Search Results for: Caravel plumbing

The story of the Caravel

It has been a long time since we last camped in our first Airstream, a 1968 Caravel.  I suppose that a first trailer holds the same romantic spot in one’s heart as the first love, the first car, or the first house.  It may not be the best one you’ll ever have, but it will always be the one that started you off on a road of adventure and travel.

Owning the Caravel was a life-changing moment for us.  Emma was only three, and I was in another career.  We had muddled our way through a few marginally-acceptable “family vacations” with the usual stresses and disappointments that go with shuttling a toddler around with aircraft and hotels.  I was looking for a better way, and after months of research, I settled on the Caravel as something worth trying.  We plunked down $5,500 and bought a car that could tow it, and struck out for a few trips together.

It was a hit — a huge hit.  Between August 1 and October 12, we were out in the Caravel 20 nights, which is a lot for a rookie couple with a toddler and a full-time job.  We camped at the biggest balloon festival in Canada, visited Acadia National Park in Maine, and explored numerous places in New England.  I was so entranced by the lifestyle that I started Airstream Life magazine. It was a sad day when we had to finally winterize the trailer in mid-October (Vermont has a short camping season).

Since that 1968 Caravel, we have owned a series of other trailers, each with its own particular character and advantages.  The 1977 Argosy 24, for example was a wonderful “upgrade” from the Caravel, with much more space and modern comforts.  It was my first involvement in a full-blown DIY trailer restoration, starting from a severely water-damaged and virtually abandoned mess found in a damp Florida backyard.  Together with Brett, we put half a year of restoration work, 600 hours of labor, and over $22,000 in parts into it.  We sold it only because we had begun to travel full-time and needed more space.

A lot of other trailers have passed through our hands, some which we used and some which we re-sold without restoring despite their obvious assets.  The 1953 Flying Cloud we found was a great trailer with a lot of potential, and so was the 1952 Cruiser … and the 1952 Boles Aero, and the 1963 Serro Scotty.  All of those have found good homes and are either restored or in process.  But we never adopted any of them in our hearts like the tiny 1968 Caravel.  At just 17 feet, it is really too small for us to co-exist in it for long, and it had a lot of body damage and vintage quirks.  Caravels are regarded as highly desirable, and we could have sold it easily at any time, probably for a profit.   Yet, we kept it for sentimental reasons.

For the last five years the Caravel has been disassembled for restoration, with its guts torn out.  We brought it in for a replacement axle in 2004 and discovered rampant floor rot, among many other problems.  The scope of the job kept growing until we found ourselves with $18,000 sunk into the trailer, and completion still far away.  The project came to a stop in 2005 and for the most part, the trailer has sat since, tightly sealed against the elements and wholly unusable.

In the summer of 2008 I finally decided to start the Caravel project again, but using my own labor (with Eleanor’s help) to complete the interior work.  You can read about that in our Tour of America blog.  We got about 80% of the woodwork done before we ran out of time.   This summer, I had an invitation from my good friend Ken Faber to let his private restoration shop complete the job for me.  (That same shop restored Ken’s one-of-a-kind Airstream named “Der Kleine Prinz” which was recently donated to the RV/Motorhome Hall of Fame.)

img_3307_2.jpgEven in the final stages, a restoration means lots of phone calls and debates about details.  We thought we had all the hard work behind us, but still there were the details of things like hooks, hinges, trim and handles.  These items seem small until you get them wrong, then you realize how important they really are.  For the past few months we’ve been figuring out faucets, fabric, foam cushions, and finishes, and passing along all the information by phone to the guys who are doing the work.

