Category Archives: Maintenance and Repair

Mystery Achievement

The US Postal Service came through and delivered my new pickleball paddle Monday afternoon. I used it on Tuesday and Wednesday and I’m happy with it. The grip is very comfortable. The performance difference between this paddle and my old one is subtle – I expected a greater change. It gives good power and I feel like I have a little more control, but it’s not a night-and-day difference.

New Head pickleball paddle

I crossed a couple more chores off my “to do” list this week. The first thing was addressing our vent fans. After studying the wiring schematic, I saw the power source ran from the fuse box behind the kick panel in front of the passenger seat all the way to the switch on the bathroom wall. It’s a 14-gauge wire with yellow insulation.

Vent fan switch on the right

At one pole of the switch, another yellow wire is crimped to the connector with the power wire and runs back through the wall into the ceiling and goes to the kitchen vent fan switch. The other pole of the switch completes the circuit to the vent fan motor. This explains why both fans quit working at the same time. If current doesn’t reach the bathroom wall switch, then there’s no current going to the kitchen fan switch either.

Looking at the wall switch plate, I couldn’t see any fasteners. I carefully pried the plastic surround cover with a plastic wedge tool and popped the surround off. The surround cover was held to the actual switch plate with four tabs snapped into square holes on the switch plate.

Switch plate screws revealed

With the surround cover off, I saw the screws holding the switch plate to the wall. With these screws removed, I accessed the wiring. I checked the yellow wires on the vent fan switch and found some interesting readings with my multimeter. At first I found about six to eight volts at the switch – meaning I had a large voltage drop from the 13.4 volts at the battery bank. I wiggled the wires and then read zero volts. I pulled the connector off the switch and checked the crimp and wire ends. I followed the wiring and found it coming out of the wall behind the clothes washer in the utility closet. I looked for breaks or abrasions in the wire and found none. I wiggled the wire where it enters the utility closet and pushed it into the wall opening to provide more slack. When I checked with the meter again, I read 13.4 volts.

Yellow vent fan wires on the right

Aha! Something was amiss with the wiring – there must be a break in the strands of wire and I had pushed them back together. The bad news is – the break must be in the section of wire inside the wall. I can’t just pull the wire out of the wall in the utility closet because the bundle of wires runs through plastic support loops every foot or so – including the portion inside the wall. They must have run the wires and secured the loops before the wall panel inside the closet was closed out.

Wiring coming out of the wall in the back of the utility closet

I was stumped. I gave the wires another wiggle test and lost voltage. My thought was to splice into the wires for the bathroom lighting. I could make a short jumper wire and have a power source for the vent fans without running wires the length of the coach. To do this, I needed some 14-gauge wire and piggyback connectors. I put this project on hold to think it over before I bought the supplies and started splicing. I left it with the switch plate off and reconnected the wiring. Later, the fans came on – I had left the switches in the “on” position. I wiggled the wires again. The fans kept running. I left the fans on all day and they worked fine.

Before pickleball on Wednesday, I stopped at the auto parts store in Pacific Beach. I picked up some yellow 14-gauge wire and splice connectors. I also bought brake fluid for the Spyder. When I came home, I wiggled the wires again and the fans still worked. I decided to hold off on splicing into the other power supply wire and I put the switchplate and surround back together. I don’t like mystery fixes – I’m thinking some time down the road the wire will open again and the fans will lose power. I’ll wait until this happens before I splice the wires – I have what need to do it when the time comes.

Next on my list was the brake fluid level on the Spyder. Can-Am did some weird things when they designed the Spyder. The brake fluid is contained in a two-chamber reservoir with tubing supplying fluid to the master cylinder and hydraulic system. Vehicle master cylinders are dual acting mechanisms. There are separate circuits – in this case one circuit operates the rear brake and a second circuit operates the front brakes. Separating the hydraulics into two circuits adds a margin of safety. This is common practice on cars. Some cars – mostly European – take this approach to the next level by separating the circuits into a right front – left rear and left front – right rear  to give greater braking control in the event of failure of one of the circuits.

Having separate front and rear circuits is all well and good on the Spyder design. The Spyder also has a fluid level sensor in the brake fluid reservoir. But the thing is, the sensor is way too sensitive. The slightest drop in fluid level triggers a brake warning light and the message “Brake Failure” flashes on the dash panel. It’s normal for the fluid level to drop slightly as the brake pads wear. The wear of the pads is taken up by the pistons in the caliper extending further in their bores. This creates more fluid volume in the caliper and it’s drawn out of the reservoir. On the Spyder, the brake fluid reservoir must be periodically topped up to avoid the dire “Brake Failure” warnings.

To make matters worse, they put the brake fluid reservoirs under the seat. The seat can be raised to access the reservoirs and battery, but it only raises a short distance – maybe a 30 degree angle – before it hits the stop.

This is the fully raised seat angle

The geniuses that designed the Spyder put the reservoirs at the back of the seat near the pivot point. There’s no way to get even the smallest brake fluid container in there to fill the reservoir. I poured a small amount of fluid into the bottle cap and added fluid one capfull at a time.

Nice place to put the reservoir

Last time I did this, I used a small syringe, but I didn’t have a clean syringe to use this time. Anyway, it’s job done. No more warning messages.

It’s time to head out and use my new paddle at the Pacific Beach Recreation Center. Earlier this week the forecast called for rain on Friday. Now the weather guessers say there’s only a 10 percent chance of rain through the weekend. Maybe we’ll play pickleball in Ocean Beach tomorrow.

