Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Roadrunner Memories: Camping at the Repair Shop(s)

We were in Richmond VA at the Atlantic Cummins shop earlier this month to check out our 'cold start'.
We scheduled our time here to check out our starter.  At times, it is sluggish even after preheating the engine overnight.  We have new chassis batteries, so we were thinking it may be a starter or a solenoid or a charge issue with the inverter or??

Really not sure but we wanted to check it out instead of just crossing our fingers.

The set up here for staying overnight is fine.  Completely adequate but nothing fancy.  It got us to think about where and when we have parked overnight and stayed in the repair shop parking lot.  We have done that a few times.

For the fun of it (and for curiosity sake) I decide to look back over the years and note when we had actually done that:

October 2009 - Freightliner, Dallas TX 
This was our first experience getting towed outside of Waco, Texas.  Replaced a fuel pump and stayed in the coach overnight at their new facility.  It had 50 amp service and was a brand new facility.
March 2012 - Fleet Maintenance, Fort Walton Beach FL

We stayed at the Ft Benning Army Recreation Center RV Park in Destin when we saw a leak.  We were able to drive it over to Fort Walton Beach.  They had to replace gaskets and other stuff and let us stay in the coach.  We were able to plug into a 50 amp circuit and left later the next evening.

October 2012 - Freightliner Factory Service Center, Gaffney SC
We attended the Camp Freightliner course and were able to stay free at one of the campground sites at the facility.  Had full hookups and internet.
July 2013 - HWH Factory, Moscow Iowa
Broke a foot on the rear jack and had it replaced.  Also replaced the electronic keypad on the driver's console. Parked in one of their free sites (W/E, no sewer).
April 2015 - Freightliner Service Center, Gaffney SC
Had some routine yearly maintenance done.  Stayed overnight in one of the full hookup sites
August 2015 - Bay Diesel, Red Bay AL
Roadrunner was 'chugging' going up hill.  It was a tough one to diagnose.  The mechanics worked on it all day and we stayed overnight parked in front of one of their bays.  They hooked us up with 50 amp.  Finally, after they changed a fuel pump and it was still doing it, Chris Thompson got us an appointment with the Cummins folks at MHC in Tupelo.

September 2015 - MHC Kenworth, Tupelo MS
Changed out two more fuel pumps before they figured out it was the fuel line to the gas tank that was causing the issues. Was able to stay a few nights parked outside the rear bay but hooked up with 50 amp electric.
May 2016 - Custom RV, Vina AL
Stayed out front of Brannon Hutcheson's shop.  Had a sheared bolt on the front DS which he replaced plus a number of things on our list.
August 2016 - Cummins Northwest, Portland OR
Time for yearly service on our fuel filters.  Stayed overnight in one of their eight full hook up sites at their Coach Care facility.
August 2016 - HWH Factory, Moscow IA
Had a broken chain on our PS slideout which we got repair there.  Stayed overnight in one their small but adequate campsites with 50 amp/water.

December 2016, Cummins South, Ocala FL
Made an appointment to have them check out why the Roadrunner seemed to start so slow.  They determined we needed to replace a couple chassis batteries.  Stayed one night with 50 amp/water.

February 2017 Atlantic Cummins, Richmond VA
Wanted to check out if there was an issue with the starter or solenoid.  They troubleshot as best they could but determined there was no issue.  We were OK with that and liked their customer service.  We stayed overnight parked outside one of their rear service bays with 50 amp service.

Surprisingly, that is about 12 times that we have parked overnight (or for a few nights) outside of a repair facility.  Seven times the business had a parking spot/camp site with hook ups, the other five times, they had a 50 amp electrical outlet we were able to plug into.

Though it is not my favorite way to spend the night, it always has turned out OK and been part of the intrigue of this adventure!

Thanks for joining us today on the Roadrunner Chronicles!


Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Sunday at the Virginia Beach Aquarium

A few months ago, we went to the Virginia Aquarium and got a season pass.  Last week, we returned again with Jon and Kelly and the boys.

I like the exhibits with a few tidbits and information that reflect a bit of history.
 Virginia Beach and nearby 'First Landing'.  In 1607 explorers landed near Cape Henry and First Landing.  Weeks after that they settle and form a new community up the coast in Jamestown.

The Lynnhaven is an area in Virginia Beach that has been famous for oysters which have seen a resurgence in the last few years which is nice to hear.
 The aquarium has a number of different areas and one walk way where the water flows over the top of the path and connects the glass sides of the tanks.
 Brooks liked the fish but he was also enamored with the little wall where people could sit up against the glass or walk along it as he was doing.
 I am a little mesmerized at watching all the different sizes and shapes and kinds of fish swimming around.  It was really beautiful!

