In July 2020, on our way to the worst work camping gig, we were coming down the hill into Tehachapi, California, and the truck alerted us that it’d lost the signal to the trailer brake. We immediately pull over, I run back to check the plug, thinking it’s a simple problem. It was fine, but I smelled burning and when I got back to the truck, David said “we’ve got flames out there.”
We ran for the fire extinguishers, and David put it out quickly. It was the same bearing that caused us to spend a cold night on the interstate back in November 2019.
This time, we got lucky (or so we thought) because it was early in the day, and all the parts stores were still open. We even had a spare bearing. Unfortunately, the bearing and race had welded themselves to the spindle, so it wasn’t quite as simple to fix as it was back in November.
I started calling roadside assistance through Escapees, and David started seeing what he could do. We were only 12 miles away from our planned stop, and if we could just limp down the road to get where we’re going, we can figure it out later. Or so we thought.
We had to pay $250 over the phone, even though we didn’t have a technician lined up yet. The representative said I could pay Escapees $250, or pay the tech directly, and the tech may charge more. This didn’t happen when we broke down the first time in November, but there was no point in arguing while stranded on the side of the highway. I just paid it and hoped for the best.
Escapees roadside assistance sent someone over, but when they arrived, they said they didn’t do bearings. They claimed they’d been dispatched to a tire change. I called Escapees to explain what happened, and they dispatched another technician. When this technician arrived, he said the same thing: he was told it was a tire change and he’s not able to work on bearings.
I call Escapees a third time to explain, yet again, that our tires are fine. We need someone with a bearing puller to get that damaged bearing off. We can do the work if we have to, we just can’t get the bearing off. They say they’ll have to have us towed. We wait. I start calling towing companies on my own. I called 14 different companies while we waited. Most were too busy to help us, but they all said that they were incapable of towing us. We’re 38′ of travel trailer with a bum wheel: the only way we’re getting towed is on a low boy, and before the next exit was an overpass that would be far too short for us to clear when lifted on a flatbed. By now, all the parts stores had closed, the sun was setting, and we were on our own.
We were stuck.
Since the first night we slept on the highway was less than pleasant, we decided to sneak the cats into a hotel down the road, and hit the parts stores first thing in the morning. I called California Highway Patrol to let them know we were leaving a trailer on the side of the highway because two technicians had been unable to help us and there was no way of getting towed. CHP said we couldn’t leave the vehicle on the side of the road and dispatched officers to our location. I don’t remember how many cruisers showed up, but it was a lot, and it was very scary.
We explained, again, what we needed and that we would be back the second the parts stores were open and we had a bearing puller in hand. They said we couldn’t leave the rig, and if we had parts we had to use the parts to fix the rig and drive it off the highway that night. David was trying to use a hand file to get the welded parts off, but it just wasn’t enough. One of the officers went to his home and brought back some better files and an electric grinder.
Finally, around midnight, David had the damaged bearing off, and was able to patch us up enough to get a bearing and a burned-out hub (no brake) back on the axle. All of us (cats and humans) were tired, hungry, and upset.
We limped off the highway to Mountain Valley RV Park. Our assigned space was occupied by a van, and I know we were pretty loud, with some awful metal-on-metal noises. We found an empty spot, and just parked there for the night. What else could we do? I left a note for the office about what happened and where we were, and hoped for the best. Luckily, the manager was very accommodating and we only had to move spots one time before we were fixed up and ready to leave. Apparently the person who was in our spot when we arrived after midnight did not have a reservation, and was gone before the office opened.
We were so upset about having the same problem twice with the same wheel, that we posted on Instagram about it, tagging Keystone and Dexter Axle. Keystone has been radio silent every time we’ve tried to reach out to them. But Dexter bent over backwards to help us.
Dexter Axle says that 80% of the time a bearing fails, the spindle needs to be replaced too, which means the entire axle needs replacing, and probably should’ve been replaced the first time we broke down. Our axles are still under warranty, so they said they would send us a replacement at no charge, and we could install it ourselves (because David is a certified RV technician). Because we were limited in how long we could stay in Tehachapi at this park, and because we naively wanted to rush up to Klamath for the work camping job, we decided to have them ship a replacement hub assembly right away so that we could get back on the road, and drive very carefully to Klamath, where we could replace the entire axle with all the time in the world.
We got patched up in Tehachapi, and back on the road. Once in Klamath, we had the axle shipped to us. There was a shipping hiccup and the axle ended up going to Canada (apparently there is a Klamath somewhere in Canada!), but things got straightened out, and we got the axle a little while before labor day. We swapped it out, and it was a fairly uneventful process, if a bit nerve-wracking.
It’s really helpful having the LCI Ground Control leveling system, because the entire RV’s weight can be supported by the jacks, without a need for extra/external jacks. We used both just to be safe, but this Ground Control leveling system has saved us a couple times now, allowing repairs to go more smoothly with fewer hassles.
Dexter really came through for us. I am impressed with how quickly they responded on social media, and how helpful they were, even willing to wait to ship out the axle until we were in a more stable location.
As for roadside assistance… we decided not to renew our Escapees roadside assistance or our Escapees RV Club memberships after this experience. In the end, they did nothing to help us. After we were settled at the RV park, they called us to see what we thought of their roadside assistance. Since they provided us with zero assistance, I told them so, and thankfully they offered to refund the $250 since they come through for us. So that was good, at least. (If they hadn’t refunded, we would’ve disputed the charge with our credit card company.)
Here is a roadside assistance tip: while AAA has their own repair crews (in most markets), the other roadside plans (through RV clubs or your insurance company) are generally redirecting you to the same call center. While waiting on Escapees to find someone to help us, I called the roadside assistance we have through our insurance company, and the phone number went to the same call center. This rep gave me a tip: they’re all using TruckDown.com to locate technicians. I also called Love’s Travel Center, because they also have a roadside assistance (geared towards commercial vehicles). Love’s said our RV is too small for semi truck servicers, but here’s a website for calling around on our own: TruckDown.com.
TruckDown is how I ended up calling 14 different companies and didn’t get anywhere. Supposedly one of them would’ve been able to help with the bearing, but they wanted me to first text pictures to a different number than I was calling, and I guess I transcribed the number wrong, because they never received them. I called a couple hours later to find out if they would be able to help, and that’s when I learned they didn’t get the pictures, and they said they now couldn’t help because it was too late in the day. Still, I got further on my own with TruckDown than I got with Escapees roadside assistance.
Our rig is too small for semi truck repairs or tows, and too large for most RV servicers. So that’s something to think about if you’re considering buying a large travel trailer.