Monday, November 11, 2013

The Near Miss

OK, I promised I would do it and I will.

I was stupid.  Reaaaaallllyyy stupid.  Like, fork in a toaster stupid.  Like pushing the big red button labled DO NOT PUSH stupid.

But I digress.

And I need to one last time before we get into this if you are to understand

I had just finished the mudder a few days prior and on a day off, I changed out the lines for the power steering system on Flo.The old ones were rubber and I put in the new braided steel lines.  Good upgrade, stopped the power steering fluid leak. 

So, fast forward to the highways of Arkansas and Tennessee.  We had been driving, and pulling the RV, for a couple of days now and I had noticed something.  There was a whine starting when turned sharply or when braking hard.

The Duramax diesel has what is called a hydroboost system.  It uses the hydraulic pressure from the power steering pump to aid with the brakes.  So, since I heard the whine with both systems, it was surely the power steering whine.

The noise grew more pronounced and I had to use more steering and braking effort. That is not a comfortable feeling when driving through mountain roads towing your 15k lb house.  Some stress was building.  By the time we arrived at Cedars of Lebanon, the whine was constant.  Something was pretty wrong.  We parked after much noisy steering in tight spaces.  After we set up, I popped the hood.

The beast within.

Here is where things really started going off the rails.  Again, I don't really have an explanation for this.

Looking around the all-too familiar internals here, there are a few landmarks that are worth noting.

Mr. Master Cylinder fluid reservoir.

The view down the front of the engine.  Hmmm..What is that there at the bottom?
Something familiar here, but let's find that problem.

So I throw open the hood and take a look.  First thing I notice is some dark sludge underneath the master cylinder.  Makes perfect sense because remember, the two systems are connected. So I clean off as much of the sludge as I can, so I can see the leak.  I check the fluid in the master cylinder and it is dirty, but there seems to be enough.  I even draw out some of the fluid and replace it with nice, clean fluid.

By this time I am exhausted and we want to go eat somewhere.  Time to pack it in for the night.  I'll check things out in the morning. 

Fast forward to the next morning.  We pack everything up and get ready to leave.  It is going to be a shorter drive today, but we are all ready and waiting to go.  Besides, the park will be full today and we have to leave.  The government shutdown has pushed all the people out of the national parks and they are now filling up the state parks, like this one.  We need to leave pretty soon. 

I start the truck up and step on the brake.  The noise is worse than ever.  Sarah hears it.  There is no way we can proceed in this condition.  I checked the fluid last night and it was fine.  Damnit.  It must be the power steering pump.  I jump online and do a quick search.  Power steering pumps are available in Nashville, an hour away, and they aren't too expensive.  I am betting I can get it replaced and still get us on the road.  Sarah calls Good Sam and starts looking for other RV parks in the area just in case.  They have a mechanic nearby who can do the work if I can't, but he doesn't work onsite and we would have to get Flo towed to his shop.  Oh yeah, it would be a few days too.  We would then have to get the RV towed to another campground because this one would be full. 

This now really sucks.  I need to find a way to get this fixed soon. The auto parts store in Nashville has a power steering pump, but it has a core charge of over $100.  So I need to pull the old pump off and bring it with me.  I am officially stressed.  Sarah has an emergency contingency plan in place and is waiting to pull the trigger as soon as I say I can't fix it.  To hell with that. 

We go find the campground host's trailer and tell them our problem.  We are informed that we will be leaving by 3pm today either under our own power or by a tow truck.  No questions.  The husband of the husband and wife team knows something about trucks and as soon as he returns from some duty he is off performing, he will stop by and see if he can help.  I am loathe to accept any help, but I can see the wisdom in another set of hands.  Back to the truck. 

I pop open the hood, crank over the engine and hear that terrible whine.  It seems to be coming from here.

Right there.  Lucky me!  That should be easy to get off.
And that looks easy enough to get off.  It is right there up front and on top.  I can do this.  I break out the tools.  I am wrestling with the belt to get it off because I can't reach the belt tensioner with any of my tools.  I figure that I can almost pull the belt off by hand if I plant both feet on the bumper and pull really hard.  Maybe if I just loosen the bolts on the pump, I can shift it enough to get the belt off an save some time.  So I grab a wrench and start loosening the bolts holding the above piece of equipment to the engine. 

Then I notice something weird.

Denso?  That sounds familiar.
Hmmm...Denso.  Back in Santa Fe, a few weeks before we left, Sarah's dad and I replaced the air conditioner compressor on the Honda.  The compressor was made by the same company, with the same little plate on it...Denso. 

That alone should have made me stop.  But no...this crazy train was going too fast by now.  Nothing was stopping me.  I was determined. 

The husband part of the camp host couple shows up and I explain my situation to him, tell him my plan and he agrees that it sounds reasonable.  Of course, he assumes I am not an idiot. I put up a good face until you get to know me. 

So I go back to what I am doing while we make idle chat.  Things are going a little slower now that I am distracted by having this guy around watching.  The pump is not moving like I want it to and I decide that I need to pull off some of the supply lines to get a little more wiggle in it.  The guy is telling me that his wife was crazy to say he knows about trucks because he really doesn't know much of anything. 

I set a pan under the truck to catch any drips and throw a wrench on the lines leading to this pump.

Yep, those right there up top.
About this time, the guy says, "You know, I don't know for sure, but I think you are just about to take your air conditioner compressor off." 

What?  This guy really doesn't know anything about trucks.  Hell, I've worked

Wait a minute.

Something isn't right about this.

That symbol is trying to tell me something important.  What could it be?
Denso?  A/C compressor.  It's all coming together now.


Why am I about to take the air conditioner compressor off? 

About this time he reaches down and pulls the lid off of this.

I'll be damned, it looks almost like a steering wheel.

And it is empty.  Dry.  Nothing in there. 

"You are out of power steering fluid man." 

I was less than a minute from taking the pressurized supply line off of the air conditioner compressor.  That would have clued me in to my current stupidity, but I like the way he did it better.  Holy Crap! 

I stopped, really stopped, for the first time that morning.  I asked Sarah if she could go to the store in the Honda and pick up some power steering fluid. 

While she was gone I put everything back together.  The camp host shared with me a few times he had done something really stupid, nothing quite on this scale, but I appreciated the sentiment.  Sarah got caught in traffic and it took a while for her to get back.  Plenty of time for me to wonder how I had fallen down this rabbit hole.  I knew this system and just didn't think at all.  Not even a little bit.

She got back and we put the fluid in.  Magically, the whine was gone and we were ready to roll.  I thanked the host profusely and we set off, much later than we wanted, but in pretty good shape all things considered.  I'm still a little tense and not 100% certain of my steering and brakes though. 

Less than five miles down the road and there is a merge lane.  Ahead I can see a truck, obviously laden and laboring to accelerate uphill in the half mile long merge lane.  The van in front of me decides, instead of just continuing on at her current speed (and yes it was a her, no stereotypes today thanks) and easily passing the truck well in advance of any real merge opoprtunity, she decides to slam the brakes and come to a complete stop to wait for the truck. 

This requires a panic stop by me.  The brakes work!  Heart thudding I start to call her an idiot.  I don't though.  I think it will be a while before I call anyone an idiot.