Tuesday, September 1, 2015

The long, ugly truck story . . .


Go back to May 14, 2015 . . . we had spent 3 wonderful weeks with Nicolas, and we were on our way to the RV-Dreams Reunion Rally in North Carolina, with a couple of short stops in Georgia on the way.

Travelling along the scenic back roads of south Carolina, we were almost to Augusta, GA when suddenly there was a billowing cloud of white smoke coming out from behind the truck.  Our first thought was tire blowout, but the truck was also shuddering a little and the smoke seemed to be coming from the tailpipe. 

We were on a narrow road with no shoulder, so we looked for a driveway that we could pull into.  Once we were pulled over, Tom shut the truck down and we checked for trouble codes, even though there was no “engine light” on.  There was one code set – P0263 – Cylinder #2 Contribution Imbalance.  After a phone call to a mechanic we’ve used back home, we determined that we could drive the 20 miles to the closest Ford Dealer (in hindsight, it wasn’t a good idea). 

It "looks" normal


We made it to the Ford dealer, with the truck spewing a bunch of oil as we came to a stop in the driveway.  We needed to unhitch the RV, so they directed us to a field behind the dealership where we could spend the night.

We got the RV parked and leveled, and brought the truck back down to the service bay to get written up.  The technician would take a look at it first thing in the morning.




Camping at Bobby Jones Ford

We settled in for the night, and Tom made phone calls to try to figure out what could have happened and what the possible outcomes would be.

Truck in distress

The next morning, we got the worst possible news . . . piston #2 cracked and the cylinder was damaged . . . solution – new engine!  Estimated cost:  $21,000!

We needed some time to digest this information, and to explore other options, and since it was already Friday they couldn’t get an engine until the next week.  We didn’t have any hookups out in their field, and the weekend was expected to be HOT, so we made arrangements to have the RV towed to an RV Park just down the road.  We would be able to stay there until the following Friday, when we were supposed to arrive at the RV Dreams Reunion Rally.

Getting the RV moved by AAA was quite an adventure!

Ready to move

Moving 2 miles down the road











There’s our big rig being towed by another big rig!

I must say, this was the most help we’ve ever had parking the RV, and these guys were really wonderful.


Lots of help getting it backed in

We were lucky that the road was wide, and we had plenty of room for maneuvering!  The driver was not leaving until we were completely happy with the placement of the RV.

Getting backed into our site

They did a really good job!

We're in!


He can still smile!

With everything going on, he could still smile!

We spent the weekend making phone calls and discussing our options.

Do we get the new engine, do we find somebody who can rebuild the engine for (hopefully) less, or do we try to replace the truck in its current state?

The dealer could not rebuild the engine – Ford just does not allow dealers to do that sort of thing, on engines or transmissions.  We talked to the used vehicle manager about the trade value of our truck as is.  They valued it at $29,000, but then subtracted the cost of the repair, leaving us with just $8000 to get a new truck.  Tom started calling diesel shops in Georgia – most would not rebuild the engine, but would get a new short block and use much of the external components from our engine.  It was a less expensive option than the completely new engine.

At the same time, the dealer submitted our request to Ford for warranty coverage.  We only had just over 50,000 miles on the truck, but it was 7 years old (100,000 mile/5 year warranty).  I’m sure you can guess what the answer was!  Even with our connections, we got nowhere.  The Customer RELATIONSHIP Center would not even talk to us, and my emails to the Supervisor and her Manager went unanswered.  (I’m not quite done with them yet!)

Tom decided to talk to some of the Diesel Performance guys that are around, including the one who installed the tuner in our truck to see if rebuilding the engine was an option.  He ended up talking to a guy in Atlanta who was confident that it could be done if the damage wasn’t too bad.

We ended up calling AAA again to transport the truck from Augusta to Atlanta.     Almost ready to move










All secure and ready to roll!

Tom and I followed in the car, and the truck arrived safe & sound at the diesel shop.


Unloading at Ford Performance Specialists

Looks lonely out there!










It looks so sad sitting out there!

We discussed the repair with Doug, and he warned us that it could take up to 6 weeks, depending on how badly the block was damaged.  He felt confident, though, that it could be repaired, and that we would be looking at about half the cost of the new engine from Ford.

