Tempting Fate: Driving 600 Miles With a Bad Transmission and Limited Brakes

If you haven't read yesterday's post, go there first.

Basically we broke our transmission and burned up our brakes while going down a mountain in North Carolina. We limped to Atlanta and parked it. Got caught up on work and celebrated the labor day weekend.

We had mentioned to friends of ours in Marion North Carolina  that we'd love to do a free exchange of babysitting so each of us could get a date night, so we scheduled it before we left Marion. Before we broke our transmission and burned up our brakes. The scheduled time came to go to Marion, knowing that the transmission was ordered and would arrive in Atlanta after we returned.

So last Friday we set out for Marion. A little later than we wanted to shove off... but off we went.

All was going well as we took the expressway route and we were making fine time.

Until I had to turn around to get Gracie into her parking spot.

What I found out later is that in these transmissions 2nd gear and reverse are connected in some odd and strange way. So when I ruined 2nd gear I messed up the reverse as well.

I had backed into a neighbors driveway to get turned around. Obviously we had dropped the minivan and the tow dolly so I could get turned around.

However there was a problem, After I got the majority of the way backed into this driveway the reverse stopped working.

I was blocking the dead end road with about 5-10 houses down it, and I couldn't go forward as there was an 8 foot ditch that would have done a ton of damage to Gracie.

I was hung.

And Becky had no idea, as she was at our friends over the hill with the kids.

What do you do?

You cannot go forward, cannot go backward, stuck. About to block traffic, and going to annoy our friends' neighbors.

Not cool.

But before I could even get out of the Motorhome the neighbor was there... evidently having a 37' motorhome revving the engine in front of their house wasn't a normal thing :)

So his pa' (this man was older than I, but spoke of his Pa) was gonna get his tractor and pull me backwards.

Then the traffic showed up, first a couple of cars trying to get out, and they made it. But then a Pickup showed up wanting to get in.

Then I saw the tractor. It was smaller than the pickup, and older than dirt... there's no way that thing could pull me I said.

So we tried the truck, but it too was a light duty (1500 V6 400 HP Ford).

But crazy Ford jokes aside he pulled Gracie up the driveway (uphill) backwards without spinning or sweating. So with the help of the neighborhood force I was able to get out of that bind.


After being pulled back 10 feet... I could make the turn now!

See Pa's tractor in the background?

See Pa's tractor in the background? Yeah I about died when he showed up with that... who knows maybe it could have pulled us!

And you'd think the story would be over?


Now we had to get Gracie into our friends' driveway and into her parking spot.

Their driveway is mostly downhill and steep, but the road is slopping the opposite direction, so I figured if I could just get Gracie to crest that slope she'd roll down the driveway/downhill.

So I had Becky sit in the drivers seat and tried pushing Gracie backwards.

Yeah, lets just say I wasn't thinking straight...

something like well if a light duty truck can pull her up hill I most certainly can push her up hill.



Becky says from the driver's seat, "uh it didn't move at all"

"Yeah I know babe"

"What were you thinking?"

Smashed on the ground was my superman ego.

But I was not done, I could fix this problem!

So I got the minivan turned around and the tow strap out. Hooked the tow strap to the back of Gracie and the back of the minivan.

Explained to Becky that she needed to drive the minivan down the driveway just until Gracie got over the hill.

And I steered Gracie until she crested the hill. We disconnected the minivan, got it out of the way and coasted Gracie backwards down the driveway into her parking spot.

We made it!!! Broken transmission and all.

What would happen if we didn't make it back to Atlanta? Where there was a $2,000 transmission waiting for us, what if I had to get Gracie towed to Atlanta? What if the ever-incessant feeling of an accident that had been lingering which'd involve law firms like Fresno law had transpired? I would have rather opted for Winter Haven Law Firm Abercrombiepa in that case, because only their kind of reputation can bring us back from the prolonging after-effects of an accident.

None of that mattered right now. It was date night, and so Becky and I took off and made it to our ticketed event just in the nick of time.

The next day I repaired the bumper on the minivan. It doesn't look pretty but it looks much better than it did before.

And on Sunday we took off to join our friends at their church in Asheville. We had been there a couple weeks before and had been blessed to worship there... plus the kids wanted to get back to Atlanta to get in the pool (this was the last day the pool was open for the season).

However West Asheville is a hilly, curvy part of town. It reminds me of Boston. The roads aren't built for Gracie! Our plan was to park Gracie in a spot were we wouldn't have to backup to get out. Since well she cannot backup anymore.

What I hadn't planned on was getting stuck going up a hill just a block away from the church.

I turned onto the road, saw the steepness of the hill and stepped on the pedal to go as fast as she would.

But about 3/4 of the way up Gracie just stopped. The RPM's were screaming, 5,000 or more in 1st gear.

And nothing.


The strangest feeling, like you're in neutral... the engine's working hard but the motorhome isn't going anywhere.

So I stepped on the brakes (which still are only at ~40%)

And then I tried accelerating, thinking that from a stand still Gracie could climb a hill.

I'm not the smartest man alive (I'm just bringing you the truth so you don't feel so bad when you make a mistake).

Getting Unstuck

So Becky hopped out and stopped traffic as I tried to back Gracie up while turning.

If you recall, we cannot backup while the minivan is on the tow dolly... People told me this before buying the dolly and getting going but I thought they were crazy, I'm really confident backing up (not as much as my father in law who drove semi truck for ten years, but pretty comfortable). However they weren't kidding, there are two short tonges you're dealing with as the minivan turns on the dolly and the dolly turns, so it's really ... really hard to get it to go the direction you need it to go.

