module turns them actually off when they should be off.) The trailer light module and wiring are inside the rear pillars by the rear doors.
I feel like some details are missing. Was the second alternator add an approved RAM modification? If not, seems like not a RAM warranty repair since, as you said, that initial failure was probably the root cause. I must be missing something.
You may be operating from an outdated premise. Modifications and changes to your vehicle are not required to be “approved” by RAM for the warranty to remain in effect. (Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act)
Look at it this way: A van presents with a blown head gasket. There are modifications to the cooling system to reroute hoses. But those modifications are intact, there is no evidence of them failing, and they hold the required pressure. How is that *not* covered? There is no “pre-existing condition” clause in the warranty that excludes repairs performed two years and 40,000 miles ago, to spec, by a dealer.
Thanks for clarifying, I was missing something.
There are some bad dealers/repair shops out there. I had a bad experience with Arches Repair Center in Moab and with AAA. https://www.archesrepaircenter.net/. I had blown a spark plug on my Class C V10. I was towed to this certified AAA repair shop on the advice of AAA. They said I would have a nationwide warranty and the shop was AAA certified. The shop ruined my engine when they repaired the spark plug threads. They inserted the spark plug so far in that the electrode on the spark plug was broken off and damage the piston head. Right away I felt vibration, but I thought it was my tires.
AAA denied that this was the cause of the exact cylinder that was repaired having no compression. The damage was clearly visible on the piston head with a scope, and I still have the broken spark plug. Electrodes just don’t fall off spark plugs. Even the AAA representative that visited my shop when I reported the problem and saw the damage, admitted that it was their AAA certified shop that caused the problem and they should pay for the repair. The shop lied saying they had recommended a head replacement instead of the cheaper spark plug hole repair. Also AAA is a bunch of smaller clubs with no national resource to go to when you have a problem.
After many futile attempts, I had a new engine installed at the cost of $7K. It runs great now, but I will never recommend the crooks at AAA and Arches Repair Shop in Moab, UT. AAA took my memberships dues, stood behind their certified crooked shop, and left me holding an expensive repair bill.
Gads! OK. They’re off my list while traveling through Moab!
Sorry to hear about your misadventures but inspiring to hear how a methodical yet creative approach and the help of friends is helping get it all sorted. Can you share the name of the Bay Area dealer who professionally is handling the warranty work, please? I’m still on the hunt for a good dealer in these parts. Best to you guys and Mel. Hope it’s a quick turn around for you.
I’m glad to hear that Lance will be back on the road with everything good as new. The story helps remind us about keeping up with vehicle maintenance, and being aware of how problems in the past can come back to haunt you. But the important lesson is to sometimes get a second opinion. Not all dealerships are good, or bad. I’ve also run into a dealership who didn’t know about what was covered under warranty, but luckily it was minor, I left it unrepaired and I moved on. When I got home I had the repair done under warranty at my home dealership.
Yes. ALWAYS get a second opinion. With auto repair as in many other things in life.
Sounds like a stressful couple of days. And yes, Gordon and Edge are great. We were at a meet-up in the desert a couple weeks ago and he installed 20+ of the skid plates during that time. We live near his shop, so we are going to Edge this week to get ours installed.
If you’re in the area, swing by and say hello to Lance! He’s probably lonely…
That was riveting and brought back terrible memories of our experience dealing with our Travato wreck in almost the same area. So glad it ultimately worked out well. It’s really a big benefit to everyone that you painfully went through the details. If you happen to break down in Colorado and we aren’t out ourself, we have a Travato you can borrow.
(But I’m honestly hoping nothing like this ever happens again.)
Sorry to hear that Lance had the breakdown and the subsequent hassle, and hope you get him back soon fully recovered. At least all 3 of you are going OK despite the trials…
Sorry to hear, but glad it all worked out. In the future, remember that CamperVanGuy is just down the road in LA and would have been happy to loan you Starsky, our big red 59G Travato
Sweet! Thanks, Amigo!
CALIFORNIA DEPT CALLED B.A.R MIGHT LIKE TO HEAR ABOUT THIS, THEY DO LOOK INTO THIS KIND OF STUFF. [ AFTER 50 YEARS IN AUTOMOTIVE BUSINESS IN CALIF. B.A.R DOES NOT MESS AROUND.] p/s there are some honest in calif. [ not there any more]
Thanks for the tip. I don’t know if we were just an isolated incident at that dealer or what. We did find that the second dealer seemed to be straight shooters.
Sorry to hear about Lance. It doesn’t take much overheating to blow head gaskets on aluminum engines. Glad to see you again at Tampa RV show. We had a nice talk at the Winnebago display. You were a day early and James was yawning a lot. Probably all those Lance sleepless nights. Anyway , I’m glad that a guy named Gordon, helped you out of trouble. We’re like that !! We head out in March from Florida to Texas and then Arizona. Visiting friends and cousins. Only our second big trip and looking forward to it. Happy Trails.
Here’s wishing you many (trouble-free) miles.
Wow! Glad y’all ended up in good hands, but I can only imagine the stress and exasperation. Thanks for sharing and keep us updated on Lance and Mel.
Fortunately, Mel has about a 15 minute memory.
