Motorhome dead …

We left Dale Hollow on Thursday July 1st and headed to Lexington Kentucky Camping World. We had made arrangements ahead of time to buy and install a new Sleep Number bed there because it’s priced at $300 below the price at the Sleep Number store. Further, if we ordered it from Sleep Number direct online, there would be no way to get rid of our old mattress.

Alex at Camping World of Georgetown (north side of Lexington) was great. He had the boxes ready and waiting for us. He and I pulled our old mattress out of the coach and got it into his dumpster and he and another young fella brought the two large boxes into the coach for us. Then it was our job to figure out how it went together.

Not a lot of room to work – See how Kathy’s a little flustered?

It had been raining all the way up to Lex from Dale Hollow and was still raining hard at Camping World. We just parked in the lot, fired up the diesel generator, turned both a/c units on high, and dug into the instructions. It took us about two hours to get everything hooked up and inflated since we had to read the instructions and we didn’t have much room to unpack things in the confines of the coach. But now that we are “experienced professionals” we can install yours in likely less than an hour!

Our plan was to move the coach down the street to Cracker Barrel where there is RV parking. We’d have our dinner there, spend the night, have a good breakfast before heading on up to Ohio.

As we pulled down the Camping World driveway to head around the corner to Cracker Barrel, the coach lurched and slammed to an immediate stop. It was as if we hit a brick wall! But I was able to put it in neutral and re-start the coach. It idled fine and we were able to make it the two blocks to Cracker Barrel.

In the Cracker Barrel parking lot for the night w/ all the other RV’ers

HAH! The best made plans ….

We went on into CB for a Comfort Food dinner as we were feeling kind of nervous about what was to come in the morning.

We stayed the night comfortably although I was thinking all sorts of terrible things about transmission (expensive) and engine (super expensive) problems that could be diagnosed.

I needed to do some research on what the problem was and try to figure out what the next step should be in the morning. I went to my favorite source of information for all things technical related to RV’s. It’s www.irv2.com. irv2.com is an owners forum that has a whole host of sub-forums that are specifically focused on; brands and types of RV’s, areas of interest (i.e. appliances, heating/cooling, solar, body/paint, technology, drive trains, engine types/brands, and transmissions)

I decided that this seemed to be a transmission problem because the shifter panel (It’s an Allison 3000 electronic transmission) showed a flashing “X” instead of “D” or “N”.

Within the Allison transmission sub-forum I found where an owner had posted that the transmission needs a good clean 12.6 volts to the TCU (Transmission Control Unit (Computer)) in order to operate. When the coach would shudder to a halt, all the warning lights on the dash would light up like a Christmas tree. They blink erratically along with the warning buzzers and chimes sounding erratically. It acted like a dead battery problem although I was always able to restart the engine.

Thanks again to irv2, I found the Allison diagnostic routine and trouble codes published online. The procedure produced a Code 35 which told me that the TCU had a “power interuption”. This further confirmed my suspicion that the problem was most likely a loose or corroded connection somewhere between the battery box and the TCU.

In the morning I made a couple phone calls and talked with Freightliner in Lexington and they told me that there was an Allison dealer just up the road about 4 miles from where we were parked at Cracker Barrel. I called them (Clarke Power Services), talked with Steve in their Service Department and told him we’d try to limp up to see him.

Turned out we couldn’t make it more than just out of the Cracker Barrel parking lot and just started to turn the corner into State Route 60 when we crapped out again.

I called our Escapees RV Club Roadside Assistance Service and they sent out Roberts Heavy Duty Towing to take us down the road to Clarke Power Service.

Although we had to wait a couple hours for the tow truck to arrive, the time spent wasn’t a total loss. We used this time to move some things we’d need over the next week or so from the coach into the car. We had to copmpletely empty the fridge and freezer into our cooler and cold bags. We had to pack a few clothes, all our meds, important papers, cell phone chargers. Being that we didn’t really KNOW how long we would be homeless made the “take with” list a little difficult to determine. We used the rest of the time, walking back into Cracker Barrel for breakfast!

