The Perfect Tow Vehicle dies! Again!

The day started out so well. 

I woke up on my own time, played around with the computer, putzed around, and took a shower.  Okay.  Time to get something done.  I drive over to the motor vehicle department building to cancel the tag on the Honda.  That goes well.

It was almost noon so I stop at Zaxby’s for lunch.

Since the garage that I always go to is just around the corner, I drive over there to ask Kenny some questions.  Why did the engine light come on and stay on?  “Oh, there’s a lot of reasons that happens.  As long as it’s not blinking, you’re okay.”  I see.  A light just to make you nervous.  Next question.  How do you read the dipstick which is so long I have to pull it out hand-over-fist like I’m bringing a boat in to dock?  (It’s different than any other I’ve had.)  Kenny cheerfully shows me how to read it.  Yay!  The van hasn’t burned any oil since I’ve had it!  Happy me.  I climb into the van to leave. 

That’s when the day takes a downward turn.

A burly, white-bearded man sees me get into the van — little ol’ helpless gramma that I am — and he starts doing the two-handed back-up signal.  Oh, pleeeeze.  I ignore him and use my two, wonderfully big, side mirrors (with convex circles!) to back out.  Behind me on the other side of the one-lane parking area is a shiny, little, red car.

Suddenly I hear yelling.

At about the same time, still looking back and forth at both mirrors, I apply the brakes and stop.  The bearded guy is yelling at me!  I push the button to roll down the window. 

“DON’T YOU KNOW WHAT THIS MEANS?!!!” he screams while showing me the stop signal with his palms.

 “WHEN SOMEBODY TELLS YOU TO STOP, YOU STOP!!!!

I kept my cool and asked, “Did I hit the car?” I knew I hadn’t.

He defiantly thrust his bearded face forward and put his thumb and finger up in the sign that shows about an inch.  As if I was an inch from hitting the car.  I’m nipping this guy in the bud, I thought.

“Hey, buddy!  Did I ask you for your help?  Huh?  Did I?  There’s a reason I have all these mirrors.  Ok?”

I pull out and don’t look back.

But my mood has darkened.  If I’m driving around in this big van, especially if I’m pulling a travel trailer behind it, I’m going to run into guys who want to take over and tell me what to do.  Most of the time it is helpful and I often appreciate it.  I just don’t like strangers SCREAMING at me!

I’m not letting this little incident ruin my day.

The American Legion expresses gratitude.

Off I go to “Trailers and Hitches” in Winder, Georgia.  I decide to take the scenic route. 

Remembering my blog, I stop and take photos of things typical of rural Georgia.

The Hardtimes Pawn Shop

The visit with the hitch guy, Chris, is productive.  I’ll tell you all about it soon.  For now, I’ll just say I made an appointment for next Wednesday.  I head for home.  On the way I see another “Georgia” photo opportunity, so I pull over and stop the van.

Rooster livers? For catching catfish or for supper?

Back in the van, I turn the key and . . . nothing.  The dash indicators are all fine.  Battery at 14.  Nothing is overheating.  After several tries, I walk to a produce stand up the road, — It’s at least 95 degrees — buy some Bing Cherry Cider, and ask the young man behind the counter, Matthew, if he knows anyone who can help me with a jump start.  He finds his mother to cover for him, he gets his power-pack jumpstarter he uses for his jetski, and we walk back to the van.  No good.  He gets his truck, hooks up the cables, and tries again.  Nothing.

Back to the produce stand.  Call the tow truck.  Wait and sweat.  Tow truck comes.  I tell him to take me to the nearest garage.  We get to the garage, I write a check for $55 and . . .  you know what’s coming . . .

It starts right up!  That’s right, folks!  Purring like a kitten!

Stay with me now.  I know you’ve read this all before in a previous post.  I drive it back over to Kenny at the garage.  He goes out to the van and starts it several times.  He comes back and says, “The  needle on the battery indicator keeps fluctuating when it’s starting.  I’m going to put another battery in.  You drive it for a few days and we’ll see if that takes care of it.”  (No charge).

