Several years ago, we drove our first new diesel pusher home just after Christmas and left our car at the dealer to make it ready for towing. On Saturday, we drove the 60 miles back to get the car and test the towing assembly. I’m watching everything since we have zero experience with a diesel and a coach this length.
We are really looking forward to this because it’s been years since we’ve had a motorhome—at least 10 years. We had lots of experience but all that is now old—too old to trust. So we are looking at this like a totally new experience with a new toy. It’s going to be fun.
We do know enough to remember that an initial, local, shakedown “cruise” is one of the best things you can do to maintain your sanity before you take off on that cross-country adventure. We want to know what works and more importantly, what doesn’t work.
We plan a three-night shakedown cruise departing New Year’s Day. A good shakedown is needed to test everything because we plan to depart January 18th for a three-week trip. We must know if everything is working.
It’s New Year’s Day. I’m on the couch with bronchitis and the Tournament of Roses Parade. So our revised plan is to leave Monday since we must be back at the latest on Friday due to some unavoidable appointments.
Planets Not In Alignment
My bronchitis has it’s own schedule so we pack and depart Tuesday afternoon. I start the engine. I’m checking/looking at everything. I don’t have a clue what I’m doing based on my zero experience with a diesel engine.
The oil pressure gauge pegs at “High” and doesn’t move. What to do? I check the manuals. There’s lots of information on low oil pressure but nothing about high-pressure readings.
We drive the coach and car to a local (but not our) dealer where we pick up a drop receiver, hook up the car, and start to drive. I’m concerned about towing (it’s only the second time we’ve towed it) so now I’m carefully monitoring the rear camera! So carefully, I forgot the oil pressure reading. After 4-5 miles, I remember—it’s still pegged on “High.” I’m worried.
Who You Gonna Call?
We exit, shut down, and call our dealer. They tell us to call Freightliner in Ft. Worth to explain the problem. We do. Freightliner tells us to NOT drive the coach, call for a tow, and get it to them. Whoa! I’m not even sure how to drive this thing much less who to call for a tow!
We call our dealer and the service manager told us that Freightliner informed them if this was caused by engine problems, Freightliner would cover the towing bill. If the problem was the gauge, they would not cover towing. Well gosh. Here I am sitting in a gravel lot, five miles from home, in a vehicle I can live in but not drive, and being told about who will cover (or not cover) the towing bill. Our dealer suggests we call our emergency road service just to let them know what’s happening. I call. Now they know what’s happening.
I Tow, I Tow, To Freightliner We Go
Our dealer locates and calls a towing company for us. We unhook and wait a couple of hours. The driver arrives and hooks up our unit carefully so nothing is damaged. He even wires up our new, solid, rock guard so it won’t drag and disintegrate during the 30-mile tow. We empty the refrigerator into a cooler and shut off all propane.
It’s tow time. Off they go. We follow. We note the blinking hazard lights give the unit a special glow from the rear not normally seen by owners. Take my word for this.
Arriving at Freightliner
We arrive about 7:00 PM Tuesday and find friendly service people. This place is huge and open 24 hours. Hmmm. Maybe some luck.
No such luck. Service tells us that they are not busy so they will get it in at 7:30 AM—RV techs don’t work nights. The towing company must be paid and $235.00 later, they unhook and leave. We kiss the coach goodnight, drive the car back to our home, and sleep in our normal bed.
Waiting on Freightliner
I call at 8:30 AM. I’m told they haven’t looked at the unit yet but give them a couple of hours. I call at 11:00 AM and I’m told they haven’t looked at the unit yet but give them a couple of hours. I call at 1:00 PM and I’m told they haven’t looked at the unit yet, it may be evening, and they will call me. I call at 4:00 PM. The mechanic tells me he tested the engine and found no problems. I tell him if he gives me the go-ahead, I am definitely going to drive the coach. He says he will run a second check—just to be sure—and would I call in an hour. I do.
According to him, the engine tests fine. However, since there’s nothing wrong and no warranty work was done, to what do they charge the tow? My answer is that since they specifically told me NOT to drive the coach and have it towed, I was following their instructions. Freightliner agreed to think about it.
Go West, Young Man.
It’s Wednesday evening. We hook up and are ready to go. We must complete this shakedown cruise, test everything, and return home by noon Friday! So, we are off, finally.
We drive to West, Texas (a real town south of Ft. Worth)—far enough to put a decent load on the engine. We carefully monitor the gauges. The oil pressure stays on 3/4 or “H” but I’m trusting Freightliner.
We get to West about 8:30 PM and decide to eat at a local restaurant. West is a small, friendly Czech community and the stuffed cabbage rolls are wonderful. We eat, pay up, and drive to the campground.
