Class B Warned

Well, This Hasn't Gone Well

Part Twenty – (Un)Happy Van-iversary!

Even though we posted our first blog entry here in January 2016, as you read the story you’ll see that this journey started when we purchased our CS Adventurous on October 13th, 2015. That means that we have arrived at our two year anniversary together, and while I would love to write that we’re living happily ever after, in reality, I’m glad there were no kids and it’s become obvious we may need to separate. Time goes by so quick when you’re not paying attention, and to think that it’s been two years since we purchased our van and we’re STILL trying to fix problems with it is…disheartening to say the absolute least, and positively enraging to say the most.

Our last entry found us trying to solve a black tank odor in the van that occurred mostly when the windows were down and the van was in motion. Our van spent weeks at the dealer, was not fixed (because, and I quote from the work order, “the unit smelled fine when I was working in it”), was redelivered to the dealer for a few more weeks, and ultimately received a brand new toilet to finally solve the smelly issue that had plagued us since day one of owning this van.

We packed our cabinets and headed to Hershey PA to attend the yearly RV Show. We visited our friends at the Pleasure Way area and were impressed, as we always have been, at the models they offered and especially some of their new options like an auto-starting generator that is activated by temperature or voltage – sort of like our Voltstart system, except that a generator would run and not the van’s engine to give you some juice, which we hear now is not recommended by Mercedes. We stopped in to see Leisure Travel Vans, and as always, their offerings were impressive as well, though the almost 10 month wait time to receive one is a bit jarring. There was a demo available immediately, though, and we enjoyed hearing about life in that Leisure Travel Van from their ambassador who was there to answer any questions we had. It’s especially tempting to see these competitors when we know our Roadtrek ownership has not been smooth. But we finally had our van fixed and had decided that while it’s nice to look, if we could finally tie up these loose ends with ours, we would stick with it. In fact, we had a week long trip planned to follow the RV show with a drive west and north, and a ride back east along Pennsylvania’s Route 6 – a relaxing ride through the mountains with a whole list of parks and interesting stops along the way.

 

This isn’t even a fraction of the offerings on display at the Hershey RV show

We planned to see the show over two days, because it’s such a massive show and there’s so much to see. We canvassed the show on Day One, and when the sun went down and the show closed, we made our way to the local Walmart to spend the night and hit the show the next day to see anything we may have missed and to dream a little more about what owning one of those giant Class As would be like.

By our return to the show the next day, it was clear that the toilet issue was still not fixed.

Now, I’ll pause here while you collect yourself because I’m sure you’re shocked to read that.

 

This would be a more effective toilet setup. At least we could put a lid on it.

Day Two we returned to the RV show with a new anger, frustration, and general hopelessness. No, those weeks and weeks at the dealer had not fixed the problem, which was as terrible as it had been from the beginning. We were ready to get rid of this problem van that had been repeatedly troubling us since that day two years ago when we bought it’s predecessor whose batteries didn’t charge and whose heating system didn’t heat, to this current van whose heating system also has been trouble and has smelled like human waste while driving among other items that we can’t seem to have addressed.

You might wonder, as any rational person would – if it’s been such a headache for so long, why put up with it? That’s a great question. We’ve always held out hope that if we could just get the few items fixed, this would be the van for us. And to be fair, these haven’t been minor issues. Batteries that don’t charge, heat that doesn’t heat, etc. are not minor issues like cabinets that constantly need to be adjusted because they slam closed on their own while you’re trying to put things into them as a completely random example. Another very compelling reason became clear on that second day at the RV Show when we returned to the competitors’ areas and decided to get some numbers from the sales people about what they could offer to help us get out of this van and into one that would hopefully give us a lot less stress. That number was a sizable gap between what I could expect for a trade-in value for my Adventurous and the price of a comparably equipped alternative. Without going into specifics, that number is large enough that I could purchase a well-equipped luxury vehicle instead of having to pay that amount to get rid of something because the manufacturer and their dealer network are unable to supply a fully working vehicle as promised in the paperwork on that fateful day two years ago when my loan company dutifully paid them in full. We visited the Roadtrek area of the show and asked if they might have someone there from the factory who we could talk to about possible causes, but we were told there was no one there who could help. And adding insult to injury, that demo Leisure Travel Van which would be available immediately instead of the 10 months to order a new one? It was now sporting a sold sign.

