Friday, June 28, 2019

Weird truck

June 28, 2019—Last night on the way back from fishing, Jim sighed and probably said a few choice words: Our 1999 diesel Ram truck was having trouble shifting. It refused to shift out of second gear. Definitely not a good thing.
Whoever heard of a transmission problem caused by low fuel level?  

We stopped; he checked the transmission fluid. It was OK. Then we started making plans: He said this was a transmission problem and we would have to drive very slowly (about 20-30 mph) to Tallahassee, the nearest big city (about 80 miles away) where we would be able to get service. And fixing the problem would probably be expensive. Tomorrow we would drive into the center of the island where we could get a cell phone signal and google transmission shops. (We don’t have a cell signal in the campground.)

We knew when we bought this package—the 2003 Lance truck camper and the 1999 Ram truck—that we would have to spend some money on maintenance and repair. It was inevitable. The original owner of the truck and camper was a rabbi. A nice guy, but self-admittedly not mechanically inclined. We believed he had done normal maintenance, but beyond that, he was oblivious to what should be done to a vehicle and was incapable of doing more than driving it down to a mechanic.

When Jim took the truck in for an alignment last week, he was given a list of front-end problems that needed to be fixed before the alignment could be done. Jim opted to put on new shocks himself, and will take the truck back for the other $1500 of repairs after we return.

But I digress…back to our current problem, an apparently faulty transmission. We were resigned that we were going to be faced with an unexpected and unwanted repair.

A bit after we hobbled back to our campsite, I drove the truck down to the dumpster to get rid of some garbage. I glanced down to the fuel gauge—less than one-quarter of a tank of diesel. And I remembered something the rabbi had told us about the truck as he was explaining to us the idiosyncrasies of the camper and the truck:

The rabbi had said, “Oh, don’t let the fuel get below one-quarter tank. The truck doesn’t shift well when the fuel gets low.”

When the rabbi said that, Jim smiled and rolled his eyes. I asked him about the rabbi’s comment later and he said, “The fuel level doesn’t have anything to do with shifting gears.” True, it doesn’t, at least not directly. But I reminded Jim about the rabbi’s comment when I returned from the garbage dumpster. After all, although the rabbi was not mechanically inclined, he had driven the truck for almost 20 years. He knew its foibles.

“It doesn’t make sense, but tomorrow morning we will go fill up the fuel tank. Let’s hope a full tank takes care of the problem.”

So, this morning we limped the 15 miles across the bridge to Eastpoint, to the nearest fuel station that sold diesel. While we were chugging along, I finally got a signal on my phone and immediately started googling “difficulty shifting 1999 Ram 3500 with low fuel” and got several hits. One was a query on a forum about an identical situation. The expert who answered the question did not discount the problem. Rather, he listed several plausible reasons why the truck might not shift when the fuel tank was near empty! He said that with a full tank the shifting problem should go away, although that does not solve the core cause of the problem.

When we reached the nearest gas station that sold diesel, Jim pumped fuel into the nearly empty tank. He then started the engine, pulled out onto the highway and…

…the truck shifted! Problem solved.

Well, not solved, exactly. Jim will do some problem solving to address the cause of this situation after we get home. But, in the meantime, he promised me he would not complain when I ask him how we’re doing on fuel. I always get the tank filled when it drops to one-quarter; he likes to drive on fumes. Not any more, at least in this truck.

Until next time,

Your Reluctant RoVer,


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