Since Galveston we’d been having intermittent HVAC fan problems.  Sometimes fan would work and other times it didn’t.  When it didn’t, sometimes I could wack it in the right spot and get it to come on.  While in Carrabelle I called ahead to a place in Crystal River to make an appointment.  So I showed up bright and ugly for my appointment and they agree with the GMC dealer in New Orleans that both the blower and the resistor need to be changed.

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Another observation for the life on the move series

  • Shade tree mechanic.  I learned awhile ago that I don’t really like tinkering on things.  Especially vehicles.  I know how to do all my own work on my bike but it’s not my favorite past time.  I’ve never done any of my own work on vehicles because (a) I have no interest and (b) I’ve never really needed anything major done on my cars despite the fact that  I’ve always bought used (even salvaged) or gotten them as hand me downs…they’ve always been relatively trouble free.  But I now know way more about my truck than I really ever cared to.  I can change a headlight bulb (its not as trivial on this truck as you might think).  I understand the exotic exhaust system, the unique “regen” process and the bad downpipe joint that causes smoke.  I know where the HVAC blower motor and the “resistor” is and how to wack the motor to get it to run.  And now I know where the fuel filter and WIF (water in fuel) sensor is…and I think I may be able to change it myself next time.  Oh, I also know where the odd numbered glow plugs are and the AC condensation outlet are.

Truck update

We had smoke coming from under the hood in Austin and then a little bit more while putzing around Galveston.  So I made an appointment with GMC dealership in New Orleans where I know we would be for a few days.  Our last 2 days of travel to New Orleans the HVAC fan was temperamental…wouldn’t run at all then randomly would start up again.  Then in Baton Rouge I got the dash message that said I had 500 miles of DEF left…I figured I’d just have dealer top it off for me.

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Smoke signals

Steph and the kids spent a second day exploring Austin and on their way home they called to let me know that smoke was coming out the hood of the truck.  ARRGGGHHH.  They made it back home and I met them out front so I could examine more closely.  Sure enough….white smoke coming out near firewall on passenger side.  I can see the source is at a clamp joint on a vertical section of….can you guess?  Thats right, the exhaust!!  It seems like this joint is known to get misaligned and smoke during a “regen”.  You can read all about how the Duramax handles regen here but the gist is the diesel particulate filter (DPF, also know as a “wallet shrinker”) gets soot build up in it if exhaust temperatures aren’t hot enough.  When you are pulling a 14.5k pound 5th wheel across the country I think the exhaust gets hot enough to keep ‘er clean.  But when you are putzing around town and sitting in traffic the fancy on-board computer decides that it needs to burn off some soot so it goes into “active regen” where fuel is injected directly into the exhaust system.

“Active regeneration dramatically reduces fuel economy since fuel is being used for purposes other than moving the vehicle”

So, we have this state of the art exhaust system that is supposed to reduce emissions but the same system purposefully uses fuel inefficiently?….I don’t get it.  Anyway, because I am such a diesel motor expert now I decided to ignore it because the next day we were hitching Ava up and would be trucking down to San Antonio which would surely heat things up and clean out the soot.

We also had a harddrive crash on one of our laptops and a battery fail in one of the kids’ tablets (2nd battery I’ve put in the thing too….crikey!).  But we’re all still healthy and still having fun!

When CELO met Ava

After several “dates” our truck CELO (not his official name yet) and our fifth wheel Ava finally got hitched.


I borrowed the truck from the dealership since the DPF won’t get here until Tuesday.  My good buddy Eric (this guy and his family have been truly amazing) helped me finish the install of the hitch and we hooked ’em up.  We took the pair out for a test spin and Eric, who has his CDL and lots of 5er experience, coached me through some turns, adjusting the brakes and into our church parking lot for some practice backing up.  I think it went pretty good!

