An epic fail, advice from a stoner, and how we ended up with a new truck

A funny thing happened in March, on our way from San Antonio, TX, to Elkhart, IN, for a service appointment to take care of some welding issues on The Toad: the BFT is the one that failed us.

Irony: the dependably cooperative BFT dies on the way to having the notoriously lemony RV repaired.
WHO THOUGHT IT WOULD BE THE TRUCK???

Not what we were expecting.

Our incredibly reliable, tough-as-nails, much adored 2012 Chevy Silverado 3500 dually sputtered and quickly died while we were driving on I-35 just south of Dallas — a mere 225 miles into our 1300-mile trip.

We are very thankful that despite the scariness of the incident, the travel gods were indeed watching over us.

We were on flat ground instead of a hill.

There were no vehicles riding too closely behind us.

We were not in a construction zone.

We had a wide shoulder to pull onto.

And I was smart enough to start veering toward that shoulder at the same time I was saying, “That didn’t sound right.”

Why did that turn out to be a smart move? Because we had mere seconds before the truck shut down. All power: gone. On an interstate.

The tow truck driver took Tim and the Silverado to a service shop, leaving me on the roadside with the RV until they returned.
Why?
Because Tim can talk truck to the garage gurus, and I shouldn’t ever do that.
We both know I’d say, “You know what? Just burn it. We’ll walk.”

From my personal Facebook account that day: So I sat all alone in the grass next to I-35 for more than 2 hours, waiting for the tow truck to come back for the RV, and this is the only person who stopped to make sure I was OK: stoner on a fucking bicycle.
Said his name is Mondo.
He was riding to Austin for his birthday.
I don’t know where or when he started (and I rather suspect he didn’t either), but he had about 145 miles to go.
Mondo offered me use of his cell phone to make an emergency call, in the event I didn’t have one.
Clearly he’d never met me.
And then, in the way only the perpetually stoned can properly pull off, he told me I should just relax, and not stress out about it.
He then literally rode off into the sunset.

To make a very long story a lot shorter, the problem turned out to be what is rather evocatively known as “grenading” of the fuel pump. Upon its death, it sent shards of metal through the entire fuel system, leaving us dead in the proverbial water.

As Tim described it “The critical part seemed to be the Bosch-built CP4.2 HPFP, the exact same pump used in the Ford F-series Light Duty diesel trucks. If you google ‘F350 CP4 failure,’ you’ll find plenty of discussion on the issue. Same if you google ‘Duramax LML CP4 failure.’”

Tim, who is not an industry expert by any means, but merely a consumer who’s always trying hard to get smarter, further surmised, “A major culprit appears to be the quality of diesel fuel in the U.S. (i.e., the mandated ultra-low sulfur blend plus other things), combined with what might be less than acceptable engineering by Ford and GM. Reportedly, Bosch has been saying for some time that the lubricity of the fuel needs to be higher for these pumps to last, and U.S. diesel fuel doesn’t meet these standards.”

Within ten minutes of meeting our new BFT, Tim was underneath it, checking all the things.

What that meant for us was a $10,000 fuel system replacement (GM paid for part of it) that left us stranded for two weeks outside a really small Texas town. Middle of Nowhere was still a good 10 miles away. We were there so long we painted our RV’s interior!

And then, after the truck repair was complete, and we were finally sitting in Elkhart waiting for the work to be finished on The Toad, we realized that we needed to make a big decision: test our luck by keeping the BFT and its fresh new fuel system with the exact same type of pump that had gone spectacularly belly up, or upgrade to a truck that wouldn’t have that issue.

To make the second part of the story shorter as well, we knew we couldn’t live with the uncertainty of driving a truck that might croak again, any more than we could change the U.S. diesel fuel composition standards that were probably part of the cause.

The Silverado was our only vehicle, and it pulls the Bighorn, which is our only home. We couldn’t stomach the idea of going through a second catastrophic failure, or having it happen under far more hazardous circumstances than the first one.

