Cummins Canoe (A Stepvan Story)

Bikersmurf

Expedition Leader
Plethora… keep up the good work, don’t get discouraged, and you’ll find the bottom of your pit and it’ll only get better and more reliable t
Until then, keep at it, enjoy the journey,

Stay safe.
 

PlethoraOfGuns

Adventurer
All well said. It's all true. Sometimes you roll the dice. I kind of expected everything to happen when I got the rig, except for all the engine issues. The main reason for the rig choice was the Cummins engine. But I really lucked out. Oh well, it's the easiest vehicle to work on, and I haven't spent all that much money. Except spring time when I'll need to buy 6 new tires!🥺

I think I'm still ahead of the game now versus buying a new fwd Sprinter van. I don't think I would enjoy changing a clutch on a dirt road in the middle of nowhere South Dakota in that. But I'm mostly having good time, have some good stories, and ya'll enjoy watching the struggle, so I'll keep rolling the dice!
 

PlethoraOfGuns

Adventurer
I know many are probably wondering, and quite frankly, so am I, but I have compiled a road repair list and analysis for 2021. This is a list of all the breakdowns we had, down time, and the funding it took to get back on the road.

$10/14 hours - Turbo falling off #1
Weld broke on turbo adapter flange. Paid Mitch the farmer to weld it back on.

$20/6 hours - Turbo falling off #2
Mitch did a good job welding, but the metal was too thin and piece broke again. I won that bet. Threw it out and paid fabrication shop to make beefy custom one.

$83/140 hours - Broke a clutch hydraulic line. Replaced with aftermarket stainless lines from the interwebs that won't ever be a problem again.

$167/60 hours - Clutch disk hub separation. My fault for beating the crap out of it when the clutch line broke thinking I can reverse uphill out of parking spot with no clutch pedal. Hiked 12 miles to get new clutch assembly.

$115/6 hours - Clutch master cylinder piston ruptured. Old plastic, oh well. Got good at driving without clutch for 29 miles to parts store without stopping. I only park on hills now.

$13/2 hours - Cracked fuel line. A barbed coupling and clamps, no worries.

$1/1 hour - Flat tire. Plugged.

$145/16 hours - Fan pulley explosion #1. Replaced belt tensioner and pulley.

$1/1 hour - Flat tire. Plugged.

$1/1 hour - Throttle cable fell off. Cable tied it back on, permanent fix?

$696/90 hours - Fan pulley explosion #2. Belt tensioner wasn't the issue. Replaced fan hub bearing, fan spacer, and pulley. Easy 1 hour fix, but had to wait a few days for the fan hub bearing from Cummins dealer, yea that one hurt the wallet.

$441/54 hours - Pothole that almost reached to the bottom of the earths crust, near the mantle. Replaced upper and lower control arms, bushings, balljoints, tie rods, packed the hub bearings, and got an alignment(eventually). This price also includes buying the junkyard dag an ice cream sandwich.

$1/3 hours - Fuel injector washer burnt up. Replaced copper washer.

$32/120 hours - Engine cylinder head crack. Brazed the crack and filled coolant with block sealer. Not a crippling repair, but had to stop and fix it at some point. Might not be 100% fixed, time will tell and we may need to revisit this one.

$0/4 hours - Shock mount broke, I welded it back on right quick.

So in total, spent $1726 in repairs over about 16,000 miles. That comes out to a little over 1 penny per mile. Not too bad for 14 breakdowns. Oh geez, that's a lot of breakdowns. That was 518 hours, or 21 days of down time. Good thing I'm patient. What would happen if I wasn't handy and had to get mechanic shops to fix all these? Lets break that down with some guestimations. Some repairs require the vehicle to get towed. I'm going to give this van credit where credit is due and say that even some of the crippling injuries, she was still able to drive, because I did actually drive it under those conditions. Also, what do mechanics charge? $75/hour? $130/hour? Varies between regions, lets say $100/hour.