And now, the trailer is nearly complete.  Only the upholstery work remains.  From a scratched, dented, rotting, and rusted (but well-loved) trailer, it is emerging as a shiny, clean and ship-shape silver pod that I can’t wait to sleep in. Ken has been teasing us with a few scattered pictures of the work in progress, and we made one interim visit back in September, but for the most part we haven’t seen the finished product yet.

img_3306_2.jpgEverything will be done  in a couple of weeks, and I’ll be off to Michigan to pick up the trailer.  So right now I’m thinking about all the things I’ll need in the car to outfit the trailer for the return trip to Tucson.  It’s a more challenging pack job than you might think.  I need to bring all of my personal stuff, my office stuff (so I can work from the road), all the furnishings for daily life like dishes and blankets, tools & parts, RV supplies, and work clothes for two days I’ll be stopped in Louisville KY for business.  All of this will go into bins in the back of the Mercedes for the 2,200 mile drive north.

Of this list, perhaps the most important is the tool kit.  Completely restored trailers always have bugs to work out.  I may have to tighten a water fitting, replace some screws, or re-rivet a corner of the belly pan.  When the trailer was new to us (35 years old), I was rather accustomed to having to fix or patch something on every trip.  Paradoxically, at age 41 it should be more sturdy now. I wish that were true of people.

In the photos you can see a few details of the trailer that came about in this restoration.  Colin Hyde oversaw the heavy work, handling all the exterior sheet metal replacement, removing the dents on top, adding a spare tire carrier, rebuilding the entry door, and many other things.  Inside he installed a new plywood floor covered by Marmoleum, rebuilt the black tank, and refinished the entire bathroom.  The Marmoleum was a big expense but I’m glad we chose it.  It is incredibly durable and beautiful material.  You can also see the new refrigerator (no more frozen lettuce and miniature ice cube trays!), the new catalytic heater, and the Marmoleum countertop. All of the furniture you can see in the photo was built and finished by us in summer 2008, and finalized & installed by Ken’s guys, Garrett and Jim. They did a nice job fitting the Marmoleum to the countertop and building matching wood trim for it.

What you can’t see is all new plumbing, a giant gray tank, new insulation throughout, new axle, brakes, tires, dump valves, window seals, wiring, power converter, battery, 12v breaker panel, window glass, door locks, and a thousand other details that have gone into this trailer.  Like every good restoration I’ve ever seen, it has turned out better than hoped, and certainly much more expensive.

Now the question arises, what would anyone do with two Airstreams?   We had considered keeping one in the northeast for excursions up there in the summer, but for various reasons that idea failed.  We plan to keep the Caravel in locked storage in the Tucson area, somewhat pre-packed and readily accessible for spontaneous weekends.  The sky islands in southern Arizona are mostly national forest lands, and they are dotted with gorgeous little campgrounds connected by dirt roads. These roads and campgrounds can generally only accommodate trailers of the sub-20-foot variety.  That has kept us from exploring some great places in southern Arizona, like Chiricahua National Monument and the surrounding area.

We could have tented in those places, but when we are usually in Arizona the national forest campgrounds are cold because of their high elevation.  A little Airstream with snug insulation and a catalytic heater is the perfect vehicle.  It’s also the right choice for short trips where we want to get away from the “liveaboard” lifestyle that the big Safari allows, and get closer to a sense of “camping”.  In the big trailer, it’s too easy to hole up inside, since it is so comfortable.  The size of the Caravel forces us to live outside, and that’s a good thing when you want to engage your surroundings.

All of this anticipation has me actually looking forward to the marathon drive north after Thanksgiving.  I plan to go alone; that way I can move quickly. If all goes well I’ll be back in a 10 or 11 days, but since I hate being on a tight schedule I will pack for two weeks and take my time on the way back if necessary.  Want to come along?   OK, cross your fingers and join me here for daily updates, starting November 28.

Pineapple season

Weather-wise this is one of the most pleasant times of year to be in southern Arizona.  It’s neither hot enough for air conditioning, nor cold enough for heat, and with abundant sunshine because this is one of our dry seasons.  We haven’t seen substantial rain in weeks.

Little wonder that this is when I find myself working the hardest on projects all over the house and both Airstreams.  The Caravel plumbing job is done, tested, and hopefully reliable.  Everything works perfectly.  My only job now is to take the trailer on a shakedown trip, perhaps across the county (potentially no small jaunt, since Pima County is 9,200 square miles) and camp in it for a night to thoroughly test all the work.  I am very confident in it but in this case I’m subscribing to Ronald Reagan’s philosophy: “Trust, but verify.”

