The $6,000 Mistake

When you buy an older RV you never really know what it's history is and what condition the parts are inside it.

Also, when you're driving a 13 ton rig down a steep mountain and you think you know how to drive big rigs, yet you don't.

Things Break, Mistakes Happen.

And so we broke our transmission. At first it was only second gear, but then the reverse gear broke too.

Because we had 13 tons and were going down a mountain we smoked our brakes, cracked our rotors, and melted our breaklines.

Total bill? $6,000

That's almost half what we paid for our rig, Gracie.

Part of me asks the question, since we had to spend $6k on repairs would we have been better off buying a newer/better motorhome by putting that $6k into the original purchase?

You never know what can go wrong, even with a brand new rig. Not that we would have been able to get a new rig for an extra $6k. No matter what we would have purchased we love Gracie and the things she includes.

Shoot I'd probably have broken the transmission doing the same thing in a newer rig.

Although I know I'll buy a diesel pusher next time.

Can you tell them apart? This is 1998 Gracie and her 1999 Sister (also a Pace Arrow). Very similar, we rarely see a living Pace Arrow.

Can you tell them apart? This is 1998 Gracie and her 1999 sister (also a Pace Arrow). Very similar, we rarely see a living Pace Arrow.

Picking up Gracie

Last week I returned from a business trip on Tuesday evening. We found a SWEET spot with the cousins at the Atlanta airport (Busiest airport in the WORLD) to watch planes landing and taking off. If you're going to do this, do it at ATL, it keeps the kids so busy because there's so many planes landing and taking off.

The Pickup Crew in front of a Southwest plane at the ATL Cell Phone Lot, a perfect place to watch airplanes.

The Pickup Crew in front of a Southwest plane at the ATL Cell Phone Lot, a perfect place to watch airplanes.

The RV shop wasn't done with our Motorhome quite yet, they wanted to take it out for a test drive but they did have the brakes and transmission replaced. So they were able to put our home outside the shop so we could sleep in our own beds.

In reality we were only without Gracie for one night. This is how we worked that: Sunday we moved the RV to the shop and Becky and the kids dropped me off at the airport, they returned to Gracie and spent the night in her at the shop. In the morning (Monday) they piled a bunch of stuff into the Minivan (which is still nameless!)  and spent the day at Becky's sister's house. They slept there Monday night and then picked me up Tuesday evening and we slept in the motorhome that night.  Wednesday morning the guys took Gracie out for a test drive while we took the kids out for a rare breakfast out meal. When we returned she was ready to go!

Pretty quick turnaround I'd say. The owners of the RV shop were very understanding about Gracie being our home and really worked with us.  Especially since we were able to be flexible on when we scheduled it the parts were (almost all) on hand when they went to work on her.

Outcomes and Fallout

When we first broke Gracie's transmission and then drove on it while broken I was starting to think we didn't need to replace it, that perhaps we should keep driving it until it "really" broke. But when it "really" broke on our second trip to Asheville I realized it had to be replaced. Good thing we had already ordered the parts and scheduled the replacement.

Talking with the RV shop guys on one hand made me feel better in that they often see brake jobs on motorhomes after coming down out of the mountains in North Carolina. In fact they rarely go a month without a break job on a motorhome. In fact, they told me that one summer they had 25 motorhomes that needed brakes coming down from North Carolina. That means they saw two motorhomes a week that needed brakes.

None of those motorhomes needed transmission work.

I burned our brakes because I lost the transmission.

So I wasn't feeling so bad about burning through the brakes.

Funny thing is now the transmission has a 3 year unlimited mile warranty on it.  Only catch? It needs to be serviced by a Ford Truck dealer/mechanic.  So we're going to run Gracie through the paces in the Rockies and test out this new transmission.

More than that, heating systems also needed constant repair through professionals like

So far we haven't even put a mile on her with the new tranny. The RV shop is less than a block from where we're staying... so the "drive home" after picking up Gracie Wednesday wasn't really long :)

They had to flush the transmission coolant system and added a new transmission cooler on it. (This is how Ford can Warranty it since it has a clean system and more cooling). When they flushed it they got metal chunks out of it. They were floored that Gracie was able to come into the shop under her own power. They've never seen it that bad even on motorhomes that had to be towed in!!

Oh and you might remember that we had to replace our clutch fan in Kentucky? The guys in Atlanta commented that we have a REALLY strong clutch fan. ... this is what will keep us from over heating.

