On The Road

On The Road
Dutch Star and Subaru ready to go

Sunday, March 24, 2013

After steam cleaning the bottom of the engine, the problem with the oil leak turned out to be a crack in the oil pan. To everyone's surprise, the oil pan on our model of Dutch Star is made of a fiberglass composit material, not metal. Our mechanic told us that it wasn't a big problem to change the oil pan and the Dutch Star was left with him to order the new pan and install it. 

Our mechanic contacted Cummins the Dutch Star's diesel engine manufacturer and was told that the original fiberglass pan had been replaced with a metal one. The new pan was ordered and it was found to have a slightly different shape, however different enough so that the original oil pump didn't fit in the new pan. So a new pump had to be ordered and installed. And finally when the new pump and pan were ready to be installed, it was found that the original 30+ bolts to fasten the oil pan to the engine were different and new ones had to be ordered.

After a week in the shop the Dutch Star is home again.

One of the things that we found this season in Mexico is that a PT Cruiser is not the ideal car for Mexican roads. They're very low to the ground and we had to be very careful when driving off the main highways in any town we were in and bottomed out several times.

I had been looking for a small pick-up truck with a manual transmission but with little luck. But last week a senior couple who live in our Escapees Park decided to sell their RV including their towed vehicle, a Subaru SUV that has not only a manual transmission but included the whole tow hitch assembly.  So now we have another vehicle and will probably keep the PT Cruiser as a back-up not wanting to be in the same situation when our Jeep died on us last year and we had to borrow a car to look for a car to buy.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Talked to a local diesel mechanic about our oil leak and have an appointment to take the Dutch Star to his shop Tuesday morning. He'll have to steam clean the underside of the engine in order to see where the damage is.

I called my insurance and there's a good chance the cost of repair will be covered. An adjuster will be going to the mechanic's shop to check out the damage.

In the mean time, the Dutch Star is sitting in the driveway with a pan under the drip while we unload everything.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Checked the oil and added three gallons before we took off this morning from Casa Blanca park in Laredo. I bought six gallons the day before at Walmart hoping that  would be enough to get us home.

I still didn't know how much oil will be leaking when we're driving so we took off hoping for the best. I stopped after the first 50 miles to check the dip stick and it showed about half way down the hashmarks that are between "full" and "add oil"

I figured I could go a little further and checked the level again after another 50 miles. This time the oil level was at the "add oil" mark so I put in another gallon. I thought that checking every 100 miles should be ok and sure enough at mile 200, another gallon was needed. The Cummins engine holds 28 quarts or 7 gallons so I felt I was keeping things in the safe zone. Consumption rate is one gallon for every 100 miles.

It reminded me of when I first drove to California from Ottawa with my friend Paul who had a 1938 ford. We used more oil than gas.

We made it to Wharton, about 50 miles west of Houston on highway 59 and will spend the night in a Walmart parking lot.  The back of the motorhome and front of the PT Cruiser looks like someone sprayed them with an oil hose.. messy, messy.  I bought another couple of gallons of oil at Walmart to last us the rest of the way and we should be home tomorrow.

Jeremy and Jane are still with us but will connect with highway 10 in Houston as they have to be in Florida in about a week to deal with a real estate transaction.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Well.. we're back across the border at Laredo. .. but not without a few scrapes and damages.
We left Heaven's gate park on Friday afternoon and ran into our first problem almost immediately. There's a 90 degree turn just out of the park entrance where there's a concrete telephone pole and where several vehicles were parked. I tried to make the corner without success and have a few scrapes complements of the concrete pole.

We stayed Friday night at the Pemex just north of La Penita and met Jeremy and Jane our travel companions Saturday morning. The traffic going up the mountains from the coast wasn't too bad however there was a pretty strong wind storm blowing dirt, leaves and other things around. Our drive to and around Guadalajara was uneventful and we saw vendors getting things set up for Sunday's market in Tonala.

From Guadalajara to Aguascalientes everything went well until we got on the ring road around the city. The road was very rough with lots of traffic and every couple of blocks you came to a traffic light. We were leading and got through one light however when Jeremy started across the intersection, the light turned red. Unfortunately there was a local transit police there and pulled Jeremy over. The result.... he had to pay 3,000 pesos.

We spent the night at a Pemex station past Aguascalientes where there was supposed to be secure parking however Jeremy heard noise at the back of his motorhome about 3:00am and went out and found one of his hitch pins to his truck part way out. He thinks someone wanted to steal his truck.