Now everything looks dark. 

I can’t be driving around in the desert in a vehicle I can’t trust.  Here I am ready to spend a whole lot of money on a tow hitch and brake controller.  Woe is me. 

As soon as I’m in the house I grab the laptop and a glass of water and go to rvsue and her canine crew.  Seven comments!  Happy comments! Encouraging comments! I set about writing my replies and before long the day is bright again.

rvsue

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22 Responses to The Perfect Tow Vehicle dies! Again!

  1. John says:

    Sounds like a bad connection at the starter. It doesn’t take much – dirt, corrosion oxidation to impede the flow of electricity. Same applies to the starter solenoid if there is one independent of the starter. The connection at the battery itself could be suspect. Are the connectors new or old? How are the battery cables? It could be any of these which are simple cheap fixes. It is just a matter of finding the culprit. Good luck. BTW, have been reading your blog for a long time (found you through Tioga George) but only today found out how to follow you. This should tell you something. Don’t expect any help from me regarding computer stuff.

    • rvsueandcrew says:

      Hi, John!

      There are so many things that could be wrong. I arrived at the garage late on a Friday. The battery is something quick that could be done right away. Kenny explained the situation in a lot more detail than I’ve related here. I didn’t write it because I’m sure I’d get it wrong… something about the surface power of the battery … I definitely have got to get to the bottom of this before I go running off to Texas to pick up my trailer!

      I’m always tickled to hear someone keeps coming back. Thank you for following me. Hey, as far as computers go, I’m happy to take baby steps!

  2. Bob Giddings says:

    It sounds like a short in the ignition lock. You know, where the key goes in. At least I’ve run into those symptoms before and that’s what it was. Next time wiggle the key a bit, and the steering wheel, and try to start it again.

    Another possibility is a dead spot on your starter. Something like that is entirely random, and can go for years before stopping in the exact spot again. Or it could be a loose ground on the starter. Or the solenoid. The fix is easy. What’s hard is figuring out what exactly among all the candidates is wrong. The bad news is that you can spend a lot of money replacing perfectly good stuff in the electrical system before you find the right thing.

    One thing it probably isn’t is your battery. But it’s easy to check.

    I think you need to go to an auto electric specialist, or maybe the dealer, and get this thing fixed once and for all. Before you lose confidence in the Imperfect Tow Vehicle and add stress to your retirement.

    I don’t know what he means by the “fluctuating needle”. The indicator always moves back and forth when you start a car. It’s a sign that power is being drawn by the starter. You say the indicators are fine.

    Here is the question. At the exact time that you are trying to start it and “nothing is happening” is the charge indicator needle moving while you turn the key? When the starter is not making any noise at all? That’s a short in the starter. It is drawing power but not turning.

    That’s all I can suggest at this distance. Find a specialist. Leave the van with him a few days if you need to. Sort this out.

    Bob

    • rvsueandcrew says:

      Hey, Bob,

      Can you believe this! I’ll take all your suggestions, along with others that come in, and go over each and every one with the garage guy and the auto electric guy. Like I told John in another reply, Kenny explained in more detail why he is trying the battery first. Like you said, it’s easy.

      I can’t answer your question about the needle moving when starting because I never saw it move. By the time I went through this day’s sequence of events, I was just glad she was starting and I was on my way home. This has got to be fixed, once and for all. Dear God, I pray it doesn’t send me to the poorhouse.

      • Bob Giddings says:

        Like Albert Finney as Hercule Poirot said in Murder on the Orient Express: “There’s too many clu-ues in this ro-om!” Or Claude Rains as Captain Renault in Casablanca: “Round up the usual suspects!”

        Somebody has to go through and tighten every connection in your starting system, from battery to solenoid to starter to the ground on the frame. Especially the ground. That can be covered with grime and look tight and even feel hand tight, but be vibrated loose enough for stuff to get in between the metal pieces and form an intermittent short.