 

Not So Prime Time

We had visitors Friday morning. Tom and Kris Downey came by. They live in Indio now, near Palm Springs. They were on the road for about three years, but sold their rig and bought a small house. We visited for a while and took a walk around the point to see the bay and De Anza Cove. Kris was happy to see the water and seemed to miss their time spent here.

We piled into their car and drove to Ocean Beach for fish tacos at South Beach Bar and Grill on Newport Avenue near the pier. They have some of the best fish tacos around. We forgot about the long weekend due to Veteran’s Day – the beach area was crowded, traffic moved slowly, and we were lucky to find a parking spot. We all ordered the mahi-mahi tacos and had an enjoyable lunch before they had to head for home.

I crossed off another item on my “to do” list on Friday afternoon. The rear brake on the Spyder was noisy and the parking brake release was hanging up – making it difficult to release the parking brake. It’s hard to see the inner brake pad, but it appeared to be worn thin. I ordered replacement pads and picked them up on Thursday. On Friday afternoon, I got started on the job. The new pads came with new caliper mounting bolts and circlips – a nice touch. The caliper mounting bolts double as pins holding the brake pads in place and need to be secured on the back side with the circlips.

Brake pad kit

I know I’ve mentioned it before, but I’ll say it again. I really dislike working on the Spyder. It was designed for ease of manufacturing without much regard for serviceability. I’d really like to get my hands on the engineer that came up with the rear brake caliper set up. To replace the pads without completely removing the caliper and putting it on a bench requires a lot of patience. In hindsight, I should have removed the rear wheel first, but I wanted to avoid doing that because that would entail setting up the belt drive adjustment when I put it back on. I got it done, but it wasn’t as easy as it could have been and involved a few choice words along the way.

After that job, I was ready for a cold one so I hit the Offshore Tavern and Grill. At this time of year, we often have overcast mornings which clear up before thin clouds return in the late afternoon. The thin clouds make fiery sunsets.

Sunset from the Offshore Tavern and Grill

Friday night Donna prepared fennel-crusted porterhouse pork loin chop, acorn squash and roasted brussel sprouts for dinner. She’s sticking to her plan of high protein, low fat and low carb diet. My weight seems to be pretty steady – I might be slowly losing a few pounds. She feeds me larger portions than she’s eating. She actually skipped the squash.

Fennel-crusted pork chop with roasted brussel sprouts and acorn squash

On Saturday evening, we had another visitor. Our friend Mona came by and she brought goodies. She brought along ceviche from the Blue Water Seafood Grill and Market which we snacked on with tortilla chips. It was delicious. She also brought a steelhead filet which I grilled. Mona is allergic to cats, so she and Donna spent the evening outside chatting, huddled under blankets. We met Mona here at Mission Bay RV Park the first year we were here and have been fast friends ever since.

Steelhead filet

Over the weekend, I tried to trace the electrical fault in our vent fans. The Fantastic Fans quit working. It seems like I have a poor connection at the toilet fan switch. The circuit runs power to that switch and from there goes to the kitchen fan switch. I need to remove the switch plate and look at the wiring. The problem is, the switch plate appears to be glued to the wall. There aren’t any visible fasteners. I’ll have to carefully separate the plate from the wallpaper to avoid unsightly damage. I’ll try to get to that today.

I’m heading to Ocean Beach for pickleball this morning. I’m a little irritated with Amazon. Last Wednesday, November 8th, I ordered a new pickleball paddle. With my Prime account it was supposed to arrive in two days. I received the order confirmation and tracking info. The tracking info has been erratic. First it showed the item due to arrive on Saturday. Then on Saturday it said it was delayed. Then it said it would arrive on Sunday – it showed it shipped on Saturday. Now it says it will arrive today – Monday, November 13th. What happened to Prime two-day shipping? I’ll chalk it up to Amazon relying on the US Postal Service for delivering the paddle.

The weather has been holding steady and it looks like we can expect more of the same in the coming week. Daily highs are around 70 degrees with night time lows around 60. That’s winter in San Diego.

 

*Just so you know, if you follow one of my links to Amazon and decide to purchase anything, you pay the same price as usual and  I’ll earn a few pennies for the referral. It’ll go into the beer fund. Thanks!

Lazing on a Sunny Afternoon

Here we are at the end of another week already. The time just flies by here at Mission Bay RV Resort. Donna is staying busy with her early morning workouts and putting in time at her computer getting writing assignments done. I spend about two or three hours a day on the pickleball courts at Pacific Beach Recreation Center or Ocean Beach Recreation Center. This usually wears me out and I come home and relax with a book and maybe take a short nap after lunch.

We started the week with Donna grilling a pork tenderloin on the Weber Q. Donna likes grilling on the Weber Q2200 – it used to be strictly my domain. She put together a nice presentation with a medley of pork medallions and yam slices, served with spaghetti squash on the side.

Pork tenderloin medallions and sliced yam

She also picked up a nice IPA bomber bottle for me made by Mission Brewery here in San Diego. Mission is a well established brewery near Petco Park. New breweries keep popping up in the county – I read an article that stated there are now about 150 breweries in San Diego county. There are a lot of people in California, but I have to wonder how many breweries are sustainable.

Mission Brewery IPA

Tuesday evening we rode with Sini to our friend Mona’s house for dinner. We met Mona’s friend, Dan. Dan made a big spaghetti dinner. He’s also a pickleball player and we talked about the game. It was an enjoyable evening and dinner. He made it to OBRC on Wednesday and we played a couple of games together. Donna played on Wednesday as well.

