Our Worst RV Roadside Repairs Part 3: Diesel Down the Drain

You’re parked in a campground after an exhausting day of driving in your 40-plus foot home on wheels when you notice that one of the tires of your chase vehicle is low. No worries: your RV has an air compressor built in, so it should be an easy fix. When you turn your engine on, however, you hear a weird noise and one of your safety sensors goes off. It could merely be a couple of hours of inconvenience or it could be an expensive calamity. Unfortunately, you won’t know until you get the problem diagnosed.

Living full-time in our Tourmaster, we have had many adventures while covering more than our fair share of the U.S. That amount of travel has caused quite a bit of wear on our motorhome and for better or worse, we have had to occasionally rely on mobile RV repairmen to assess and repair these damages. At the time, they can seem like lifesavers; however, we have found that to not always be the case. This lesson is usually learned when we have traveled farther down the road and are many miles (or even states) from where the repair had been done. Whether intentional or not, they receive their payment and we are left with a job half done and a problem that manifests again when we are too far away to easily address it. This story, which occurred in 2015, illustrates this phenomenon.

Where it Happened
This RV repair experience happened on our trip back north from Florida and Georgia, as we were heading to North Dakota. We were about a third of the way through the trip and decided to make a stop in Memphis for the night. A trip this long generally takes about three days for us —generally in the area of 8 to 10 hours a day — partly due to our pets. We decided to stop for the night and were contemplating maybe taking in some sites the next day, as Memphis is full of interesting places to see and things to do.

What Happened
We chose to stay at an RV park about 20-minutes south of Memphis. My husband had been watching the fuel gauge and noticed that the fuel was depleting much quicker than it normally did. Being tired, he didn’t give it much thought. I had been driving the chase car and when we pulled into the RV park and found a spot for the night, we intended to drive to the nearest town and grab a bite to eat before everything closed. That was when we noticed that the Suburban had a low tire. We pulled it up to the side where the RV’s air compressor was located and turned the engine back on. That’s when we noticed the decidedly strong smell of diesel. We thought there must be a fuel leak somewhere.

That was when we noticed that there was diesel fuel all over the back end of the coach, all over the front of the 24-foot cargo trailer that we pull behind, as well as the windshield of the Suburban. Fuel was visibly leaking onto the ground at a rapid rate. We were very concerned that the engine might catch fire and ran up to the cab to shut the engine off.

Diagnosing the Problem
We turned the engine on again, and while walking back to the engine compartment, we could hear the fuel flowing off the engine and pouring out profusely down onto the ground again. My husband was a little worried to get under the coach and check it out, as he was probably going to get doused with fuel, but it had to be done.

The fuel was coming off of the passenger side of the engine toward the top. It was unclear exactly where it was coming from and neither one of us had any diesel engine knowledge whatsoever. We knew it had something to do with the fuel line in some capacity, but beyond that, we were clueless. We needed to call a professional to come take a look and diagnose it and, once again, we were going nowhere until this was fixed.

Getting Help
Whenever there is an issue that needs to be resolved quickly, my husband and I will both conduct online searches in order to find whatever it is we’re looking for twice as fast. This comes in handy because we usually use different search terms in order to do so, thus pulling up more opportunities that may be helpful. In this case, we came up with a mobile diesel repair company through Yelp, which was also recommended by the campground owners. So, we gave the company a call. We wanted to see if they would come out before dark, as the sun was setting fast.

We always try to avoid having any work done after dark, as we found that mistakes tend to be more numerous because the service providers are tired, want to get home to their families, or just can’t see as well. It’s a good rule of thumb to get repairmen to come in the morning when they’re fresh and not worn out from a hard day’s work. In this case, however, we had no choice. Sometimes you have to break your own policies when the situation dictates an immediate resolution due to hazards to the environment, our coach, and ourselves. If the smell of diesel exhaust isn't enough to make you avoid getting a lungful, new research now shows that even a short exposure to the fumes can affect your brain. Even an hour of sniffing exhaust induces a stress response in the brain's activity. Who needs that?

The Roadside RV Repairman Experience
The dispatcher said they would have someone out the next morning. It ended up being about two and a half hours later than anticipated when he arrived. The repairman was fairly young and appeared to be frazzled, unhappy, overworked, and underpaid. My husband started talking to him right away, as it is his practice to keep an eye on things and learn a few new skills in the process.