I roughly estimated about 39 hours of mechanic labor. Works out to about $3900 in labor plus 4 tows at $250/tow. Add in the parts already paid for and now we're talking $6626! And then there is wait time. Most shops had say a 2 week wait time to get a vehicle in to look at it. Some shops might have looked at stuff the same day, so we'll cut it in the middle and say 1 week on top of actual shop time and part wait time. That's about 118 days of down time if we had used shops for all repairs. Where does one go while vehicle is in shop? Hotels? Street bench? Under a bridge? These numbers could be more or less, I'm just speculating as there are too many variables, take it with a grain of salt. But boy, if these numbers are somewhat accurate, I really feel for others who have to depend on others to fix things. It's a real eye-opener for sure.

So all in all, we had breakdowns yes. Could have been worse, hopefully this year will be better. We saved approximately $4900 and 97 days of waiting around. I'm fortunate that I have the skills to make the repairs and have a vehicle to live in while I wait for parts to arrive and make repairs, so the waiting department really was negligible as I still was being productive. Also helps to have such an easy vehicle to work on. What to take from this? Every vehicle will breakdown, some more than others. Older vehicles will break down more, but parts are cheaper and one could maybe fix them on their own. Maybe don't buy an older vehicle if you can't fix it on your own? But if a new breaks, you'll need more money. Hmmm, maybe I should do the same comparison, say if I had a Mercedes Sprinter with the same repairs. But who is going to be able to afford that?!?
 
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PlethoraOfGuns

Adventurer
No problem. I've been wanting to compile that list for a few weeks now. Just had to sit down with my composite notebooks and figure it all out.
 

Bikersmurf

Expedition Leader
16k miles for a rig you dragged out of a field and brought back to life is a lot. My Ambo has been an exception, but on an old truck I expect to put $1000/year into it. 16k miles is more than many of us are putting on in two years… so you aren’t doing bad in my books.
 

oldnslow

Observer
If you had bought a nice new motorhome you likely would not have had any engine / drivetrain / running gear problems in the first few years.

But EVERYTHING the RV company made will break, some parts multiple times. Your welding skills won't help much when the plumbing falls apart INSIDE a wall...

My sister bought an RV trailer a few years back to use as a winter home behind my house. Kept the dump hose hooked up all the time. Then she bought a house in another state and moved there. I towed the trailer up there for her. The steps fell apart and it sprung a few water leaks on the way. Now its her guest house behind her house. I went up there last summer and stayed in it for a month. The black tank filled up awfully fast. I looked around underneath - there was no grey tank for the shower! First year on that model, I think. I guess they had no grey tanks on hand so they just plumbed the shower and sink into the black tank. Try to fix that on the road!

The specs say it has 2 grey tanks, 1 for the kitchen sink and another for the shower and bathroom sink. That second one is the one that is missing. It is the bigger of the 2, of course.
 

PlethoraOfGuns

Adventurer
16k miles for a rig you dragged out of a field and brought back to life is a lot. My Ambo has been an exception, but on an old truck I expect to put $1000/year into it. 16k miles is more than many of us are putting on in two years… so you aren’t doing bad in my books.
Yes, I could be doing a lot worse. Every new part feels good. One less thing to worry about!
If you had bought a nice new motorhome you likely would not have had any engine / drivetrain / running gear problems in the first few years.

But EVERYTHING the RV company made will break, some parts multiple times. Your welding skills won't help much when the plumbing falls apart INSIDE a wall...

My sister bought an RV trailer a few years back to use as a winter home behind my house. Kept the dump hose hooked up all the time. Then she bought a house in another state and moved there. I towed the trailer up there for her. The steps fell apart and it sprung a few water leaks on the way. Now its her guest house behind her house. I went up there last summer and stayed in it for a month. The black tank filled up awfully fast. I looked around underneath - there was no grey tank for the shower! First year on that model, I think. I guess they had no grey tanks on hand so they just plumbed the shower and sink into the black tank. Try to fix that on the road!