It was nice to get out and walk through and see a little bit of the many galleries and displays.
Toward the end, they had a big tank of eels that had been defanged.  You could stick your hand in the water and touch them.
These outings don't have to be long to be worth it.  Every time we go we learn something else and get exposed to a new aspect of the Aquarium.   It was a great day to do it and I'm sure we'll be back again.

Thanks for joining us on the Roadrunner Chronicles!

Monday, March 20, 2017

Shamrock 8K in Virginia Beach

As a former runner, I was reminiscing about how much I used to like being around races.  Back in the day, I could find a race to run about every other week.  That was when we lived in Hawaii in the late 1980's.

I ran cross country in high school only because the basketball coach wanted the team to go out for Cross Country so we'd be in shape when basketball started.  A buddy and I from the swim team decided to go for it and did OK, making the team, going to District and qualifying for the State Championships.

Golf showed up that fall and I found my true love and lifelong sport.  But I always admired the runners.  In the 1970's Jim Fixx wrote "The Joy of Running" and Bill Rodgers was a star at the time. And marathons began growing in popularity.  I liked running, but the thought of 26.2 miles was crazy!

While we were stationed in Germany (1980-1983) I saw a neighbor train and run for the London and Paris Marathons.  That idea began to grow on me and I decided to go for it during our next duty location - Honolulu.  Sure enough - I completed one there and then three more in Albuquerque during our four and 1/2 years there.

Now into my early 40's, I became more prone to injury and pulled a muscle while training two weeks before the Marine Corps Marathon in DC.  I ran a few more shorter races (5k's and the Army 10 miler around the DC monuments, but that was basically it for my running and racing days.

I remembered all those people on the sidelines and stations along the races who volunteered so the runners could get out there.  I decided to give it a try at the Virginia Beach Shamrock 8K.

I didn't want to be late for my 6:00 AM arrival at the Volunteer Tent so I showed up early and had a chance to talk with Mel at Orange Peel Shuttle.  He was one of 7-8 shuttle drivers going back and forth from the VA Convention Center to the Oceanfront.
 After check in I went over to my assignment as a 'Corral' helper over by the Start Line.
 About 6:30 more volunteer showed up including this gentleman who was sporting his brand new Leprechaun outfit.  His talented wife made it for him.
 Going back from the start line, we set up the white fencing.  One thing about the race --- it was very organized.  These folks were pros.  They had done this many times before this one.  And they hire people to do it.  In this case J&A Racing was in charge.
 My station was back near one one of that last corrals.  'Corrals' were the groupings racers based on the information they provided during their sign up.  It went according to their estimated 'per mile' times.  It is a natural tendency to want to start up near the front.  The serious and competition runners were up in the front corrals.
 After we got set up I was at corral marker 14.  We had about 30 minutes before race start and it was fun to interact with racers and police and fans.  I must have talked to 6-7 folks. I talked with a VB police officer that was at the intersection explaining the road was closed to drivers trying to get to work and closer parking lots.

I also spoke with a teacher who was there with 15-20 Jr ROTCers  from a local high school.  They provided some entertainment as they went through their jumping jackets and loud cadence yells.  A racer from NC was there with her five year old and boyfriend.  I also talked with a grandpa who had a 16 month old, an Air Force retiree and his wife, etc etc.  It was fun to interact with folks.
 Every couple of minutes, each corral moved up and about 10 minutes after the start time Corral #14 was off!
 After being there for a couple of hours I was in need of the facilities... and I found some a couple of blocks away.
 Later, down at the board walk not far from the finish line, a giant sand pile noted the event.
 Despite the forecast of rain, it held off and we only had a few sprinkles.
It was a fun way to spend some and get into the running spirit again.  I may do another one -- we'll see.

Thank for joining us today on the Roadrunner Chronicles! 

Friday, March 10, 2017

Time for New RV Insurance Quotes

We became residents of Florida in March of 2016.  We registered the car and motorhome (aka The Roadrunner) at that time and had to get insurance for both in the state of Florida.

Every year I go through a little bit of research and compare quotes from different agencies in order to manage our costs.  This year National Interstate raised our rates almost $200 so I wondered if I could do better.

I scoured the Forum  to see if any new insurance companies popped up.  I took last year's information from my spreadsheet and called around.  Surprisingly, most got back to me if they had a good number.