(Insert sad trombone sound here.)

We left the show and started on our planned route around Pennsylvania, stopping at another Walmart for the night, and debating whether to cancel the trip and either head back to the dealer or just head back home to regroup. The smell is that bad when driving. Angry, frustrated, feeling hopeless, (all emotions I’m sure they must have put in their promotional brochures, right?) we decided to make the best of it, as best we could, and we continued on our trip, just deciding to keep the windows closed (because, really, who likes fresh air when driving through the picturesque mountains of Pennsylvania when the weather is bright, sunny, and perfect) and try to grin and bear it.

I’m glad we stuck with it because the trip itself was great. We saw some awesome national parks, a few hard cider breweries, museums for the logging industry in Pennsylvania and the railroad, and even an alpaca farm where the friendly owner greeted us and gave us an up close tour of the farm and her alpaca children. If you want a relaxing ride, Route 6 through northern Pennsylvania is highly recommended.

 

Alpaca farm in Slippery Rock, PA

 

We met some great folks along our journey, including a nice couple who operate Deep Roots Hard Cider in Sugar Run, PA

 

Presque Isle State Park – one of many parks we visited along the way.

But now we’re home and still have to figure out how to fix our smelly van. We received a comment here on our blog about our particular toilet model and the problems that others have found with it’s design. With this new knowledge, we contacted our dealer about possibly swapping out our Thetford toilet with a Dometic toilet which would hopefully fit and fix the problem, and the links provided by our commenter which clearly demonstrated the toilet’s shortcomings, were included in the email to them. Also included in that email, and as we have repeatedly explained to them, we listed all the things we have done to troubleshoot – keeping water in all the traps to seal off possible escaping fumes, having a reasonable amount of water in the tank, using holding tank chemicals, namely Happy Camper. The email was forwarded by the dealer to Roadtrek who responded with the suggestion to…try putting water in the traps to seal off possible escaping fumes. That might sound familiar to you because you just read that in the previous sentence, and I would think it would have sounded familiar to them as well, as I had specifically mentioned that I had already done that. Getting a different toilet model installed would require Roadtrek’s authorization, so the dealer suggested I contact them directly, which I did.

While visiting Pleasure Way at the RV Show, I saw promotional signage touting their new Personal Assistant program which promises a dedicated support person who is knowledgable about their product who can answer questions you have about your van. Whether this program is as great as it seems I don’t know, but I do know that I have never been able to reach someone at Roadtrek on the first call. Every time I have called them for support, I have reached an answering machine. They did return my call this time, and we went over the details of the problem I had been experiencing. The answer from the person on the phone? Try Pine-sol in the traps because those can let fumes…well, you know the rest. I understand that there’s a process when it comes to a company’s diagnosing and fixing a problem, and I have no problem following that process. But to repeatedly suggest solutions that we have already mentioned we have ruled out is..again, frustrating. However, I told the person that I would try it and let them know, just so we could all be sure that everything had been attempted. I won’t bore you here with writing about how we tried Pine-sol in the traps and it did nothing to solve the problem, because I respect you enough to know that you already knew that. So I emailed the person helping me at Roadtrek to let them know that it had not worked, and to find out what the next steps would be to try to get this fixed. Not hearing back, I emailed again. This time I got a response which included advice from one of their ‘seasoned technicians’ which I would bet at this point you could probably guess. If you’re saying to yourself, water in the traps, congratulations! You could probably do well in the RV support industry! I would almost swear that somehow, as my emails cross the border into Canada, someone is stripping out all the pertinent details I’m trying to share with them because I keep getting the same suggestions back.

So here we sit on our two year anniversary of RV ownership. We’re still together, but our relationship is strained to say the least. How do you tell your significant other they have an odor problem?