The specs say it has 2 grey tanks, 1 for the kitchen sink and another for the shower and bathroom sink. That second one is the one that is missing. It is the bigger of the 2, of course.
Oh yes, I know how bad modern rv's are built. I would have destroyed one in about 3 months. They are mostly made up of popsicle sticks and cardboard. Feels good to have made something that is so much higher quality for so much less money. I don't need a black tank. But many times I wish I had a grey tank. Maybe a project later on this year.
 

PlethoraOfGuns

Adventurer
It's been a few weeks since we fixed all 20 coolant leaks, the big one being the cracked cylinder head. Good news to report, not one drip on the ground in 2 weeks! The cylinder head crack braze repair was weeping, so I took a product called Blue Devil Block Sealer and poured it right into cylinder head through the temp sensor port and ran the engine for 45 minutes and drove it for an hour. I was skeptical and unsure of what this mysterious fluid would do. I took others advice and isolated all the auxiliary coolant stuff from the engine. This fluid flowing in the coolant in just the engine and radiator seemed to do the trick. Going to leave it just like that for a few months and then might flush the coolant and refill with all new coolant and plumb all the coolant lines back the way they are supposed to be.

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On my quest to perfect the crazy auxiliary coolant setup, the system was having trouble with the old 3 way manual ball valve setup. That valve was just above the radiator cap, which caused air to get trapped there. I would have to cycle the valve every time I fired the Espar boiler up to bleed the air out. Interesting enough, this was not a problem when the engine was heating the coolant auxiliary loop. And the automatic air purge valve was hiding other issues, not cooperating with the radiator cap and stuff. So I ripped all that out and found this valve, which they call a heater core bypass valve.

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This isn't technically a 3 way valve, but I made it into a 3 way valve. Fluid enters the valve through the "in" port from the Espar boiler. From there, the valve either directs flow left or right to "1" and "2". On the right, or "2" side, there is just an extra port that I just plugged. Port "1" goes the engine block for to heat the block on cold mornings. Port "2" goes to the auxiliary loop that works the cab heat, hot tub heat exchanger, rear air heater, and water heater, in that order. The old setup used to heat the water heater first, but that was really dumb, so I plumbed it the other way around while I had it all ripped apart. This winter I got tired of waiting an hour for the water in the water heater to get hot enough so I could finally get heat in the cab.

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On the climate control panel there was an knob that used to work a damper that allowed you to choose inside or outside air. There are so many air gaps in the cab that it was really useless so that got ripped out when I first got the van and sealed the outside air inlet with duct tape. So I got some throttle cable from the auto store and hooked that up to that 3 way coolant valve. Now I can switch what the Espar boiler heats right from the driver seat! It's so simple and easy, I don't know why I didn't think about doing this before!

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I hung this tank from the passenger side mirror when I was diagnosing the air lock problem in the coolant system. Wasn't planning on installing it, but during the diagnosing, I thought it would be really nice to have the tank so you can have a visual check to see if you had coolant flow. Also was going to need it since we separated the auxiliary coolant system from the engine and didn't have the radiator. So found a sweet spot next to the passenger footwell. So nice to just drill holes through the exterior body and through some bolts in. It was tight for the hoses under the floor because the wheel well was there.

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The hose on the right only had about 2" of clearance so I got lucky and really needed these 90 degree hose adapters. The results are everything I wanted. Been driving around and it works great, every time! Only downside right now is that there is no heat when the engine is running. I have to fire up the Espar boiler to get heat. But hopefully that is temporary while we check to see if that cylinder head repair will hold up. At some point I'll post a schematic of the coolant system. It's kind of a mess without that, and there have been so many versions, I have chicken scratch notes everywhere.
 
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PlethoraOfGuns

Adventurer
Is spring here yet? Boy, it's cold, but good thing for the diesel heater! Staying nice and toasty inside!

