We weren’t quite ready for long-term four- or six-wheeled travel, but medical appointments impacted our schedule and we found ourselves with a free 6-week period—too short to fly somewhere and roam, but a perfect length of time to take Artie on his first road trip. We thought it would be a good opportunity to make sure we knew Artie well and to work out the kinks.
And work out the kinks is what we have been doing. (Word of warning: There is far too much detail below for the average reader, but we wanted to share our experiences and call out the good folks who have helped us along the way.)
Major kink #1: A warning that cannot be ignored
When Artie is resting, he hangs out in Gibsons on the Sunshine Coast in British Columbia. This is also where we are welcome to store our car while we are travelling, and it comes with a lovely sea-view cottage where we get to hang out for a few nights. When we’re really lucky, the cottage includes the company of my sister and her partner, but we were on our own this time.
After transferring our clothes from our suitcases to Artie, we needed to swap spots between our car and Artie so we could put the car into storage mode. Ken turned Artie on and was greeted with a check engine warning light. This was worrying, but we came up with all sorts of reasons why that light might be on and convinced ourselves it would go out once we drove to a flatter surface, warmed Artie up a little, or offered up a sacrifice to the auto gods. We headed to the ferry, but that light continued to taunt us.
After boarding the ferry, we called RoadTrek (RoadTrek has warrantied almost everything on its vehicles for 6 years, so they are the first point of contact). Not surprisingly, they had us contact the chassis manufacturer. We connected with Calvin at Mercedes-Benz Boundary in Vancouver and he offered to fit us in for an appointment at 1:00 the same afternoon. At about 2:00, Calvin told us that they would need to replace a couple of sensors, but that there was an after-market water tank in the way. They were willing to remove and replace it, but that work wouldn’t be covered by warranty. We had read about this on several RoadTrek Facebook groups, so weren’t surprised; in fact, we were thankful that this team was willing to do the removal as others had been refused the work until the tank was taken out by a third party. We were at Mercedes until after 5:00, but we left with 3 new sensors (2 NOX and 1 temperature), a bill for only the tank removal, which we hoped to claim back through our RoadTrek warranty. (We submitted the invoice to RoadTrek on the following Monday and have received confirmation that we will be reimbursed.)
We had planned to drive down toward Vancouver, Washington (see Major kink #2) that first travel day, with the hopes of looking up family in the area (we were thinking of you, Sara and Ryan!). We only made it as far as Birch Bay, just over the border from Vancouver, British Columbia, where we found a site in the dark and settled in for the night.
Major kink #2: Chilly floors
Our van is fitted with an Alde heating and hot water system. Rather than a blowing furnace, the van is gently (and partially) warmed through heated floors. We had tested the heating system when we first met Artie, but had not left the heat on long enough (we thought) for the floor to heat up. Later we realized that the floor was not heating no matter how long we left the system on. Ken found some troubleshooting tips on a RoadTrek Facebook group and tried them out while we were still in Gibsons. He was able to determine that the floor portion of the heating system was not functioning. He contacted RoadTrek, who put us in touch with Alde in Vancouver, Washington. After a bit of telephone tag, Ken finally spoke with Spencer who was out of the office (and the state) for a couple of weeks in training. Nevertheless, Spencer arranged for us to come to the Alde facility, which isn’t a service center at all, but does house some technical folks. Spencer had contacted his colleagues and assured us someone would be there to help us when we arrived.
We drove into Alde at about 8:15 on Monday morning. We were greeted by Todd who rolled open a big garage door at the back of the facility and we drove in. Instead of entering a service bay we drove into a spotlessly clean distribution warehouse, with high shelving loaded with boxes. Todd welcomed us, introduced us to Max, the technician, and invited us to hang out in their break room or waiting area. Todd also introduced us to Heather and Mandy. Everyone was so generous, encouraging us to enjoy their snacks and make ourselves comfortable. Heather even handed us a little Alde goody bag.
As well as installing an upgrade kit to resolve the no-floor-heat issue, Max let us know that the glycol that was in the system was likely old. The upgrade install caused a loss of some of the fluid, which dropped the level to below the minimum amount needed. Since they won’t mix products, and they weren’t sure what was in there anyway, Max flushed the system and filled it up with fresh glycol (something he told us we should do every 2 years). Todd also made sure we left with a bottle of the same glycol so we could top up as needed before the next flush. At one point, Spencer even got involved by phone to provide some additional guidance to Max as he was completing the final testing.
We were at Alde for several hours but felt so well taken care of the whole time. The Alde system is in perfect working order now and Ken really appreciated the warm floors on his sock feet while we were experiencing 0°C temperatures over the next few nights.
Major kink #3: Artie-patterned baldness
After spending several days in Bend, we began our trip southwest on Friday, aiming for our meetup with Dan (see Major kink #4). At a rest stop, Ken happened to look down at one of the front tires and noticed some very odd and serious wearing along the outside edge (unexpected because these tires have less than 30,000 kilometres on them). We both started comparing the tires and found that the back ones and what we could see of the right front one all appeared to be in good shape, but that the left front one was not.
At this point we were in small-town northeastern California on a Friday afternoon trying to find someone who could give us their opinion and provide us with a new tire. At the first place we stopped we received an opinion—that we’d need to replace the tire as soon as possible as, not only was it wearing, but it was coming apart in some areas—but no tire as that shop couldn’t handle a vehicle Artie’s size.
