Friday, December 21, 2012

Problem Solved, er, well, Sort Of

My McVansion

So, the persnickety problem is finally solved. What problem? The problem of the back-up lights and the license tag light not working on My McVansion. It's been bugging me for a while. They appear to have stopped working about the same time I removed the electric couch/bed from the van. So, it seemed that there might be some connection. At least that was my thinking, although, to be honest, as an amateur radio operator for nearly 50 years and having taken courses in electricity and electronics in both high school and college and designing and wiring up any number of recording studios and high-speed tape duplication operations, I have a reasonably good knowledge of the flow of electrons.

But, alas, while I honestly couldn't see how removing the couch and disconnecting the two separate electrical connections that controlled the functions of the couch/bed, I still had it in my head that there had to be a connection. So, as I've had the time over the past few months, I've check fuses, breakers, looked for shorts, loose ground connections, measured electricity in various strategic locations, made jumpers across the two connectors for the couch/bed, checked bulbs (only in the back-up lights) and all to no avail. Now, to be honest, the only light that was truly critical was the license tag light because I could be stopped and cited by the constabulary since that is an infraction of the rules of driving a vehicle at night. The back-up lights are a great convenience in backing up at night, but I could have lived without them.

I didn't check to see if the tag light was burned out because my "star" driver didn't fit the screw heads on the tag light cover. So, I did one of those dumb things, I "assumed" it was a joint issue with the back-up lights. But, for the life of me, I couldn't find the gremlins.

My regular mechanic is about 80 miles from my base camp in WV and I only get through that way on occasion these days. Last Friday, a week ago today, was one of those occasions. I called my mechanic in advance, asked if he'd have time to look at this problem and see if it could be resolved. By this time, I was beginning to consider the possibility that the problem with the back-up lights was in the back-up light switch that is activated when the automatic transmission is shifted into reverse. I wasn't sure if the switch was in the steering column or in the shift linkage at the transmission. I still didn't have a clue as to the cause of the tag light not working.

Well, I was right in my suspicions about the back-up light switch being the culprit for the back-up lights. It is located on the transmission and controlled by the transmission linkage. Problem solved. The switch is getting worn and needed a bit of "adjustment." But, here is the really embarrassing matter. The tag light turned out to simply be a burned out bulb. Ouch! Neither problem had any connection to removing the electric couch/bed from the van. It was just a coincidence that those to lighting circuits malfunctioned when I removed the couch/bed. Boy! Do I feel dumb when Marty and Cliff solve these minor problems (that I make into mountains) in just a few minutes.

BUT! And this is a BIG BUT, as Cliff was working on the back end of the van, he noticed a puddle of fluid growing around the right rear tire. I hadn't seen any evidence of a puddle on the pavement in WV nor any place else I parked the van. So, he jacked up the back of the van, slid under with a light to take a look-see and made a horrifying discovery. The right rear axle seal and bearing were demolished. The fluid was flowing out of the differential where the drive shaft energy is transferred to the axles driving the rear wheels of a rear wheel drive vehicle, which, of course, the van is.

The seal must have gone and took the bearing with it while I was driving the 80 miles from the WV base camp to Marty's service garage. Talk about lucky. I don't know how much gear oil was left in the differential at that time, but had I kept driving like that, I would have burned up the differential. Bottom line is that I was very lucky it happened when it did and I was sitting in Marty's garage when it was discovered. Marty ordered the parts (including the right axle, bearing and seal and the appropriate gear oil). Yes, the axle was damaged enough that it wouldn't have been safe to continue driving on it. The parts weren't all available until Monday morning, so the van was stationary over the weekend.

Fortunately, it was a weekend and Enterprise car rentals always has weekend specials, so they picked me up and put me into a 2013 Mazda 3 car for three days at a total cost, when I turned it back in on Monday afternoon, of about $36.00. So, I went on my way to northern Virginia for a short meeting in the late afternoon, a holiday dinner with my long-time friend and client and then over to my old Air Force buddy's house for the weekend to just hang out. I drove back to the WV base camp late Sunday afternoon.

Monday morning I called my mechanic back in Winchester, Virginia to check on the status. I was informed the van would be ready by about 1:00 to 1:30. I took my rental car back to Enterprise and they drove me over to my mechanic's place. $625.00 later I was back on the road with a new right rear axle, a working tag light and working back-up lights. Oh, and the back-up lights and tag light were just a few dollars of the $625.00. I took care of a couple pieces of business in the afternoon and drove back to the base camp in WV.

While I was doing my errands around Winchester, I may have discovered why the axle bearing and seal went bad. The van is reasonably long and the rear wheels are fairly close to the back of the vehicle, unlike a car where the rear wheels are (in proportion to the vehicle) a little further forward.  I've driven lots of vans over my lifetime, but for some reason, especially in towns and places where they are redoing curbs and have them jut out further into the roadway at intersections, I seem to clip those curbs with the right rear wheel. I did exactly that while navigating a very busy Costco Warehouse Club parking lot right after picking the van up from my mechanic. It's usually a pretty rough jolt on that fixed position rear wheel. So, I'm going to work at making my right turns wider then I have been to avoid clipping the curbs in the future.

So, now it's time go get back to completing the build-in of the living area in My McVansion. I put the project on hold when I couldn't resolve the electrical problem because I didn't want to complete building everything in and discovering the problem required me to pull any or a good portion of the interior back out to fix the problem. So, now, it's time to get back on track and get ready to hit the road.

Once again, what seemed difficult was simple when I went to the "pros." But, I'm ever thankful that this axle problem was resolved at less than it would have cost if the rear end burned up and when I was on the road in some foreign territory. Providence was with me.  


Gypsy Jane said...

Clipping curbs like that is also a real good way to blow a tire or pop it off the rim. BTDT

Ed Helvey - Professional Nomad said...

Absolutely! I've had numerous vans over the years. So, it's not like I don't know how to drive them. It just seems that all these new "infrastructure improvements" are changing driving patterns. I see a lot of box trucks and 18 wheelers dealing with the same issue. So, I'm just making my turns a bit wider.