As a full-time RVer, one of the most unsettling things that can happen is a breakdown. I mean, let’s face it, we’re not talking about a car. We can’t just get a rental while our rig is in the shop. We’re talking about our home!
This is a LONG post, and it was a LONG few days. But we promised to be transparent, and if you really want to know about us and how we handled our breakdown…it is quite a story.
First Signs of the Breakdown
We were headed from Florida Caverns State Park to Kissimmee, FL. We had just wrapped up a week of fun in swimming holes, caverns and on trails as we headed down I-75. Brittany was driving Meriwether (our 40′ diesel pusher Tiffin Phaeton) and I was driving Smaug (our trusty Jeep). The boys were with me and Arianna had decided to ride with Brittany.
We pulled off the interstate to get some fuel at a Pilot Travel Center in Ocala, FL when Meriwether started making some strange noises. I wasn’t there obviously, but Brittany described it as a “rough idling that sounded like Meriwether wanted to lurch forward, and it kind of went like, ‘ruuum ca-chunk-ca-chunk.'”
We managed to get into the diesel fill station with Meriwether and put $100 in the tank.
Brittany wanted me to come listen to the engine, so I went on over and tried to start it and…
It was trying to do something, but it wouldn’t turn over. We were stuck. Luckily, there was a Wendy’s at the spot and it was lunch time, so I took the kids and got them lunch while Brittany and I got on our phones to figure out what we could do. We started by calling AAA, to take advantage of our AAA Plus RV membership.
When It Rains, It Pours
So not only were we broken down at this point, but Pilot tried to charge $700 to our card (or at least put a hold on it) because of their normally commercial pumps. This wouldn’t have been a big deal if Bank of America hadn’t tried to protect us by shutting Brittany’s card down immediately (fraud protection). Brittany spent the better part of an hour and a half trying to get a living person from Bank of America on the phone, while I ran in to check on the kids and stuff some food down my throat myself while we waited for AAA to show.
AAA showed up with a huge tow truck. The technician was getting Meriwether all hooked up when the entrance latch to our front door broke and we were absolutely unable to open the door from the outside.
We had a similar issue once at Florida Caverns, but we had someone on the inside who could open it up. I ended up taking off the door mechanism to fix it. This time, however, there was no one inside and no way for us to get inside to open it up. And Meriwether’s parking brake was still on, so we had to get inside in order for it to be towed.
Break a window? What were our options? We had to get inside. Arianna came up with an idea to climb on the roof and take one of the vents apart. Then we could drop one of the little boys through the opening, so they could open the door from inside. Just as I was about to grab my tool bag from the basement, the AAA technician, Chris, found that our bedroom window wasn’t locked and he was able to slide the window open.
So we took “The Badger” (my son Javen’s nickname) and shoved him through the open window onto our bed. He made it to the front door and opened it. Now with the door open and my toolbag out, I proceeded to do a quick fix on the door latch, while the rest of the Highland crew started taking everything out that we’d need for the week and stuffing it into Smaug.
Fixed the door and Smaug was packed. Meriwether was on the truck and headed off to Camping World of Kissimmee to hopefully be diagnosed and fixed. It was fortunate that AAA was taking Meriwether to Kissimmee because we actually had a timeshare reserved for the coming week in Kissimmee, just 6 miles away from Camping World.
We opted for the timeshare for the week many weeks ago because Grandma Lety was flying in from Seattle to be with us, and Meriwether only sleeps 6. With Grandma we had 7, but it was ok because we had the condo until Friday.
The original plan was to put Meriwether in storage for the week, pick up Grandma, drop off Trogdor (our bearded dragon) at a boarder, and then enjoy the timeshare with Grandma. On Friday, we’d drop off Grandma at the airport, pick up Trogdor and head to St. Augustine where we made a resort reservation for Meriwether.
Things Appeared to Be Looking Up
So we followed Meriwether to Camping World. They originally told us there was no way they could get us in for about 2 weeks because they were slammed, but they’d do their best. I gave one of the scheduling techs a little incentive to get us in and out by Friday. He said he’d do his best.
Figure it this way: if Meriwether wasn’t fixed by Friday, we were homeless.
We dropped off Trogdor – half an hour each way – and rush hour had begun. We managed the timeshare check-in process before I pulled up to the door of the condo and got everyone out of Smaug as quickly as possible. Grandma’s plane had already landed and we were behind schedule. I had to get to the airport quickly, so Darius and I took off to pick up Grandma while Brittany and the rest of the Highland crew got settled into our new home for the week.