CB’s yummy Breakfast Scramble with ham, bacon, & taters

We had a pleasant surpise while we were eating breakfast. The waitress came up to our table (as we were finishing eating) to tell us that our meals were paid for. Turns out, when Kathy went to the ladies room earlier, another customer commented on her Glacier National Park shirt. The lady said they used to live out that way. As they talked, Kathy told her about the mechanical problems we were having and that we’re waiting on the tow truck. They told the waitress that they wanted to pay our bill and then they left so we didn’t get an opportunity to thank them so we’re doing it here – Thank You so much!

WOW – Fast Service!

Steve from Clarke Power Services emailed me this morning to let me know the coach is fixed. The technician found a junction box mounted along the frame that had worked loose and the wires inside were corroded and loose as well. He repaired the junction and placed the wiring into a new box and tested. All is well in the world.

We’ll head on down to pick it up and get it back here to Ohio. My hip replacement surgery is scheduled for July 22nd and the doc says it’ll be a couple weeks long recovery until I’ll be able to drive the coach at which time we will be heading west to Oregon to join our Escapees RV Club friends for a 10 day long rally along the Oregon coast.

So long for now, thanks for reading and riding along. Take care,

Herb & Kathy

We’d really appreciate it if you would do us the favor of helping us continue to publish this RV / Travel / Workamping blog. Do you purchase any products from Amazon? If you do, it would be great if you’d use the link in the sidebar or one of the links below to get to Amazon … after that you can change your search. By making your Amazon purchases from our site, we will receive from Amazon a small percentage of your purchase and it doesn’t cost you any more. We’d really appreciate your help. Thank you, Herb & Kathy

What’s our engine thinking?

Well, we all have gauges of some sort on our vehicle that tell us the REALLY important things like “You’re Outta Gas!” or “I’m getting too hot!“, but there’s a lot more information that all our newer (since 1996 or so) vehicles have that can be extracted from the on board computer (known as the Engine Control Module) and, if you have the right device, then display that data on a screen so the driver can see and monitor the engine load and performance. On diesel trucks and motorhomes, this data is sent by the ECM to a “Deutsch” connector. On pick-up trucks and passenger cars they use an OBDII (On-Board Diagnostic) connector.

One such device for diesel engines in Motorhomes is BLUEFIRE FOR MOTORHOMES.

I discovered this device and it’s associated app while visiting the Quartzsite “Big Tent” RV show in January of 2019. Their display of the user interface caught my eye and so I went over and talked to Mark Fredrickson who, as it turns out is the developer of both the plug-in adapter and the free app available for Apple, Android devices and Windows 10 computers.

This device (called the adapter) plugs into your diesel vehicle Deutsch Connector. In our case, there is a round 6-pin Deutsch connector mounted just inside the rear “hood” of our coach just over the top of the radiator (labeled Diagnostics). There is another duplicate connector mounted under the dash. These are the connectors that the mechanic would use for diagnostic purposes.

This is what our (6 pin) adapter looks like

The really sweet thing about Bluefire for Motorhomes is that the adapter is BLUETOOTH which means the adapter talks to your phone/tablet/laptop wirelessly and this means that you don’t have to deal with any unsightly wires coming out from under the dash AND you don’t need to provide any power to the adapter since it gets it’s own power from the Deutsch connector.

The BlueFire for Motorhomes App is free and can be downloaded and installed from Apple Tunes, Google Play, or the Microsoft App Stores. It will run completely in Demo mode so you can get a feel for it’s capabilities before purchasing an Adapter.

The cost of the adapter starts at $150.00 (for a 6 pin Android/Windows adapter) up to $190.00 for the 9 pin (newer motorhomes) Android/Windows/Apple adapter. You will need to look at your Deutsch connector to see if it’s 6 or 9 pin and also decide what platform you are going to run it on (Apple/Android/Microsoft).

If you need to use Bluefire on a pickup truck or other vehicle with an OBDII connector, then order the appropriate adapter from the link in the box below.

Since our motorhome is a 2002 Airstream on a Freightliner chassis with a CAT 3126 engine and a 6 pin Deutsch, we were able to purchase our adapter for $150.00

Since the app is FREE, I urge you to download the app and play with it in DEMO mode. This will allow you to learn about all the various settings and learn about how you might want your “dashboard” to look like. To use the app in DEMO mode, from the main menu (or control panel) click on SETTINGS & then UN-check DO NOT SHOW DEFAULT DATA.

