Travel Troubles

So, you’re wondering about yesterday’s post and the transmission trouble we had on day 2 of the trip? Here are some more details, for the record.

Day 1 of travel from Winnipeg to Billings Montana is uneventful. The van is running well and we make many stops and starts with no difficulty. However, after we check into the hotel and then are heading out to dinner, the van makes a bit of a rough shift from first to second. I notice it but don’t think too much about it as it only happens once.

The next morning, the van is slow to shift into first gear from park, but then seem to be OK. This should have been a sign to seek help, but hindsight is always 20/20. We press on to the Beartooth Highway which is 100 miles of twisty turny steep 25mph hairpin turns that wind up a mountain to an elevation of just under 11,000 feet. Things seem fine, but I’m getting more and more concerned.

The shifting is getting more and more labored and sometimes when I accelerate it revs up like you’re in neutral before switching gears. But now it’s all too late there is nothing around for 100 miles so we press on into Yellowstone Park. Normally, this is quite an enjoyable drive, but I’m fully pre-occupied with concern over weather or not we’ll make it out of the park to a place where we can get some help. Tension is spreading in the car, and the level of prayer is going right up with it.

Then the transmission refuses to leave first gear and the idiot light “Service Engine Soon” comes on. Why didn’t you tell me that yesterday when I could have got help in Billings? So, we’re stuck going about 60kph max at 3,000 rpm. Good thing the traffic in the park is slow anyway and the roads don’t permit you to go much faster. At one point, we pull over and try putting it in Park and then back into Drive to see if that will help anything. For a very long 60 seconds the transmission doesn’t engage at all and I think I’ve stranded us in the middle of nowhere. But, it does click in and we resume travel in 1st gear only.

In addition to transmission trouble, we need to find washroom facilities urgently, so we pull into a campground. Well, one problem solved, they have washrooms. At this point we discover the problem is a leaking transmission fluid. So, we ask the park staff for help and they turn up 1/2 quart of fluid, but we need more, a lot more. So, Keith and I start talking to all the large RV owners we can find in the campground to see if we can locate some more, no luck. Then we ask a guy is an old beater looking station wagon, and sure enough he has a 1 1/2 quarts of fluid and a paper funnel. What a blessing this gentleman turns out to be as he assists us with the problem. We now have some fluid on the dip stick and decide we’ll try and make it to the nearest location with a service station, West Yellowstone, some 14 miles away. We head out and the transmission is shifting properly, but still a little rough.

It’s a very quiet ride, and we make it to a Sinclair station where we meet Ted, the mechanic who turns out to be another huge blessing. Ted can look at the van in about 45 minutes and tells us to come back in about an hour and a half. So, we tour the town on foot and have some lunch. I can’t eat much, my stomach is in a knot.

When we talk to Ted he explains that the leak is in the driver side axle and will need to be replaced. This is the very same repair that Royal Dodge did only 6 days ago. Unfortunately, West Yellowstone is a small place and he doesn’t have the part and he’s have to order it in. His best estimate is that he could have it repaired by Friday. This would mean we’d miss a big part of the Convention. But, Ted has other options. He figure the leak is manageable and we could buy some fluid, and nurse the van to a larger town where we could get it repaired quicker, perhaps even to Salt Lake City. He even recommends getting the fluid at a near by auto parts store because it will be cheaper that he can sell it for. Ted also gives me advice on how to check the rate of the leak, where to make the first couple of stops so we’ll know how far to go between top ups, and cautions on the perils of over filling (very bad stuff happens here).

Idaho Falls is the nearest centre on our route to Salt Lake City that would have a Chrysler dealership, so we get the fluid and truck on. After a couple of stops, we determine we can go about 75kms before requiring a top up.  We bought 6 quarts of fluid and calculate that we’ll have enough to get all the way to SLC and the shifting seems good, so we continue the journey, arriving in SLC at about 9:30 pm, much later than anticipate, but we’re all relieved to be here.

Today, the van is in a local SLC dealership and Royal Dodge has been contacted. The repair should be covered by warranty but Royal Dodge offers no apology, or “Gee, we’re sorry”, or any assistance in locating a dealer here in SLC. There advice, “look in the yellow pages”. Gee, thanks. I doubt if I’ll be buying another Chrysler/Dodge product or getting my Van service there any more.

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