Donna and Sini preparing a salad at Mona’s house

With all this playing and lazing around, my “to do” list is growing.  Wednesday I knocked one item off the list.  Donna mentioned that the dryer seemed to be taking a long time to dry clothes. I pulled everything out of the utility closet and cleaned the dryer vent hose. Over time, lint builds up and impedes the flow of air through the dryer.

Dryer vent hose

Next on the list is to fix the Fantastic Fans. Both vent fans quit working. They are on a common circuit so I’ll start by going to the fuse panel. I also need to replace the rear brake pads on the Spyder. I ordered new brake pads and picked them up at Fun Bike Center in Kearny Mesa yesterday.

On the way back from Kearny Mesa, I made the usual Thursday afternoon happy hour stop at Dan Diego’s. Here’s another colorful sunset photo from the parking lot at Dan Diego’s.

Sunset over the bay

The weather has been pleasant – partly cloudy with highs in the low to mid 70s. The week ahead is forecast to be slightly cooler with upper 60s to low 70s. I’m not complaining though.

 

Home Again in Albuquerque

I haven’t posted in several days due to lack of time and/or energy. You might recall from my last post, I had our turbocharger rebuilt by Central Motive Power here in Albuquerque. At that time, I said I didn’t know how Central Motive obtained genuine Holset turbo component parts. I thought maybe they had a gray market supplier. I was wrong. It turns out that Cummins Turbo Technologies has two parallel lines of distribution. For authorized Cummins dealers, such as Rocky Mountain Cummins, they only supply complete units – turbochargers, injectors, etc. – either new or remanufactured. However, authorized Holset distributors can stock replacement component parts which they buy from the factory wholesale and sell them to qualified retailers such as Central Motive Power.

My takeaway from this is to research qualified retailers with access to replacement parts before paying a Cummins dealer the high prices for remanufactured units. The savings can be substantial and Central Motive Power gave me the same warranty terms as Cummins.

Before I took our turbo to Central Motive, I asked Alvaro, the service manager at the Cummins dealer, how long it would take to complete the repair if I could have the turbo back to him by the close of business on Thursday. He said it was about three hours of work and should be easily done by mid-day Friday. I brought the rebuilt turbo back to Rocky Mountain Cummins by 2pm on Thursday and was told by Philip in the service department we should be ready to roll by noon on Friday.

We spent Thursday night at Donna’s friend, Hazel Thornton’s house – thanks, Hazel! Hazel, by the way, just had a new version of her book, Diary of a Menendez Juror, republished to coincide with the 20th anniversary of the Mendendez brothers’ first murder trial. She was juror #9. The full story of the case is being featured in a special 8-part Law & Order series that is currently being aired on television. You can learn more about Hazel, her book, and the case here.

Anyway, on Thursday evening, Donna and I took an Uber ride to Rio Rancho for a pre-balloon fiesta party at Brad and Jessica Rice’s house. It was a great party with good food, good people and generous amounts of adult beverages. I had to pass on Friday’s hot air balloon exhibition so we could get our coach. By the way, Uber charged us about 50% more for the ride to Rio Rancho than they did for the ride back – presumably a surcharge for the privilege of taking an Uber ride during rush hour.

Friday morning I didn’t hear anything from Rocky Mountain Cummins – no surprise there, it was par for the course. I rode the Spyder to the shop around 11am. Philip told me it would be ready to roll between 1pm and 2pm. No explanation for the delay. At 1:30pm, Donna and I rode back to the shop – I needed to have Donna along to help me get the trailer hooked up.

We waited and waited and waited. It was 4:30pm before we were ready to roll. Again, no explanation for the delays. Before I could leave, I noticed a boost error and check engine light indicating a fault in the turbo system. The mechanic, Josh, quickly replaced the intake manifold pressure sensor and we were finally on our way. While we were waiting, I had a long conversation with Alvaro and told him areas where he and his team could improve their customer service from my point of view.

By the time we checked in at the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta park, it was 6pm and I was whipped. Lucky for us – we were directed to a site along the southern fence line of the park and didn’t have to drop our trailer. Saturday morning I had the alarm set for 4:15am to get up and out the door for the first day of the nine-day fiesta.

We’ve been having a blast with flights on each of the first four days of the fiesta – I won’t go into details in this post but intend to add them later. The last two weeks in the hotel waiting for repairs have taken a toll. I enjoy the crewing and the fiesta, but I’m worn out from early mornings and the activities and still need a bit of a recharge before I can sit at my laptop to tell this year’s fiesta tales. Here are a few photos from the first four days.

Donna guarding the balloon envelope on day one.

Cold inflation at the break of dawn Sunday

Typical Albuquerque scene during fiesta – 2nd Street looking north

Food and fun tailgating before noon on Sunday

View of Fiesta Park from the President’s Compound today

The weather forecast for the next few days looks promising. Hopefully the balloons will fly every day during this year’s fiesta.

Turbo Delivered

I thought I would have one, maybe two posts about our engine repair in Albuquerque at Rocky Mountain Cummins. Well, this is the sixth installment. If you’ve been following along, you know I’ve had a number of poor communication issues with Rocky Mountain Cummins and also trouble obtaining a replacement turbocharger. After taking the old turbo to Central Motive Power for a rebuild, I saw light at the end of the tunnel.