Your custom dashboard is completely customize-able. You select which gauges you want displayed, what style the gauge will be (circular, text, or linear), what colors you want, and all gauge placement. Here’s a shot of how I set up my dash for our motorhome.

My Bluefire dash on my Galaxy 8″ tablet (in demo mode)

You can see that I have 8 circular gauges, 8 text gauges, and 3 buttons on my dash. And I still have room on the screen to add more. I can even place a dynamic map on the dashboard that works off the GPS.

This is the tablet I’m using for Bluefire. My laptop was too big. I would have to set it on the dash and then I couldn’t reach it from the driving position. My Android phone is too small and it mounts on a long flexible neck that tends to bounce around during travel. This would make it too had to view the gauges, so the 8′ tablet was the way to go for me.

Here’s the base that I bought to mount the tablet. I screwed the mount right into the dash just to the left of the back-up monitor left of the steering wheel. It’s a very solid mount and does not allow the tablet to jiggle or bounce around as you travel down the road.

In the screenshots below you will see just how many parameters there are that the ECM sends to Bluefire and you can make gauges on your custom dashboard displaying ANY of these parameters.

Be aware that not ALL motorhomes ECM’s will transmit ALL of these parameters. My coach is an older (2002) and there are a few pieces of data that just don’t come across (like coolant LEVEL) because my coach doesn’t have a sensor that feeds into the ECM for that.

I DO however have a LOW WATER light and buzzer on the Freightliner dash that warns me … which by the way I found DOES work as we were climbing a steep hill, the coolant in the reservoir shifted to the back thereby exposing the sensor and setting off our LOW WATER alarm!

It’s very easy to operate. Here’s how I turn it on and start to use the system.

Turn on my tablet, enable Bluetooth and open the Bluefire app. I have my settings set to NOT bring up default values when not connected (ignition off). Start the engine. Push CONNECT on the app control panel. Push “TRIPS” on app control panel and enter the name of my trip that I’m starting. Push START TRIP. Push one of 3 buttons on Control Panel (either DASHBOARD, DRIVE, or REPAIR) to view graphical data being sent from the ECM.

DRIVE and REPAIR each have multiple screens (you can scroll up and down) that show you every possible parameter that your ECM might be sending to the adapter.

Using the TRIP function all the driver has to do is start and connect the app to the adapter, enter the name of the trip, (i.e. Chicago to St. Louis) and then push START TRIP. The app and the ECM do the rest of the work. When you stop for fuel, push FUEL FILL-UP – the app will ask you if it’s a total or partial fill. At the end of the trip push STOP TRIP and you’ll see the results on-screen and a report will be emailed in a csv spreadsheet format. The spreadsheet is amended with another ROW after each trip so all your trip(s) data is automatically saved in a nice compact format for easy retrieval at any time in the future.

Screen shot of the TRIP screen.

Here is the link to purchase the Bluefire For Motorhomes Adapter from our Amazon Associates Page. If you order from Amazon (through this link) or the BUY NOW button below, then we will be paid a small fee from Amazon and the purchase doesn’t cost you any more.

Here’s a link to their Getting Started Document that’s 23 pages long and really explains a lot. I don’t think this document was available when I started using Bluefire or maybe I just never saw it — I learned by experimenting.

For a quick look at some of the App pages follow this link to the Bluefire web site.

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We’d love to hear from you. If you scroll all the way down to the bottom of this page, you can send us a note. Again, thanks for riding along. ’til next time – safe travels.

We’d really appreciate it if you would do us the favor of helping us continue to publish this RV / Travel / Workamping blog. Do you purchase any products from Amazon? If you do, it would be great if you’d use the link in the sidebar or one of the links below to get to Amazon … after that you can change your search. By making your Amazon purchases from our site, we will receive from Amazon a small percentage of your purchase and it doesn’t cost you any more. We’d really appreciate your help. Thank you, Herb & Kathy
NOTE: We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.