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.
Part of the install for a ProMaster second alternator is adding belts re-routing coolant hoses underneath the engine. I’m pretty handy with an RV, but I know my limits, so I had the local dealer install the second alternator for me.
Well, they had never done one of these before. About 50 miles after that install, while climbing a mountain, Lance suddenly and inexplicably overheated. As soon as we got to safety, I realized that one of the new belts had been installed too close to one of the new hoses, and it eventually cut through the hose, dumping all the coolant onto the highway. BAM – Instant overheating.
The dealer in question fixed the problem at their expense… twice.
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 suspected these were all follow-on issues from that initial episode, so 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.
Only this time, 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.
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.
“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 just suffering the cost of being on the bleeding edge.
- We did hear that our service advisor, 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!