It will come as no great surprise, there is always a story behind a trip of this nature. I’ve been heading to Bonneville each year for a while now, so this year was no different, or so I thought. Normally, the preparation and trip its self is un-eventful, both coming and going. The typical drive down of two days, spend a week enjoying the event, and drive back. This years trip was well planned. I had enough other stuff going on that things were getting a little backed up the closer the ‘leave’ date got. But, determined I was to meet my self imposed deadline.
And it Begins… The first thing that went wrong was while going through the trailer brakes, I discovered one of the tires was a heart beat away from blowing out. A large portion of the tread face had separated and split. It looked rather like an old dish rag that was thread worn and falling apart.
Well, as only two of the others were in decent shape, it seemed like a good idea to replace them all. Learning a little from last years trailer blow-out, with BRAND NEW TIRES, I decided I would replace them all, and move up a load range as well to the D-range, as the C-range had little margin on the over all load range of the trailer. So, when loaded up, running fast in hot weather, you’re just asking for trouble. If you have been, or ever get down this way, you will soon understand as the tire ‘road kill’ carcass evidence is abundant. So, while not really a planned expense, it was certainly a prudent expense, and Kelvins Rim, Tire & Polish took good care of me ensuring I had smooth running at least in this category.
NEXT, was to replace the brake controller in the truck which had failed, perhaps as a result of being connected to a trailer with cut brake wires, which may have shorted on occasion. None the less, it was under warranty, so I let them handle it. While the truck was in, I asked them to check out the glow plugs as the beast, (1997 2500 GMC 6.5 DuraMaxTurbo Diesel 4×4) had been a little resentful of morning starts. The computer was indicating the glow plugs were cycling, but, the volt meter no longer showed the appropriate drain when they should have been energized. Not being a diesel shop, they just performed a basic check of the plugs and advised they all seemed fine and felt it must be related to the computer controller.
Well, the next day, I was lucky to get the truck to start at all, so I took her in to one of the local GM dealerships SMP (Saskatoon Motor Products). I advised that the controller was likely the problem as another shop had checked the plugs and found them good. Well, a few hours later I get the call advising that their man felt the glow plugs were infact the problem as their resistance didn’t measure out to spec. Man, they are glow plugs! It’s a heating element, rather like a light bulb element. It sort of either works or it doesn’t. Admittedly, they can loose their efficiency, but, what do you do when the dealer says this is the problem and they have all the specialized diagnostic equipment. So, later that day and about $600 later, the truck starts like a darn, can’t argue with success, and away I go.
DAY ONE: A late afternoon start, but we are rolling. Within an hour of hitting the road, the rain started, but, thankfully, the ‘rig’ was working flawlessly.
DAY TWO: Drove most of the day in either overcast or rain. Oddly enough, the truck, which normally runs on the cool side, even with the trailer behind it, is running a little on the warm side even in this cool weather. Hmm, this is not a good thing, but aside from that, it seems to be running like a champ.
DAY 3: I’ve now got a real concern with the truck as on a hill climb, I watch the temperature gauge kiss the 250 mark a couple times. Now, I’m way past any doubt there is a problem, but, it will get us to the salt before I pursue it further as the temperature of the truck comes down as fast as it goes up. So, arrive more or less intact and on schedule.
DAY 4: In the morning, I decide to fire up the truck to recharge the batteries a bit as the 12volt systems in the trailer run off the truck.. Wouldn’t you know it, IT WON’T START, just as before. It cranks, but, she wont take off. To add some icing to the cake, it’s not cranking worth a darn either. That is especially frustrating considering there are two new (less than 9000 miles) Delco batteries in her. So, fire up the generator, dig out a battery charger (I came prepared) and leave the thing running while we go for breakfast.
On return, more of the same, even despite the boost mode of the charger. CRAP! So, onto the quad I go, to either find someone more familiar with Duramax Diesels and computer controllers, or, a tow to a hopefully local shop. After all, I came to Bonneville for the event, NOT to spend time trying to repair the damn truck AGAIN.. Well, I passed word around of the situation, and ended up at the ‘End of the Road’ I meet up with a few of the fellow BNI members taking care of running the entrance to the salt and find someone who ‘has a friend’. Well, long story only slightly shorter, a few phone calls, and the arrangements are made to have a tow truck come pick up the truck and take it away to a local shop familiar with Diesel computer controllers to have a go at it come Monday. So, back to the truck and trailer I go to await the arrival an hour or so later. Loaded up onto the truck and away it goes.
You know, it’s not a nice feeling to find yourself somewhat stranded 1200 miles from home. But, here we are, so make the best of it.