We opted to upgrade.

Y’all say hello to our 2017 Dodge RAM 3500 dually, which we picked up at the end of May, just shy of 3 months after the Great Fuel Pump Grenading Incident of 2017.

For those who are wondering why we didn’t go with the 2017 Chevy Silverado, which does not have that same iffy fuel pump as the 2011-2016 diesel models, there were three factors that put the RAM on top.

  1. Shorter turning radius for easier maneuvering
  2. Larger payload and axle weight ratings for higher towing capacity
  3. More competitive pricing for better value

We look forward to thousands and thousands of miles together.

My birth announcement.
I figured our sons should know.

12 miles on the odometer, and it definitely does not make my butt look big.
What a great purchase!
Also, we had a terrific experience working with Jeff Taylor, Commercial/Fleet Manager, at Glenn’s Freedom Dodge Chrysler Jeep Ram in Lexington, KY. Holler if you’d like a personal referral!


Author’s note: A version of this post appears at Heartland RVs. It is printed here with permission.

True Tales of Wasted Money: 4 RV Accessories That Just Weren’t Worth It, and 1 Happy Turn-Around

Raise your hand if you’ve never bought an RV or camping product that didn’t work out.

No hands up?

Yeah, that’s what I thought. It’s happened to us too.

We’ve all made regrettable impulse buys online or in camping and sporting goods stores. Sometimes even items we’ve carefully researched and budgeted for before purchasing just don’t perform as expected, or live up to the hype, or simply don’t come in handy after all.

I asked a few Heartland RV owners for true tales about “accessory fails” that they couldn’t wait to warn others about, and also included one of my own.

Vent covers

John Daniels, really liked the MaxxAir II vent covers he’d installed on his Trail Runner, but when he bought a new Prowler and tried to move the vent covers to it, he found that they didn’t fit.

“MaxxAir doesn’t intend to make brackets to fit the new E-Z Lift vent covers — the ones with the handle instead of the twist knob,” he said.

“I wound up buying three of their plain-Jane bottom line vent covers (author’s clarification: MaxxAir Standard covers), as they bolted right up. However, they don’t create the same air flow as the MaxxAir II’s.”

Close-up of standard MaxxAir vent
(photo courtesy J. Daniels)

Standard MaxxAir vents installed on a Prowler
(photo courtesy J. Daniels)

Head sets

Kelly and Michael Barnett, of RV There Yet Chronicles, and owners of a 2011 Landmark Key Largo, revealed that when they picked up their coach from the dealer, they also purchased two headsets for the purpose of communicating easily while hitching up and unhitching.

“The idea was that we wouldn’t be yelling back and forth, and would be able to speak calmly to each other while performing this task,” Kelly said.

“It’s a great idea, and we used them maybe half a dozen times, but they just weren’t us. I guess we prefer the old tried and true method of yelling at each other to get the job done.”

Sewer Flushing Attachment

Lisa and Dan Brown, of Always on Liberty, and owners of a 2016 Landmark Ashland, bought a Hydro Flush 45 by Valterra, and wish they hadn’t.

“There’s this clear elbow fitting that attaches to the sewer hose and the sewage line, that has a place to hook up a water hose for flushing,” Lisa explained.

“What a waste of money. After 5 minutes of initial use, leaking water and crap, Dan threw that thang….Oh wait, he ‘donated’ it to Mr. Dumpster, with words from a sailor.”

(source: Camping World)

Solar Powered Garden Lights

This one’s mine. We made an impulse buy at a big box store, thinking a cheerfully lit pathway would add some pizazz and safety to nighttime walks back to The Toad.

The fact that the things were on clearance should have been a big clue. Outdoor light fixtures that retail for less than $2.00 each were undoubtedly not built to last, and these didn’t. One never even lit up properly, and the other three gradually fell apart after only about 6 months of use.

