(Formally "Plan V: A Van Dwelling Blog", when I lived in a 1978 Dodge Xplorer 228 Class B motorhome van)

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Back luck with differentials

The differential on the truck was making loud moaning-type noises that would come and go. From experience with the '78 Xplorer 228 when that horrible mechanic tore it apart when I asked for a rear brake job because he saw rust on the axle shaft, it's hard to find a shop who will rebuild differentials. Many, if not most transmission shops won't do anything with them except change the fluid. Same with regular repair shops. They want nothing to do with them for some reason.

Needless to say, I didn't take it to the same shop the van was towed to, where they botched the brakes, stole one of my new brake drums (which I discovered after I redid the brakes myself), and lied to the BBB when I filed a complaint against them, claiming I was passing out $20 bills as tips.

But I digress.

I called around and found a long standing transmission shop and the guy said it would be "about $1000". He test drove it with me and Lucy crammed in the passenger seat and afterwords, he said if I was only driving it around town, he'd leave it alone. It could last many years that way. But if taking it on a long trip, he'd rebuild it if it was him. I was like ok, I'll think about it.

I decided it needs doing. It could potentially completely fail (ie: broken gear teeth) at any time for all I knew. Things like that can happen at the worst times, in the worst places; even if my usual luck for such things isn't so bad. I didn't want to gamble with it for the safety of Lucy and myself.

I hoped to drop it off on a Monday or Tuesday, and have it back by Friday so my motel stay would only be 2-3 nights. No...such...luck. Try 5, so far. Maybe 6. 7? Ugh, I hope not!!!

He had me drop it off on a Wednesday because he had other things to finish first, which made me cringe in regards to my "plan". He stated before hand that it would take at least 3 days between taking it apart and seeing what all it needs, ordering the parts, waiting for them to come and then putting it together. I guessing waiting on delivery is considered a whole day. He had hoped to have it done by Friday.

After checking into a $45/night (with tax) motel, late Wednesday morning, leaving Lucy here crated, and dropping the truck off, I caught city buses back to the motel The next day he called and said he can't possibly finish it before MONDAY! The reason being, the parts needed are being ordered from multiple sources, and something he needs can't get there until Monday. Plus, the storm that rolled through in the afternoon of the day I dropped it off knocked out the power to to the section of the grid their shop is connected to, causing them to have to shut down.

Oh, and he said the quote is now "about $1600" because the carrier itself (the big thing that the gears attach to) is also worn out, which he found out after tearing it apart. Seriously?! It is possible, there's no doubt about it, but I wonder how much of that is just gouging me just to sell me another part. I'm at his mercy though, pretty much. He did say he'd put "several" guys on it Monday so it could be finished as soon as possible.

I thought about trying to source a whole used axle and just having it swapped, but there's no good guarantee the used axle's differential won't be worn out too. It could have bad bearings, leaking seals, etc. So I'm pretty much committed to that shop doing it at this point. Short of having it towed away to another shop (exactly what I had to do with the van), it stays here. In the case of the van, I had to have it towed away because that guy had it for THREE MONTHS and never finished it, even after I bought the special differential tools and supplied him with a printed copy of the service manual. Yeah... that mechanic was as bad as they come.

The motel is far from crowded so I was able to extend my stay through Monday. In all honesty, I am probably going to have to pay for Monday night too unless he magically finishes it before too late in the afternoon on Monday. They probably won't mind me doing a little late check out (normal is 11am) but I can't expect to get a free 6pm checkout or something. I guess an extra $45 at this point is just a drop in the bucket, eh?

On the plus side, I did get two loads of laundry done while I've been here and it's been a better place to be stuck than a tent at the KOA, with the drenching rain, wind and storms. I guess this makes up for not paying rent anywhere since the $40 for two weeks at the Quartzsite LTVA.

That's life.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Long overdue update

Kind of a lot has been going on in the past few months. I've been in Texarkana since late January since the climate and weather has been pretty good. I crashed at my mom's house for 2-1/2 months but finally I had well overstayed my welcome so I've just been bumming around town since, using city parks in the day and parking in safe places at night. I finally dragged out the laptop today at a picnic table with a power outlet for creating this long blog post. I don't use the phone plan's 8GB monthly hotspot for my Android car stereo anymore (more on that below) so I may as well use it sparingly on the laptop.

The biggest thing that has happened -- for better or worse, I sold the car. It was too cramped for long term living. I also sold the Yamaha scooter I had stored here when I moved away a few years ago, as well as the roof box I had on top of the car. I kept the hitch box, however.

What I replaced it with is a 1987 Ford F-250 XL extended cab with the 6.9L IDI non-turbo diesel engine with the C6 3-speed automatic transmission. Both of these are considered pretty bulletproof if taken care of. The transmission has been rebuilt by a previous owner. I got this particular setup for buying and towing a travel trailer, but for the time being I have decided against that. I guess I should have gone with something newer and with a gas engine but this isn't a bad setup either. It got about 16mpg hwy towing the Vibe behind it on a tow dolly. It gets 11-12mpg city with a camper shell, the backseat loaded with stuff, all my stuff in the bed and the hitch box.