After several calls, we found that Les Schwabb in Redding, California, could help us out. We might have to leave the van all day if we needed them to do a wheel alignment, but they could provide a tire quickly enough. We called RoadTrek’s after-hours service (these guys have been great to deal with) and were advised to do what we needed to do to be safe, take lots of pictures and make sure that the tire invoice included an explanation of the problem. We were to submit the papers for warranty review when all was said and done.
We found a Passport America (discount camping club) campsite that wasn’t far from Redding, hunkered down for the night and then drove to the tire shop for 8:00 on Saturday morning. They confirmed that the problem was caused by poor alignment and that the tire needed to be replaced. Since they wouldn’t replace just one, we purchased both front tires. They advised us that they no longer performed alignments on Sprinter vans, but that we should definitely have a wheel alignment done as soon as possible.
We found a Mercedes-Benz dealer in Santa Rosa who was able to perform the wheel alignment on Monday morning. We were able to book a couple of nights at the Thousand Trails (camping club) campsite in Russian River, about 30 minutes north of Santa Rosa so we would be well-positioned to drive to our alignment appointment on Monday morning.
When we booked the alignment, we were given an estimate of $180. On arrival, we were told that it would actually come to about $400 as a kit had to be added in order to make the adjustments needed as a result of the additional weight of the van conversion. It is apparently a known issue that a conversion like ours adds a lot of weight and throws the alignment off, and RoadTrek does not realign the wheels before shipping. A search on our favourite RoadTrek Facebook groups found that others had experienced the same thing, often resulting in a premature need for front tires and a wheel alignment.
- To RoadTrek: Before any new build goes off your lot, please have the wheels realigned.
- To new owners of new RoadTreks: Have the wheels aligned right away.
- To new owners of used RoadTreks: Check the wear on the tires carefully; find out if the wheels were realigned after purchase and, if not, have them aligned right away.
The cost of two new tires plus wheel alignment: $910.88 USD (~$1,210 CAD).
After 3 hours spent at Mercedes-Benz for what was to be a 1-hour appointment, we were told that there was a shimmy and that the wheels needed rebalancing.
We found a Les Schwab about a mile away and dropped off the van. About 1 ½ hours later, the shimmy was gone (at no further cost, thank goodness), and we were on our way.
Major kink #4: Drip, drip, drip
Before our visit to Alde, we noticed that water from the kitchen faucet seemed to be dribbling down the tap. While we were examining the tap it fell right off, which made it easier for us to notice a crack in the underside. With a flashlight we also found that the O-ring at the base of the tap bulged out suggesting that it was probably not properly sealed. An inspection of the cabinets beneath the sink confirmed that water was leaking onto the shelves below.
We called RoadTrek again, and they suggested we try RoadTrek service dealers in the area. We made some phone calls and found that they were booking several weeks out, and we did not intend to be in any area for more than a few days. Another call to RoadTrek. We suggested that they send the parts somewhere and we could pick them up and install them ourselves. RoadTrek offered another option—Dan the mobile RV service guy. We contacted Dan and found out he was currently in San Jose, would be in San Francisco the following week, and Las Vegas the next. Dan ordered the parts he needed (covered by warranty) through Road Trek and let us know they would be in by the end of the week or early the following one. Our Alde appointment was on Monday in Vancouver, Washington. We told Dan we’d meet him in San Francisco approximately a week later.
On the following Sunday, Dan let us know he had the part in hand and could fit us in on Tuesday in San Francisco. He sent us the location details and time: 12:00-12:30 at Ocean Beach parking area.
On Tuesday, we drove the 2 hours from our campsite north of Santa Rosa (where we’d positioned ourselves to be nearby) to the seaside parking lot. This was by far the best service waiting area we have experienced. Dan showed up in his own RoadTrek and while he worked his magic, Ken and I walked along the seaside and into Golden Gate Park.
Dan had let us know in one of his e-mails (after having our part sent to him) that there was a $65 mobile fee on top of the warranty parts and labour. On one of our many calls with RoadTrek we asked about this fee and were told by Nev that they would cover it. We let Dan know that we needed a receipt in order to submit it to RoadTrek. Since it would be covered, Dan said he would make it easy for us and would add it to his invoice to RoadTrek. Other than $10 USD for some additional bits for our stove (nothing to do with this request, but we thought we’d ask if Dan had them and he was able to help us out), this call cost us nothing.
Though our first 10 days on the road have just been navigating from service provider to service provider, we are still enjoying the outing. Ken likes driving Artie. We’ve been sleeping comfortably and having fun figuring out the best arrangement of our things to make cooking and living in him as efficient as possible. The scenery has been beautiful and ever-changing—sometimes resplendent with fall colours, other times lush and green, and still others brown and desert-like. We tried to get up to Crater Lake near Bend, Oregon, but were thwarted by clouds and fog. We had a fun drive along Highway 20—a narrow winding road that the van handled well but anything larger would likely have been prohibited from trying (score 1 for the van!).
And now—fingers and toes crossed—all of the service issues have been dealt with and we can enjoy the next month on the road on our own schedule. We are going to stay for a few days in the San Benito, California, area, and ride our bikes, swim, and figure out what to see and do, and where we should go next.