Failure to launch

I never saw the movie Failure to Launch, but unlike the main character in the film we actually WANT to leave our house  but can’t due to mechanical issues.  To recap:

  • We bought a used 2011 GMC 3500 truck on Dec 8 after the dealer had dealt with a check engine light related to the exhaust system (I know, I know….it sounds so stupid now but I did it).  They replaced the DEF injector and NOx sensor #1.
  • On Dec 21 after 57 miles the check engine light came on and we took it back to the dealer
  • $800 later we had a new DEF tank and heater and were rolling again Dec 27.
  • After about 150 miles the check engine light comes on again Jan 6
  • After a week in the shop and me calling every day to figure out what they found, today (Jan 13) they say that the catalytic converter (aka SCR), diesel particulate filter (DPF) and NOx sensor #2 must be replaced to the tune of $4200.  Oh, and it will take a week to get the parts.

My first reaction is that I feel like I was sold a vehicle that was known to be bad.  I want justice.  Three check engine lights in 200 miles….there is no way this JUST started happening now.   I don’t think there is anyone to blame but me.  With a check engine light I should have stayed far away!!  But still I feel like somebody knew this was a lemon.

My next reaction is to ask, is that REALLY the problem?  The current error is an “exhaust fluid quality poor” message and I believe the tech is following the procedure laid out in PIP5007.  When you get to the end of the procedure it says “If all conditions above appear to be functioning normally, SCR replacement may be required but is a very rare occurrence” (emphasis added by me).  If you read the entire PIP5007 forum topic linked above you will find many who say just replacing BOTH NOx sensors usually fixes the problem.  And it seems to make sense.  From my understanding of the system (about half way down the page here is a description and diagram)  a properly running system will have a large delta between NOx sensor #1 (at the beginning of the exhaust system) and NOx sensor #2 (after the SCR).  When there is a small delta it can mean that the SCR is bad….but the engineer in me says it could also mean that NOx sensor #2 is bad.  Compared to the DPF and SCR, the cost of the NOx sensor is wiz in the ocean.  So perhaps we just replace NOx #2 and see if everything tests out?  Where in that document does it say that the DPF should be replaced?

My third reaction is to ask, do I cut my losses and trade the thing in for something else?  But this just seems so wrong on so many levels.  Such a waste of money.

Maybe I suck it up and have everything replaced.  Then I have an entirely new exhaust system.  It should come with a hefty parts and labor warranty from GMC so any other problems with it will be covered right?  Like I’m buying an extended warranty on the exhaust system.  By the way, we did purchase an extended warranty for the truck.  I really did not want to but since I didn’t want truck issues to spoil our trip, I bit.  Its a great plan except for the one extra page that says “diesel exhaust system not covered”.  Have I told you how I believe bikes are superior to the automobile?

And your reaction is probably, (a) you should not have bought that truck in the first place and (b) if people read this blog they won’t after too many posts like this one.  Touche!

So let me wrap up with the good.  Our family is happy and healthy.  We have awesome family, friends, and neighbors.  I have a job.  We live in a free country.  We have plenty of food to eat, clean water to drink and comfy shelter over our head.  We even have a renter (not a done deal yet but looks really good!!).

Still waiting

On Wednesday morning I call the shop about the DEF issue on the truck and made an appointment for 10am.  This is apparently not an appointment to have your vehicle looked at but rather an appointment to get your vehicle in the long queue of vehicles waiting to be looked at.  Sort of like a Disney FastPass that gives you a spot at the end of the standard line!  Today it made it to the front of the queue but as of 4pm (54 hours after my “appointment”) they still do not know what is wrong.  They will work on it tomorrow and said they should have an answer by Monday.  I suspect the implementation of any fix will take some time as well…ugh!

So we are still waiting.  We are stranded.  But if you are going to get stranded somewhere, home is really not a bad option!  If you can judge a location by its name these places might be much worse places to get stranded.

Hitch in the plans

I’ve had that post title prepared for a long time, ready to whip out when I finally got the hitch installed on the truck.  And the post starts something like this…

Our truck came with a B&W turnover ball goose neck hitch so we decided to get the much loved B&W Companion 5th wheel hitch that goes with it.  We had a small bump in the road to getting it the first try,  but I had found a great deal on a brand new one locally so I scheduled to go pick it up last night down in Denver.  But this is where the story starts to veer away from my expectations. Read more