(source: Harbor Freight)

Propane Tank Monitoring System

Finally, to leave things on a more cheerful note, here’s the story of an item that was at first thought to be a waste of money, but thanks to intervention from the manufacturer, turned out to be worth it after all.

Erika and Tony Dorsey, of Our Mammoth Travels, and owners of a 2016 Big Country, saw a magazine advertisement for a product that uses ultrasound to measure the level of fuel left in a propane tank, and sends a signal via Bluetooth to a smart phone to let users see that amount.

“Once it was available to the public, in February of 2016, I immediately bought it,” said Erika, about the Mopeka TankCheck monitoring system.

After a few struggles getting the sensors in place and syncing phones to the device, things went even more wrong. “The reading seemed good at first, but within a few hours, it stopped receiving the Bluetooth signal and read 0%. We tried multiple times to re-sync the sensors, and it would work for about a day, and then not,” Erika said.

“Propane season” ended, and the Dorseys forgot about the system, until fall rolled around and they were again wanting to know their tank levels. “We replaced the batteries in the sensors thinking maybe that was an issue, but nope, same result. Even with different tanks, repositioning the sensors, new phones, etc.,” Erika said.

She saw another advertisement touting the product’s 3-year warranty, so she contacted the company. “Surprisingly, it didn’t take much to convince them I needed two new sensors. They shipped them and did not require the old ones back.”

And now? “The new sensors work perfectly as intended, and we love the product! So much so that I asked if they would send us a couple to raffle off at the West Texas Chapter Rally. The company is based in TX, and the owner was happy to oblige!” Erika reported.

(source: Mopeka)

Buyers Beware

Here’s hoping that maybe — just maybe — these stories will help you keep some money in your wallet, or at least put it toward a product that adds value to your RV lifestyle.

Feel free to tell your own “True Tale of Fail” in the comments below, but do avoid manufacturer vendettas, please. Let’s keep things light, yet informative, as a way to save other RV owners a little money, time and frustration.

(Author’s note: a version of this post appears at Heartland RVs. It is printed here with permission. The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and other contributors, and do not necessarily reflect those of Heartland RVs.)

From My RV Kitchen: Sinful Chocolate Fudge Pie

We encountered a bump in the road two weeks ago, with a catastrophic fuel pump failure in the BFT, stranding us just south of Dallas. Luckily, we were able to have The Toad towed to a park with hookups, so we could live somewhat normally for the duration.

But after five days of trying to keep my spirits up by making lemonade out of our proverbial lemons, I decided I needed something stronger to soothe my soul.

Chocolate.

There are times when only chocolate will do, and this was one of them.

Beware:  This pie is so sinfully rich and intense that you may want to draw the blinds and turn up the volume on the TV to disguise any embarrassing noises or facial expressions you might make while eating it.

Yes, it’s that good. Remember the “I’ll have what she’s having” scene from When Harry Met Sally? That.

Sinful Chocolate Fudge Pie

8 oz. semi-sweet chocolate morsels, melted

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter or margarine, softened

3/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar

3 eggs

2 tsp. instant coffee

1 tsp. vanilla extract

1/4 cup flour

1 cup chopped walnuts

1 unbaked 9-inch pie crust

Preheat oven to 375°F.

Microwave chocolate in microwaveable bowl on HIGH 2 min. or until almost melted, stirring after 1 min. Stir until chocolate is completely melted; set aside. (Alternate: melt over very low heat on stovetop in heavy saucepan, stirring frequently.)

I prefer melting chocolate on my gas stovetop to the microwave method, as I’m less likely to scorch it that way.
You use the method you’re good at.

Beat butter and sugar in large bowl with electric mixer on medium speed until light and fluffy.

It’s gonna look like this.

Add eggs, one at a time, beating until well blended after each addition.

Add chocolate, coffee, and vanilla extract; mix well.

Chocolate going in.

I used my very precious pure Mexican vanilla, purchased in Mexico on a recent vacation.
You can find it in the states too, but read the ingredient list: if it has anything other than water, vanilla bean and alcohol in it, don’t waste your money. You’d basically be buying vanilla-flavored corn syrup.