He’s totally fine now!
Simply unbelievable customer service.
I hope to see you at the Abbotsford Tradex RV show.
Is that the Earlybird RV Show?!? We’ll be there each day doing 2 sessions a day! Come say hi, would be wonderful to meet you! xoxo
Dodge corporate ought to shut places like this down.
So sorry to hear about your stressful events. I’m not a mechanic or an engineer but I think your problems began many miles ago. It seems to me that you increased the load on the engine when you added the second alternator (coupled with the fact that you tow a trailer) but did not consider the impact on the cooling system. Many years ago manufacturers offerred options such as trailer towing packages. These consisted of larger – radiators, brakes and transmission oil cooling components, I know because I always invested in those options. It was just a matter of time before the added stress took its toll on an engine component. Just an opinion.
Yes I agree he over worked his van
He should not blame the Dealer
Lloyd, See my post about overworking the engine.
And I absolutely *do* blame the dealer for deliberately lying to us in an attempt to get us to bite on a $9,000 repair bill. And I also blame the dealer for wasting our time and leaving us stranded with our van and all our stuff locked up in their service area.
John, I’m going to disagree with you on this. In our initial episode years ago, we overheated an aluminum block engine due to a service problem from a previous dealer. That created a time bomb that went off 40,000 miles later.
For reference, our tiny 4’x6′ trailer – even when fully loaded – is something I move around the campground manually. Like… I walk around pulling it. And I probably produce maybe 2 horsepower, max (and only for a brief time). And the second alternator only saps a few horsepower as well. This is on a 300 HP engine. The extra load is minimal and I’d do it again without hesitation.
Blessings to you both! I have had those experiences, with 5 cocker spaniels in tow. Dogs overheating, panic panting, and some idiot in the service area says, “You shouldn’t have brought your dogs.” Well, if I had KNOWN the car was gonna blow……… To have a service manager pull those shenanigans on you is unforgiveable. I am so glad that there was a Plan B that worked out.
It was a Plan B that we came up with in a panic… but yes, it worked out.
Thanks! I can’t imagine trying to do that with 5 dogs!
Hey guys – we travel with our cat as well and always bring along the hard sided cat crate. Yeah it takes up space (though can be broken down) and space is a premium in a class B. But having that tool has helped us on several occasions and kept the cat safe and given us an extra hand (someone is not trying to maintain the cat).We don’t travel without it.
As soon as we got to the dealer, I took the courtesy shuttle (which was around at that hour) to a nearby Petco and bought Mel a crate as a temporary refuge for the day. He spent about half his time in it. Now we have two! We had one at home, but had forgotten to bring it.
You know most people don’t realize how delicate these all aluminum engines are as far as overheating goes. That’s why one should always watch the antifreeze level and keep up the maintenance changes. (which I know doesn’t apply here)
Also the comment in the blog about Mercedes dealers, taking care of customers. Well that’s dealer specific. Our Sprinter dealer here in KC is not one of the ones that goes out of their way to assist in ways you are referring to without costing an arm and a leg.
Point noted… we’ll try not to schedule any work while we’re in your neck of the woods! Mercedes of Medford *was* very kind to us though.
Wow what a story, felt like I was there through it all with you….
btw I missed meeting you folks in Sac by an hour…maybe Sea Otter?!
Yes! Come to Sea Otter!
It could be worse! Our MH caught fire in Shoshone, CA and burned to the ground. Now, that requires a plan B. I’ll send pics if you want. Lots of “lessons learned”.
Yikes! This gives me an idea. I’ll try to contact you separately.
Great news that Lance is on the mend! Unfortunately there is no better RV than the Travato. Engine, transmission, front wheel drive. Just keep Lance serviced. No need to change rigs.
Thanks, David! And yes, we certainly do keep Lance serviced (come on, it’s JAMES after all lol!), and as James said we had just had Lance looked at right before taking off on this trip, and since nothing unusual was spotted, they sent us on with their blessings. Oh well, it’s all good life lessons, right?!!?
So sorry to hear of your awful experience!ll Poor Mel, he had no clue what was going on. Glad you guys made it safely to where you needed to be. Glad you found Gordon. There are still good people out there!
Mel! I know!
Sometimes I try to think what it must be like, to have absolutely no clue what’s going on, or why you’re there, or what will happen next.
If only cats had language skills!
I don’t know… I probably would hear a lot of bad language because of my profession, even though Mel did let me snuggle him for a few seconds at La Mesa.
Ha, “JJ”!!! Yes I suppose being a vet, if they could speak boy would you get an earful! LOLLLLLL!
Wow, that’s terrible. Just goes to show what a quality person/dealer can get done. Glad it eventually worked out for you. Any indication RAM is going to help cover some of the tow bills? That’s pretty steep. Not that it wasn’t worth it.
I hadn’t thought about asking for tow bills to be reimbursed. But at this point, I think I’m not going to push my luck…
But other than alllll that your trip went pretty smooth then……?
Why yes! Other than that little hiccup, the trip was AWESOME! LOL!!!!! #ourreadersmakemyday xoxo
We’ve all had those days! It’s good to have a sense of humor to get you through it! Any way to better days ahead!