Oh, Woe is Us (Engine Woes, That Is)!

I will go ahead and apologize right now. If you do not own a Cummins diesel engine, this will be about as boring as a blog post can be, unless you want to laugh along with us since that is about all we can do at this point without going batshit crazy. For you Cummins engine owners, you may want to continue the read. We have the Cummins ISL-9 RV motor which utilizes what are called wet cylinders where the coolant direct contacts with the cylinder liners.

The short version for background: We are full-time RVers. We have had Rosie (the MH) in to Cummins & Freightliner shops 7 times scattered over the past 5 years for infrequent bouts of all the warning lights and sirens going off while cruising the highways, lasting anywhere from 30 seconds to 90 minutes. The MH operability was never affected, never lost power, lights just going on and off whenever they felt like it. The problem has never been completely remedied, in fact at several of the shops we were sent on our way with just notes made that we were there because they could not duplicate the occurences.

So, on our way to Redding for our supplemental brake system the good ol’ “check engine” icon (not the actual phrase) came on again with a single ping. Based on our history of an inability to trust our warning lights, we finished the 200+ mile drive to Redding. All Wheel Alignment completed our brake system and had the equipment to hook us up and do the diagnostics on the check engine light. They found our crankcase filter was clogged and replaced it to the tune of $800. 

So, S/B we were, heading towards I-15 through Lost Wages, NV. Well I’ll be, now our “check engine” icon & phrase popped up again. But this time it was accompanied by the “coolant-low level” phrase. “$%#&*@{ !!!!!!” I said to Jeanne. Against my better judgement, I continued and limped Rosie into the Bakersfield Cummins Service Center. At that point, we still had about 30 days left on our original Cummins engine 5-year warranty. The nightmare begins.

It’s becoming an all-too-familiar sight for us. Home, at Bakersfield Cummins.

We stayed in our home in the Bakersfield Cummins lot with W/E until they took it into the bay for diagnosis. Their insurance does not allow folks to remain inside their rigs while inside the shop, so we grabbed limited clothing for what we thought should be a short motel stay.

Me and Murphy have become inseparable, I cannot evade his laws. If you’ve never been to Bakersfield, CA, I will tell you it is truly a very large shit hole. If the Earth had hemmorhoids they would be called “Bakersfield”. Our first night in the hotel (a Marriott’s outfit) we got woke by the desk informing me I had to step outside in the parking lot because some POS tried to steal my bicycle which was locked to the rack on the back of the Jeep. It seems the POS cut my cables, effectively ruining the $600 Thule bicycle rack, then tried to ride off into the night. The hotel security guard saw the theft in progress and chased shithead down with a vehicle and rammed him, destroying my back wheel, knocking said shithead to the pavement where he got up and foot bailed out of sight. $655 + $125 later we were back up in business with a new bike rack and rear wheel, with a renewed INTENSE hatred for thieves and predators.

Jerry, the service manager at the Cummins, called us and said they pulled our #2 cylinder liner and found liner pitting and rust. He then dropped the hammer —- without knowing our maintenance history, he said this issue was not going to be covered by Cummins’ engine warranty due to “lack of proper maintenance by the owner”. At that time he gave us a 2-3 week estimate to finish the repairs, telling us they had “regular customers” to tend to besides us. We made a mad dash back to the MH to empty the fridge and get ready to relocate to Jeanne’s brother David’s house in Anderson, CA, 7 hours north in the Redding area. While in the MH, we found a nice chip in the tile covering the access hatch to the engine. It appeared the tech tried to pry up the hatch from the wrong side, causing the chip. On our way out I asked Jerry about the chipped tile and what they were going to do to repair it. He said they would not cover the damage they did to the tile, blaming it on Tiffin Motorhomes for their “faulty” design of the access hatch. He said I was not the only one with this issue, it happened often and their techs are very careful in and around motorhomes.  

We told him we were going to take our issues to Cummins corporate, including our appeal to his decision to deny our warranty claim, and he cheerfully encouraged us to do so. Jerry then said there “may” be a day or two delay in beginning the repairs until he heard from corporate regarding the warranty claim. He explained that if the warranty was granted, Bakersfield Cummins would “only do a minimal repair vs. an over-repair” on our rig.  This gave us pause, our impression from Jerry was that they would repair the one pitted liner and patch us up, send us on our way.  I gave Jeanne an in-depth lesson in 4-letter vocabulary all the way to Redding.

Let the confusion begin. The Cummins owner’s manual absolutely does say the coolant concentration/SCA  “must be checked every six months”. We have not had that done every six months. Neither Jeanne nor I are mechanics or mechanically inclined. When we purchased the Phaeton in 2014 I sifted through the voluminous paperwork/owner’s manuals, trying to learn and make sense of things, but I will say it was a bit confusing for me. The maintenance recommendations began at the break-in first 6,000 miles. We used Freightliner affiliate Bay Diesel in Red Bay, AL, and I spoke with the mechanic about routine maintenance. He said they recommend maintenance at least annually or every 8,000-10,000 miles.  Since then we have taken Rosie to Freightliner or Cummins exclusively for maintenance and every year without fail. 