Stir in flour and chopped walnuts.

I used walnuts.
You use whatever nuts you like, or leave them out.

Pour into pastry shell.

That nice glossy uncooked batter yields a nice glossy top crust after baking. Underneath it?
Gooey fudgy moan-inducing filling.

Bake for 25 – 30 minutes or until pie appears set. (I used my gas oven for this pie. I have not tested it in my convection oven.) Toothpick test is unreliable. It will come out coated with filling, which is exactly what you want. Don’t be fooled into over-baking!

Cool pie on rack, then refrigerate for at least 1 hour before serving. Top with whipped cream or ice cream if desired.

My version is adapted from this original recipe.

(Author’s note:  a version of this post appears at Heartland RVs. It is printed here with permission.)

A Creative Outlet for More Comfort

We are all about living more comfortably with less, which means we are in the process of making some modifications that will allow us to boondock (camp without benefit of hookups) more comfortably in The Toad, and for longer periods of time than just a weekend.

First, we invested in a set of generators, to keep us up and running while dry camping or during power outages, based on this recommendation from our friends, Lisa and Dan, of Always On Liberty.

Second, Tim took on an electrical system upgrade process that involved adding four 6-volt deep-cycle batteries, inverter, battery monitoring system and electrical monitoring system. Don’t worry, he’ll soon be writing a feature on how he got that job done, as I don’t understand enough about it to write it myself.

Third, because I hate shivering at night, one of Tim’s Christmas gifts to me was a heated blanket that runs off the RV’s 12-volt system, so that I can remain comfortably toasty in cold temps, even while we’re using battery power instead of shore power. (Before you buy: read photo caption below. It starts with SHIT, which should be a big clue.)

SHIT! Although the blanket was a great idea in theory, and our outlets do in fact work, the blanket itself did not. We even tried it in the previously existing 12V outlet where Tim keeps his desk lamp plugged in. Nothing. Back to Amazon it goes, and our search resumes.

One problem: No 12-volt outlets near the bed.

Handy husband to the rescue! He ordered two wall-mount outlets (one for each side of the bed), and bonus: they have dual USB ports, so we can charge our electronics on them too!

As you might expect, we had to take the bedding, mattress, and plywood cover off the bed platform and temporarily relocate them, which made for a great physical work-out but a very messy living room.

Tim then drilled holes in the floor, and ran a properly gauged wire from the 12-volt fuse panel in the kitchen, through the basement, and back up underneath the bed, where the wire splits to feed each outlet.

Running wire through the basement means crawling into the basement.

He knows the end of that wire is under there somewhere.

This project took about half a day, and both of us played a part. Tim did most of the work himself, as usual, but my assistance was needed to spot and feed the wire through the floor holes, and to holler “YES, THE LIGHT CAME ON!” when he flipped the switch to activate the outlets after the wiring was done. And both of us worked together to restore the bed to slumber-ready condition.

Connecting the wires at the 12-volt fuse panel

Drilling hole in the side of the bed platform, for feeding wire to outlet.
(This was an oops. See first lesson below.)

Lessons Learned

  • Take the time to cut the openings on the platform to fit the outlets, rather than just the wire, i.e. a full rectangle instead of a tiny circle. Tim waited until a few days after we’d put the bed back together to do this part, which meant double the work in getting all the tools out again and cleaning up the mess.

    Connected, functioning (The light is on!), and ready to mount into the bed platform.

  • Identify and purchase the wall plates you want to use to surround the outlets and make things look finished. You’ll see from my photos that we’ve got some rough spots showing next to the outlets, but only until our plates arrive to cover them up.

    Done! Well, almost. Wall plates are on the list.

  • Electrical supplies like wire, terminals, and screw caps tend to come in lengths and quantities larger than any single RV DIY’er will need.  Therefore we invite anyone who plans to tackle a project like this to shop first at Tim’s Discount House of Unused Electrical Parts. We’ve got lots!