(I’m also thinking of another less-famous Reagan turn of phrase: “I feel like I just crapped a pineapple.”  This wasn’t a fun job, but it feels great now that it’s done.)

The Safari, to its credit, is hanging in there just fine. Good for you, Safari.  I tweaked a few things after we got home in September, and while there are other projects in the wings, it needs nothing at the moment.  We are free to go camping.

And we might, if we had the inclination.  But when we were full-timing in the Airstream we found that in some ways this is the least interesting time of year.  The short days, even in the southernmost reaches of the continental US, meant that after about 5 p.m. we’d be back in the Airstream for a long dark night.  In the desert southwest, the temperature plummets after dark and so on those nights when we were in a national park with a ranger program to attend at 8 p.m., we’d have to bundle up like it was Alaska, in order to sit through an hour-long talk in the outdoor amphitheater on chilly metal benches.

So instead we tend to stay home in November and December, except for a break around New Year’s, and I try to get things done so that we can take off later in the season.  It’s also a good time to catch up personal maintenance, so this month I’ve had the full experience afforded the average 50-year-old American male, including a flu shot, a Tdap booster, (Tetanus, Diptheria & Whooping Cough), a examination here and there, dental cleaning, orthodontist, and the threat of having a colonoscope shoved up where the sun don’t shine.  Yee-ha.

(OK, having written that, I do have to wonder why I’m not hitching up the Airstream and driving as far away as I can … Then I remind myself that I’m trying to set a good example for my daughter.)

One use of the time has been to read several very interesting books.  One has been “The Great Brain Suck” by Eugene Halton. Don’t read it if you are thin-skinned (because he skewers a certain group of Airstreamers) or if you can’t stand wordiness.  Halton could have used a good editor to trim down his prose, but his observational skills are razor-sharp.  I would hate to have him review me.

Another one has been “Salt: A World History,” by Mark Kurlansky.  Admittedly, you have to be a history buff to really love this one.  It’s not a foodie book.  He takes the common thread of an ageless essential (salt) and shows how it permeates most of the major events of world history. Salt has caused and prevented wars, changed governments, nourished some societies while crushing others, and literally enabled society as we know it today.  I picked it up while visiting the Salinas Pueblos National Monument in New Mexico, where salt trading was a crucial element of survival for the Ancient Puebloans.

Mercedes 300Dx3

I’m sure I can blame the nice weather for this next item:  I have joined a gang.  We’re not particularly scary, but we do clatter around town in a cloud of diesel smoke.  Not exactly “rolling thunder” but at least “rolling well-oiled sewing machines.” Like Hell’s Angels Lite.

We are small but growing group of old Mercedes 300D owners in Tucson who share knowledge, parts, tools, and camaraderie periodically.  In the photo you can see the cars of the three founding members, blocking the street.  We call ourselves the Baja Arizona W123 Gang.  Perhaps someday we’ll have t-shirts and secret handshake.  Probably the handshake will involving wiping black oil off your hands first.

The rest of my time has been spent working the “day job.”  At this point I am glad to say that the preliminary event schedules for both Alumafiesta, and Alumaflamingo have been released to the public (and that was two more pineapples, believe me).  There’s still quite a lot of work to be done on both events, but at least now we have an understanding of the basics.  To put it another way, we’ve baked the cake, and now it’s time to make the frosting.  If you are interested in getting involved with either event as a volunteer, send an email to info at randbevents dot com.

The question now is whether I will tackle a major project on the Safari, or just lay back and take it easy for a few weeks.  The project would be to remove the stove/oven, re-secure the kitchen countertop (it has worked loose), and cut a hole to install a countertop NuTone Food Center.  On one hand, this isn’t an essential thing just yet, but on the other hand, I’ll be glad if it’s done before we start traveling extensively next February.  I only hesitate because it might turn into a bigger project than I bargained for.  You know how projects have a way of doing that.