12 Comments

  1. OMG, what can be said that hasn’t already been mentioned..!

    And I’ve been looking at their SS Agile with all that hi-tech stuff, 12 volt 18K A/C, multiple EcoTrek Li-ion battery packs, Engine alternator, volt start, 370 Watt solar, etc, etc…I like the 12 volt refer & no propane needed… but ..?

    You’ve got me thinking there might be to
    many ‘systems’ to keep running properly, or questions about longevity & repair costs when out of warranty..!

    I also like Pleasure Way as they seem to have their stuff together… There’s something to be said about using tried & true heating systems, galley accessories, & 3-way refers…

    I like their Li-ion batt’s, inverter, multiplex wiring, etc… Plus their interior cabinets can’t be beat… hum, might take a longer look at them…

    Re your smelly problems… wonder if you a cracked drain/vent line that’s hard to see/find, or fitting that wasn’t glued properly in the drain system… or bad connection at the Black tank itself…how about some vinegar to help mask the odor..?

    What a bumpy ride you’ve had… Regards, Ray in Northern Cali…

    • Good day, this is unbelievable, this should be easy to find and fix. My back ground is automotive; I’m no RV expert however I would attack this problem as follows, locate a garage with a smoke machine, we use it all the time for checking fuel system emission leaks, they can put a small amount of smoke and pressure into enclosed systems like your black tank system. Find away to introduce this smoke maybe in a second sew cap of an open the clean black tank valve, block the roof black vent cap (temp tap or bag) on the top of the unit, start the machine and look inside and outside for leaking smoke. You should find the source of the smell. If that doesn’t work leave the machine hook up and on (most are 12v/dc) and drive with the windows down. When you drive a window open the air rushing by the windows creates negative air pressure (vacuum) in the vehicle that’s why you smell it while driving..
      I hope this helps in someway, Lance

      • CBW

        March 4, 2018 at 8:10 pm

        Thanks for your suggestion Lance. The van is still in the shop, otherwise I’d be pumping smoke down the roof vent right now. I never knew that a smoke test was done for fuel system leaks. The service manager at the dealership just took over recently, but did automative service for years. You think he would have thought of this. My dealership only did a water test, but I wondered why they would test an odor leak with water vs smoke. Before our 3rd trip to the dealership with this problem we were thinking of what we could use to create smoke, like maybe throwing a smoke bomb in the toilet. As much as I hate the RV I’m not ready to blow the thing up yet. I have no confidence that the dealership will be able to fix it on this 4TH ATTEMPT! They not replace the toilet as promised, but instead reseated and checked the seal between the toilet and flange. I found a cheap smoke machine on eBay and will be ordering it if needed. Thanks again for your help!

  2. How many of us are having problems with RoadTrek? We ordered our 2016 CS Adventurous 4×4 from RT at the Tampa RV show after speaking with Jim Hammill, who made promises we failed to get in writing. Our biggest concern was we live 8 hours from the dealer who would handle the transaction. Jim said he have the Van trucked back for repairs if needed, not. Day 1 (8/10/2016) under mount AC drain not connected pouring water onto the bed and the door panel on the side door fell off. 8/24/16 Unable to repair AC, RT drove van back to factory. I asked them to check lithium modules and volt start. The lithium modules were making a noise. 10/5/16 van returned from factory and they found no problems with lithium module. 10/6/16 sent the factory a recording of the sound coming from modules. They finally admitted bad module and I should drive in back to the dealer for repair. This after it was returned from the factory the day before. They finally agreed to send tech with module to replace it (11/27/16). Alde system not heating the floor, RT tells me the tech will address Alde when he replaces the lithium module, but they fail to tell him. 3/23/17 Voltstart still not working and second lithium module fails. Take van to RT dealer to replace lithium module and Voltstart but they failed to order parts 10 hours driving and 2 wasted days. Second trip to RT dealer to replace module and Voltstart. The armoire order with the van has never fit properly. 10/29/17 Alde system under floor tubing is leaking in the floor causing the floor to separate, glycol leaking on the payment and into the van. Calls to factory and email has not been returned.

