Saturday, October 7, 2006

A long, excruciating day

Yesterday was the day from hell.  As you recall, we woke up behind a Big-O tire store.  At 7:30 they parked us and one of the commercial techs came over to discuss what we needed.  As it turns out, Mesilla Valley Commercial Tyre [sic] was unable to do the work.  Specifically, once they de-mounted the tires, they had no way to recover or replace the Equal balancing powder, nor did they have a spin-balancer that could accommodate our wheels.  They suggested we go over to Goodyear instead.

A quick call to Goodyear, one exit further west on the freeway, revealed that they could get us in right away, so we headed straight over.  They rotated our drivers, dismounted the four rib tires and flipped them over, then cross-rotated them as well.  As they were reinstalling the last wheel, the right side tag, we discovered a major problem:  they had placed their jack halfway back on the A-frame, instead of out next to the wheel, the dire consequence of which was that the A-frame is now bent.  There is about a 1" deflection right in the middle of the leading arm.

I have to say, when we saw this, we both literally became sick, with a queasy feeling in our stomachs.  We knew instantly that this was a major problem, one which could derail our Mexico trip, and ground us in Las Cruces for months.

I immediately put in calls to Neopart and to Jim at Chappaqua transportation.  Our parts contact at Neopart was out, but her backup felt that the A-frame was not going to be available, even from Germany.  Certainly, there was none in stock.  She also checked with one of the mechanics (a person who had worked on our coach back in 2002), and he felt we should not operate the coach until the A-frame was inspected and repaired.

Jim had a different take on the matter, and, frankly, we have more confidence in his opinion and expertise.  Chappaqua runs a fleet of Neoplans, and Jim is the head mechanic, and he's seen everything.  When we decribed the damage, he related that he had seen coaches with exactly this issue before.  Since it is on the tag axle, he felt the coach was perfectly safe to drive, but he confirmed what we already knew:  the bend in only one of the arms would cause a skew in the alignment of that wheel, resulting in tire scrubbing and excess wear.

Jim also informed us what we already surmised, which is that replacing the A-frame is a major job involving a lot of hours.  Happily, he mentioned that he had a couple of A-frames in the shop, although he cautioned us that it was a long shot that one of them would be the correct fit for our coach.

Steve at Goodyear was very understanding and accommodating, and he offered to pay for the repairs, whenever we can get them done.  In order to make it through our Mexico trip, and then to whatever facility could do the work from where we end our tour in San Diego, we asked him to do an alignment on the tag axle -- we felt there was plenty of adjustment in the tie rod to compensate for at least the toe portion of the skew.  He agreed, but told us there were no shops in Las Cruces that could do heavy-duty alignment.  He sent us to Firestone, in El Paso, 45 miles away.  (We were planning a 50-mile or so shakedown of the tires anyway, so this effectively doubled that.)

It was around 1:00 when we arrived at Firestone, and the alignment mechanic was just going to lunch.  They started around 2.  It turns out that their fancy computerized laser alignment system will not allow them to align a tag axle without first aligning the front and drive axles.  They called Steve at Goodyear and cleared the charge for a 3-axle alignment with him, and got started.  The computer only had settings for a US-built three-axle Neoplan, but we decided that was good enough (the last two alignments we had were seat-of-the-pants, so the computer was a step up).

The computer alignment sensors turned out to be finicky, and the whole process took a lot longer than anyone expected.  Jacking each wheel multiple times to adjust the sensors was cumbersome, especially with everyone hyper-sensitive after the damage that happened at Goodyear.  Their standard charge for a three-axle alignment is $195, but he worked on us for five solid hours, which I figure to be between $350 and $500 at typical shop rates.

The machine revealed a toe problem on the steer axle, which was easily corrected.  It also revealed that our drive axle is off of straight by 0.23°, which is tending to "steer" us to the right a bit.  We are now speculating that this is, in part, responsible for the heavy shoulder wear on the right front tire.  In any case, Firestone was not equipped to correct the drive axle alignment, nor was it part of the issue caused by Goodyear, so the axle is still out of alignment (as, we believe, it has been since we bought the coach).  We have the adjustment setting (one side or the other needs to be moved 5/32 of an inch), so next time we are in a shop with the right pit and lifts we can get this fixed.

As we suspected, the tag axle was toed in quite a bit.  The adjustment turned out to be laborious and cumbersome -- turning the tie rod tended to drag the clamps around, to which were affixed the mounts for the steering dampers.  So he would rotate the rod a quarter turn, then have to bang the clamps/mounts back a quarter turn with a hammer, and so on.  After half an hour or so of this, he was able to get the toe down from 0.40° to 0.26°.  No one knows what the correct setting is, but probably it's in the neighborhood of 0.10°.  We had him stop at 0.26°, since we're just going to have to realign it all anyway after the A-frame is replaced, and 0.16° out is close to the acceptable range (the toe changes more than that just from moving the air bags up and down).

By the time we left Firestone it was 7:00.  We didn't get out of there, though, without one last spectacle:  everyone was fried by the end of the day, including the mechanic, who was also clearly tired of crawling around on the floor to jack our wheels.  Instead of jacking the steers up to remove the turntables that were placed under them for the front alignment, he instructed us to simply back off them.  Bad advice:  the turntables exploded, sending synthetic ball bearings everywhere.

Tally of yesterday's destruction:  Odyssey -- damaged;  Goodyear -- out thousands of dollars on a $225 tire job;  Firestone -- out hours of labor and two heavy-duty turntables on a $195 alignment.  (The bill for the alignment went straight to Goodyear.)  Big-O and Camping World, who both refused to do the job, now look like shrewd businessmen.

By the time we backed out of the shop, it was getting dark, and we just came back here (map), to the Wal-Mart near the mall and the Olive Garden, where we went for dinner, much in need of comfort food and multiple glasses of wine.  We are in the same spot we had when we passed through here a few days ago, and, while we had the place to ourselves then, we were joined last night by two other coaches that pulled in late at night.  Who knows, they might even be on our caravan.

As long as we are back in El Paso, I will look for a fuel filter for the genny, plus we need oil for the Detroit.  And we have an exchange to make at Costco, which opens in half an hour.

Tonight, we will be at the Hacienda RV resort, in Las Cruces.

1 comment:

  1. Sheesh! If you didn't have bad luck, you'd have no luck at all! We hope your Mexico trip gives you the relaxing break you need.

    Ron & Judie


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