Hmmm… pineapple, anyone?

 

 

Temporary Bachelor Man, 2013 edition

Yes, he’s back!  TBM is re-installed in Tucson and prepping for a month or two of adventure … and work.  (Mostly work, actually.  But let’s not dwell on that.)

I flew back to Tucson on Tuesday in my everyday guise of mild-mannered magazine editor, and then once back in the Man Cave (formerly known as family residence) I pulled out the full TBM suit complete with fake pecs and flaming torch.  It turned out there was not much need for a flaming torch, since this time of year southern Arizona has one up in the sky which has been frying eggs on sidewalks and melting shoe adhesive for several weeks now.

The first order of business is always to re-boot the Man Cave.  After six weeks of abandonment, there are always a few Manly Tasks to be handled, such was washing the desert dust off the cars, firing up the central cooling (it took nine hours to get the house cooled to 78 degrees), collecting mis-addressed junk mail, and sweeping up the detritus of desert life that tends to accumulate in and around the Cave.

IMG_2428Eleanor received a particularly charming offer while we were gone (see photo).  It wasn’t clear from the letter inside whether this offer was for her personal use, or an offer she could use to dispose of someone else’s body if needed. As generous as it sounded, this letter among many others ended up in the recycle bin.

While the central A/C was fighting to expensively pump BTUs out of the Man Cave, I took the official TBM-mobile out for a quick wash and a run to the store for supplies.  Also known as the 1984 Mercedes 300D or “the Stuttgart Taxi,” the car impressed me immediately because after six weeks of sitting unattended it had absolutely no oil drips at all, the vacuum system still had full pressure (or perhaps I should say full lack of pressure), and it fired up like a new car.  All that work we did last October has paid off.

I must say that the temptation to put a trailer hitch on the TBM-mobile is very strong.  With that, I’d be able to tow the Caravel somewhere for a little trip —as long as I avoided hills.  But I’m afraid that the ancient transmission might not like the added stress of towing, and even if it did I might encounter some challenges towing a 3000-lb parachute with an old diesel that was rated for 120 horsepower when it was new.

Yesterday was an excellent start on TBM-type stuff.  I cleaned up a lot of the emails and minor tasks that had accumulated while we were in Europe, took care of some overdue errands, got my hair trimmed into TBM style, and then Rob called with an invitation to the monthly guys-only card game.  You can’t ask for a better TBM activity than a card game with the guys.  The other saps in the game (all married guys with kids) started whining about needing to go home around 10 p.m., and I just waved my flaming torch at them and told them the night was young.  Sadly, none of them seemed willing to break their shackles, and the game broke up not long after.  It’s lonely being TBM sometimes.

Southern Arizona summer heat is hated by many who live here.  I can understand that.  Like a northern winter, many activities are off the table.  I can’t go bicycling during the day, for example, and people tend to huddle inside their air conditioned houses except for the hour or so after dawn (when the temps might be “only” 80 degrees).  But we live in an area riddled with “sky islands”, meaning mountains that poke up steeply from the desert to heights of 6000-8000 feet above sea level. So hiking and exploring in the mountains is still possible less than an hour’s from Tucson.  And we live only a few hours drive from the forested Mogollon plateau of northern Arizona, seven hours drive from the relative coolness of the southern California coast, and four hours drive from the beaches of Puerto Peñasco in Sonora, MX.

That may seem a long way to go for coolness, but at least the option exists. When I lived on the east coast during bitterly cold winters, the nearest place to go to escape was Florida, 1,500 miles away. So I regard the heat as just another excuse for a good roadtrip sometime in the next few weeks.

