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Adventures in Towing a 5th Wheel: How We Survived a Major Truck Breakdown

Adventures in Towing a 5th Wheel: How We Survived a Major Truck Breakdown

"Emily Rohrer (OwnLessDoMore.us) is a contributor to this blog. All opinions expressed are her own."

A funny thing happened in March, on our way from San Antonio, TX, to Heartland HQ in Elkhart, IN, for a service appointment to take care of some welding issues on our 2008 Bighorn: the truck was the one that failed us.

Not what we were expecting.

Our incredibly reliable, tough-as-nails, much adored 2012 Chevy Silverado 3500 dually sputtered and quickly died while we were driving on I-35 just south of Dallas — a mere 225 miles into our 1300-mile trip.

You know it’s gonna be a bad day when this is the view out your front window.

We are very thankful that despite the scariness of the incident, the travel gods were indeed watching over us.

We were on flat ground instead of a hill.

There were no vehicles riding too closely behind us.

We were not in a construction zone.

We had a wide shoulder to pull onto.

And I was smart enough to start veering toward that shoulder at the same time I was saying, "That didn't sound right."

Why did that turn out to be a smart move? Because we had mere seconds before the truck shut down. All power: gone. On an interstate.

To make a very long story a lot shorter, the problem turned out to be what is rather evocatively known as "grenading" of the fuel pump. Upon failure, it sent shards of metal through the entire fuel system, leaving us dead in the proverbial water.

As my husband, Tim, described it "The critical part seemed to be the Bosch-built CP4.2 HPFP, the exact same pump used in the Ford F-series Light Duty diesel trucks. If you Google F350 CP4 failure, you'll find plenty of discussion on the issue. Same if you Google Duramax LML CP4 failure."

Tim, who is not an industry expert by any means, but merely a consumer who's trying hard to get smarter, further surmised, "A major culprit appears to be the quality of diesel fuel in the U.S. (i.e., the mandated ultra-low sulfur blend plus other things), combined with what might be less than acceptable engineering by Ford and GM. Reportedly, Bosch has been saying for some time that the lubricity of the fuel needs to be higher for these pumps to last, and U.S. diesel fuel doesn't meet these standards."

What that meant for us was a $10,000 repair (GM paid for part of it) that left us stranded for two weeks outside a really small Texas town. Middle of Nowhere was still a good 10 miles away. We were there so long we painted our RV's interior!

But back to the real story. Once we realized we were in a situation that would require a tow truck and an uncertain delay (of course our breakdown happened on a Friday afternoon), Heartland was our second phone call, after our roadside assistance plan. Two ways the Heartland family made a bad situation better:

  • They expressed sincere concern for our troubles and then cooperatively shifted our service appointment two weeks to the right, and
  • We were able to contact two nearby Heartland owners through the H.O.T.E.L. service. Although we ended up not needing them to come to our rescue after all, we definitely appreciated their empathy and reassurance.

And then, after the truck repair was complete, and we were finally sitting in Elkhart waiting for the work to be finished on the RV, we realized that we needed to make a big decision: test our luck by keeping the BFT and its fresh new fuel system with the exact same type of pump that had gone spectacularly belly up, or upgrade to a truck that wouldn't have that issue.

To make the second part of the story shorter as well, we knew we couldn't live with the uncertainty of driving a truck that might croak again, any more than we could change the U.S. diesel fuel composition standards that were part of the cause.

The Silverado was our only vehicle, and it pulls the Bighorn, which is our only home. We couldn't stomach the idea of going through a second catastrophic failure, or having it happen under far more hazardous circumstances than the first one.

We opted to upgrade.

Y'all say hello to our 2017 Dodge RAM 3500 dually, which we picked up at the end of May, just shy of 3 months after the Great Fuel Pump Grenading Incident of 2017.

For those who are wondering why we didn't go with the 2017 Chevy Silverado, which does not have that same iffy fuel pump as the 2011-2016 diesel models, there were three factors that put the RAM on top.

- Shorter turning radius for easier maneuvering

- Larger payload and axle weight ratings for higher towing capacity

- More competitive pricing for better value

We look forward to thousands and thousands of miles together.

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