Well, This Hasn't Gone Well

Month: December 2016

Part Fourteen – O Canada

We loaded up and headed north to Roadtrek headquarters in Kitchener, Ontario. We arrived in the morning and were greeted by the immensely charming woman working the front desk who connected us with the service man who’d be working on our van and our tour guide who kindly offered to take us through the factory while they began working. We reviewed all the issues we had – taking a look at the Alde system (including our own diagram that we had worked up showing the proposed layout), replacing the board that goes between the seats in the back to create the bed that was always a bit small, and a few other minor annoyances – and we were given a walkthrough of the assembly building which was really a fascinating look at how much work goes into each van’s construction, and just how much of the whole process is truly handcrafted.

A homecoming for our Roadtrek. Get comfortable, you'll be here awhile, and then you'll be back again later.

A homecoming for our Roadtrek. Get comfortable, you’ll be here awhile, and then you’ll be back again later.

Once our walkthrough concluded (sorry, no spy shots), they were kind enough to offer a rental vehicle so we could see the area and get back to our hotel that night while they kept the van to work on our list and re-plumb the heating system to production specifications. It’s a nice area to check out, and if you decide to visit, rest assured there are things to do in the Kitchener area while you wait.

We returned the next morning to pick up our van, confident that finally things were all taken care of and we were ready to be on our way. And everything was fixed! Finally, all the annoyances and trips to the dealer were going to be a thing of the past. And we lived happily ever after. The End.

Then we saw the puddle.

If we listened carefully, we could almost hear this butterfly telling us the van was still broken. Unfortunately, we couldn't quite hear him.

If we listened carefully, we could almost hear this butterfly telling us the van was still broken. Unfortunately, we couldn’t quite hear him over the sound of the birds and waterfall.

On the way out of town, we decided to visit a butterfly conservatory in the area before getting on the road and making our way west through Canada and eventually south back to the US. After a leisurely stroll through, we returned to our van and beheld a puddle that had formed under the vehicle in front of the rear driver’s side wheel, right under the Alde boiler. A drip was dripping from a small black tube right over the puddle, which looked to be coming from the point where the heating piping exited the boiler inside, and the tank of glycol, which runs through the heating system to radiate heat, was slowly emptying . Of course, these things will always happen around 4:30 pm when people have gone home. A quick call to Roadtrek, and we were told to bring it back in the morning to have it looked at. To their credit, they offered to pay for the additional night at the hotel because we had to head back and check back in to stay the night. Luckily we hadn’t gone too far out yet.

We went back to Roadtrek in the morning, and they replaced the flow assembly – a piece on the heating system piping includes an automatic bleeder valve that for some reason had failed, causing the leak. We said our thank yous (again) and our goodbyes (again), and set off once again. THIS time we were going to leave completely satisfied. Driving west we used the engine loop to heat the Alde system (which is really a great feature) and we and our feet were toasty warm. The rest of the trip was uneventful and finally all had been fixed.

Then we saw the puddle. Again.

I'm not an auto mechanic or RV expert, but I would say that leak is not a good thing.

I’m not an auto mechanic or RV expert, but I would say that leak is not a good thing.

The next day we noticed the small puddle in the same place under the van. Just a small puddle so we figured/hoped it was just a little normal relief leakage and nothing to worry about. We went to sleep that night hoping the slow leak would subside. Unfortunately, the next day, when we returned to the van after spending the day touristing (which by the way, if you make it to Michigan, you should check out the Henry Ford Museum – hopefully your vehicle won’t be slowly breaking down in the parking lot while you peruse the classic cars), the puddle had grown significantly and the glycol tank was once again emptying at an alarming rate. These things will happen at 4:30 pm on any given afternoon, and especially so at 4:30 pm on a Friday afternoon, when there’s no hope that the problem could be fixed until at least 2 days later. Roadtrek was closed, so we called Alde directly and a kind gentleman with a British accent told us that the part that was leaking really never fails, and to give it a whack because it works with a float mechanism and hopefully smacking it would release something inside that may have gotten stuck. Yes, seriously. We thanked him, smacked it, and watched as the glycol continued to leak out slowly for the rest of the evening.

