Monday, December 8, 2014

When Things Go Bump On The Road

Our readers may remember when we listed three reasons that people end up living at Slab City.  One of those reasons is that your vehicle breaks down.

Our readers may also remember that we said New Mexico has always called to us.  While this is true, we are not quite sure what our van, Annie, thinks of the state.  If you remember we recently tore into her electrical system to evaluate some starting difficulties.  Having semi-sorted those out we had about a week reprieve before things started going bump on the road.

It began with a rhythmical bump, bump, bump, bump, bump that eventually grew to a steering wheel shaking out of your hand sort of deal.  It was obvious by the ‘timing’ of it that a tire (or something rotational) was at fault.  We thought perhaps a nail or something but found nothing and the thumping continued to grow worse and worse until it just didn’t feel safe to drive.  That’s when the tire just happened to roll to a stop at the right place and we noticed this...

See the bulge in the tread on the left side of the tire?  By the way, the camera
was sitting flat on the tire (notice the right side is mostly horizontal).

Had we driven much more on this we risked a big blow out.  So, we swapped it for our full-sized spare.  Despite having only 30,000 miles on this 60,000 mile warrantied tire, something of this nature is considered ‘Road Hazard’ not a defect so a warrantied replacement was not an option.  Besides, this particular tire is also no longer produced. 

Thus, we were faced with a big decision and tires are not something that we take lightly.  So... we started our research.  We do not do much driving in the van when we are stationary and volunteering so this was not going to be a hurried decision.

About a week and a half later we noticed that Annie was again acting funny on the road.

Since we had just had our regular rotation and balance prior to the tread bulge we were pretty sure that was not the issue but we hadn’t ruled out another failing tire.  However, searching the remaining three tires revealed no obvious defects.  The new symptom continued to get worse but behaved a bit differently than the tread bulge did.  This issue was originating in the rear, was more of a vibration than a thump, thump, thump, existed at low speeds only (between 35 and 40 mph), was not shaking the steering wheel and decreased if you let off the accelerator.

Research taking all of that into consideration indicated that it could be a blown U-joint (universal joint).  A quick hands on test of the drive-shaft confirmed it as such.

And so goes the (not so routine) maintenance of a 26 year old mobile home...

                   The culprit is located under that cracked bushing.

                     Our drive-shaft runs from here (transmission)

                                   to here (rear differential).

A U-joint (which is actually shaped like a ‘T’) goes on each end of the shaft.

On the end of the four points of the u-joint goes a little cap with needle bearings.

Although the grease is old and dirty the bearings in this and six other caps were in really great shape.

         And then there was cap #8!  Notice no bearings and no grease.

             Everything internal had been reduced to dust (literally).

O.K. not everything.  We did find 1 1/2 bearings wedged up under the bushing.

           We also discovered the cap was cracked and breaking apart.

The u-joint cannot function with just three good caps so it was time for a replacement.
Given that we have to remove the whole drive shaft to replace this one we opted to go
ahead and replace the other one too.  Given its age it was likely to go at some point
in the near future.

These grooves are not supposed to be there.  The side opposing the bad cap / missing bearings was apparently taking quite a bit of pressure and developed permanent bearing grooves.

Although it is not a difficult job it was the first time Nicole had done this so... a little grunting and groaning, some umpf and a bit of trial, a few errors and it was out with the old joints and in with the new.

                                  Ain’t it purdy (differential end)

                                          Transmission end.

      Tongue out.  Very important to ensure proper drive-shaft placement.

Annie is back together and presented a very smooth ride upon her highway test.  Time will tell though if she is trying to say that she doesn’t like New Mexico or is screaming “I DON’T EVER WANT TO LEAVE NEW MEXICO.  IT ENCHANTS ME!”