I plan to be here through late August, with a break to attend Alumafandango in Oregon during early August.  (Still got a few spaces left, by the way, if you are thinking about joining us there!)  In the time I’ve got there are many TBM missions to complete.  I’ve got to scout some new locations for next year’s Alumafiesta in Tucson, check a possible location for a new event in the southwest for late 2014, supervise some home improvements, finish the Caravel plumbing project, work on a new book, edit the Winter 2013 issue of Airstream Life (Fall is in layout right now), check out a new sushi restaurant, see lots of family-unfriendly movies, and of course once again try to find the ultimate in Sonoran hot dogs from this year’s crop of roadside food trucks.  If you’ve got a mission to suggest, feel free to pass it along and I’ll see if it can fit into the TBM plan.

Remind me why …

It’s easy for me to forget that I have an unusual view of the Airstream world.  Most Airstream owners enjoy the simplicity of being happy travelers, and that seems blissful to me. I remember the first year we had an Airstream, before I started the magazine, and it was really a lot of fun.  We just thought about where we were going next, and not much else.

These days I look at the world of Airstream through a sort of cubist perspective, sometimes seeing both sides of an issue at once, often balancing the needs of the magazine with the desires of its supporters, living on both sides of the perennial “vintage versus new” debate, as a both a customer and a promoter of the lifestyle, and as an occasional consultant to the industry.  It gets confusing.

When I get tired of being the Publisher/Editor, I switch to Event Organizer or Industry Consultant.  When I get tired of those, I switch to vintage Airstream repairer and go out to the Caravel to do some more plumbing.  When I get tired of everything, I start planning vacations.  Think how lucky you are if you only think of Airstreams as travel opportunities.  That’s really the best part.

New propane regulator CaravelThe Caravel plumbing project has been halted this week pending the arrival of parts and tools.  I should have everything I need to complete it, on Monday.  In the meantime, I got the propane regulator installed.

It’s a fairly easy job, but it did require special-ordering a longer main propane hose, four new (smaller) stainless screws, and two right-angle brass fittings so that the lines wouldn’t bump into the tanks.  That’s all because the new regulator wasn’t an exact replacement.  The screw holes are smaller, and the physical shape of the regulator is different.  When I tried to connect the 30# propane tanks the first time, the pigtails bumped into the tanks.  The right-angle fittings fixed that, but getting the original brass fittings out of the regulator was a hassle.  Eventually they came out with the help of a vise and an extension bar on the wrench.

The other problem with this replacement was that the red/green “flag” that indicates whether the tanks are full can only be seen from the front of the regulator.  All the other ones I’ve owned had the flag on the top so it could be seen from any direction.  So that meant the new regulator had to be mounted to face forward.  This required a 23″ hose instead of the 18″ one I had already bought.

The whole job took three visits to the hardware store, and now I’ve got a bunch of screws, bits of brass, and a hose that I don’t need.  These are the kinds of surprises you have to expect when fixing a vintage trailer. My spare parts box is getting full.

Meanwhile, the Safari re-flooring project is just about ready to start this week.  I have recruited Mike to help out with the two-person jobs, like getting the bed frame and dinette out of the trailer.  We are hoping to start Monday or Tuesday on this one, day jobs permitting.  I’ve been scouting out tool rentals and planning our attack of the job.  First task is to remove the bed, bedroom carpet, and dinette.

For those of you who were following the Mercedes 300D project, it’s pretty much done.  Since my last mention of it, I’ve been just tweaking and adjusting.  I replaced the rear differential oil (really stinky stuff thanks to the high sulphur content), fixed some loose wood on the dash, had four new Michelin tires installed, fiddled with the monovalve to try to resolve an intermittent heat issue, lubricated a few things, bought new floor mats, and had the car professionally detailed.

None of that took much effort on my part, so I’ve just been enjoying driving it around town and on a few short trips.  I exhibited it in a car show a few weeks ago, and took a roadtrip up to Phoenix (120 miles each way).  It’s now exactly what I wanted it to be: reliable, 100% functional, and reasonably good-looking.  This summer I’ll probably have to get the windows tinted, but other than that it shouldn’t need anything but oil changes.   And no, I’m not going to put a tow hitch on it.