When I dropped the old turbo off at Central Motive Wednesday, I agreed to pay for expedited shipping to have the necessary part there by Thursday morning. I called at 11am Thursday to confirm and Aaron told me they had the part and Joe was working on the turbo. At 1:30pm, Joe called me and said I was all set.

I went to their shop straight away and Joe had the turbo waiting on the counter wrapped in a heavy plastic bag.

Rebuilt turbo

He told me the Center Housing Rotating Assembly (CHRA) he acquired was a genuine Holset replacement cartridge. I’m not sure how that works – I don’t know how Central Motive Power has access to these parts. Cummins-Holset (now called Cummins Turbo Technologies) won’t sell component parts for their turbochargers in the USA, only complete replacement parts. They remanufacture turbochargers with new CHRAs at their factory and charge high prices for them.

I’m guessing there’s a gray market that imports the component parts from other, less regulated countries. This drives the price of parts up – for example, a CHRA for a Garrett turbo can be had for $400 or less. The Holset part cost me $750. At any rate, the workmanship from Central Motive looks fine and I’m confident this turbo is equal to a Cummins remanufactured part – that Cummins wanted $1,574.00 plus tax for – if they could supply it. I’m into the rebuilt turbo $1,182 including tax and shipping.

As I was leaving Central Motive, my phone rang. It was Rocky Mountain Cummins wanting to know when I would have the turbo back to them. Yeah, that’s right – they had no problem phoning me when they wanted to know when I would get something done after two weeks of silence when I wanted to know when they would get the job done. I told them I was on my way and dropped off the turbo 15 minutes later.

My timing was good – I dropped off the turbo just as they were ready to install it and I beat a thunderstorm back to Hazel’s place where we spent the night in her guest house. Rocky Mountain Cummins said they would have the coach done mid-day today.

Last night we took an Uber ride up to Rio Rancho to a pre-balloon fiesta dinner party at Brad and Jessica Rice’s house. It was fun to get together with the crew. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to help with the pre-fiesta exhibition launch this morning, but if all goes well I’ll be crewing for the official start tomorrow.

The best birthday present I could wish for is the return of our home on wheels today so we can get set up at the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta Park for nine days of hot air ballooning!

 

One Way or Another

Things went from bad to worse on Monday (see previous post). I went to Albuquerque Rocky Mountain Cummins Monday morning to meet with their parts manager, Hans. He didn’t have good news for me. The information I was given Friday turned out to be incorrect. The replacement turbocharger they located wasn’t in a warehouse in New Jersey. It was at the Cummins-Holset turbocharger factory in Memphis, Tennessee. But it was damaged and unusable.

I asked Hans what the next step was. He said the issue had been escalated and they were trying to find another part. I asked him why the damaged turbo couldn’t be repaired and shipped – it was at the factory, right? He said that may be one of the options they were looking at. I asked who “they” were – there had to be someone that was a decision-maker involved with this. I got nowhere.

I went back to the hotel and called Cummins Customer Care at 10am. I reached a guy named Jesse there. I went through the whole saga and asked if he could tell me who was working on finding a replacement turbo for me. He said it was in the hands of someone named Chelsea – but we couldn’t talk directly with that person. He said he would look into it and I would receive a call back or e-mail by the close of business that afternoon. That didn’t happen.

Tuesday morning I was back at the Cummins shop.  Hans told me he didn’t have any update – he was waiting to hear from Chelsea. My patience ran out. I told him someone needed to take ownership of this issue and get into action. Sitting around waiting for someone else to do something wasn’t getting us anywhere. Somewhere along the chain of command there was a decision-maker that needs to give us an answer – either they’ll repair the damaged unit they have on hand or a replacement part would be available on a certain date. I couldn’t wait on an open-ended order, I needed a date so I could make decisions of my own.

Back at the hotel, I called customer care again. After 56 minutes on hold, I spoke to Jesse again and asked why I didn’t get a phone call or e-mail. He said he had escalated the case and the second level was supposed to call me. I told him it didn’t happen and this was a clear example of what was happening on the parts side of things. Hans placed the order on September 22. When he didn’t receive the part, he decided to look into it a week later. Through e-mail, he was told that Chelsea would handle it. End of the line – was Chelsea in fact doing anything or was this like the case where Jesse assumed the second level person had called me back? Someone needs to ask Chelsea where we stand, someone has to ask for accountability – not just sit back and wait to see what happens next. I haven’t heard anything more from Cummins Customer Care.

Donna made it back from her visit with her parents in Vermont around 10pm. We caught up on news over a drink in the hotel bar.

This morning I went back to the Cummins shop. More of the same – no response on the part order. When I pressed Hans to get a timeline, he said as it stands they expect to have the part in November. I asked him if that meant November 1st or November 30th. He said he didn’t know. So, what he was really saying was that he didn’t have a clue when the part would become available.

I asked to see the old part again. I was considering having the old part put back on. I knew it was functional – I just didn’t feel good about its reliability and potential for additional damage. Looking at the nicks on the leading edges of the vanes on the compressor wheel, I was concerned about stress risers that would lead to cracks and possible separation of a blade.

I asked about rebuilding the turbocharger. Cummins-Holset will not sell the individual parts, only the entire unit, so they don’t rebuild them. I was told an outfit called Central Motive might rebuild it though.