That was May 19th, and we returned to Augusta to figure out what we were going to do with the rest of our summer and how we were going to move the RV from place to place.

Our initial thought was to continue to use AAA – we get 4 tows per year (and our year resets on July 1) of 100 miles each.  Mileage over that is charged at $4 per mile.  We had 2 tows left to use in June.  Tom wasn’t crazy about towing with a big wrecker truck all the time; he would feel more comfortable finding somebody with a pickup.

We had 3 days to figure out how to get to the RV Dreams Rally, so Tom got busy.  He ended up finding a guy in the RV Park who had a Fuzion triple-axle toyhauler and towed with a Chevy dually.  He was available on Friday, and agreed to tow us up to Marion, NC.

Hitched up for our move to North Carolina

The Chevy towed quite well, and Tom was impressed!

We greatly enjoyed the Reunion Rally, and it was an excellent way to keep our minds off the truck – when Tom wasn’t talking about the truck, that is!!

We still had a few weeks to wait, but we started getting a few status photos.     Yikes!  Cab off the truck frame!













The truck taken apart, and the engine completely disassembled and the parts all piled in the bed of the truck.


The problem was determined to be a failed injector which cracked the piston and scored the cylinder.  Fortunately, the damage was confined to that one cylinder, although quite a bit of oil passed through the turbos, resulting them to have to be rebuilt, as well.

We knew we had to wait until the 3rd week of June, so we stayed at Tom Johnson an extra week after the rally ended.  There were several other RV-Dreamers sticking around, so we were in good company.

Since we were going to be in the south through June anyway, we made plans to meet up with some of Tom’s cousins in Gulf Shores the first week of July.  Prior to that, we made plans to spend a week in Commerce, Georgia and another 10 days in Pine mountain, Georgia.  Pine Mountain would put us within 75 miles of the shop, so that when the truck was done we could pick it up easily and get back to the RV.

When it was time to leave Tom Johnson, Tom called around to several transporters, but wasn’t having much luck finding somebody to tow us.  He ended up talking to some of the porters at the dealership, and was able to get a decent price from Tom Johnson RV for towing us down to Commerce.

From Tom Johnson to Commerce, Georgia

We were towed by a Ford this time, and it felt almost normal!

The campground we stayed at in Commerce was not great, but the location was ok, and we managed to find a few things to do.  Tom once again found somebody to tow us to our next location, although we did have to move a day earlier than originally planned.  It was a guy working in the area, and he was driving home to Montgomery, Alabama for the weekend and his route would take him right past Pine Mountain.

Moving from Commerce to Pine Mountain

He had an older, 7.3L Ford, but it did the job!  We thought this would be our last time being towed by a truck other than our own . . .

The RV Park in Pine Mountain was much nicer, and with the hot weather that settled into the area, we made good use of the pool!

Nicolas found out that he could get some additional leave time at the end of June, so he made plans to meet us in Pine Mountain and travel with us to Gulf Shores.

Our plans didn’t quite work out that way, though . . .

On June 23rd, just 3 days before we were supposed to head down to Gulf Shores, we got a call that the truck wasn’t going to be ready.  It was all back together and running, but he discovered that it had a fuel leak and a “violent vibration”.  The really bad part was that he had moved another vehicle into the shop before he realized it, and couldn’t bring ours back in until that one was finished.  It was going to be another 2 or 3 weeks before we could get our truck back . . . talk about disappointing!

We once again evaluated all of our options.  We had tentatively planned to go the Panama City Beach for a week after Gulf Shores, to meet up with some friends and check out the area.  This plan would require 2 separate tows.  However, if we had the RV towed directly to Panama City Beach, we could save one tow and it was actually closer than Gulf Shores.  We called our friends, and found out that there was a volunteer opening at Camp Helen State Park for the month of July, so that sounded like it was going to be our best option.  We made plans for a day trip to Gulf Shores to visit with the cousins.

We cancelled our reservation in Gulf Shores, and made arrangements to be towed down to Camp Helen on Saturday.  Nicolas arrived as planned, so we had quite a little caravan travelling down to Panama City Beach . . . this time with the RV being towed by a Dodge!

One more time -- getting hitched up!

We enjoyed our month of volunteering at Camp Helen, and made plans for our return to Michigan in mid-August, giving ourselves 10 days to travel from Florida to the west coast of Michigan.