With all these Airstream projects past, present, and future, it seems only fair that we should take advantage of the reason we own Airstreams.  So we  have determined that we are going to California in a few weeks.  Everybody wants a trip, and I’ve got a few business things to do in SoCal.  It will be nice to get away from home, re-gain some perspective, and relax in the Airstream for a while.  At this point we don’t know how long we’ll be gone, but hopefully it will be at least two weeks and possibly more.  It will take that long to soak up the feeling of being on the road again and remember why we do all this stuff.

 

Why I became a DIY mechanic

We’ve had our Mercedes GL320 for nearly eight years now, and it has accumulated about 130,000 miles to date. For the most part it has been a good choice for us but as it ages I am faced with a harsh decision.  That decision is whether to continue paying Mercedes repair shops exorbitant amounts of money to keep the GL320 on the road, or to start the ownership process over again with something new.

Anza Borrego GL 2014-01

I’m not really crazy about the idea of buying a new tow vehicle. The GL is in excellent shape overall (thanks to lots of new parts and meticulous maintenance), and let’s face it, tow vehicles are expensive.

But neither am I crazy about our tours of America becoming tours of Mercedes service centers.  This summer we were forced to visit dealership service centers in Pennsylvania, Washington, Oregon, and California, and that’s a reminder to me that the trusty steed is no longer a youngster.

For now I’m choosing a third option: Do-It-Yourself (DIY). It’s impractical for me to do large repairs on the road but while we are parked at home base over the winter I have the opportunity to do routine maintenance and certain repairs in the driveway. The Mercedes “Service B” interval costs about $500-700 when done at a dealership; last winter I did it myself for about $150.  In October I replaced the rear brakes for about $220 in parts and supplies, which was about 1/3 what the dealer would charge.

Not only is DIY a big savings but it is an interesting opportunity for personal growth. For most of my life I would have described myself as “not mechanically inclined.” That was my father’s special ability, not mine. But entering the world of Airstreaming gradually forced me to pay attention to how things worked, and ask questions, and acquire tools & skills.

It has been frustrating at times. There have been many times when I would never have persevered without the support and advice of friends like Nick, Colin, Brett, and Super Terry. When a vital part slipped from my fingers and disappeared, when I accidentally cross-threaded a bolt in the engine block, when I mis-wired something and blew up part of a circuit board, when the wheels literally came off the Airstream … all those times when it seemed there was absolutely no hope and I was about to drown in self-doubt or confusion, my friends have been there to help me get perspective.

One of the places where I buy parts, Mercedessource.com, provides a single Lemonhead candy in many of their parts kits. This is so you can “seek the wisdom of the Lemonhead” when things get difficult. In other words, step away from the problem for a while. In those moments of frustration when things seem bleakest it’s extraordinarily helpful to simply stop working and let your emotional chemicals subside. I usually go seek advice from friends or reliable documentation for a while. Eventually the path forward becomes clear—and the problem that seemed so utterly impossible before gets resolved.

Over the past ten years this learning process has been so empowering for me that it has literally changed my life. I’m still cautious about tackling new mechanical or electrical things (because the more you learn, the more you realize how much you don’t know) but the knowledge and confidence I have gained has led me to things like:

I look back on those accomplishments with amazement, because ten years ago I would never have seen myself doing any of those things. If you’re thinking the same about yourself, well, don’t sell yourself short.  You can learn anything.

And it feels great to have more self-sufficiency.  Most of us are constant victims of our modern “disposable” consumer products system.  The system says that more durable items (appliances, vehicles) must be serviced only by a qualified technician, and like our semi-broken healthcare system, you aren’t allowed to question the cost.

Well, that’s baloney. Sure, I can’t DIY every car repair. I don’t have all the tools or all of the abilities. The dealership service centers are still collecting their toll from me every year. But we can all push back on the system a little, empower ourselves, reduce inconvenience, and avoid being chumps if we bother to understand how things work and take some time to do what we can by ourselves.