This this is the spreadsheet I used:
 And here are my results:
 I got back enough quotes to know that National Interstate is going to be the best again for us this year.
I logged a few notes in the far right column including an update on Blue Sky.  We had them for a year or two but their low prices apparently caught up with them and they are no longer doing any new RV quotes.
I asked for a multi-vehicle discount with USAA which is great for our automobile insurance, but they sub-contract their RV insurance out to Progressive and do not offer that discount.  They were also a little higher than than what Good Sam offers with Progressive -- both of which are higher than National Interstate.

After taking the time and effort to go through all of this, I was satisfied that National Interstate was the way to go again this year, so we renewed with them.

I offer that to you for what it's worth and hope at least some find it useful and/or helpful.  If you'd like a copy of my spreadsheet for your own use I would be glad to send it to you -- just let me know.

That's all for today from Virginia Beach on the Roadrunner Chronicles - thanks for stopping by!

Monday, March 6, 2017

Check the Meds...

Our experience last week at Atlantic Cummins caused me to think about how important it is to be on top of things and to ask a lot of questions when you take your RV in for service.

It reminded me of when my mother was ailing back in the 1990s and ended up in the ICU.  We were at the hospital and to my amazement, the nurses were asking me about her meds.  What?  Me?  Why are you asking me?  Didn't you read the chart?  You should know this, not me.....
One lesson I learned from that experience was 'don't always rely on only the experts'.  Do your own homework if you can.  Hear what they are saying but have a healthy scepticism.

Same with taking your RV in to get it repaired.  There is a balance between keeping up on things and getting in the way and being a pest.

Seems as if every time we take our car or the Roadrunner in it is at least a $1000 bill.  But not this time.  After four days at the service center, we drove away with a 'NC' - no charge.  The rest of the story follows.

We had a leak from a cylinder that is not part of the engine.  It looked like a hydraulic something. I crawled under the Roadrunner and took these pictures.
 It didn't look like previous oil drips we've had.  But we didn't know what it was and we are more inclined to fix something before it gets too bad that wait for it to totally break when we are out in the middle of nowhere.

So we made an appointment with the closest Cummins shop and drove it over to Chesapeake VA about 15 miles away.
Our service rep was ready for us and said they'd get right on it.  Meanwhile we decided to check out the little diner next door for breakfast.
The Razorback Grill was fine -- a little on the pricey side but its the only one nearby and probably doesn't get volumes of business.

About 10 AM the service rep said they found some hydraulic hoses that needed to be replaced and they had to fabricate them so it would be a while.

We drove over to Greenbriar Shopping Center to hang out and use the internet at Panera Bread.  A little bit of dé ja vu.  Eight or nine years ago our daughter had a condo nearby and lived in the area, so we visited Panera often.

About 3:00 PM we went back over to the Cummins shop to see how they were doing and they said they'd have to keep it overnight.  That was a bit inconvenient - but workable.  We plugged in the Roadrunner, got some things and went back over to Kelly and Jon's to spend the night.

When we returned the next morning and discovered the mechanic also stated we needed to replace a leaking hydraulic fan pump.  What?  $3100 is what!  And they waited too long in the afternoon to get same day delivery for the part.

We came back the next day and the service manager said he just learned about the leak we were referencing.  We came in with the photos and I thought they were basing their repairs on the same thing I knew was leaking.   They were not!

At that point, the service manager indicated he was going to steam clean the whole are himself and find out what was going on.

Meanwhile, I called the Tiffin Service help desk and talked with the hydraulic expert.  He concluded the leaking item in the photo was a hydraulic "Equalizer Balancer".  The cylinder ensures the main slide on the Passenger Side moves in and out steadily with both edges at the same time.

When I talked about it with the Cummins service manager he indicated that the Cummins shop does not work on RV related items such as this.  Fair enough.  But at the same time I wanted to be sure that there was clear evidence problems with hoses and the hydraulic pump.

He pulled the Roadrunner into the bay and cleaned it up in the area.  He found no evidence of leaks on the hoses or the pump.  So we didn't need a pump afterall.

I was/we were not pleased.  But I maintained a level of communication without condemning him or 'yelling at him'.  I calmly expressed my disappointment and how three days after we brought it in for a scheduled appointment, we find out my initial survey of the situation was the only problem-- the leak in the equalizer balancer (though I didn't know the name of it at the time).

While the Roadrunner was sitting there the previous day, I called Cummins in Richmond to see if they could take a look at our engine starter problem.  We are not sure it is a starter per se, only that it appears to be sluggish at times when we start it.