Let me say it again, it's REALLY hard to get it where you need it to go.

And while I've done it once (on Mount Mitchell a few days before) I had never done it with traffic watching and me blocking the road.

But I had no other choice but to try.

Worst case scenario? I get stuck blocking a major road in West Asheville. no worries right??!?!?

Typically I get really stressed in these situations but looking back on it now I was remarkably calm.

No idea why.

And wouldn't you know it but the axels and pivot points cooperated.

Traffic did too!

And we got out of there without a problem.

Or so I thought (more on that later)

We found a retail parking lot nearby, parked Gracie, took the minivan off the tow dolly and drove into church... something we should have done in the first place.

After church we drove to Atlanta without much of a problem.

However we stopped to get gas right before we went to our parking spot.

Getting gas with a 60' rig is an ordeal under normal circumstances.

Getting gas with a 60' rig in Buford (suburb of Atlanta) can be a nightmare.

Getting gas with a 60' rig that has no reverse in Buford was nerve-racking.

I chose my pump, waited for the guy to clear out of it and then needed the guy in front to finish, so I just pulled in right behind him. What I didn't know is that this gentleman was possibly on the spectrum or had some OCD tendencies. He informed me after filling his gas tank that he needed to wash his hands. I was blocking cars behind me, but like ants they were finding another way around me. So no big deal, but 10 minutes later when he still hadn't returned I was concerned... however eventually he showed up, moved his car and we were in business.

All this 2 blocks from where we were going to park, but we needed to run the generator for the air conditioning and thus we needed gas.

Bumper Trouble

When I got out I saw this:

Picture taken later (thus the ladder leaning on the back of Gracie) this is what the bumper used to look like: http://homealongtheway.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/IMG_2703.jpg

Picture taken later (thus the ladder leaning on the back of Gracie) this is what the bumper used to look like

I was dumbfounded... how could I have hit something or someone hit me without hitting the van.

And it was hard core as it bent the bumper significantly.

So I asked Becky if she knew of anything, and she said "yeah now that you mention it I remember hearing a loud bang as you pulled away from that hill where you got stuck in Asheville."

She had stopped and looked at the yellow fire hydrant after I drove on, just to look at it long enough to see that it wasn't broken. But had forgot to mention it to me.

Ha, well mystery solved, we now have some Asheville fire hydrant paint on Gracie... She's not fat but her butt swings REAL WIDE when we turn corners!

But the adventure is not over, see we are staying inside a self-storage area. We have a very sweet situation here, but we HAVE to back into our spot, and it's very tight corners. I've gotten Gracie in there twice before but both times I had reverse.

This time we knew we had nothing.

So we took the minivan off, moved the dolly aside and got Becky in position to pull Gracie around the corner and into her parking spot.

It worked perfectly.

The minivan is strong enough to pull Gracie around ... pretty sweet information!


The mighty Minivan pulling Gracie backwards through the self storage place.

I hope we never have to do that again though!

So Sunday morning we parked Gracie at the RV shop and I flew to Detroit for a client meeting. Hopefully by the time you read this Gracie will have a new gearbox/transmission. And new brakes!

We then will park her back at the self storage unit for another week as we finish our time here in Atlanta.

The nice part? We'll have a 3 year unlimited mileage warranty on the transmission... So when the rockis come I'll run it through her paces again to verify we're good...

What's the worst that could happen ;)

Paul Kortman

Dad of 4, husband, blogger, digital marketer, follower of Jesus. I podcast at nomadtogether.com and own connexdigitalmarketing.com We're on this crazy journey to travel the world as a lifestyle. Looking for help in how to live as a digital nomad family? Join this Facebook Group!

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  1. Beth

    seriously…. what a mess!! that’s a lot of maneuvering and dinkin around! glad she’s finally getting fixed. Reverse will feel like a luxury!

  2. Jan

    Glad you are remembering to laugh now–because you are DEFINITELY gonna be laughing about all these adventures later– but seriously, you need to name that minivan. One of the gals doing an internship here told us yesterday about a guy her dad (a bank loan officer) gave a loan to: his legal name was No Name Given– his parents hadn’t filled in the blank on his birth certificate, so… It was just sad! Since it seems you (and I mean ALL of you!) are being given a lot of Grace and Peace in this journey, I’m submitting the name Pete for your consideration, if only for the sake of appreciation for the monstrous service that vehicle has performed in towing Gracie, proclaim that the minivan belongs –and name it! Then tell your kids about Pete and his twin Repete. <3 Blessings

    • Paul Kortman

      Love the Pete and Repete joke… thanks for the reminder, Josiah’s gonna love it. However we think she’s more of a girl… since no guy would ever complain about staring at the backsides of a female like that ;)

      How sad that she’s still a no name girl.

  3. Karen

    It sure was nice to see you back Gracie into her spot problem-free, lckity-split, and smooth as could be. Gracie, Faith and Hope. 3 warrior princess’s that take care of you, and you taking care of them. That’s how I see your situation. Despite her grumbling about her nose, surgery, battle scars, and having to be dragged along, sucking exhaust at Gracie’s butt, she has been a faithful, strong servant to Gracie, helping with the pulling and placement of Gracie. Once her battery was replaced, she continued on being a reliable servant to all of you, carting all of you around, and as I said, being there for Gracie to help when/wherever she can. So therefore, I see the van as Faith, a loyal member of the family that you can put your faith in when she needs to step forth and help. And the tow dolly? I think you should name her Hope in the hopes that she stays strong and reliable for you all. Gracie, Faith and Hope. :)

    • Paul Kortman

      That’s some great naming logic Karen, I’ll have to run these by the judges (Becky and the kids) tonight!


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