I called Central Motive. Their guy, Joe, took the part number of the turbo and said he needed to make a few calls for parts and would get back to me in 45 minutes. My phone rang 45 minutes later. Joe said he might have a turbo in their Denver facility. If not, he located a Center Housing Rotating Assembly (CHRA) and could rebuild the turbo. The CHRA is the guts of turbo – all of the working parts including the turbine wheel, connecting shaft with bearings and seals and the compressor wheel. He could take the housing apart, bead blast it and install the new CHRA and I would be in business. He said if I was willing to pay the cost of overnight shipping for the CHRA, he could have it done by Thursday afternoon. Bingo!

I asked the Cummins service manager what the timeline would look like if I took the turbo to Central Motive and brought it back by the end of the day Thursday. They had the radiator stack and all of the other parts on hand. He said he would get the job done Friday if I had the turbo by the end of Thursday. It looks like this will solve the problem.

I loaded the turbocharger into the Spyder and rode to Central Motive a few miles away. Joe and the manager, Aaron, looked the turbo over. Joe told me he hadn’t heard back from Denver and it was still possible a new replacement could be found. He said one way or another, I would have a turbo ready to go by Thursday afternoon. I’m just as happy to have my unit rebuilt. Joe and Aaron said the housing looked great. The CHRA is a complete, balanced assembly and should be as good as a new one. Joe and Aaron seemed enthused and very confident they could deliver.

Tomorrow we have to leave the hotel – I managed to get one more night here so we’re good until Thursday morning. Donna’s friend, Hazel Thornton, offered to put us up. Jessica Rice also offered to let us stay at their place. Ozark the cat complicates the matter – but at Hazel’s we’ll be in a room in her guest house, separate from the main house and her two cats. If all goes well, we’ll only be there for one night. Friday we should be driving the coach to the Balloon Fiesta Park and setting up for the fiesta.

But Wait, There’s More

The level of communication between Albuquerque Rocky Mountain Cummins and me has been poor at best. With that in mind, I decided to pay the shop a visit on Thursday afternoon to check on progress and see if they had confirmation of shipment of the new Charge Air Cooler (CAC).

I asked the Service Coordinator, Philip, about it. He picked up the phone on his desk and called the radiator shop. Then he told me the CAC had shipped and they expected it no later than Friday. I took this as good news. We walked out to the shop so I could retrieve a couple more items from the coach.

Before I left, Philip said, “Of course, if they have the CAC tomorrow, it doesn’t mean we’ll able to have the coach ready then.” I told him I understood – the radiator shop had to assemble the radiator stack and get it back to the shop. The mechanic had to finish putting the turbo assembly on the engine and install the cooling stack. I asked him if he thought Tuesday was realistic. He said he thought it was, but then he dropped a bomb. He told me they hadn’t received the replacement turbocharger yet.

I kept my mouth shut but thought, “What?” Last Monday they told me they would have the part by the next day. This potentially complicates matters. The mechanic will want to install the exhaust manifold and turbocharger before he installs the radiator stack. If he installs the stack – engine coolant radiator, CAC, hydraulic fluid cooler and AC condenser – he will limit the accessibility to the engine and exhaust system.

Yesterday I stopped by the shop in the afternoon again. As I said, communication isn’t their strong point – I figure if I want an update, I’d better stop in and ask. Philip confirmed the CAC had been delivered but then told me they should have the replacement radiator core on Monday! What? Again I bit my tongue – this was the first time any mention was made of needing to order the core and any delay with it.

The radiator core is the center portion of the radiator. It consists of tubes running from the radiator inlet tank to the outlet tank. Coolant passes through these tubes from one tank to the other. Thin aluminum or copper fins are attached to the tubes to transfer heat from the coolant to the air passing through the fins. Our radiator core had corrosion and the radiator shop was replacing the core, reusing the original tanks and end plates.

But wait, there’s more – Philip lobbed the final bomb. There was a problem getting the turbocharger. He said one had been located by Cummins, but it was in a warehouse in New Jersey that wasn’t operational at this time. Apparently, the warehouse is unmanned but it holds the only turbocharger in the country to fit our coach. He said the Cummins Holset turbochargers used on motorhomes have unique fittings and linkages.

He went into the service manager’s office to talk to the manager, Alvaro. He came out a minute later and told me their parts manager was working on a solution with Cummins, but wasn’t present at the moment. He said I should come back Monday morning to learn the disposition of the part in the warehouse. I think we’re in real trouble here.

The hotel has already informed me that we’ll be kicked to the curb on Wednesday. All the rooms in the area are booked for the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. It’s the largest hot air balloon event in the world and it’s impossible to find a vacancy from a few days before the fiesta until the end two weeks later.

All I can do at this point is wait until Monday and hope for the best. Donna will return Tuesday night. I’m holding on to some hope they’ll be working on the coach by then.

We’ve had a series of thunderstorms passing through since Wednesday and that has hampered my activities. Yesterday, after I left the shop, I went to Rio Bravo Brewing. I looked for the owner, Randy, but he wasn’t in. He’d promised a brewery tour. The bar manager took me back to the brewhouse. When I mentioned I had experience with home brewing, he was relieved not to have go through the brewing 101 spiel about how beer was made and cut right to their equipment and processes. The brew master, Ty Levis, was there and he gave me a one-on-one tour and talked about some advanced techniques he uses and some experimental brews he’s working on. It was one of the best brewery tours I’ve had. I didn’t take any photos because they all start looking the same – stainless steel fermenters and mash tuns, etc.

