We travel year round. Contracts in different states shift us through the country like dandelion fluff on a breeze. Last spring we decided on a conversion van, so we could use the bed in the van and have room to pack our possessions. When you travel year round you need to take your camp stove, propane tanks, all your gear everywhere.
We priced options on Craigslist, knowing whatever we got was likely going to need some work. We saved for that as well as for the vehicle. We settled on a Chevy van, one common enough that parts aren't pricey and are easy to order.
The night before we were planning to take it in and have everything checked, the transmission went when the shifter cable broke. We were in a small town. We wanted to go to a national chain, a place with guarantees. We ended up at what was there.
800 miles later their work failed. We paid to ship the burnt out transmission back and they did rebuild it again under warranty. It failed again several hundred miles later. They had not used the right shifter cable.
Again we wanted a national chain. Again, we were over thirty miles from any national chain. A highly respected mechanic rebuilt the transmission a third time. He put in the right cable. He thought he adjusted everything properly. Six months later, we felt the transmission fail to shift properly. Local warranties are not great on the other side of the country.
We discussed. We paid to be towed an hour to Cottmans, a national chain that uses warrantied parts. They did a free analysis. They took the history we had for the vehicle. They dug for root problems and took everything apart. They found the issues that were underlying, they addressed them. They used new parts. They checked for leaks. They replaced seals and even addressed issues in other systems they saw without charging us for the added labor or pieces. They replaced the torque converter with a new, heavy duty one. They installed a new, warrantied transmission. They checked and properly adjusted the shifter cable. They did a little tune up, even though that wasn't directly the transmission- they did it for the vehicle. They did it to address and prevent future issues.
Seriously, if you have a van whether you tow or not- get a transmission cooler installed even if you have to borrow a couple hundred from friends. It will prevent your transmission from getting burnt out and save you thousands potentially. This is important.
Last year we wanted to go to a national chain, we focused on budget. Our lesson: pay the extra, get that tow to a national chain, get warrantied work, get that transmission cooler even if you need to borrow- borrow a little now rather than a couple grand when it all goes again. Consider mechanics like surgeons. Look for the ones with the best equipment, training, experience, service options: a field doctor is great for a patch up, but when your vehicle is your lifeline to work that isn't good enough and it might get you by for a while but consider the potential repeat large drain of patch after patch.
The van we have is an excellent van. The mechanics all have said it is a solid vehicle, the flaws have been in the patch style workmanship. It is not a lemon, but shoddy patches and frequent repairs leave you with a hint of lemon flavor in your mouth and in the minds of your friends who fear you are driving the cursed suck you dry cash vampire van.
Taking care of regular tune ups, oil changes, transmission and coolant systems is critical to the longevity of your vehicle. Like your body, your vehicle cannot survive on junk food and optimism.
It sucks to be stuck waiting for a tow. It is stressful even with support to wait and to realize how much you've got to make to go forward. I've had a hardcore migraine and a rumbling ache in my head since the van failed; hoping now that abates. Would have, could have, should haves are why I share this lesson with you. I can't go back to last spring and change the past for a tow to Tulsa. I can't go back for a tow out of Winona to the nearest Aamco there. I'm glad we paid for that tow this time.
Keep jumper cables in your vehicle. A jack. A functional spare tire. Triple A or emergency roadside assistance through your auto insurance. Basic tools for basic repairs that you can do like fixing broken door handles and mirrors. Take care of your battery. Keep warranty papers and know your vehicle. Keep drinking water, a gas can, extra coolant, a physical road map- because phone batteries do die when you need directions, and some snack foods and spare change for unexpected tolls or parking fees. Keep a blanket and a jacket, rain gear. You'll be glad you have them.