Thursday, January 3, 2008

Our moose is gone

We are parked in the bus lot at Raz Transportation, in Portland near Tigard (map), for the second night in a row.

We moved here Tuesday night so that we would be ready for them first thing yesterday morning. We were even up and about at 7am, just in case. (Buses were firing up and pulling out from about 3am anyway.) What I did not realize is that Raz runs two shifts of mechanics, and they did not bring us in until the second shift, around 3:30 in the afternoon.

Diminutive mechanic Dennis got the task of crouching for much of his shift on top of our transmission, in order to access the pump.

Getting the large wrenches in there to remove the hydraulic hoses (and reinstall them later) was a bit of a challenge, but he managed to get the old pump out without too much trouble.

The brand new pump, ordered from MCI on Coach USA's discount for a mere $240, was a direct replacement, and Dennis transferred all the fittings and the drive wheel, a cast metal affair with two dogs on it to engage the engine, over to it.

It was beginning to look like the job would be a slam-dunk, but when Dennis went to install the new pump, he discovered that the pressed-fiber disk that is supposed to connect the dogs on the engine to the dogs on the pump was entirely missing. The disk performs two important functions -- it corrects for any slight misalignment between the pump shaft and the engine, and it cushions the pump from engine vibration. With the disk missing, the dogs on the engine and the dogs on the pump have been slapping together, metal to metal -- a factor which, no doubt, contributed to the failure of the shaft seal.

Of course, no one wanted to reassemble the system without the missing disk, and so Dennis drove off in rush hour traffic to the Detroit Diesel dealer some 20 miles away, north of Vancouver, Washington, to get a replacement. It took him two and a half hours. When he got back, some filing had to be done on the dogs to get everything to fit right, and a hole had to be drilled in the disk to accommodate the pump shaft and retaining nut.

Once he had everything in hand, the pump went back in fairly easily. We disconnected the return line from the fluid reservoir and ran ATF through the system until all the 15W-40 came out and the ATF ran fairly clear, then put it all back together. By the time we were done and off the lifts, it was past 9pm, for 5.5 hours of labor. And at that hour of the night, we did not want to drive anyplace else, so we simply returned here to their lot. The steering was blissfully quiet as we drove out to the lot -- with the 15W-40 in it, it had sounded like a rutting moose when it was cold.

We're very glad to have had such an experienced team tackle this job. A less experienced technician might have simply slapped the new pump in without realizing an important piece was missing (I know I would have, not having ever seen one before), and we would have been none the wiser, at least until the new pump failed somewhere down the road. The extra ~3 hours to deal with this issue was money well spent.

That leaves a bit of a mystery about where the missing disk went. If it had disintegrated, we surely would have found bits of it in the crankcase at some point. And it's unlikely the steering pump has been replaced before. We'll probably never really know. [Update: missing disk found crumbled in oil pan -- read here.]

In a few minutes, we will drive out to Troutdale for fuel, and then to a truck stop on I-5 just south of the Washington line to get our engine oil changed back to the proper straight 40-weight. I expect we will spend the night at that same truck stop, and head out to the coast sometime tomorrow. Assuming the part that I ordered for the broken inverter control panel, to which Louise alluded yesterday, arrives today.

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