An interesting thing I learned at Rio Bravo had to do with the canned beer they distribute. The four-packs are held together with what looks like plastic rings, just like you find on most six-packs. But they’re not. They are biodegradable, I think he said they’re made from corn starch. Don’t get the four-pack wet – it might disintegrate into loose cans!

I don’t have any big plans for the weekend – I’ll just wait and see what comes next.

Time and Money

In a previous post I gave a simplified overview of turbocharging and why it includes a charge air cooler (CAC). I want to share a few more words about CACs. A casual look may lead you to believe it’s the same as an engine coolant radiator except air flows through it. This is partially right, but there are key differences.

CACs are designed and constructed to operate under very harsh conditions. Engine coolant radiators have it fairly easy by comparison. Hot coolant – around 180 – 190 degrees – starts flowing through the coolant radiator when the thermostat opens. It’s pressurized to about 15 psi. The pressure and temperature stay fairly constant until the engine is shut down and it slowly cools.

A CAC is subject to a wide variation in pressure – anything from atmospheric to 30 or 40 psi above atmospheric. The pressure changes almost instantaneously, depending on engine load. As hot air enters the inlet side of the CAC and travels across the core, it cools and the pressure drops slightly. The inlet tank, core diameters and outlet tank are sized to try to maintain even flow and pressures throughout the CAC. The temperature of the air flowing through the CAC also varies widely during normal operation and the CAC cools very quickly when the engine is shut down.

These pressure and temperature variations in the CAC require careful design and robust construction – something much more durable than an engine coolant radiator. Where coolant radiators usually have the inlet and outlet tanks formed from sheet metal, CACs are usually made from castings. They can be die cast or sand cast. This is a much more expensive process than fabricating from sheet metal.

CACs come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Engine manufacturers such as Cummins or Caterpillar don’t normally include the CAC when they supply engines to vehicle manufacturers – they supply a specification that must be met and it’s up to vehicle manufacturer to come up with the CAC. On heavy duty trucks like a Peterbilt or Kenworth they use their own standard designs whenever possible to take advantage of economy of scale.

RV manufacturers may use an off-the-shelf part or they might have a specific size and shape CAC made exclusively for a particular coach. Either way, a CAC for a motorhome is much more expensive than one for a heavy duty truck. They don’t come cheap!

Last Thursday when the guys at Albuquerque Rocky Mountain Cummins pressurized our CAC and showed me where it was leaking, I had a sinking feeling. If a seam in the core is leaking, it can usually be repaired by welding it. If the cast tanks are cracked and leaking, it’s not usually repairable. The guys at the shop seemed confident that they could get our CAC repaired. I was skeptical.

On our coach – and most coaches with side radiators – the heat exchangers are combined in a stack. The engine coolant radiator is mounted closest to the engine compartment with the CAC – which is dimensionally similar – mounted in front of it, nearest the outside of the coach. Stacked on top of that is a smaller heat exchanger to cool the hydraulic fluid that operates the fan motor. I had the entire stack sent to a radiator specialist to re-core the radiator, repair the CAC and clean (rod out) the hydraulic fluid cooler.

Yesterday the radiator shop confirmed my fears. Our CAC is toast – they cannot repair it. We’ll have to replace this very expensive component and we’ll have to wait for them to acquire the proper part. They’re saying they can have one within a week. I’m hoping so. If not, we’re in trouble – it’s not just time and money. The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta begins at the end of next week. Starting Wednesday night, all of the hotels in the area are fully booked – no vacancies!

This morning Donna got on the 7am shuttle to the airport. She’ll be in Bennington, Vermont visiting her parents for the next week. With any luck, she’ll be back in time for us to take the repaired coach to the Balloon Fiesta Park!

One Thing Leads to Another

We made it through the weekend in our temporary quarters at the Hotel Elegante in Albuquerque. The weekend was just a waiting period until we could see what comes next in our engine repair saga. Although the square footage of our hotel room isn’t much different than that of our coach, the layout is very different. The hotel room is made for sleeping and the small desk and storage areas are afterthoughts. The coach is much more comfortable and organized – long hot showers notwithstanding.

On Saturday afternoon, we headed over to Marble Brewing to take the 2pm tour. They were having a fundraiser for the Albuquerque Mountain Rescue Council and that packed the house. The brewery tour had to be broken up into two groups and the groups were still too large. It was interesting nonetheless. The thing I found most interesting was part of their process – they boil the wort in a 30-barrel brew kettle. This isn’t unusual – what’s different is that the wort is transferred to 150-barrel fermentation vessels. It takes five batches to fill the fermenter! It must be quite a task to keep things consistent when you have to brew five batches before you begin the fermentation.

150-barrel fermenters

We also viewed a temperature-controlled storage room filled with wooden casks where beer was being barrel-aged.

A portion of their barrel-aging storage

The bottling line

We sampled a few ounces of brew, then decided to leave the crowded brew pub and head over to Rio Bravo Brewery. They have a large brew pub and it’s really laid back. They also serve food – Marble and Tractor brewing rely on food trucks.

Donna had a quinoa and arugula salad to go with her porter while I ordered a New Mexico treat. In Michigan, you’ll find cafes that specialize in what they call Coney Dogs. These are hot dogs covered in a type of beef chili (no beans) and various other condiments. In New Mexico, they serve hot dogs with cheese and diced green chilies. It was tasty.