I've had to put a lot into it already, as far as I can remember at this moment:

  • Front & rear shocks, Monroe Gas-Magnum (about $100 online before $50 mail in rebate; installed by me)
  • All four ball joints, Moog Problem Solver (about $100 online, installed by me)
  • All 4 tie rods & adjustment sleeves, Moog Problem Solver (about $200 online, installed by me)
  • Left brake caliper & hose ($60 caliper in store/$7 hose online, installed by me)
  • Front brake pads ($22 in store, installed by me)
  • Brake booster (About $15 in junk yard, installed by me)
  • Brake master cylinder (About $25 in store, installed by me)
  • Steering rag joint (bought in store, had to have the old one removed by a machine shop, installed by me, total cost about $50)
  • Steering gearbox (About $20 from junk yard, installed by me. stopped a bad power steering leak)
  • Starter motor (suddenly died, free roadside tow, paid a shop $386 installed. ouch!)
  • Fuel injector install kit ($77 in store, installed by me)
  • Oil change (Rotella T5 15w40, Motorcraft ML-1995 filter for the PowerStroke diesel, but it fits and extra capacity, new copper drain plug washer (About $60 with over half a gallon left, done by me)
  • Crappy spray can auto primer job over some surface rust (wire brushed off first) just to preserve the metal for now. (Abot $10 including painter's tape)

I mistook a booster/vacuum problem for a bad booster and then later caliper so that was a bit of a waste. The master cylinder may also have not been bad, but oh well.

I also had to get a spare tire rim, spare tire, and the spare tire carrier parts. All but the tire came from junk yards, about $40 total. The tire itself came from a used tire shop for about $35 including mounting and balancing.

I need an alignment after all the ball joints and tie rods, but I may also still need a NEW steering gear box. The ball joints and tie rods have helped a lot with loose wandering steering, but it's not as precises as I'd like. The alignment might fix it but I'm not sure. I guess I'll try that first since an alignment shouldn't need to be done again just for a gearbox change. But I'll ask and see first. One front tire is obviously badly worn but that was from the old ball joints and tie rods. It'll get moved to the rear in a tire rotation and replaced later. The rear tires are in good shape currently.

One really crappy thing though, the differential has since started roaring, a sign it is worn out and needs about a $1000 rebuild and 3 days in the shop. Ugh. Really? I'm going to try to hold off on that, but I may have to just bite the bullet and have it done before I leave the area. A transmission shop guy said for around town he'd leave it alone for a while but for a long trip, he recommends rebuilding it. So, I guess I'll be getting a cheap motel room for a few nights and getting it rebuilt.

On the plus side, I still have all the money from the car's sale and most from the scooter, so I can afford it. I put most of the truck's $2500 purchase cost on a low interest credit card in the form of cash advance withdrawals, so I'm slowly paying it off that way.

It could probably stand to have a new vacuum pump (although I haven't troubleshooted the hoses yet) since it has poor braking at idle speeds now and then. On this truck it's insanely easy, except for the pulley removal from the old pump. A new one can be bought instead though, so that IS an option.

I pulled the Optima YellowTop battery from the Vibe before selling it, as well as the Android stereo. The stereo can't be used in the truck, but I did wire up the YellowTop battery as a house battery for phone charging and occasional, limited 12V fan use. It's only being recharged with a llong 10 gauge wire right now, so it takes a good 30-60 minutes to recharge it fully from about 60-70% but it works well enough. I also stripped out the rear outlets from the Vibe and moved them to the truck. I bought a $50 Walmart battery to sell the Vibe, since the YellowTop cost me $220. A $10 battery box and marine battery terminals completed the installation. I still have the little Yamaha generator for an extra power source if I need it.

As far as travel plans, I wanted to go further east, over to Kentucky or there abouts, then head north up to Michigan; but now I'm not sure. I have gotten delayed a couple months because of stuff the truck has needed, and other delays related to having to take up Arkansas residency again. That's all done now though, so I will be leaving next month sometime. Where? I don't know. The weather in the areas I would have to travel through slowly has been pretty bad... even deadly. So, I think I will have to forget that and head back Northwest, toward CO in the more immediate future. But we'll see I guess.

And now for some misc pics...

Old, fairly rotten rag joint:

Old rear shock vs new:

Towed to shop due to dead starter motor. The towing guy brought a truck that was almost too small!

Starting on the ball joints:

Older pic of my new setup. The ice chest is an old one I left at my mom's. I have since used $45 in Sears/Kmart points (I got from buying a $110 set of a jack, stands and creeper) on a Coleman 5-day cooler. I still have the one pictured, using it for dry food storage since it has no drain and the lid design lets dirt and junk inside too easily.

Six baby Canadian geese! Just had to throw that in.