        Like I said, easy to fix once you find it. Just take it off, clean it bright, and tighten it back up tight. But there is no substitute for being systematic and leaving no nut unturned.

        It’s going to be a ground somewhere, I bet. Worst case, a new starter.

        Bob

  3. kayjulia says:

    I agree with the two gents above it most likely will be something simple like a battery cable or terminal. I have had this with several vehicles and it is very frustrating and the solutions were very simple once found out. Hang in there it gets better 🙂

    Kay-Julia

  4. LOL… sue, I’m laughing *with* you and not *at* you. I have a truck with battery cables that I SWEAR can re-seat themselves on the terminal posts whenever any man pops the hood open. It’s left me sitting in hot parking lots, once in the drive through at the bank, and blocking a friend’s driveway…… only to start right up as soon as my husband arrives.

    Cables and posts and connections….. that’s what ills plague me. Hang in there – you’ll beat all the petty annoyances!!

  5. BigLew says:

    Hi RV SUE!

    When I started reading about your problem the first thing I thought of was a Grounding wire. Then as I read the replies, I saw where Bob already suggested a few things and I have to agree with him. I’m betting it’s a ground…..either the starter ground or the main ground by the battery going to the frame. Either could be rusted and not making contact or they may be loose.
    PS…..always remember……don’t worry about the things you can fix…..and…..don’t worry about the things you can’t. Just put everything in God’s hands. BTW….maybe if that van had started you might have ended up in a real pickle.

    • rvsueandcrew says:

      Good point, Lew! We humans tend to think a little inconvenience or expense is the worst that could happen. There’s a lot worse. For instance, yesterday, on the way to the trailer hitch place, I saw a horrific accident. The road I was on parallels the rr track. Apparently a long, flatbed truck did not make it across the tracks. It was practically torn in half, twisted across the tracks in front of the train. This was a very big truck and a very long train. Several emergency and police vehicles were there. I moved right along, not wanting to be a rubber-necker. After driving a minute or two I saw the intersection with the drop-down barriers and light pole smashed. That train carried that truck and the poor driver for a long distance before stopping.

      And I’m going to be upset about a van that won’t start? Exasperated, yes, but I’m thankful for all the good things in my life.

      I hope you are having a great day. Thanks for weighing in on my “problem!’

  6. BigLew says:

    Oh….one important thing…….Check with the dealer and see if there has been a recall for the problem you are having. You can also check online.

    • rvsueandcrew says:

      I researched online as you suggested. The most recent recalls I found were in 2009, none relating to electrical problems (wheelchair lifts, passenger seatbelt . . .)

  7. Hotel California says:

    When the engine would not turn over (no clicking or anything?) did you check to see if the headlights or horn also did not work? If nothing at all worked it’s probably the battery connections.

    • rvsueandcrew says:

      No, Doug, I didn’t think to do that. My instinct was to leave off anything that might drain the juice. I didn’t know to do that.
      Maybe with this different battery put in, the problem will become easier to identify. I’m staying close to home right now as it is the weekend. On Monday the serious investigating will start (even if the PTV doesn’t.) When it comes right down to it, given no other choice, I would rather pay for labor and replacement of parts than keep contributing to the tow guy’s son’s higher education.

  8. Pauline Nash says:

    I can’t offer any advice on this problem. Good thing you are working the kinks out now. It has got to be frustrating though. Am praying for you, My Sister
    I love you

  9. Gary says:

    You need a good set of 1/2″ drive sockets and a 1/2″ ratchet with ‘breaker bar’, a large 12″ slip joint (Channel Lock) pliers and regular pliers. And a set of 1/4″-3/4″ open end and box end combination wrenches. A set of small 3-4″, 6″ and 12″ adjustable wrenches. A diagonal cutter to cut wire up to say 10 AWG. Plus an inexpensive but good multi meter that will check amps, volts DC and AC, continuity and ohms. Put all that in the PTV and never leave home without it. A spray can of terminal protector for battery connections etc. would be good too. A combination battery cable and post brush also. A 6″ wood handle 1/2″w brass brush for cleaning ground surfaces would be nice. And some Deoxit would finish your kit nicely.