He was watching the repairman’s diagnostic ability as he looked around the engine compartment. He immediately found a bracket that had come loose and had separated the exhaust line, causing exhaust to enter the engine compartment rather than go out the tailpipe. He fixed that, which took about half an hour. He then began looking for the fuel leak, at which time his phone rang. He crawled out of the compartment and talked to someone for about ten minutes.

The Remedy
The repairman then continued to take calls off and on for at least three hours, constantly disrupting his attention. Finally, he found the culprit. It was a leaky fuel line for the fuel injectors. He left to get parts — again on the phone — and returned about an hour later with the new fuel line and installed it, all while on the phone once again. When he was done, he told me he was considering quitting soon, due to the unreasonable amount of time the job required. My husband told him that although it consisted of a lot of hours, he was also paid well. He then mentioned that his employer was difficult to deal with and we soon found that out for ourselves.

The total cost was $840. We were shocked, but saw little choice but to pay. We paid by debit card, which we had forgotten had a $500 a day limit, and when it was declined, he called his employer. We could hear the man yelling at him through the phone (which made us much more empathetic). The repairman unexpectedly handed my husband the phone and the “boss” began yelling that we were criminals and thieves and that “his boy” was going to take the part back off our rig. After many minutes of being yelled at over the phone, the problem was easily remedied by putting the balance on another card.

Overall, we were charged four hours of work at $140 per hour, during which time he took many personal phone calls and made two small fixes, both in size and scope.

The “Rest of the Story”
We left the park the next morning and were no more than 10-minutes down the road when we decided to fill up. As I was in the chase car, I parked away from where my husband was filling up. From a distance, it was quickly apparent that the diesel was coming out as fast as it was going it.

The same leak had reappeared. I noticed that, again, there was diesel all over the windshield of the Suburban. I ran over and had my husband stop pumping fuel. We called the repair company again and stated that we were stranded and that the problem had not been fixed. They quickly sent another mechanic out. When we inquired why we got a different mechanic, we were informed that he had quit the night before, right after leaving our site. We weren’t surprised, but it was obvious we had become part of a bigger soap opera.

The new mechanic said we were going to have to pay another $200 to fix whatever the problem was because it was a separate service call! It felt like we were being held up, since we had been informed that the problems had been fixed. We called the “boss” and negotiated out of the service call expense, as the problem had not been initially fixed.

What the mechanic found was a second fuel line right next to the one replaced had been leaking and was the new culprit. The first mechanic had missed it. The second repairman retrieved another one, installed it, and then charged us for the “new” repair, which cost $200. He promised to have an invoice for both repairs emailed to us, as he was pulling away. It never arrived.

The Lesson
What we walked away from in all of this was that dealing with an unknown truck repair company for RV matters is almost always unadvisable. When you can, use companies that do work on RVs exclusively, especially on matters beyond the engine compartment. Become a good judge about how companies behave early on, such as do they call you back quickly or are they frazzled and putting you on hold for many minutes at a time? This is a sure sign of disorganization, bad time management skills, and bad business practices almost always. Do they give an estimate before logging many hours digging in under the hood? If not, go elsewhere. Ask how old the mechanic is, what experience he has, and how long he or she been working for the firm? Does he work on RVs regularly, rarely, or not at all? If that is the case, you — as a consumer — are paying for their on-the-job training and should look for someone who is experienced and knows what to do right away.

The end result to having work done on your home away from home (or your full-time home) is simply this: Know before you go. Ask as many questions as you can to verify competence and familiarity with something that generally costs twice as much to repair as it would on a regular brick and mortar home. If they won’t answer or seem put off by your questions, simply go elsewhere. You never know what problems you likely avoided.

In Conclusion
Making mistakes is a part of life and can be an incredibly costly when dealing with motor homes. The predators are many and the honest are few, but they are out there and are priceless when you find them. Use RV forums and review apps like Yelp. They are great at making preliminary decisions on who to call. Be wary that many reviews can be falsified and use your best judgment on their content and accuracy.

Afterward, be sure to leave fair and unbiased reviews for others. Pay it forward. Share great RV repair services far and wide to support those who have good business ethics, are honest, and give great service and value for what they do. Doing so will support them and their families so, in turn, they can support others who come their way with great service and affordability. If you found this article informative or insightful please share on Facebook. Help others learn from our mistakes.

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