The QUAD QUANDRY: OK, that’s out of the way, lets get the quads loaded, and get out there and enjoy what’s left of the day. Well, the best laid plans.. Two quads, one a Yamaha Timberwolf (pack mule) with racks and bags to carry all the gear out onto the salt, the other a sporty 250cc Bombardier single seater just for buzzing around. Well, that’s about where that idea came to a grinding halt LITERALLY.. The Yamaha managed to move about 1 inch before the gear grinding started. While I haven’t had the time or the inclination to start into it yet, it seems the differential gears stripped out somehow.. That leaves us one single seater quad to make do with.
DAY 6: I finally get a call from the shop, Brads Auto Repair in West Wendover NV, advising a lot of error codes relating to the glow plugs were found, and kept recurring. Eventually a loose connection to the controller has been found. This wire has charred and will be replaced. The truck should be ready tomorrow. To add to the misery, the two new Delco batteries in the truck had ballooned, presumably as the result of the heat under the hood, a combination of ambient, engine and turbo charger. Unfortunately, replacing 2 batteries, diagnose and repair the wire, and replace the fan clutch that was a little loose compared to a new one, and another $800 is consumed.
Rapidly running out of money, and feeling that another day of sun on the salt my in fact prove fatal, we decide to head out as soon as we can get the truck back.
DAY 7: The day drags on and the truck is yet to make an appearance. A few telephone calls, and the word is it will be mid afternoon before we have the truck back.
As the time nears we decide even if off to a late start, we want to hit the road. On arrival at the shop, I find the truck idling outside. I’m told a test drive has been uneventful, no further errors come up and the truck has remained cool. Well, there’s no 20 foot trailer beind it now is there. It’s 5 pm before we get the truck back, and nearly 6 before we pull out. On the road we go. Within 15 minutes, I’m already finding a rising temperature, but, nothing outrageous. Within an hour, the ‘Service Engine’ lite is on once again. Stop and Go traffic tie ups in Salt Lake take the temperature into the 220-230 range. PLEASE, just get me moving. Finally, after about 30 minutes, traffic starts moving and with the sun down, the temp falls back into the 200 – 210 range but runs and pulls well. I make about 300 miles, and shut down for the night in Brigham City Utah.
DAY 8: In the morning after spending a little time, and a little money in the Walmart picking up supplies and those things that are just plain cheaper here than at home we start heading out. I notice a GM dealership and decide to stop in and see if we can find a solution. As we seem to have tried just about everything else, I’m leaning towards a faulty thermostate as a contributing factor, and suggest it be changed. After all, what is there to loose at this point. Well, I nearly have an argument with their mechanic who advises that in his long career of 13 years, he’s never seen a thermostat cause this, and he took it for a test drive and it seemed fine. Once again, the trailer has been unhooked. Not only during his test drive did he fail to notice the ‘Service Engine” lite, he seems to think the dust on the rad, my bug screen and push bar are blocking enough air to be the cause of the problem. Just to remove any doubt of his vast experience, he explains how the rain would actually cause the truck to run hotter as it would make the dust swell up and restrict more air movement. I admit it, I did not know GM dealerships had a hiring program for the disabled. At this point, I’m about ready to boil over myself. But, agree to remove bug screen and push bar, not because I believe them to BE the problem, but because I’m hoping I might gain a few degrees advantage. $66 later (4 bolts) , I’m happy to be clear of the guy with the wealth of experience (in his mind) and on the road again. No surprise, within 5 minutes, the truck is running on the hot side, but, I just may have gained a 1/2 a needle width on the temperature gauge. The entire day is more of the same. But, the truck is holding its own. Then, not wanting to have an entire day without an issue that will cost me SOMETHING, I watch, as if in slow mothing, while a pea sized pebble heads right towards me, and finds its mark on my perfect windshield which I had replaced only months earlier. I have no way of knowing if this thing has come of the truck with the trailer full of quads that just passed me, or off the rock face mountain face we are passing through. Wouldn’t you know it, it doesn’t just chip, giving me a chance to repair it.. Nooo.. It goes straight to a crack.. DOUBLE CRAP! We make it to Great Falls Montana and decide to stay the night in a motel.
DAY 9:Well, at least with a bed, an air conditioner, and a shower, one of the best nights sleep I have ever had in a motel, despite everything else. That makes the day start out on a positive note. Unfortunately, this is not to last long. When we go to leave, THE TRUCK WONT START, AGAIN! Just as before, dispite the dash indicating the glow plugs are energized, there is no indication on the volt meter of any appropriate energy drain occurring. I have a bit of a conversation with just about everything in earshot, just to let a little steam off. Eventually, due to the warming of the day, the truck finally manages to fire and go, spewing a large black cloud to prove the glow plugs have NOT done their job. I’m now spending considerable time dreaming of a FORD 350 or 450 Super Duty, perhaps along with a 30 or 40 foot trailer, with some reasonable accommodations built in. Unfortunately, this will likely not occur as the funding I was able to talk the bank out of has gone primarily towards the new engine, and various safety items required for the car. Once on the road, the truck FINALLY runs great, as it historically has, and at least this day, behaves its self, and the temperature rides on the 190 mark.