So little by little Gracie is getting retrofitted with industrial innards.

Hopefully that will prevent stories like this in Honduras, Mexico, or Ecuador!  Maybe.....

Paul Kortman

Dad of 4, husband, blogger, digital marketer, follower of Jesus. I podcast at and own 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. Lou

    Are you kidding? When you reach Mexico, Honduras and beyond the stories will only grow better!!!!!

    Last week I took a few days off and did 48 miles on my attempt to complete the North Country Trail. it is only 4,600 miles and I have about 215 miles under my belt. Just starting. Your lives inspire me. Lou

    • Paul Kortman

      Uh, Sir, your live inspires us! I think you’ve lived enough for ten people by this point!

      An yeah the drama will continue, and develop as we get further and further south. But perhaps Gracie won’t have mechanical troubles. Hopefully!

    • Cindy

      Lou, we live right off the North Country Trail in northwest Ohio You are welcome to stay here and have a hot home cooked meal, shower, etc…

  2. Phil DeVries

    Your starting to talk about Gracie like a cowboy talks about his horse, your tool and your friend.
    If your going to all those countries, is your Garmin set up with those maps? When we went to Europe, the Garmin was one of the most important tools we had.
    Your cuz,

    • Paul Kortman

      Too funny, yeah Gracie is like a tool and a friend. Guilty as charged!

      We’re using our iphones since we haven’t (yet) been able to afford a Garmin… and there’s an app called where you can download entire country maps with driving directions. That’s our plan for now, but typically we’ll have internet access in most countries… hopefully.

  3. Beth

    i think you should name the minivan Ilene, but only when she’s on the dolly. :)

  4. Paul Kortman

    I realized I didn’t spell out my mistake very well… here’s what not do to and what to do if you have the same transmission as we do:

    To not make the same mistake you’ll need to use your brakes “steadily” Essentially keeping your RPM’s within range for the gear you’re in. All of the problems come with downhill. Uphill simply turn “overdrive” off which is your 4th gear. with O/D off you have 3 gears and you’ll get up any hill/mountain albeit slowly. Take this for an example:

    What not to do on the downhill:
    * let the motorhome get to 50+ MPH and then drop it into 2nd gear… that’s what I did
    * Do not put the Motorhome in second gear and then just let it gain speed eventually going over 50 MPH
    Essentially each gear has a speed range and that’s indicated by a +/- 10 MPH based on when it switches gears. So My motorhome switches from 1st to 2nd around 20MPH, that means I could keep it in 1st gear up to 30MPH, but absolutely no higher. … so if you have the same transmission as we do the E40D then you shouldn’t put it in first gear on the downhill of a mountain unless you’re applying the brakes to keep it under 30MPH (Watch your RPMs to know, basically keep it at or below 5,000 RPM)

    Same with Second gear, mine switches from second to third around 35 MPH, so I could run in second gear up to 45MPH (and as low as 10MPH) so if I drop it into second gear when going 55mph my RPMs will go so high that I’ll pop the seals on Second gear… that’s what I did. DON’T do that :)

    These numbers all vary, but watch your RPMs… that’s the key. We do not have an engine brake (need a diesel for that) so using the tranny as an engine brake is good but only to a point, downshifting in these transmissions while going downhill is a must and a good thing, but you MUST apply the brakes to keep the Motorhome within the proper RPM/Speed ranges for that gear.

    One thing is for sure, not having an engine brake and only having 4 gears makes owing a gas motorhome a bummer.

    Pumping brakes, or using them intermittently (which was my second mistake) causes air to get between two VERY hot metal surfaces and the air creates smoke. Had I just kept even pressure on the brakes while using the transmission as additional drag I wouldn’t have done this.

    Live and learn, but please learn from my mistakes!

  5. MrLich

    Happy to hear that Gracie is feeling better.

    You can rebuild her. You can make her better, stronger, faster…

    • Paul Kortman

      I feel like we’re in the process of doing just that!

  6. Karen

    Paul, you are absolutely right when you say that even new rigs can break. In my 2.5 years of delivering motorhomes, I experienced 3 rigs that were driven out of the factory with bad engines. Each one of them got to their first mountainous area, and pop, they blew spewing pure white exhaust from the pipes. So yeah, it does happen, probably more than you would think.

    • Paul Kortman

      Just the thought of that terrifies me!


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