Tough Choices in the Life of an old RV

Our Roadtrek had been running great. We had passed our 200,000 mile service with no issues. Our transmission had been rebuilt at 172,000 miles (a bit short of the expected 200,000 miles) and was ready for at least another 172,000. Several friends and acquaintances were approaching 300,000 miles – which is the expected life for a Dodge 318 engine. We had just gotten back from a successful trip and were about to leave on another. While replacing our dump hose, we noticed that our formerly chrome plated exhaust tip was not only rusty, it was rusted through on the top. A quick call to our mechanic said, “Bring it over”.

The mechanic soon fixed the exhaust, but when we went to drive the van home, it stalled 3 times backing out of the parking spot. The engine had been left running and it was warmed up. It sounded rough, like it was missing. We said something to the mechanic who said to bring it back later in the week and they would take a look. The plugs and wires had just been replaced (with MOPAR parts), but perhaps something was wrong. It reminded Lynn of diagnosing the trouble with her rough running 4 cylinder BMW by pulling off spark plug wires one at a time until finding the one that didn’t affect the running engine. It was always #3 – pull the plug, clean it, check the gap, reinstall it, and all was fine again.

We took the van over to the mechanic a few mornings later. It was a complete surprise when the shop manager called saying the compression testing revealed great variation and  suggested replacing the engine! What! He did say the mechanic had some more tests he wanted to do. We took down the compression readings (varying from 140 to 180) and got out the Chrysler Shop Manual. Under compression, it said the compression should be 100 (or at least not below 100). We googled on compression testing of the 318 engine and found various numbers, but no one reporting any above 160. What was going on?

We called our friend Jim. Besides owning a Dodge Roadtrek, he was knowledgeable about all things mechanical. He said carbon build up in the cylinders is responsible for higher than normal compression. Chances are we have one or more burnt exhaust valves. Jim said we likely need at least a valve job. But the break point between replacing an engine and just doing a valve job is debatable. We always knew that an engine replacement / rebuild would come along eventually, but we had been expecting the 300,000 (or at least 250,000) mile point. Jim pointed out we don’t know the history of the first 80,000 miles on our Roadtrek, just the next 123,000 miles. Jim’s suggested break point was when the valve job cost half of what an engine cost. But, he said, with already over 200,000 miles he would replace if money was not the issue.

Roger had no experience with rebuilding engines, but Lynn did, having had to deal with that as a poor college student. The head was pulled and taken to a machine shop. The rings and bearings turned out to be within spec, but she replaced them since the parts were already purchased. But apparently in this day and age, few mechanics rebuild engines anymore. They are “remanufactured” by specialty shops and installed by the mechanics.

Meanwhile our mechanic had isolated the major problem to cylinder #5. He first thought maybe the injector was bad, but swapping injectors made no difference. The shop came back with a price for a valve job and a price for a new engine. We decided before making a decision we would get a second opinion and took our Roadtrek to Jim’s mechanic. He confirmed that cylinder #5 was a real problem, doing 3 different types of compression testing. He gave us prices too – $1600 for a valve job, $5000 for a new (remanufactured engine) installed. But he said he never recommended a valve job on engines over 200,000 miles. He had extensive experience installing engines.

We picked up our Roadtrek and headed out on a 4 day trip – thinking the matter over. The RV ran well, the roughness was really only noticeable at idle when the engine was warm. We checked the gas mileage, we had been running between 15-16 mpg before all this, but the trip after then noticeable idling roughness was only in the 14s. We are sure some of you reading this will say “Buy a new Roadtrek! Don’t put any money in a 22 year old vehicle with over 200,000 miles”. We never considered that an option. Last year we went to the Hershey RV show and looked at every Class B there. There was not a single one of them we would have traded (even) for our Roadtrek. Sure, some had modern features ours lacked, but we would be giving up so many things we really like about our Roadtrek. Things we loved that were lacking in the new Class Bs. And we had already made any upgrades that we really wanted.

We are back home now and we need to make a decision.  Will it be a valve job or a remanufactured engine?  We have places to go and things to see! So stay tuned.




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  • Jerry Skimhorn

    i love listening to your show. I wish my wife and I could do what you are doing. Maybe someday. right now we are remodeling a 1985 tioga class c camper. We really want to just take it on the road and forget all out troubles. Thank you for putting on a great show with lots of stories and helpful tips on life on the road. Thank you respectfully Gerald Skimhorn.