Green chili cheese dog

On Sunday morning, Donna wanted to get out and get some exercise in the fresh air. So she rode the Spyder to the east end of Menaul Boulevard to the Menaul Trailhead to hike. I stayed at the hotel and watched a very entertaining Moto GP race from Aragon, Spain. Valentino Rossi showed his talent as well as his toughness as he held on to second place for much of the race before fading to fifth place near the end – this was just 24 days after he broke his leg! He broke his tibia and fibula in a training accident and could barely walk a few days ago.

On Sunday evening, Donna took an Uber ride to the Old Town area to meet up with her friend Hazel. They walked from Hazel’s house to the Range Cafe restaurant where they met up with more friends. I stayed home and watched the Oakland Raiders struggle against the Washington Redskins.

On Monday morning, it was time to get back to business. I was getting ready to go over to Rocky Mountain Cummins when they phoned and told me they had the turbocharger removed and I should come and look at it. The original estimate called for a turbo replacement due to oil leaking past the seals. I didn’t believe this was the case. The oil in the intake and turbo housing was coming from the auxiliary compressor on the engine. This compressor supplies air for the suspension system and air-operated parking brake.

With the turbo removed, I could see there wasn’t anything wrong with the shaft bearings or seals, however it did have a problem. The blades on the intake compressor wheel were damaged. They had small nicks in the leading edges of the blades. This is usually the result of foreign objects ingested through the intake system. That could be really bad news as any foreign material would pass through the engine and most likely damage pistons and cylinders or at least piston rings. Close inspection revealed the nicks only to be on the leading edges – dirt or other abrasives show themselves across the blade. Also, there was oil in the turbo and no sign of dust or dirt in the oil.

In talking it over with the mechanic doing the work, Josh, we came to the conclusion that the nicks in the leading edges of the blades were likely caused by droplets of oil being struck by the spinning compressor blades. The turbine wheel on the exhaust side, the shaft and the compressor wheel and blades are constructed from lightweight materials. This allows the wheels to quickly spool up to high operating RPM – over 100,000 RPM at times. The compressor is designed to operate in a clean air environment.

The integrity of the blade material is important. Anything that weakens the structure could lead to a failure such as blade separation. That would be bad, very bad. A blade failure would send pieces of the blade through the engine with catastrophic results. I decided to have the turbocharger replaced.

Turbocharger on bench

Close-up of compressor blade damage

I saw the exhaust manifold on a cart. It wasn’t just cracked – it was completely broken into two pieces! This is likely due to the leak in the charge air cooler. A pressure leak in the CAC can lead to excessively high exhaust gas temperature. One thing leads to another.

Broken exhaust manifold

Now we’re back in a waiting pattern. The CAC and engine coolant radiator are at the radiator shop to be re-cored. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that they can repair the CAC. If all goes well there, the shop may have everything back together by Thursday – we’ll see. One good thing about being here in Albuquerque is the availability and concentration of qualified shops. There’s a lot of heavy-duty truck traffic due to I-25 and I-40 intersecting here without much else within a few hundred miles. The Albuquerque Rocky Mountain Cummins is one of 32 Cummins Coach Care Centers in the USA. They do a lot of RV work.

Tomorrow morning, Donna flies back to Albany, New York. She’s visiting her parents for a week in Bennington, Vermont. It’s pretty good timing for her – she can get out of this hotel. Meanwhile it presents a logistical dilemma for me. If the coach is ready to roll on Thursday, I need to figure out how to get all of our stuff and Ozark the cat from our hotel to the coach. I’ll come up with something and try to remain optimistic about having the work completed by then.

A Can of Worms

I mentioned in an earlier post an engine problem we began to experience in Colorado. We had an intermittent loss of boost pressure causing a reduction of power. When this happened, it set a fault code in the Engine Control Module (ECM) and the engine maintenance light in the instrument panel illuminated. I interrogated the ECM with our ScanGauge D and found a Diagnostic Trouble Code (DTC) telling me that the intake manifold pressure wasn’t at the expected level. Due to the intermittent nature of the issue, I assumed it was a poor electrical connection or a problem with the pressure sensor.

While we were in Abiquiu, New Mexico I investigated the problem and found a crack in the exhaust manifold. This can cause a boost pressure problem. Our Cummins ISL diesel engine is turbocharged. A turbocharger is a device with two chambers in a steel housing – one chamber is fitted to the exhaust system while the other chamber is connected to the engine intake system. Each chamber has a wheel – think of it as a windmill although its shape is more complex than that.

The exhaust side is called the turbine. Hot exhaust is expelled from the combustion chamber and flows through the exhaust manifold and the turbine side of the turbocharger. This spins the turbine wheel. This wheel is mounted to a shaft that passes through the housing and is connected to the wheel on the intake side. This is the compressor wheel. The spinning turbine wheel turns the compressor wheel and the energy transferred compresses the air flowing into the engine through the intake system.

In order to burn fuel in an internal combustion engine, you need fuel and enough oxygen to combine with the fuel. The more oxygen you can pack into the combustion chamber, the more fuel you can efficiently burn and the more power you can extract from the fuel. The compressor side of the turbocharger packs more air into the engine. But there’s a catch. Compressing the air heats it and the turbocharger housing is also very hot. Hotter air is less dense than cooler air, thus negating some of the advantage of pressurizing the intake system. To counter this, most turbochargers use a type of radiator in the intake system – the hot pressurized air is directed through a cooler to reduce the air temperature and increase air density. These coolers are usually an air-to-air radiator called an intercooler or Charge Air Cooler (CAC).