On July 14th, exactly 2 months after the engine blew, Tom and I travelled to Atlanta to FINALLY pick up the finished truck.


We were so blindly optimistic . . .

On our way back to Panama City Beach from Atlanta, we stopped for lunch and fuel . . . and Tom discovered oil dripping under the truck!  We thought about turning around right then, but we didn’t.  We rationalized that it looked like it was coming from the rear main seal and maybe it just needed time to seal itself.  We tried calling the shop, but didn’t get an answer.

We continued to Panama City Beach, knowing that one more trip to Atlanta was probably in our future.  Tom finally got in touch with Doug, and he assured us that the leak could easily be fixed and would not result in any additional damage.  We made arrangements to return to Atlanta at the end of July.

In the meantime, we continued to drive the truck every day, looking for additional issues.  Unfortunately, we found one . . . two days after getting the truck home, we also had an engine light on!  To say we were upset and frustrated would be an understatement!

We finished up the month in Camp Helen, and with assurances that the truck would be fine towing the RV, we set out for Atlanta on July 26th (a Sunday . . . we rarely travel on Sundays). 

Finally back to normal!

Our destination was a campground west of Atlanta, within about 30 minutes of the diesel shop, and we would drop the truck off first thing Monday morning.

We got about 50 miles when we heard a loud “Pop!” and saw white smoke pumping out from under the hood, and through the air conditioning vents!  We could NOT believe it was happening again!  We were right at an exit, so we quickly got off the freeway and pulled off the road under the overpass.  Our friends, Tim & Denise, were just a few minutes behind us, so they pulled off the road, too, and we all ate lunch in their motorhome while we waited for AAA to arrive.  They live just north of Atlanta, so they invited us to have the RV towed to their place, where we could wait for the truck to be repaired . . . again!

We wanted them to continue on home, so they left and we returned to our RV to wait for AAA.  It ended up being several more hours before they got there and started hooking up the truck and the RV.


Having to get towed again!

Towing them both this time!












Once they finally got everything hooked up, we still had 250 miles to go . . . so it was a really long day!  Tom rode with the driver towing the RV, and Bryce and I followed in the car.  Once we got close to Atlanta, we split off with the driver taking the truck to the shop, and Tom and the other driver continued on to Tim & Denise’s house.  By the time Bryce and I got there, it was 11pm, and the RV was parked in front of the barn and hooked up.

The next 3 weeks were the worst of the summer . . . it turned out that another piston had cracked in the engine and took out another cylinder, so the engine had to be completely torn down and rebuilt again.  He promised us higher priority this time, and that he would have it back running in about 10 days.  He made the decision to replace all of the remaining pistons (he had only replaced one in the original repair), which he really should have done the first time.  He actually had the nerve to ask us to pay for the pistons, but we countered with a request that he pay for our towing, which ended that conversation!

The fix wasn’t that simple, though.  Every time we thought we’d be getting the truck back, something else went wrong!  There were oil leaks, metal in the oil pan (requiring the engine to be torn down a THIRD time!), fuel leaks, and God only knows what else!

We had lost all confidence in our truck, so we started looking for a new one . . . and we found one . . . and it’s a Chevy!

Looks like a standoff!

It was August 15th (3 months after our original failure!), and we finally got our truck back!  We drove it straight to the GMC dealer, and traded it in for a 2013 Chevy Silverado.

Looks like big brother and little brother


He's happy with his new wheels!

It’s not as heavy-duty a truck as the F450 was, but it can do the job, and the peace of mind it gives us is priceless!

We said a final Good-Bye to our truck as it drove away!

Good-Bye old truck!

After getting our hitch installed in the new truck, we were ready to go!  It was finally time to get back on the road and make our way back to Michigan!

Finally ready to get back on the road!

So, what did all this cost?

Below is a summary of truck repairs, towing and the new truck.



So yes, the Grand Total is more than the original estimate from Ford for the replacement engine, but the final product in this case is a 5 year newer truck that still has over 2 years of warranty left.  That’s something we did not have with our old truck!

It was definitely not the way we planned to spend this summer, but we made the best of a bad situation, and managed to have a pretty good summer, despite our truck troubles.

Just another year in the life of a fulltime RVer!


