After visiting the Newmar factory in Nappanee, Indiana in May, I felt invincible. In my mind, Nellie was a tank – all issues, major and minor, repaired. Well, when you live this lifestyle, most things are temporary, including worry-free mechanical days.
If you don’t have a Class A diesel pusher, you might not know that they are equipped with an airbag suspension system and airbrakes. The suspension airbags inflate to raise up the coach and to give you a nice, smooth ride. The air is expelled from those bags when the stabilizers are engaged.
You know immediately if you have a leak in the air system when you start the engine. If any air has leaked out and the pressure is not suitable for driving, alarms will sound and lights will flash until the optimum pressure is reached.
At the Newmar factory the passenger-side airbag was patched, so imagine my surprise at the campground in Bennington, Vermont two months later; I had just returned to the rig after registering at the camp office. Nellie and Toad were temporarily parked alongside the lodge, blocking a large part of the path of travel for other campers. I started the engine to alarms and lights galore, and the air pressure gauges were not steadily rising. Without adequate air pressure, the airbrakes will not work!
What little air pressure remained was leaking out. I could hear it hissing under the coach. To get to my campsite I had to circle around the building, go down a decent little gravel hill, turn down a lane, then back into a site.
I knew something was dreadfully wrong, and I knew if I sat there thinking about it too long, I would not be able to move the coach. When there is insufficient air for the airbrakes, they lock up. But what if the brakes failed as I attempted to get to the site? I thought momentarily about unhooking the toad, but that hissing sound told me there wasn’t enough time.
I clenched my jaw and gritted my teeth and put the transmission in drive. I drove around the lodge. I made it down the hill!
At the site I unhooked Toad just as fast as I could, not even trying to back in the spot perfectly straight. When I pulled the parking brake, which expels all the air from the lines, it barely made a sound.
I fretted for a couple of days while I did Internet research on air systems in general and Newmars specifically. For two days I started the engine to see if the air pressure would rise. It did, slightly, but that hissing noise was ever present and seemed to be getting louder. The noise wasn’t coming from the passenger-side airbag like before. I worried Nellie would need to be towed for diagnostics and repair. I have the coverage with AAA RV, but it wasn’t fun to think about Nellie being towed down the side of a mountain.
I asked the RV park owners for a mobile mechanic recommendation, which I highly advise you to do when you are in a new area. I called right away, expecting long summer wait times. Much to my surprise and delight, they came out the next day.
It didn’t take fancy cameras or computers to diagnose the problem. I looked under the rig with the mechanic, listening for the leak. It was coming from an area directly below the driver’s seat. The valve attaching the brake pedal to the air system had failed, stuck in a slightly open position.
It took two days for the part to arrive, and the next day it was installed. For the price of the part and three hours of labor, I have brakes again.
I am thankful this happened in a campground and not out on the open road. I am thankful this happened in Vermont and not some supersaturated RV state like California, where I might’ve been stuck for weeks on end. I’m also thankful that the RV park owners have such a good relationship with the mobile mechanics, because I believe that played a role in how quickly they responded. Also, this is Vermont, with friendly, hard-working, no-nonsense, efficient people.
Nellie may not be invincible, but at least now she will stop!