The road from Aguascalientes to Zacatecas was uneventful and we got on highway 40 road heading to Monterry and planning on exiting on the Monterry bypass, highway 100. We messed up here and at one of the toll booths we missed the exit to the bypass and continued on highway 40 into Monterry where we hoped to find highway 85 taking us to Laredo.

Driving around Monterry, a city of several million in a big motorhome towing a car behind while trying to find a particular street is not fun. Street signage is not prominent in the city and although we found one indicating highway 85, at the next intersection we came to, I missed the turn while Jeremy didn't. At that point we became separated and we called Jeremy and Jane on the walkie talkie telling them to go ahead and we'd try to catch up to them when we found our way back to the highway.
We wandered around the city for a while longer and at one traffic light we were beside a bus and I motioned to the driver to open his door and asked him where highway 85 was. He just shrugged his shoulders. However when we started to drive off, I heard beeping beside us. There was a couple in a car that heard us talking to the bus driver and pointed us to where we wanted to go.
When finally on the highway out of town it was getting dark but was able to just hear Jeremy and Jane on the walkie talkies. They were ahead of us a couple of miles but we were able to catch up to them.
We were again on a toll road and the first Pemex station we saw was about 70 miles from Laredo. Because we had driven over 400 miles that day plus the tour of Monterry, we asked if we could park there over night. There was also a very nice restaurant at the Pemex where we treated ourselves.

We started out in the morning heading to Laredo and the border following directions to bridge # 2 that I copied from one of the members of RV Net forum. We turned off the highway where indicated and ran into a major set of topes (speed bumps) where I hit one pretty hard. When we got up to the border area, the directions we were following said the road would have three lanes and to stay in the right hand one. However the road split into several lanes not just three. Naturally we got into the wrong one and had to backtrack and do a returno.

At this point I noticed a major oil leak coming from under my engine of the motorhome. The tope I hit must have damaged something.

We decided we had to continue on and after we got turned around we stopped at the Mexican booth to turn in our vehicle permits. We didn't see where we could turn in our tourist visas and still have them.

The traffic going over the bridge and up to the U.S. border was heavy and it was about an hour creeping up to the U.S. Immigration booth in about 10 lanes of traffic. Jeremy was leading and the Immigration people told both of us to pull over for inspections and an x-ray of our coaches. We had to give up our potatoes, tangerines and apples. Diane and the dogs had to get out of the motorhome while I drove it slowly through the x-ray machine. Then we had to wait while they inspected the results from the machine. All the time I was dripping oil all over the place.
Several minutes later, several agents came running out of the building and I was told to open up the basement doors of the motorhome because the x-ray indicated there was a large tank of some sort in the motorhome and they must have thought I was smuggling something. They were a little embarrassed when I showed them the big propane tank.

When we got across the border, we headed for Casa Blanca State Park in Laredo where we've stayed before. I was still dripping oil and looked up diesel repair facilities in Laredo. However everyone I called said they only work on big trucks and not motorhomes.  I asked one of the service guys I talked to and described what happened with the tope and asked if they thought I could drive to Livingston if I stopped and checked the oil and topped off every 100 miles or so. He thought if we do that, we should be ok. I then called Cummins service in Houston and asked the same question and got the same answer although was told it was my decision. And finally, I called a small diesel repair service close to our park in Livingston and the mechanic there told me I shouldn't have any trouble as long as I kept checking it on the way home.

So.. we're going to stay at Case Blanca park in Laredo for another day and head out on Wednesday morning. I drove to Walmart and bought six gallons of oil which should last us although we usually stop at Warton, west of Houston for the night in a Walmart parking lot and will be able to buy more oil there if needed.

Unless something goes wrong, we should be home Thursday.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Departure date is here. Today we leave Heaven's Gate park meeting up with our travel buddies and leaving La Penita early Saturday morning (March 2nd)
We're taking a different route home and will be heading for Guadalajara and from there to Aguascallentes. Then to Zacatecas and from then to Saltillo. From Saltillo we go around Monterry and up to Laredo.
We've never crossed at Laredo before but from reading comments on line, going north across Columbia Bridge is a real pain.  So we'll try crossing at the number 2 bridge in Laredo which is reported to be fairly easy.
We won't have internet connection on the trip until we cross the border so this will be the last post until then.