A Traveler and his Cat exploring America.

Thursday, May 15, 2008


We left the coast and started inland on Hwy 299 through the Trinity Mountain Range towards Redding. This 142 miles held promise for many camping opportunities. Soon on I detected something not right with the engine. On a long pull it would falter very slightly as if starving for fuel, the resume on. I turned back towards Eureka not knowing what to do but it seemed to have cleared itself out and was running fine, so I turned back again towards the east. However it started up again but got no worse and didn’t take away from performance so I ignored it. Then I discovered the Forest Service campgrounds were close – too early in the season. Finally at Burnt Ranch a campground was open and there we stayed.
The next morning I took off on a unmaintained trail down to the river but realized half way only Mountain Goats cold navigate this so turned back towards camp. Eager to find a wide-open place to camp along the river we moved out without any breakfast. Yesterday’s engine problem was still with us only to manifest itself into a much more serious condition. It would just slightly hesitate on climbs then continue right along although with power really dropping off. This was the worse place to be, in the Trinity Mountain Range with all it’s ups and downs and 100 miles from any place of note. For the first time I was grateful for road construction where they stopped you and you had to wait for a pilot truck. I was able to place myself at the end of the line then once through the construction, knew I had no one behind me for miles until the next group caught up.
Turning back towards Eureka was not an option. I had passes to climb that way plus all those on 101 south towards home. Redding and the flat Central valley was our only salvation. We had two big passes to clear today and was very concerned, or at least I was. Sinbad was oblivious to the situation. The first one at 2500’ I started up, fell down to 30 mph or less and did a quick U-turn back down to the bottom. I figured this was it; stuck in Johnson City, population 300. I turned off the engine, got out to pee, started up the engine and went for it again. This time the turbo kicked in and I was up to a respectable speed before it shut off. We made it to the top not without an engine light coming on. It was the engine control unit. The manual stated to bleed the fuel system (easy to do) and with four or five starts, it should clear up. If not, take to your nearest Sprinter Dealer. It didn’t clear. I figured a faulty electronic device not sending a message to the turbo to kick in. So from now on when things got steep, I shut the engine off then started it up again and hit it. This worked to some degree. Now just if we could only make it to Redding. This required a final 3500’ pass. We we’re pulling a grade with the usual problems and then rounded a turn and saw the sign, Buckhorn Pass. “This is it Sinbad! We made it!” I didn’t realize this was it and it wasn’t as bad as the other pass, meaning not as long a pull.
Through Redding and onto I-5. I found if we got up to speed, the cruise control could hold it steady and a few hills did slow us down to 45 where I flicked on the flashers for safety. We miraculously made it to Chico where I parked at my daughter’s at 3:30. reflecting back on what we had accomplished on limited power I was very grateful.
There were two places I could go for repairs, Roseville and Folsom about 150 more miles on limited power. Although I-5 would be a farther route, it proved least nerve wracking. The cruise control could keep us going at 60 with the strong tailwinds and second lane for cars to pass.
We arrived at the dealership at 12:30. I explained the symptoms and my thoughts to the problem with the service manager, a nice guy. He got a flashlight and checked the turbo resonator before anything else and said “There’s your problem”. I was flabbergasted! I could see it separated at the seam. The failure is this plastic hollow canister; a component, nothing electronic. This is a common weak point with these engines of ’06 vintage. I knew of this and went to change it early on in ownership to the improved version (Q-5) only to discover the previous owner had already done this. Q-5’s never fail as does the Q-3’s and 4’s. However, here this one did. The discussion group I monitor for these Mercedes Dodge Sprinters have only heard of one Q-5 failure. Why me? I never looked at it having placed a false sense of knowledge in knowing this part was fine. Had I looked, I could have repaired it with some JB Weld way back there in Johnson City and avoided two days of drama driving! GRRRR!!!
There is an aftermarket version of this device made out of a solid billet of aluminum, nothing more than a tube (I knew of these), not plastic with a seam. It’s not a factory made item but surprisingly the dealer had them. I could have another Q-5 put in under warranty (free) or select the aluminum one (not under warranty - pay) and never worry about this happening again. He said all the UPS and FED-EX Sprinters go with it for they cannot afford breakdowns alongside the road. Since I was already planning to spend bucks ($$$) on some electronic gadget I said do it. $232 later I was out of there at 3pm and he gave me a Q-5 anyway on the side (under warranty), which I could sell or give to some unlucky View/Navion owner, broke down along the side of the road, who didn’t know any better and thus be a hero.
We blew on down to the Delta area and found a nice peaceful campground all to ourselves for the night.

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