The campground promised big pull-through sites. There’s only one coach close to us. We just hook up electric—no water or sewer. It’s 9:30 at night, cold, we haven’t done this in about 10 years, and I want to see what I’m doing.
We try the jacks. They seem to work but cannot center the bubble level. I try several times and it just won’t center. We both have a good “feel” for level so, with a final adjustment, decide to live with it. The slides work fine, TV is great, furnace is keeping it toasty warm, and we are living the life of leisure at last.
We almost had an “oops” but remember to add black tank chemicals before we used the toilet. I had asked and the dealer told us they only add enough water to test the gauges. Everything is great! After watching the news, we go to bed. This bed feels good. The night passes without incident.
Our First Morning
Coffee is brewing—life is good. Our plan is to go back into West for some kolaches (Czech pastry filled with goodies). Okay, we aren’t really testing our kitchen but there are priorities.
My wife decides to shower. I decide to look around. She heads to the bedroom and I go outside.
A Giant Oops
I see water slowly dripping from the holding-tank compartment. I quickly open it and find that both (yes, both) blade valves are open—grey and black water are draining directly into the compartment! (Remember, I did not hook up the sewer hose last night.) I shut both valves. A closer look reveals that most of the liquid and a bit of the solid waste is in the compartment. The coach was a bit unlevel and low in front.
Luckily, there is little to clean up. So we jump right in (figuratively speaking) to get it done. Since the campground staff was working down the hill, to save embarrassment and possible lifetime banishment, we pull our car onto the next site to block their view while we clean up this mess.
While cleaning, we find big, sticky blobs of white caulking compound—from when the coach was built. So, while wiping up the sewage and water, we are spreading caulking around since it is impervious to water—what a mess!
We catch the debris by placing a tub under the compartment hole where the sewer hose normally comes out. Then, we carefully pour the debris down the sewer drain in the ground. It works. There’s no spillage. We rinse the compartment multiple times, wipe it as dry as possible, and even hose down the gravel area just in case. Everything looks good. There’s no apparent odor. We feel confident in our efforts.
As we are putting stuff back into the coach and car, my wife uses the car key instead of the “clicker,” and sets off the car alarm! One of the campground people drives his golf cart to our site to see what was the matter. We meet, talk, and make nice.
Time to Go—Well Almost
We grab a quick shower and get the coach ready to travel. Everything goes fine. I get the tow bar stuff from a compartment and attach everything. Looks good. I’m pretty careful especially when it comes to checking on myself (and others) if the situation is important. Our vehicle is important. Actually, I’m so new, everything is important.
I check. I’m missing the front hitch latch pin that locks the drop receiver to the coach. One is in place. The other is missing. Absolutely cannot tow without it.
I look. Then I search. Then call my wife to help look and search. I’m thinking through what I did when I unhooked last night. We cannot find the pin. Now we are into a CSI-level “crime-scene” search—on our knees, carefully pushing individual grass blades aside to look. No luck. As we discuss options (could we hopefully find and buy another one or just live here forever), I stand up and there it is—in plain view. I had carefully laid it on the bottom rung of the ladder. The chrome pin blended perfectly with the chrome ladder rung. I make a mental note to offer to teach camouflage techniques to the military!
It’s noon. We drive about 25 miles to our next campground (remember, it’s a shakedown cruise) and register. The woman leads us in a golf cart directly to the drivethru site. It’s fine and we quickly hook up the water and electricity. I learn that I will need an adapter to hook up the sewer.
We find a Wal-Mart, purchase the adapter, and some fresh fish and vegetables. Tonight, we try the kitchen.
The wind is gusting so we have not put out the awning. We brought a load of towels from home to test the washer/dryer. It is a lengthy process but works fine.
The stove cooks the fish just fine and the fridge keeps our wine perfectly chilled. Our first meal in our new home is a winner. Clean-up is easy as we have developed a “system” over the years that worked well in our house and also in our motorhome.
Getting Ready for the Big Trip
The next morning, we take our time, carefully storing things, hook up, check, and recheck everything. On the drive home, we list the things needed for the big trip. We also schedule some minor warranty work.
Was it worth it? Absolutely! I recommend a 2–3–4 night shakedown cruise—hooking/unhooking and moving every day—for any RV that’s new to you. After all, it’s better to find and solve problems than to carry them with you for weeks. Oh, yes, Freightliner covered the towing bill.
Was I lucky? I was. While there were no disasters on my shakedown, others have told me that they found real problems and were glad (actually overjoyed) they found the problems before starting on a major trip.
Would we do it again? Absolutely. If I got another new coach tomorrow, there would be a mandatory shakedown cruise as early as possible.
Until then, enjoy yours and check your blade valves!