We awoke in the middle of the night to the sound of air and water bubbling through the piping, a completely dry glycol tank, and temperatures inside the van in the low 50s (that would be Fahrenheit because we were now back on the US side of the border). Our Saturday morning and early afternoon was spent automotive store hopping in the Michigan area trying to locate the propylene glycol that they now used in the heating system. Fun fact – you won’t find it. At least not in the automotive stores. After repeated ‘no’s we returned to Google to find out where it could be found. Finally, someone on the internet mentioned it was used for livestock and sure enough, we found a bottle at a Tractor Supply Company store in the cattle supply area. We purchased distilled water and mixed it 60/40 with the propylene glycol as we had been instructed, and refilled the tank on the heating system. Luckily, we managed to get through another day and a half, long enough to get home and not freeze overnight, before we finally arrived home and the tank was once again dry.

All the way to Canada, two visits to Roadtrek HQ, and we still don’t have a fully functioning RV. It’s almost funny, really. But not quite.

Now I wait to hear from Roadtrek about what to do next.

UPDATE: I went out to the van tonight to plug it in to charge and my power cord and fresh water hose, both of which were in the back of the van for the trip to Roadtrek, are gone. Not only did they not fix what was wrong, they kept my cord and hose. Terrific.

Part Lucky Thirteen – the RV Show in Hershey

The RV Show in Hershey Pennsylvania in September is enormous, and a great opportunity to see all the options available in RVs (those maybe you should have spent more time considering?) and apparently a great opportunity to finally see the people who were involved in producing the RV you already own. We visited this year armed with questions and concerns and determined to track down those who could help us out. We weren’t disappointed (completely).

Making our way to the Roadtrek zone of the show, we found a helpful representative from the company whom we had communicated with previously about a few quick warranty items. He was very friendly, knowledgeable, and was familiar with our particular saga. We couldn’t confirm that they had a ‘file’ on our case or that there were posters up at their home office warning that we were trouble, but we probably wouldn’t be surprised. Speaking with him for only a few minutes, he was able to suggest a fix for our VoltStart system that the dealer had been unable to supply – look under the dash below the steering column, locate the VoltStart module, and most likely, you will see a label saying ‘Lithium’ instead of ‘AGM.’  Sure enough, later that evening, we popped open the dash cover and there was the module – the one for Lithium batteries and not the AGM batteries we have, which explained why the system was starting too soon. In literally a few seconds, we had diagnosed the problem that days at the dealer (who had said they had been communicating with Roadtrek directly when working on the fix) was unable to remedy. When we returned to the Roadtrek zone the next day, excited to share that yes, that was it, we were promised a replacement module would be mailed directly to us for an easy swap once they returned to home base in Canada after the show. Luckily, that’s what happened. One problem down!

Oddly enough, this lithium module isn't working with our AGM batteries

Oddly enough, this lithium module isn’t working with our AGM batteries

During that first visit with Roadtrek, we were offered a tour of the factory if we made our way up to them in Kitchener, Ontario, which we eagerly accepted. We discussed the layout of our Alde heating system and our doubts about the design, and we were told that we did indeed have a unique set up, and if we were concerned, during that visit to the factory they could take a look at it and address our concerns.

Later in the day, we stumbled on the booth for Alde and were finally able to meet the Alde representative that had never returned our calls or emails (hey! he does exist!). He told us that our system design was unique, and he suggested that they had been in contact with Roadtrek during the whole ordeal and they had told Roadtrek that that was not the way to set it up – specifically, that it was put together in a way that they had not done before and therefore had no testing results to confirm that it was the most efficient design, or even the expected longevity of the pump because they typically did not design the systems to mix pipe diameters and use a single loop around the coach and through the floor. Needless to say, we made a final visit to the Roadtrek area and confirmed that we would be seeing them soon on their home turf to take that factory tour and get this thing fixed once and for all.

The fix for the VoltStart – check. Confirmation that our Alde system was questionably designed – confirmed. Too much chocolate from Hershey’s Chocolate World on the way out of town – of course.

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