  3. Hi,

    Have been considering roadtrek your account of troubles leaves me concerned.
    Thought: When air is still, it has a higher pressure than flowing air. So when windows are closed pressure in the coach is higher than it will be with windows open. There is a low pressure void behind a moving van (Notice build up of dust on back bumper) this void could be trapping vent gases from black tank vent. When the driver / passenger windows are down and pressure drops in the van these gases / odors may be getting past rear door seals.

    Experiment: Open one of the rear doors then place a dollar bill between the door and the weather seal and shut the door. Gently tug on the dollar bill and make sure there is some friction between the door / seal / dollar bill. Check this around perimeter of both doors. If you find gaps that could be your problem.

    Test: If you find gaps or are uncertain of the seal then use duct tape to cover all of the back door seals. Then test driving with front windows down.

    Repair: Doors are adjustable so Mecedes or any good body can replace weather stripping or shift hinges to tighten seal.

    Roadtrek should have been able to do this and run this sort of test.

    Another test would be to introduce smoke into the black water tank and look for smoke invading into the Van. Likely a plastic tank so can’t just toss smoke bomb into it they burn hot. Could toss smoke bomb into can and take can to dump hose and tape over vent. Should be able to see smoke at any leaks.

    My $0.02 Worth

    Alan

    • CBW

      November 6, 2017 at 8:11 pm

      Thanks for your suggestions Alan. With further testing we’ve been able to conclude that the odor is definitely coming from around the toilet itself. We did a test where we sealed the toilet off using a heavy duty trash bag and shipping tape. We then drove with the windows cracked with no odor present. After we returned home we pealed back the bag and the odor was very strong and isolated to the area under the bag. The question remains as to how it’s getting in, especially after replacing the toilet. We even kept water in the bowl to be sure the seal is good in the bowl.

      Funny you should mention a smoke bomb because we did consider something like this. I would be afraid of the waste odors combusting and blowing the whole van to smithereens, but maybe that wouldn’t be a bad thing!

      • We have a 2017 CS ADV. Will be trading it in for a LTV Unity. I do not have the patience to write my 20 pages of problems. Just want to move on and not have to spend the time at the service center. You have a lot more tolerance then I do. There are good features in the RT but the QC and the support from RT is not the best.

        Just will look forward to the LTV and hope all goes well.

  4. Just discovered your blog, but haven’t read it through yet. I saw the diagram of the Alde retrofit. We had this done in December 2016 – I think we were the beta for this. It really boosted the heat output, though the fans are not all that useful since they don’t automatically shut off. Three questions: 1) Did you find source for clear glycol solution? 2) Does the glycol circulate clockwise through the system? and 3) Have you had to bleed convectors since the retrofit and, if so, do you bleed them in a certain sequence? One downside to the retrofit is that is it harder to access the under-couch convectors because of the new cabinetry (Yours may be different as I’m sure the design has evolved).

    • CBW

      November 11, 2017 at 11:30 pm

      Hi Steve. Did they install the fans on the convectors behind the drivers seat? From reading posts from other owners I believe Roadtrek began installing fans on the side door convector to boost performance. I think they also added additional standard convectors under the rear bench, making 2 rows of convectors stacked. I don’t believe any of the modified systems have as much as they added to ours. Are you able to share what was modified with your Alde system? We’ve also found that the fans are great in pumping out heat while the system is running, but also circulate cold air while it’s not, especially from the sliding door convector. I wish the fans shut off when the pump turns off.

      We never did find a source for propylene glycol on the road. Someone in one of the Facebook Groups reported that Alde has approved Century Chemical TF-1 Heat Transfer Fluid (available on Amazon) but Alde doesn’t recommend mixing it with their glycol because they’ve never tested a mix of the two fluids. I would recommend that everyone order a bottle from Alde and have it on hand. If you experience a complete loss of fluid on the road you’re probably out of luck, but an extra bottle is piece of mind since it’s so difficult to obtain in stores.

