Sep 29 2009


Brakin’ down

Filed under Travel

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So, I’m not exactly mechanically inclined, at least when it comes to vehicles and all the parts that make them stop or go. The girl in me deplores dirty fingernails, and all those hoses, tubes, valves, pistons, tanks, belts, fans, coolers, injectors, rejectors, turbo chargers and sucker-outers intimidate me. Because I was a tom-boy growing up, I understand how internal combustion engines and diesel engines work, and other basic concepts, like, say, how a transmission cooler works, or oh, how the brakes make a vehicle stop. And I guess a respectable IQ combined with a healthy dose of common sense help me to be able to identify when something is bad bad bad bad.

Rewind to Labor day weekend. James and I took a roadtrip to Franklin, NC for a week of relaxation and rockhounding for garnets and sapphires. We drug the camper up along the beautiful Ocoee River into the NC mountains. And, well, as we all know, what goes up must come down at an accelerated rate of speed (thank you Sir Isaac). So when we reached the little pull off area just after the sign warning of the 8% grade ahead, James drove on by thinking we were good to go (down down down), geared the truck down, and I stuck my feet thru my brake-hole in the floorboard, which I made all by myself a long time ago, after we left Lassen National Park, if I remember correctly, as I may have blacked out from anxiety during that little downhill trip. You see, I have downhill-fear when we have a 15k camper behind us pushing with all its might. Sure, again, I understand how the trailer-brakes work, and intellectually I know that those brakes are strong enough to stop the trailer and the truck…when they are freakin’ plugged it! When we did our usual pretrip inspection, checking steps, doors, antenna, brake lights, blinkers, etc., everything was working just fine. And because we had brake lights, we thought we had trailer brakes.

So away we go down the mountain, geared down, but gaining too much speed, even as the tread burned off my tennis shoes, cause I was helping  to brake as much as little ole’ me could possibly help. We passed the first runaway truck ramp, and I remembered the injuries one truck driver I know of sustained as a result of his having to make use of one of those babies. My dear sweet hubby was getting worried, but didn’t tell me, though I was thinking something was seriously wrong when the smoke started boiling out from under the front end of Bertha (our Dodge 3500 dually). James just calmly said, I think we’ll pull in here, and magically a pull-off appeared for us. I still don’t know how he managed to stop, cause try as she might, even with two humans and one precious Riley pup loading her down in the cab, Bertha is seriously out-weighed by our camper.

So, there we sat, watching the smoke pour out from Bertha’s brakes, while James (again) calmly said to me, I don’t know how we just stopped, but I don’t think the trailer brakes are working. Let’s go see. WTH? Well, when he plugged in the camper, the plug latched, but for whatever reason, it wasn’t pushed in enough to make the connection to power up those trusty trailer brakes, or perhaps it had vibrated loose just enough to lose that connection. Bertha has continued to punish James for that little violation to her tootsies, by flashing the ABS and Brake lights in James’ face everytime she is driven.

So today, I come home from work and a dentist appointment (that’s another rant), and see that James has taken Bertha’s front wheels off and torn the brakes completely apart so he can replace the brake pads, have the rotors turned, and figure out why Bertha feels the need to torture him with those dash lights. He shows me some electrical component thingy on one side, which is dirty but intact, though the bearing thingy is shot on that side and has to be replaced. Then he takes me to look at the same electrical thingy he had pulled off the brakes on the drivers side, which was a melted blob, thus Bertha’s reason for flashing James everytime he  drives her. Now, I don’t know what that part is or exactly how it controls the brakes, except that since Bertha has ABS brakes, that part surely must have something to do with the computer taking over braking should Bertha spin out uncontrollably, to keep her from tossing her passengers. Anyway, the melted blob is bad bad bad bad, and probably expensive to replace. Fortunately,  that seems to be the majority of the damage to poor Bertha’s tootsies. You can be sure that we will always get on our hands and knees by the trailer wheels to listen for that characteristic, and extremely comforting,  hum of the electric trailer brakes, before departing on any more road trips!

One response so far




One Response to “Brakin’ down”

  1.   ratnaeon 02 Oct 2009 at 7:58 pm     1

    Hey it seems we have a lot in common! We had the same thing happen to our trailer brakes too.

    That was of course, before we supposedly burned out our brakes for good, and got ripped off by a Jackson Wyoming Dodge Dealer.

    After two years on the road, we’ve learned some hard, and expensive lessons. Better for you guys to learn them now while you’re at home and have all the tools to fix stuff like this yourselves, than rely on some local yokels and hope they’re trustworthy.

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