He asked since we had the coach in the shop at Atlantic Cummins, 'why don't you get it fixed there?'.  I told him we did not have much confidence in their work at this point.  The Service Manager in Richmond called around and found another Cummins dealer on I-95 for us in case we wanted to use get it checked out after we leave Virginia Beach next month.  He really went out of his way.

Isn't this is the type of effort and help one hopes for when it comes to getting work done on the RV?

So that was nice of him and we'll schedule a visit to Richmond for another time.

Back to our repair shop saga...

The Service Manager called back from Atlantic Cummins and said he cleaned the engine area thoroughly and could not find any leaks in the hydraulic pump or the associated hoses.  He was apologetic and said - everything looks good.  No need for new hoses or a new pump.

Every time I talked with him he was always courteous, helpful and quite a bit embarrassed at how this was turning out.  He said, "I have talked with my bosses and make this right."  --- whatever that meant.

We were cleared to pick up the Roadrunner on Friday morning.  We drove over and wondered how much the diagnostic/labor hours expended bill was going to be?

To our complete surprise -- they said No Charge!  It was a mess shortly after the whole episode started so good for them.  We should not have been charged!  We were very thankful and glad not to have to pay $3100!

So here are some lessons learned:

- Take pictures if you can and share them with the tech when you first get to your appointment

- Stay on top of the situation.  I asked for an update every couple of hours and called after not hearing from them after about 3 hours.  Is anything happening out there?

- Try to track down the problem on your own and see what you can find out.  I call Tiffin Service Help Desk, Cummins in Richmond and a local RV place.

(The RV place said we could get an appointment in about eight weeks.  This is a busy time of year.  When I called Tiffin, I asked if we were at risk if we waited on replacing the equalizer balancer.  He said No -- but to keep an eye on it.  We will do that and get it fixed at Red Bay in late April.)

- Maintain lines of communication, even if you are upset.  I think that proved very helpful in the end.  They could have charged us for time they looked at the coach that was probably 2-3 hours.  At $130/hr -- that is probably over $400 we did not have to spend.

- I should have called and done my homework earlier.  The people at the factory know the RV better than the mechanics at the repair shop.  Theoretically -- I could have found out that the Equalizer Balancer was the issue and that I could wait and get it fixed at Red Bay.  I could have avoided the whole episode.

- Take more responsibility (as in trying to learn what meds my mother has or has not taken the last 24 hours

Moving forward,
I will continue to be civil with those that are trying to fix or repair our RV.

We will continue to try to troubleshoot and figure this stuff out on our own.  Primarily this will help us help them - the professionals.

Expect the best, but have a 'healthy sense of scepticism.  Key word is healthy.  Most people try to do a good job every day.  The Atlantic Cummins Service Manager was one such individual.

I will hope of the best, but try to anticipate what could go sideways.

I will continue to view this and other episodes in light of the fact that we are, truly, Living the Dream.  This IS part of the adventure.  This is not life and death, this is part of the journey.
We will be thankful. Every day.

That's all for now from the Roadrunner Chronicles.  Thanks for joining us!

Friday, March 3, 2017

Roadrunner Financials - February 2017

Roadrunner Recap
In February,  we continued our stay at Sea Mist (military campground) at Dam Neck Annex in Virginia Beach.  We have been here since mid - December and plan on staying until about mid - May.

Good News Areas We Are Under Budget
We didn't drive the motor home this month, so there was no need to get any diesel fuel.
We underspent in:
  • Diesel fuel
  • Campgrounds
  • TV
  • Mail, and
  • Household items
Biggest Expenses
We overspent in the following areas:
  • Propane (we were going through it with the cold weather but only have to refill it once during the winter)
  • Car Maintenance (maintenance on 8 yr old vehicle including hoses, plugs, radiator and hydraulic system flush)
  • Misc (gifts, clothes, boots and shoes)
Highest 1 Time Cost Item
The system flush and maintenance on the car was $1039.

Monthly Average
Here's a look at the monthly averages for the last six months.

We had another tough month and was a little higher than what we did with the budget in January.  After all the months of maintenance and medical it's nice to get the spending closer to our target.  But we are still way behind for the fiscal year which began in June 2016.

That's another look at where our money went during the second month of the new calendar year.

As always, if you think this spreadsheet might be useful I'd be glad to pass it along at no cost.  Just let me know.

Thanks for joining us today on the Roadrunner Chronicles!