As if the day couldn’t get any more intense, Brittany’s door key to the timeshare didn’t work. She sat outside the door for half an hour with the other three kids until security came to let her in. Locked out twice in one day! Brittany told me she just had to laugh.
There was a severe lighting storm right over the airport and Grandma’s plane was stuck on the tarmac for three hours after it had landed. Darius and I grabbed dinner and waited. Finally, Grandma got off the plane and we headed off to rejoin the family. Now we were in a wait mode to hear about Meriwether.
A Series of Serious Blows to Our Hopes
Blow #1: “We can’t fix your RV.” These are definitely not the words you want to hear from a shop, especially not when you are under a time crunch. We got the call from Camping World on Monday. They told us they didn’t have the equipment necessary to work on Meriwether’s Caterpillar engine and we’d have to take him directly to CAT. The good news was that Dave from CAT told us that if we could get Meriwether to him by Monday, he’d look at it on Tuesday and try and get us out of there by Thursday. They were closed on Friday for the 4th of July. He said that getting Meriwether done by Thursday would be a stretch, but he’d do his best.
Blow #2: “It looks like it’s your fuel pump.” Camping World tells us that our fuel pump is bad. I did some hasty research on the Internet and found that a fuel pump repair on a rig like ours can be upwards of $8,000. I also found that the repair could take a few weeks, which we didn’t have.
Blow #3: “Your RV can’t be towed.” AAA sent out a tow truck on Monday with three men who couldn’t figure out how to get Meriwether onto their tow truck.
Eventually they gave up, claiming that without being able to get air into the airbag suspension, they couldn’t turn off the parking brake and therefore couldn’t tow Meriwether. They recommended we get a Landoll flatbed. I called AAA and they began searching for another tow company.
Blow #4: “We can’t find anyone with the right equipment to tow your RV.” After trying for a few hours, AAA was incapable of finding someone to get us towed to Caterpillar. They informed me that if I wanted to try and find someone on my own, I could go through a reimbursement request process with them.
Down, But Not Out
Monday up to this point was a total bust. No tow truck, no good news from AAA, a potential time sucking and money draining repair cost, and poor Brittany had to do all of our client work for the day by herself.
When I got back to the condo, I called our insurance company, Blue Sky, to see if we had any type of coverage that could help us. With the high probability of an extended repair time, we were going to need accommodations for 6 for the foreseeable future. Blue Sky informed me that we do have a full-timers policy that allows up to $5,000 for lodging reimbursement when there is a mechanical breakdown. Hearing this was like hearing the voice of an angel. It didn’t solve all of our problems, but it was the first shred of good news we had received.
The kids got to go with Grandma to Disney while Brittany took care of client work. I did my best to get Meriwether where he needed to be.
The kids wore out Grandma, but she was a trooper!
We started grasping at straws. There was a lot of family prayer involved and we were doing our best to stay positive in spite of the circumstances. Brittany was going through her purse when she found a Good Sam Roadside Assistance Platinum card that had been given to us free for a trial year. I gave Good Sam a call.
Good Sam Club Roadside Platinum to the Rescue
While AAA Plus RV was unable to locate a provider, Good Sam Club Roadside Platinum sent us one of these on Tuesday…
Now THAT is a Tow Truck! Silas and I took off to go meet the tow truck. A few hours later, Meriwether was on the road to CAT. For the first time in 5 days, I actually started to relax. Brittany again did 90% of the client work by herself on Tuesday while Silas and I were getting Meriwether to CAT.
The only issue was that we had already lost a day with CAT, since we were unable to get it towed on Monday. Like I wrote earlier, CAT was going to be closed on Friday for the 4th of July. The chances of us getting in and out of CAT before Friday were slim to none.
Regardless, it was comforting to have Meriwether at the manufacturer of his engine.
If they couldn’t fix him, no one could. I explained to Dave at CAT that we were going to be homeless as of Friday and that we’d appreciate it greatly if he could at least take a look, so we would know what we were looking at. He said he’d do his best to take a look at Meriwether first thing in the morning.
On Wednesday, Brittany and I were able to have our first workday together, followed by a little time at Disney with the family. All the while, we waited for news.
