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A bad break

About a year ago we had a tough series of malfunctions, starting with a balky cell phone and failed hard drive, and culminating in a wheel coming off the trailer. At the time, it seemed like an odd string of bad luck coming all at once. And now, the luck seems to be returning …

It started with a tire that was wearing badly on one edge this summer. I figured we needed an axle alignment, but that procedure (completed about a month ago at the Airstream factory) didn’t arrest the unusual wear pattern. I’ve been eyeing that tire all month. Something hasn’t been right about it. So I finally removed it this morning.

The tire issue may not have been the axle after all. Upon removal, it looks like the tire may have suffered an internal failure (broken belt?) Still, it lasted over 20,000 miles. It’s the only tire failure we’ve had in 55,000 miles of towing that hasn’t been related to a road hazard (screw, nail etc).

Swapping out a wheel for the spare isn’t all that hard. I did the task this morning and we went on our way, across the Columbia River bridge to Astoria OR. But then we had another failure, and this one was far more serious.

Coming down the circular exit ramp from the bridge, in the rain, to a stoplight, I suddenly found that I didn’t have the usual braking power. It wasn’t a great place to discover this, but I managed to stop the rig without too much trouble before the stoplight.

At the time, I thought the trailer had been skidding on the wet road. But half a mile later at a rotary, I noticed the same lack of brakes. The brake controller reported that the trailer brakes were still connected, so again I thought perhaps I was imagining it. But just to be safe, we pulled into a Fred Myer parking lot for gas and quick check.

In the parking lot, I tried the manual lever on the brake controller. This is supposed to activate the trailer brakes. Nothing. I stopped the rig and pulled out the “breakaway switch” (an emergency device to activate the brakes if the trailer becomes disconnected from the truck). No brakes.

Well, they were working when we left. I know because I test them every day when I hitch up. I made some calls to the folks who installed the disc brake system, and after about 30 minutes of diagnostic work, we determined that the hydraulic disc brake actuator has gone away. It’s a goner. It is an ex-actuator. It has gone Tango Uniform.

So we’re facing a challenge here. No brakes means no towing. I gingerly towed the trailer about two miles to a nearby RV park and plunked it down. Here we shall stay, in Warrenton OR, until I can find a place locally that is competent to replace the disc brake actuator. I’m expecting some calls on Friday that should shed some light on this, and in the meantime it seems like an opportunity to get some things done. Eleanor went out this afternoon and bought a replacement tire, and as of this writing I have completed about 11 hours at my “day job”.

This little drama isn’t over for sure. I’ll have more reports on the problem and the solution in the next couple of days. But it isn’t a crisis. We have a roof over our heads and we are still home, even without brakes. There’s a nice state park nearby and the weather is expected to be nice for the next week. We’ll just have to postpone a few things we were planning to do in Oregon until it’s all worked out … and cross our fingers that nothing else goes wrong.

ilwaco-marina.jpg

Ilwaco Marina, near Cape Disappointment State Park

One Response to “A bad break”

  1. andy pletis Says:

    I hope you find some one who can fix the disc brakes. I suspect that will be a first for most rv trailer mechanics. We are in Huntington Beach and battled the Santa Ana winds and Closed roads due to fires this week. Off to San Diego Saturday.

    I found your mileage and maint interesting. This 2004 28 safari we bought used had only 500 miles of towing when we bought it approx 1 month ago. We have towed over 3500 miles and all looks brand new including the Good Year tires. Your mileage accumulation is impressive indeed, and gives all of us a feel for the wear and tear we should expect. Good luck. ap

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