No other issues occure until back in Canada, I manage to scrape the side of the trailer on a post at a Husky service station while the attendant stands on the island watching it without warning me. This all caused by the tight space I must attempt to squeeze in because of the way they have positioned the islands, and another vehicle I’m trying to avoid… Jeeze, I just want to get home alive..
The rain starts as evening falls, but thankfully, the truck continues to behave its self. I gradually reduce my speed the closer I get to home, knowing that I’m wound pretty tight and don’t want to become another statistic. Finally, we arrive, in the rain, in the dark. Reg stands in the rain and trys to guide me back in with little success as I can hardly see her and can NOT hear her. Enough! I shut it down right there. Trailer MORE or LESS in the drive and the truck on the street.
Now, you would think this would be the end of the story. But, the next morning, wanting to get the trailer stowed away, when attempting to start the truck, you know it, it refuses to start. I finally resort to plugging it in to warm it up enough to run. Off to the same dealership yet again. I advise them of all the problems and ‘suggest’ that perhaps it really had been the controller all along after all as I had originally suggested. I’ve got the two Delco batteries in the back and ask about warranty. Well, I didn’t purchase these batteries from this location, so there was nothing they could do. Apparently GM warranties don’t go across country. I would have to return to the US to get warranty. Two hours later I get the call back advising that yes indeed, I was correct and the controller was at fault for ‘ALL” the problems and required replacement. Care to take a guess at the cost? You guessed it, $600. Now, as you might imagine, I’m not particularly thrilled at this prospect, and have little choice but to authorize the repairs as I’m obviously not about to throw the truck away. But, I express my dissatisfaction with the situation. A few hours later I am advised that they are willing to waive the diagnostic fee. This is very big of them considering they have been advised TWICE that the controller was likely the problem, and I had already paid a diagnostic charge the last time they attempted to repair the truck.
Further on this, I contacted GM’s customer support line, explaining the situation, the costs, the impact and in a polite fashion, my dissatisfaction. I was rather surprised when I was informed the truck was no longer under warranty.. DUH! It’s a 1997. I never suggest it was a warranty repair. I’m suggesting that the wrong thing was repaired, despite being directed to the problem and having had the glow plugs checked elsewhere. Well, imagine my surprise when the rep on the telephone informed me that GM didn’t OWN the dealership and therefore could do little to resolve this, BUT, they would be happy to call the service manager and advise him I was not satisfied. I kind of think he’s already figured that part out.
Well, not expecting much, life goes on You know those nice new sun glasses I’m so proud of. Well, truck parked on the street and some little *&#$@%*#^ breaks in over night and steals them and pretty much everything else not tied down.
Frankly, I never thought I would hear anything further. After all, GM doesn’t own the dealership you know! It’s just their product, their parts, their franchise, their training and presumably their diagnostic equipment, which I rather doubt was even connected the first time the truck was taken in. Over a week passes and I get a call from the rep Tracy. I was advised, that when they spoke with the Service Manager of the dealership (SMP-Saskatoon Motor Products), he suggested that when they ‘diagnosed’ the problem, the glow plugs had ‘failed’, which is a far cry from, ‘not up to resistance spec’ After all, a brand new tire, driven around the block is no longer ‘Up to Spec’. Additionally, he pointed out that ‘I had AGREED’ to the repairs, as though this somehow got them off the hook for failing to properly diagnose the problem.
Well, suffice to say, I laughed at the rep when I was advised of this stating I didn’t actually expect them to do anything as this was fast becoming a farce. At best, we would agree to disagree in this case, but, my interpretation of the events was somewhat different than the ‘service managers’. The rep indicates they will pursue it further.. I will add on to this if anything even sillier develops.
p.s. SMP’s labour rate is $120 hr.. (I’m in the wrong line of work)
Well, it’s time to finally wrap up this story. The Rep at the GM call center ‘Tracy’ was good to deal with. While obviously her hands are tied regarding what actions she is allowed to take, it is all for not. Not that I actually expected any different. She has advised that the Service Manager has refused to even discuss this any further. Tracy has indicated that in an effort to make up for this difficult situation, they want to send me a ‘Gift Certificate’ worth $1000.00. WHOA.. Too good to be true right.. Minor hitch.. It is good towards the purchase of a NEW GM VEHICLE, within the next 6 months. Well, this gets me back into laughing mode and I advise Tracy that she can save the postal as I am not about to run out and purchase a new GM in the next 6 months. So, in closing she states that if and when I do decide to purchase a new GM to call and they will see what can be done to assist. Woo Hoo..
On the plus side, I’ve made a few more trips, and the truck has been great, right back to its old self.