(Author’s note: a version of this post appears at Heartland RVs. It is printed here with permission.)

Sure it’s small, but we do have to clean the place, ya know

WARNING

By necessity, the photos in this post are going to show you what’s in my fridge, closet and shower.

Don’t judge.

When you’ve got only about 350 square feet of living space, house cleaning is a breeze! It doesn’t take much time, and also doesn’t take much by way of cleaning chemicals or supplies. A good all-purpose spray, plain white vinegar, microfiber cloths and a vacuum cleaner can handle just about everything here inside The Toad.

I spend 30-40 minutes every Monday morning on eliminating grit, and making the place look good enough for company. We have no kids onboard, and our sweet black lab, Lola, died in May, so without stickymuddy kid messes or dog hair in the mix, a weekly interval is adequate for us .

That said, I’ve adopted a little strategy I call Clean Plus One, meaning that I add at least one deep cleaning item to my list each week. But even then? Less than an hour’s worth of effort. And I am more than okay with that!

This is the house we lived in before we started full-timing in our 5th wheel. At 2900 square feet, with 4 bedrooms, 2.5 baths, 4 humans and a dog, it took the better part of a day to clean. Good riddance!

The Weekly Cleaning List

  • Wipe down kitchen and bathroom countertops and sinks with all-purpose spray cleaner
  • Dampen kitchen sponge and disinfect for 30 seconds in microwave oven on high. The resulting steam loosens any gunk on the walls inside, which is then easily removed with a paper towel.
  • Scrub interior of shower with a squirt of shampoo on a microfiber cloth; rinse
  • Scour toilet bowl with mild soap (harsh chemicals like bleach are not recommended, as they can damage the rubber in that all-important flush ball seal); disinfect seat, rim, and lid with all-purpose spray cleaner on a paper towel
  • Clean all mirrors using paper towels, and vinegar/water mix in a spray bottle
  • Dust surfaces using a damp microfiber cloth
  • Vacuum all floor surfaces
  • Mop linoleum in bathroom and kitchen — by which I mean use one foot to scoot that microfiber cloth across the floors, after you’ve used it to clean everything else and given it a good rinse. No need to take up valuable closet space with a real mop!

The “Plus Ones” (1 per week, working out to about once a month for each)

  • Wipe refrigerator shelves, drawers, and trays with a solution of vinegar and water, which will clean off the  crumbs and spills without leaving toxins behind. Clearly it’s better to do this when you’re low on groceries, especially if you have one of the 8 cubic-foot models like ours. I call it our glorified dorm fridge, and we usually pack it to the limit on grocery shopping day.
  • Wipe out the oven interior with more vinegar and water solution. Since I use mine so rarely, it actually gets dusty in there! Again, you don’t want to use too many toxic chemicals where you store or prepare food; vinegar is a safe alternative.
  • Flush out sink and shower drains to keep water flowing freely. I pour 1/8 cup of baking soda into each drain, followed by about 1/4 cup of plain white vinegar. The bubbling action will help jiggle loose some of the crud build-up inside the pipes. After it quits fizzing, I pour in 1-2 cups of boiling water to help flush everything through. (Caveat: This is the full extent of my knowledge of plumbing issues. If you’ve got something stubborn, consult an expert.)
  • Gently vacuum the blinds and cornice boxes using a brush attachment. Those things get super dusty!
  • Clean all window interiors using vinegar/water spray and a paper towel
  • Pull all the shoes off the closet shelves and floor, and vacuum out the grit that has collected underneath them.

I’m sure others have even more tips for keeping our RV interiors dirt- and dust-free. Wanna share a favorite? I’m all ears, standing here in my French maid get-up, holding a feather duster and rolling my eyes.

I can’t believe I wrote a whole blog post on cleaning.

Sheesus.

(Author’s note: a version of this post appears at Heartland RVs. It is printed here with permission.)