We Get the Call from CAT
We’re in the line for the safari ride at Disney’s Animal Kingdom and my phone rings. Tentatively hopeful, I answered the phone…
“Hey Eric, this is Dave from CAT. Your rig is ready to be picked up.”
I about fainted. There was a mix of joy, disbelief, relief and trepidation at what the price was going to be, all at the same time. Dave explained that they had to run a bunch of tests from their checklists to diagnose the problem. They even had to pull the fuel pump, but it was okay. The problem ended up being a sensor.
As of this writing, we haven’t picked up Meriwether yet, but Dave said he’s running fine. The cost for diagnostic, repair, parts and labor was around $775.00, and we are on schedule to depart tomorrow for St. Augustine.
In a little bit, Brittany and I will head out to pick up our home.
We Get by with a Little Help from Our Friends
So many of our friends from our blog and our Facebook and Twitter communities were not only encouraging, but helpful. Thank you to ALL of you who follow us on those platforms and keep us encouraged in times like these. You are the BEST!
I want to give a special shout out to Mark Richardson who, as always, has just been a fantastic friend and encourager. I was on the phone or texting with Mark practically the entire week (as if he didn’t have a life other than to help me solve mine).
Also a shout out to a Facebook fan of our page, Brent Walker, who was instrumental in helping us find the right location for the airbag suspension fill. Without him, we may still be in the predicament we were in. Thanks Brent!
Lessons Learned and Remarks
You know, this week has been a test. A test of how we handle adversity as a family. I have to tell you that Brittany has been a bastion of poise, calm and faith. My children, Darius, Arianna, Javen and Silas, have all been helpful and encouraging. Their attitude of “Hey daddy, it’s all part of our adventure” and “This is a summer we’ll never forget!” has been incredible. My mother has been the wise counsel to lean on. She’s forgotten more hard times than we’ve ever known.
We started this adventure as a family, we continue this adventure as a family.
We stick together and overcome obstacles.
Truth is that we spent a lot of time in prayer as a family. Though our faith was tested (and I’m sure will be again), we drew closer to one another, to our friends and followers, and to God through the entire process.
We’ll see what happens next. For those who have taken the time to read this entire story, thank you. I hope you’ll take a moment to leave us a comment here on the blog. We’d really love to hear from you. ~ Eric (and Brittany, Grandma and the kids)
Alana Welsch Black
PTL!!! God is good!! Now go enjoy the rest of the time you have with your beautiful family!!!
All the time! Thanks Alana, it has been pretty crazy, but we’re still standing!
i think you deserve a well earned cocktail
Though I personally don’t drink, I appreciate the sentiment. Brittany may have two. One for each of us.
George Chip Mauro
OMG! What a great story! You guys have officially crossed over, congratulations! You are full timers with the scars to prove it! I wish you many many miles of adventure.
I laughed when I read your comment George, I showed it to Brittany and agree with you that we’ve “crossed over.” I supposed you can’t really consider yourself a full-timer until you’ve been through something like this. It is all part of the adventure, I just hope we don’t get too many more scars, I’d rather get more memories and miles. 🙂
I am so happy that your home is fixed and it wasn’t as bad as you thought! Sounds like you have some amazing kids and a wonderful Mom! You are blessed beyond measure!
Susan, you hit the nail on the head. My mother is incredible and the kids have been great through all of this. I think everyone handled it better than I did, and I feel like I handled it fairly well considering the circumstances. We’re really blessed to have gotten through that and learned all that we did in the process.
Thanks for sharing the story–you wrote it perfectly! I am so glad it worked out well for all of you. Onto the next adventure!
Thanks Lisa! Yes, our next adventure finds us in St. Augustine where we are right now, it has involved beaches, and fortresses, sandcastles and boogie boarding so far. 🙂
SWWWWWEEEEEET! Great write up. Stoked for your family and Meriwether. Enjoy your 4th of July.
Thanks Jason, we had a really nice 4th here in St. Augustine, FL. Who would have thought we’d stay on schedule. Hope you had a great 4th too!
Sooooo glad it was a sensor. And glad you weren’t homeless. I’ve been out of pocket all day at the printers for our next brochures but I’ve been thinking about y’all all day. Have a Happy 4th!
Mark, as always you are a tremendous friend and I really appreciate you being there for me. Hope you had a wonderful Fourth!