    As mentioned already, the present problem more than likely is not the battery. But the new battery will give you a false sense of security. You could use the tool kit above to fix or practice with to solve the problem in your driveway now. Start at the battery posts and take all the cables off to every thing down to the starter and clean all surfaces and reconnect and tighten everything as you do it. I use a piece of heavy cardboard folded a bit wider than my body and about 5′ long to lay on and I keep it in a compartment so when I need it I have it. Having it insures ya won’t need it ya know? lol

    If you elect to not DIY, pay someone to do it for you and watch them do it, if they refuse to allow you to watch go elsewhere. But buy the kit and keep it in the vehicle, that way if you break down and and God forbid, an evil man! shows up, ya got the tools to allow him to do it for you.

    One more thing, I’ve driven 18 wheelers all the way down to Mini Minors, go some where and practice backing the PTV up against something so you actually know the limits of the mirrors, and repeat until you can stop just an inch away repeatedly. When you get the TT, do the same in some parking lot, doing it with each vehicle in the dark a few times would be good also.

    Gary

    • rvsueandcrew says:

      Gary,

      You read my mind. It’s hard to do anything if you don’t even know where to start. I don’t even know what tools and equipment to buy, so this is a big help. And good ol’ DeOxit, Tioga Geo. has been promoting that for years. I forgot all about it. Thanks for the help and valuable info. Now I have to figure out how I’m going to handle all this.

      I must have given the impression that I don’t like men to help me. Just the opposite! I’ve been helped so many times by guys … just look at your comment and comments of other males on this blog …. so helpful and willing to take the time to explain without being condescending.

      As for the guy in the parking lot…. Let me vent a bit … Gee, first ask if a person wants help. I know how to back up my own vehicle. Why presume I’m clueless? Why would I trust some yahoo who jumps out behind my van making hand signals, when I can use my mirrors and I know the distance they show? Actually I thought he gave the back-up signal to let me know he and the woman with him were going to get out of my way so I could back up! I went very close to the little red car because it was a very tight spot.

      I have driven for about 46 years, all up and down the Eastern Seabord in blizzards and ice storms, on roads with multiple lanes in rush hour (including Spaghetti Junction in ATL), down hairpin turns in West Virginia during a thunderstorm, in the heart of NYC, blah, blah, and I hit another object ONCE (I tapped a guardrail when on ice at 20 yrs. old in Kingston NY – No damage to car or me). I have used a car horn less than 5 times in all that time. As you well know, being a truck-driver, the key is being courteous, constantly alert, and knowing exactly where the back-end of your vehicle is. Thanks for reading. I feel better now!

      I do plan on practicing with the trailer. I will be in a strange place when I pick it up. I’ll have to find a good open parking lot. I have some experience backing up a boat trailer but it’s a different feel with everything. Thanks again, Gary. You and all the other guys here are not evil. You are very kind to help me.

      • Bob Giddings says:

        Only used the horn 5 times? What, are you mute?

        Hey, like Madeline Albright said about the Army: “What’s the use of having a horn if you never use it?”

        :o)

        • rvsueandcrew says:

          I just can’t think of any reason to use a horn other than to be rude. It says, “Hurry up!” or “Get out of my way!” or “Look at me. I’m important!” If you have to use a horn, something’s wrong.

          I think you can tell from my latest post … mute I’m not!

  10. Bob Giddings says:

    Sorry Sue. Could be that horn is just “a joyful noise unto the Lord”. Then again, it could be an evil sad case of Motor Mania:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mZAZ_xu0DCg.

    Bob, sometimes a victim.

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