  1. Oh my, you have had a very trying summer. Glad you were able to still have some fun times with family & friends. Must say though, you're pretty brave going into Michigan driving a Chevy. Ha, ha. Becki

    1. It wasn't easy for this long-time Ford family (Nick couldn't believe we were doing it - he loved that Ford truck, thought of it as his!), but you take what you can get. We actually had a new Ford (2014) picked out first, but it had the engine light on!! We weren't getting into that!

  2. Do you think the tuner had something to do with the original failure?

    1. Mixed opinions on that - tuner guys say no way, Ford friends say yes. We don't really know. Diesel shops don't do 8D's, they just replace broken parts!

  3. Do you think the tuner had something to do with the original failure?

  4. Hi, With out seeing the damage,it is hard to determine the cause of the failed part. But, the effects of the damage will lead to even more issues.

    As you said, the piston and bore material entered the oil system, which means a COMPLETE cleaning of the system is required: a new cooler, clean oil passages, clean any external lines, oil pump cleaning etc. Also what did they do to the cylinder bore? Were they scored? If so ,did they hone? Cleaning up the bores need to be done. Piston to wall clearance has changed,different grade piston, oversize piston? [aftermarket piston] Any of these may have changed the balance of the engine and caused the vibration. For these reason and may more is why Ford does not allow it's dealers to rebuild engine in their shops . As far as the tuner goes , not sure that it caused your problem ,but if you read your manual any change in power train cal. will void warranty.

    1. Supposedly all that was done. Forgot to include in the post, but the vibration ended up being due to the flywheel being installed 180 degrees out of sync.

  5. Wow! what a horror story. Hope all your troubles are behind you now. Good luck selling your rig and finding a motor home.

  6. Unbelievable what you have been through.. The stress, the money! Ugh, but you move on and realize, life goes on... Wishing you the best and many more happy travels...

  7. Whew. What a summer you had. I am so sorry for all of your troubles. It sounds like you need a vacation! I hope the new truck works out well for you.

  8. Now I understand the comment you made when we blew the sensor. Your issue was more of a nightmare.
    If the shop that did the work wants to stay in business they better start doing the job right the first time.
    Glad to see you found a truck that will serve your needs.
    See you in Florida this winter.
    Be safe and Enjoy!

    It's about time.

  9. We felt so sorry for you at the rally. I'm surprised it wasn't more, but you sure kept the spirits up. Congrats on the Chevy!

  10. I think the tuner had a lot to do with the failure, and may have been the root cause. The way a tuner increases power is to lengthen the injector duty cycle. Did the tuner company have access to the injector design specs so they would know what the performance envelope of the injectors was? Would they even know what that means? No, they do not. I've talked with some tuners. They know if they turn this knob the engine makes more power. They don't have the time or money to durability test their product. That's your job as the consumer. And do they stand behind your engine when it blows up?

    1. We'll never know, and we're not going that route again! Our diesel MH will be pre-emissions!

  11. Like you said, "a 5 year newer truck that still has over 2 years of warranty left" is definitely a plus. Unfortunately, you had to go through all that stress and strife. Hope the new (to you) truck is working out well!

    How does the Chevy compare to the Ford before the engine failure, in terms of pulling and stopping performance? Is it handling the weight of your rig okay?

    1. Its doing the trick and braking is actually better with exhaust brake. Its about the same weight as Ford but drives softer and gets better fuel.

  12. WOW...what a summer!!! So glad you have finally gotten it resolved and can get on with the fun stuff:o)) Just a shame that it took so long and you had so many complications.

    Will you be in Florida this winter? Perhaps we can see you then. Also, let us know if you wind up anywhere near Charleston to visit Nicholas...we aren't far away:o))

    Safe travels and good luck with the new truck...

  13. The guy talking about the tuner seems to know about this stuff. I don't ...Are you installing a tuner on you jake brake Chevy?

    1. No! We're probably not keeping it long, though.

  14. Summer 2015 is not one that you will soon forget! glad it had a happy ending finally! and congrats on your new purchase!!

  15. what a nightmare, but congrats on being able to breathe because you have a reliable truck now.

  16. Wow, What a summer from when we saw you last. Hopefully no more problems and life can get back to normal. It is good that you can laugh about it, just think of the campfire stories. Safe travels.


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