Sometimes you just have to sit back and laugh. Glad you all are up and running again. 🙂
Thank you Sonja! It was a crazy week. We are happy to be in St. Augustine right now, truly a miracle that we stayed on schedule. Appreciate your comment!
George Chip Mauro
So now that we’re all glad you had a “not-so” catastrophic mechanical issue, I have to give you big props on this post. The way it is structured and how you wrote it kept the interest level high!
Also makes me realize; when blogging on the road, you need to capture every second and carry a note pad at all times!
Why does it always have to happen on holidays? we planned a trip in our Jayco toy hauler on July 6th of this year spent time loading up and checking the rig out I had opened the awning to let the water off and dry out on the July 3rd, all went well till Friday the 4th the awning made noise the motor was turning but the awning was still out, Ah the family curse strikes again I said to myself, ok I start calling around to all the repair places in our county but not getting anyone to answerer the phones I left messages. Then it dawned on me its the 4th of July dummy, now what?? Just then the phone rings a repair place called me, I explained the problem and he said it sounded like the motor which he said cost around $300 but he didn’t have one but would come out the 5th and take a look at it for me and close it up for me to travel with, I agreed and felt a small sigh of relief. About an hour later I get another call from repair place 2 he says he would be right their he is on another call in the area and would stop by in about an hour, well he shows up and finds the problem seems he seen this before they take the unit apart and with the help of a piece of hacksaw blade repairs the problem within an hour and been working fine ever since. As usual our trip had the family curse problems but the awning worked great. Had a great time till the wife tripped in a grass covered hole at a campground and fractured her ankle which forced us to return home early, oh did I mention we also had a blowout on one of the tires on the RV, which cost us to purchase 6 new tires to replace the 6 one year old tires we had gotten last year. Firestone dealer sold us the tires last year told us these were better than the ones the RV came with, found out they were made in CHINA, we now have BF Goodrich made in USA commercial tires on and hopefully will last.
Anne Meabock Williams Szymansk
OK, and I thought my family was the only one that encountered situations like this! Glad it all worked out in the end! Positive attitude is so crucial!
I love to read your tales of life on the road. SO glad to hear there are still families around who can work through the dramas that life hands out to us! Reminds me of a desperate phone call I got decades ago, from an east coast penpal friend from my childhood that I had never met in person, and hadn’t heard from in ages. She and her family were in B.C., after travelling across Canada, and their RV had broken down. Expo 86 was under way in Vancouver, and there was not a hotel or motel room anywhere available. The four of them ended up staying with me in my tiny one bed one bath apartment for almost a week, while their RV was repaired, and we had a blast! Everyone kept their cool and sense of humour, and we all survived. It’s great to keep in touch with various people all over the country who you can call on in case of an emergency. If you ever make it up to the Pacific Northwest, consider me a possible emergency back up plan! 🙂 Safe travels!
Lisa, that is very sweet and kind of you. Both your offer to us and your hospitality to your pen pal! Kudos to you as well. We’ve met some pretty amazing folks and definitely hope to stay in touch with them. Meriwether sleeps 6, so we are able to help others out as needed too.
Fantastic story which leads me with only two thoughts. Family is everything. God has never given me anything I can’t handle. Thank you for a great story. We are in the first year of living in our RV and we plan on staying in one place while we get our financial house in order. Our RV is paid for and we want to get our debt paid down. I have no idea what I will do to make a living yet but God has always provided.
I wonder if two class B’s (one could be a 4×4) instead of an A and a jeep would suit your family and provide more of a backup living situation and more repair options when one’s in the shop. Good to know about Good Sam versus AAA. It seems like a safety concern that there is not a second egress from a clsss A other than a window… it might not be possible for someone in a wheelchair to make it out a window if a kitchen fire blocks the one door. God bless you all!
Awesome story God’s timing indeed )
We just had our first-ever mechanical breakdown! It was a little different for us being an a truck/fifth wheel: https://ditchingsuburbia.com/blog/break-down
These guys can help you out
Thank you for sharing your story! We are about to full time it with three kids, so any advice on what to do in the case if a breakdown is received by this crew with thankful hearts! I’m glad it all worked out for you guys 🙂 We just can’t wait till our house sells!
Biggest piece of advice: be ready for things to go wrong and stay flexible when they do! Definitely a great opportunity for your kids to learn how to cope in the face of adversity.