      We have learned by trial and error how to bleed the system. The floor seems to be the source of most air pockets, so we first start by running the system and pinching the black circulating tube right before it splits and goes through the floor loop. Just make sure you pinch the correct side of the loop. The fluid travels clockwise, and you want to force the fluid through the floor loop to first get the air out of this part of the system. You don’t have to pinch the loop off completely, just enough to add pressure to the floor loop. I then work my way around the van, bleeding the convectors from the lowest to highest point. I do the side door first, then behind the driver’s seat, then the wheel well, the rear bench, and finally the bathroom. I then repeat a few times beginning with pinching the floor loop. This is not the “official” way to do it but this is how it’s worked for us. Good luck and feel free to ask if you need any further instructions or photos.

  5. We have been following your blog almost from the beginning, having found it when we purchase our [used] 2016 CS ADV. I have a suggestion to try on your odor problem, but first:

    We have had a series of almost identical problems to yours and some others: Dead lithium battery #4 (replaced), failed inverter (replaced), 12V connection to fridge never connected at the factory (repaired), Voltstart not working (voltstart module was installed at the factory, but the remote start module never installed), black and grey tank control handles swapped, various Alde problems (dealer installing the convectors with fans shortly), failed solar inverter (replaced), etc.

    Now the odor problem, which we also have to a much lesser degree. My suggestion to test on your odor problem: Go up on the roof and temporarily plug the roof vent. See if the odor returns while driving. I’m wondering if driving pressurizes (slightly) and that causes the tank odor to come up out of the drains. If you version is like ours, there are no conventional “traps” on the sinks (so adding water, pine-sol, etc doesn’t matter) – just kind of a flap-style seal in each drain line. My guess is that the vents on both tanks are connected to the vent in the roof. If this solves the odor problem, you may want to install a vent which draws air up from the roof vent. I also found it strange that RT doesn’t install a cap on the roof vent (as on my previous Leisure Travel Van and previous Coach House Class B’s. Also, the odor we’re smelling is very similar to what comes from our high-efficient house washing machine when it needs to be cleaned – which is apparently a residual soap related smell – and might point to the grey tank vs the black tank as the source.

    • CBW

      November 20, 2017 at 9:31 pm

      Hi Schonfeld. It sounds like you need to write a blog of your own to document your journey. I hope all of your problems have been property taken care of with no other issues. I look forward to the day that we have nothing to write about, except our happy travels.

      I appreciate your feedback on the solar and waste odor issue. We have tried a few other things that I plan to write about in the next chapter, but if you read the comments you’ll see that we tarped off the toilet area and confirmed that the odor is either coming directly from the toilet, or a small space between the floor and toilet flange. We’re winding up for anther round of tests this week. I was curious if temperature is playing a role in this since it really didn’t seem to be a problem in the cold months. We drove it this weekend and with temps in the low 40’s the smell is just as bad as in the summer. I think we just don’t keep the windows cracked in the cold months so no smell. I’ll definitely try your suggestion and temporarily cap the roof vent.

      Another thing that we did notice is that if you remove the panel under the bath sink there’s an opening in the side wall of the enclosure to allow for plumbing pipes. When we’re moving you can feel the wind rushing into this area which is concerning. Not only is this letting in cold air in the winter, it could also be a perfect spot for rodents to get inside.

      I’m feeling adventurous (no pun intended) but I don’t want to do any repair attempts that may be used against me. It’s my understanding my service center and Roadtrek are in a dispute over the warranty claim for the earlier toilet replacement. You can’t make this stuff up! I’ve been waiting for a month now as they battle it out and figure out what to do next.

  6. I just came across your blog. I admire your perseverance and good attitude throughout this mess. I also admire your writing style!
    We bought a used 2007 Roadtrek Pop190 2 yrs ago and have had no problems with it. We were advised by a knowledgeable RVer to avoid buying a RT built after 2008, as quality control had gone downhill. I was skeptical hearing this perspective on RT, but subsequent to buying our ’07 have heard so many stories of newer RTs having all sorts of “straight from the factory” problems. Knowing you’re not alone in this RT fiasco is cold comfort, I’m afraid. For my part, although so many people have admired our RT, I do not recommend anyone buy one newer than 2008, and certainly not a newly built one.
    Good luck in the coming new year. Hope you can get out on the road.

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