I almost lost my resolve over the latest car issue.  The “Check Engine” light had popped on again, this time indicating a failure in the Diesel Exhaust Fluid (DEF) treatment system.  The dealer quoted $2,400 to fix this problem and (on top of several other expensive repairs earlier in the year) that was enough to make me seriously consider pitching the car in a river and signing up for a new car loan.

A technical aside here: DEF is a fluid that gets injected into the exhaust stream to combine with nitrogen oxides chemically to produce much cleaner exhaust.  The output turns into water vapor and free nitrogen. Mercedes calls DEF “Adblue” when they are feeling romantic (e.g., selling cars) and they call it “reductant” when they are feeling technical.  Whatever, it’s all the same thing: a mixture of dionized water and 32.5% urea.

The problem with this stuff is that it freezes when it gets below 12 degrees F, and it crystallizes if exposed to the open air. So to comply with Federal emissions requirements which say that the system must work under all conditions, Bosch designed a fancy system that keeps the DEF warm and sealed. Then they sold this system to a bunch of car manufacturers.

While I’m all for clean air, the DEF system has been a hassle. We’ve had nearly a dozen incidences of “Check Engine” lights attributable to this system over the past eight years, requiring numerous overnight stays at the dealership while the engineers back in Germany huddled together to figure out yet another software update or component upgrade. The frequency of these problems has not decreased with time.  In fact, this summer we had to stop in Pennsylvania to replace a failing NOx (nitrogen oxides) sensor for $600, so this the second emissions-related Check Engine light this year.

When the Mercedes service center said it would be $2,400 for a new DEF tank heater, I began to weaken. It seemed to be too complex a job for me to tackle. Perhaps it would be a good idea to start over with a new car warranty (and massive new car payment).  My doubt began to grow. Then I did a little research and was reminded:

  • trade-in or resale value of our existing car would be ridiculously low.  I wouldn’t sell it for the going rate of about $13,000—it’s still a nice car!
  • the new diesel I’d want is temporarily off the market thanks to fallout from the VW/Audi scandal.  All the manufacturers are being very cautious right now.
  • if I could get a few more years out of the GL, there might be interesting electric vehicle options.  The electric car industry is rocketing forward and it’s not unrealistic to expect major developments in the next 5 years. Then I’d be free of these nightmarish emission-control systems and “Check Engine” lights.

With that bit of Lemonhead perspective, I dug in to the expensive repair I’d been told was needed.  It turns out that the service center solution for a failing DEF tank heater is to replace the entire tank, pump, heater, and temperature sensor as a single unit. The heater is not offered as a single replacement part.

I can see why they do that. Removing the whole thing is a pretty easy job, taking about 60-90 minutes.  Drain the tank, remove eight bolts, disconnect a few wires and a hose, then pull the tank out and swap in a new one.  A dealership technician can do that quickly and not worry about the customer coming back for another problem in the same system, since everything has been replaced. And happy-happy-joy-joy, the dealer makes a pile of money charging $1,800 for the tank and about $600 for labor and supplies.

Adblue tank connections

On the other hand, replacing the heater alone is cheaper but requires some additional work for disassembly, a few more tools, soldering, etc.  That’s the kind of thing I can do myself if it saves a pile of money. I found a company that sells an upgraded version of the tank heater for $300, and with some help from Nick, installed it in a few hours. Eleanor helped me re-assemble the car afterward. Bottom line: The “Check Engine” light is off and all is well.

It’s funny how the elimination of that little fault indicator can suddenly make the car seem like new again. Having the satisfaction of fixing it myself (and saving a pile of cash) makes it even better. I took the GL out for a test drive and everything is humming along just as it should.  Now I’m perfectly happy with the GL—why was I ever considering selling it for a pittance and taking on a massive debt load?

Anza Borrego GL and Caravel 2014-01

In the next week or so I’m going to tackle a major Airstream electrical upgrade with my friend Nate. It’s the kind of thing that an electrician could do for $500 or so, but by doing it myself I know it will be done exactly the way I want—and once again I’ll probably learn a few things (from Nate) in the process.  You can read about it here soon.