The exhaust leak in our manifold was allowing the hot exhaust gasses to escape before they entered the turbine of the turbocharger. This imparted less energy to the turbine wheel and it couldn’t spin the compressor wheel at the proper speed.

Cracked exhaust manifold

I knew this had to be repaired immediately. In our case, immediately meant when we arrived in Albuquerque. Northern New Mexico is fairly remote and there wasn’t a shop closer than Albuquerque that I trusted. I was still bothered by the intermittent nature of the problem. The exhaust leak was a constant mechanical defect so why was I losing boost intermittently?

We left Los Suenos de Santa Fe RV Park around 11am on Wednesday and stopped for lunch across the street. Then we took US 14 south through the small towns of Madrid, Golden and Antonito avoiding I-25. It was a scenic and leisurely drive – there’s very little traffic and I could cruise without pushing the engine too hard.

We arrived at Rocky Mountain Cummins around 1:30pm and I checked in with their service department. I had an appointment for 7am Thursday morning. We talked about the repair and the time frame. Completing the exhaust manifold replacement in one day was doubtful. They told me I could park the coach and trailer on the street in front and hook up to their 50-amp electrical pedestal.

Donna packed a bag – she would spend the night in a nearby hotel with Ozark the cat. We walked with her suitcase, laptop bag and a couple of plastic bags with cat supplies to the Comfort Inn on 4th Avenue a few blocks away. We walked past a small park with many homeless people sleeping in the shade. We must have looked like upscale vagabonds carrying our stuff past the park. Ozark wasn’t comfortable in the hotel room – she spent most of the time hiding under the bed – she’s so accustomed to her home in the coach.

I stayed overnight in the coach – it wasn’t the best neighborhood and I didn’t want to leave the coach unattended. The Rocky Mountain Cummins shop is fully fenced in with standard chain-link and barbed wire fencing backed up with a 7,000-volt electric fence. On Thursday morning, I dropped the trailer in their fenced lot and checked in for my appointment at 7am – the coach and trailer would be secure in their fenced lot from that point. That’s when things started on a downhill spin.

They weren’t very organized at the service counter. I had talked to the woman there, Barbara, twice in the last week to make sure they had parts and were ready to do the work. She acted like she didn’t know who I was or why I was there. She wrote up the work order and I sat in the waiting area to see how things would progress. At 9am, our coach was still sitting where I parked it.

The service manager, Alvaro, was in a meeting. I asked for him and he left his meeting to talk to me. I explained the situation beginning with the appointment I made a week ago and the estimate they e-mailed me at that time. I also explained the need to get the work done so we weren’t stuck in a hotel. He apologized for the issue and told me the guy that scheduled the work and made the estimate was out of the office. He put someone on the job and work commenced.

I hung around until noon, then went to the hotel to take Donna out to lunch. Wouldn’t you know it, while I was at lunch, Barbara phoned and said Alvaro wanted to show me some issues they found with the engine. I went back to the shop. It was bad news. The charge air cooler had a leak. They pressurized the CAC and showed me where it was leaking. The CAC would have to be removed to see if the leak was repairable. Hopefully a radiator shop can repair it. If it needs to be replaced, it’s not a common part and might be difficult to find. Motorhomes use CACs designed to fit their layout, unlike a heavy duty truck that would use a common part.

The CAC is sandwiched between the coolant radiator and air conditioning condenser. It’s a big job to remove it. They also found oil in the turbocharger and thought it was damaged. I wasn’t convinced it needed replacement. Turbocharger oil seals aren’t like the rubber seals on a crankshaft for example. The shaft is sealed with steel rings, like a piston ring. Seal failure on a turbo is usually the result of a lubrication system problem – I didn’t have an issue there.

Further inspection revealed the source of the oil was the accessory air compressor on the engine. The compressor draws fresh air from the filtered intake air upstream from the turbocharger. The compressor was leaking and some oil was entering the intake system from it. The compressor would have to be replaced.

This was quickly turning into a can of worms. An expensive can of worms. I gathered a few things and spent the night at the hotel with Donna. On Friday, we checked out at noon and moved to the Hotel Elegante on Menaul – a better neighborhood. They had a special rate for Cummins employees and customers. Donna called Uber to transport herself and Ozark while I drove the Spyder. Ozark isn’t sure what to make of our new digs and mode of travel.

After checking in, we went back to the shop to get more clothes and necessities. We will be out of the coach for an undetermined amount of time at this point. While we were at the shop, I looked things over and had another nasty find.

This is where the coolant radiator and CAC normally reside at the left rear of the coach

AC condenser, CAC and coolant radiator behind the CAC

The coolant radiator had corrosion on about a quarter of the fins and the core was about to rust through. It needs to be re-cored. This is the part of the radiator closest to the rear wheels – it can’t be seen without crawling into the engine compartment from underneath and removing the fan shroud. Send more money!

Lower right corner of radiator core corroded

I’m hoping there aren’t any more bad surprises. As my friend and fellow motorhome owner, John Hinton, reminded me – I should be thankful to be getting the repairs made here in Albuquerque rather than being stuck on the side of the highway in some remote area.

Meanwhile, Donna and I are making the best of it, staying at a hotel and taking advantage of the amenities. We’ve also found a few breweries in the area – Rio Bravo, Marble and Tractor. They have great brews that are only found here in New Mexico.

I found a sign on 4th Avenue near downtown – Donna will set me free! I wish she could bail our coach out of the shop.

Better call Donna!

I’ll update our situation when I know more on Monday.