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Doing my best to keep the batteries charged up. But If the diesel heat isn't running inside, the battery compartment drops below 5 degrees Celsius and the batteries are locked out of charging. No point in cleaning off the solar panels if they won't take a charge.

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When I open the door to let heat in, and the batteries are super cold, they aren't happy and take forever to warm up when it's really cold, like maybe the next day they will fully warmed up to take a charge.

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Solution, battery heater! But the pad heaters made for lithium batteries almost cost as much as the batteries! Through some research, I found another solution at a fraction of the cost. Picked up a tank heater pad, the ones you stick to your black/gray tanks to stop your waste from freezing. Figured if it was good enough for crap, it would be good for batteries!

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Snuck the heat pad right along the sides of both batteries. Didn't use the peel and stick, just friction and some tape holds it in place. Heat pad has built in thermostat so I just had to wire it up to a fused circuit and good to go. Now I can turn that on and the batteries will always be warm enough to operate efficiently! It draws 78 watts, hopefully the duty cycle is low and doesn't pull more power out of the battery than we're trying to put in!
 

PlethoraOfGuns

Adventurer
Been thinking a lot about the couch. It's nice to have, but it sure has its faults. I thought I took good things and left out the bad things about other van couches. Right now, the couch doesn't get enough support for your legs while the butt cushion keeps sliding off. I didn't get it right, but came up with a solution!

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First step, add some nutserts to mount supports.

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These support legs lock up and fold down when you pull up on them.

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Mounted a simple board and now we have extra fold up support! Feels much better to sit on. Can now sit cross legged without falling out of position and can lay down and actually sleep on the couch with the extra width.

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Easily folds down out of the way when not needed or in the way. Can access drawers when you flip board up. Also added a recessed handle to access under couch.

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Not much storage space under here, but space is precious when living in a van! Got shock support too hold up plywood when accessing stuff under there.
 

PlethoraOfGuns

Adventurer
When I do laundry, or take a shower, I always end up throwing things all over on random things to try and dry. Not anymore, we got a solution for that! Also, the electric cab air conditioning stopped working. And I got carried away with other stuff. So glad everything mechanical is going great! I do need tires really bad though.

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Moving to the big leagues! Found a retractable clothes line to stretch across the cab for easy drying. The original fan stopped working, so I replaced it with another fan.

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The original electric air conditioner has seen better days. Cleaned it out, greased the bearing, and she is almost good as new!

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Mounted old fan for the passenger. Power to both fans is wired to one switch on the dashboard marked "A/C". Each fan has it's own 3 position switch for off, low, and high.

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Had an old Maglite and charger laying around from many years ago. Figured it could live a good life here. Just hardwired it up behind those other charge ports for the intercom and dash cam systems.

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I use tools way too much, thanks to all these breakdowns! So I got some wrench holders. Makes great use of wall space and more organized than being thrown in a drawer. Also mounted a bunch of storage baskets everywhere.

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More baskets! Finally, somewhere to put all the spices and stuff. Also been meaning to hang this magnet thing. I didn't trust the knifes floating around up there, so I left the sheathes on them. Hooks on the wall and bungee cords do great at keeping the cooker in place while cooking and driving.
 

PlethoraOfGuns

Adventurer
Annoying things keep pecking at you sometimes. Not big things, it's the little things over time that get to you...

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The biggest small annoyance has been the upper cushion for the couch. It always falls down when driving. And when you sit there, you're always fighting it off the back of your head. Thought of all kinds of solutions. Bungee cord was always at the bottom of the list since I figured having a thick, round cord digging into your back would always be uncomfortable. Until I discovered flat bungee cords! Works great!

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I was on a bungee kick. Got these above the kitchen table for extra light storage like clothes and stuff.

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And in the cabinets above the kitchen table finally got shelves and organization.

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And shoes! Made this shelf only half deep so tall muck boots can be stored in there. Also picked up this acrylic stick on mirror.

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And the library cabinet has all the books, movies, and games organized. Don't forget the road atlas!
 
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