Thursday, June 3, 2021

2019-2021 Trip Summary - RV

I’m not really sure the term “road trip” is accurate as the focus hasn’t really been on the typical vacation activities associated with a road trip. I’ve heard some describe it as just occasionally changing the view from our front door. The RV is just the method that we chose to accomplish this. The “RVing” part is secondary. I guess a more accurate description may be “mobile lifestyle”. A secondary motivation was pursuing 70°F. You may have noticed that we aren’t very good at this as it has been much warmer and colder than this quite a few times. For us, it was desired but not absolutely essential as we still have two propane furnaces and two air conditioners one of which has a heat pump. Something I mention when talking to others is that I sold the snowplow back in July 2019. No more snowy winters. 

We also really enjoy visiting friends along the way and have made a few more as part of our traveling. I enjoy visiting new places and areas but that doesn’t necessarily mean visiting attractions. The occasional attraction is nice but, for me, a hike in the area is just as enjoyable. I do enjoy trying out foods that are unique to the area but not if it costs an arm and a leg.

This trip started in the middle of August, 2019, when I drove the Prius down to Oregon with the stuff that we thought we needed for the next season of traveling. A month before, we had purchased the 2005 Mandalay model 40E from Parkway RV in northern Georgia. Thankfully, Chris and Lori let me stay with them while the motorhome was getting ready to be picked up. The refrigerator wasn’t working and they ended up replacing the entire back with a new, aftermarket unit. I wish they would’ve just replaced it with the 12volt compressor unit made by the same aftermarket supplier. Oh well. After it was repaired, I picked it up and immediately started a cross-country trek back to Oregon.

On that initial trip, problems observed were hard starting when cold with a lot of smoke after starting and the engine running hotter than it should when climbing grades. Since I had never driven anything like this before, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Also the tire valves had balance beads jammed in them.

The front tires were fixed by a tire shop in Oregon though they were unable to balance them. A Freightliner shop in Bend replaced the engine block heater cord which was shredded. At least this helped with the cold starts but not the smoke. 

The more serious overheating problem showed up when towing the car in AZ. The radiator/intercooler/transmission cooler/Air conditioning condenser stack needed to be cleaned as dirt was packed between the fins. This caused the engine to overheat and go into limp-mode. A diesel shop in Tucson took care of that repair though they weren’t sure how that much debris got in there. This mostly addressed the overheating. 

The windshield popping out was an unexpected problem that occurred three times. It turns out that there really isn’t a permanent solution as the problem is caused by too many slides which reduce the torsional rigidity of the body. A recommended solution is an X-braces added to the frame. This RV already has the X-bracing installed. As long as we make sure the frame isn’t twisted before putting out the slides I think we can avoid it happening again. 

A year later the water pump failed just west of Kingman, AZ. This would be considered a normal wear component. A mobile mechanic replaced the water pump at the RV park. And the overheating problem is pretty much gone. It’ll still get as high as 217°F on 8% grades but that is still within the operational specs. No more limp mode on grades. 

The next problem was cold starting. I debugged the problem to be a failed intake manifold grid heater. The Freightliner shop in Coburg, OR, claimed that the system was working just fine. Incompetent. I took it to a Caterpillar shop in Albany, OR, and they said it looked like someone used starting fluid as neither grid heater was working. They replaced both and our cold starting problem was resolved. And, this helped the smoke problem considerably as the grid heaters would cycle on-off until the water temperature warmed a bit. 

The only other engine related repair was replacing the chassis batteries. I think we may need a front passenger side airbag as that corner seems to droop and the front air pressure is usually at zero after sitting for a while. Unfortunately, this is a Freightliner repair. I guess I shouldn’t blast the chain due to the performance at one location. 

Besides the windshield, coach related problems were minimal by comparison. The slide toppers were starting to rip so we replaced all of them last December. The rear furnace and A/C behaved erratically and I debugged that to not reading the temperature sensor properly. Later, the control board in the rear A/C (which also controls the rear furnace) failed completely. I replaced the control board and it started working again but still didn’t control temperature all the time. I tested the temperature sensor and it worked sometimes. It turns out that there is a bad electrical connection but I need to cut the bedroom cabinet open to get to the wiring. The fuses on the refrigerator control board have blown multiple times though it still works. I just carry spare fuses. Other coach related problems are failed latches and drawer slides, and the mirrors fell off of the cabinet doors in the bedroom. There was a moisture problem but that seems to have gone away when the slide topper was replaced. I think the water pump needs replacement and possibly the front A/C unit. But this thing is over 16 years old and I suspect that these were original to the rig. I also plan on replacing the stock modified sine wave inverter with a Victron full sine inverter that also has multiple other features giving us more power flexibility.

Once we decided to keep the motorhome, I started to add upgrades such as 630 watts of solar and a Victron MPPT charge controller. A new digital thermostat that allows remote monitoring and control. I installed a Raspberry Pi running the Venus OS that was released by Victron. This allows me to remotely monitor the status of the batteries and the charge controller and eventually the new Inverter. It also supports a cool 7” touch screen that I have installed in the wall near the refrigerator. I installed another Raspberry Pi running HomeAssistant which is an open source “Smart Home” software. Supporting this are six small, cheap WiFi equipped microprocessors with temperature and humidity sensors as well as relays and FETs to control lights. The software supports automation. Far more than I have set up. We also replace the four rear tires as they were starting to get old. Something that we wouldn’t have done unless we were keeping the rig.

In the last paragraph I mention keeping the motorhome. After the third windshield incident, we seriously considered dumping the motorhome and chalk it up as a bad purchase. At this point we had just learned from the Caterpillar shop in Albany that there was an engine problem that was ridiculously expensive to repair and we just needed to live with cold engine smoke and low engine compression. The mechanic said that this was caused by improper operation by the initial owner and the repair requires removing the engine. This engine problem was possibly known by Parkway RV and they hid the symptoms from us. Don’t ever purchase anything from them. I’m not sure if it was just a sleazy salesman or was this practice condoned by management. 

We haven’t had any other engine problems with the RV since last Fall. Maintenance is needed next Fall when we return.

One of the summer tasks is selling the truck and the 5th wheel RV. Having the Prius along was fantastic but needing to use a tow dolly was a major hassle that I want to eliminate. So we are looking for a vehicle that we can flat tow. An additional need is for a vehicle that has some clearance. I can’t tell you how many times the bottom of the Prius has scraped. And we’ve even avoided places that looked interesting but signs said high clearance vehicles only. Finding a suitable vehicle and getting it set up for flat towing sounds like it could be challenging.

The last picture is waiting for our turn to drive through the train tunnel in Whittier, AK. 


  1. Good summation, quite a list of issues found and fixed! So there is no need now to rehone the cylinders?

    1. They still need to be re-honed but not for $25k.

  2. With all the issues resolved you may have gotten your perfect mobile home. Good luck selling your stuff. I am sure it is all in good condition and will find the right buyer.