We started out with what Cummins calls their Customer Advocacy Leader, John. We explained our situation and he wanted all of our maintenance service invoices. Since we left all paperwork inside Rosie, we had to try to recall all the Freightliner and Cummins shops we’ve been to, then called and had copies of invoices emailed to us where we  forwarded them to John. He then referred them to the engineers for review.  He also said they would approve the repair of the chipped tile previously mentioned. John later emailed to advise Cummins denied our warranty claim, standing firm on our lack of proof of getting the antifreeze concentration and SCA (supplemental coolant additive) checked “every 6 months and 15,000 miles”. I guess every 12 months and 10,000 miles is not good enough, obviously. In all of our annual services there was never a mention of problems related to possible liner-pitting. And make no mistake, liner-pitting is a huge problem for motors with wet cylinders. None of our service mechanics even ever broached the subject, giving a helpful hint, nothing. With this last rejection, Jeanne started calling several randomly selected Freightliner and Cummins service centers scattered across the country, speaking with their service department personnel. She specifically asked each what is the recommended service interval for checking the coolant concentration/SCA levels and without exception each one stated annually and that it was done routinely with the maintenance service. This is contradictory to Cummins owner’s manual. We also found a Cummins Service Bulletin that said the coolant concentration/SCA testing every 6 months was “recommended”, not required.

We were not satisfied with John’s final decision. Jeanne telephoned Cummins corporate office and spoke with the phone person. She requested to be transferred to a manager and the phone person refused to transfer the call. Jeanne gave the phone person full recap of our situation and was responded to with the insinuation that she was being untruthful about conversations with various Freightliner and Cummins shops, “…if you even made those phone calls…” . No resolution with that one, as you can imagine. Next stop for me was the Tiffin RV Network forum on Cummins engines where I posted a Reader’s Digest version of this disaster as a sort of PSA for Cummins owners. That seems to have stirred the hornet’s nest, at last count I think there were about 90 responses and 2,000+ views, many with very interesting information regarding possible causes of liner-pitting. We also called The Man himself, Bob Tiffin, to see if he had any inside contacts at Cummins corporate management. We gave him a short version of our nightmare and he said he would talk with his Cummins sales rep and see what he could do. 

In the meantime, we telephoned Jerry at Bakersfield Cummins to confirm the repairs were under way. We also made sure to request they check all 6 liners for pitting (what I like to refer to as the “over-repair” version Jerry previously mentioned), not just #2. Good thing I did that, all 6 liners had pitting. With the warranty claim still denied, I penned a letter to Rich Freeland, COO of Cummins, Inc. expressing our dissatisfaction with Cummins and the Bakersfield Cummins Service Center.

In all of our on-going research into causes of liner-pitting, we have learned there are many reasons besides “lack of proper maintenance”. Things such as faulty ground, electrolysis caused by static electricity in the coolant system, loose liner fitting, stuck thermostat, and mixing incompatable coolants are forefront. We have no idea if any of the service centers, particularly Bakersfield Cummins, have tested for any of those reasons for pitting.

Time to fast-forward. With our dispute still alive but hanging by a very thin thread, we got a finish date from Jerry in Bakersfield. 4 full weeks in the shop while we were displaced from our home. No sense of urgency or even continuity on Bakersfield Cummins’ part. We returned to Bakersfield after 3 weeks of mooching off Jeanne’s very patient, Saint of a brother, Dave and his son Alex. We overnighted inside our home at the Cummins lot until morning to settle the bill, our burden still to this point. Jerry showed me the 6 liners they removed/replaced and I took photos of the damage. With all we had learned about coolants and maintenance, all of which we relayed to Jerry (particularly the manual’s “must” requirement for testing coolant concentration every 6 months) we were somewhat taken aback when we asked Jerry what Bakersfield Cummins recommends for service intervals for testing coolant concentrations. He responded with the unanimous consensus of all the other Freightliner and Cummins service personnel, annually. 

When it came time to settle up, I had a series of questions I wanted answered regarding coolants, test strips, and general maintenance inquiries. As I was paying the $8,300+ bill I started to ask Jerry my first question. He abruptly stopped me and said my wife had mentioned talking to an attorney about lemon laws and such. Jerry refused to answer any of my questions that were not related to the actual work they did, saying everything from that point had to be submitted in writing. I paid the bill and left a real happy camper (sarcasm inserted here).

It seems I could not escape California, particularly Bakersfield, fast enough. It was hold our breath time as we headed over the Tehachapi Pass on Hwy. 58, staring at the instrument warning light panel and temperature gauge all the way. Got to the top, smooth sailing, Rosie purring like a champ. We caught I-15 in Barstow and settled in for the last leg to Vegas. @%#$^&*, as we got near Primm, NV, up pops my friend, check enging icon (not the phrase). But as a special added bonus, my temperature gauge started fluctuating slowly between one quarter to just over one half, which it has never done before. It never got to the red zone, but I pulled over to a rest area and we called Bakersfield Cummins. I spoke with the service department (not Jerry) and advised her what happened, we were about 60 miles from the nearest Cummins Service Center in No. Las Vegas. She made sure to stress that if this problem was shown to be related to just the work they performed, they would take care of it, but if not I was responsible for any repairs. Gee, I never would have thought of that, but seeing they just basically rebuilt my engine and tore apart the entire cooling system, coupled with the fact this new issue involved my coolant system temps, I thought it should have gone without saying. I chose to limp Rosie on into Vegas, staring at mirrors for smoke and temp gauge for red zone violations the whole way. Before we got there Jerry at Bakersfield called Jeanne back and again started in with the “if it is related to what we just did… otherwise it is your responsiblity” spiel. Jeanne got frustrated and ended up hanging up on Jerry.

We made it to the No. Las Vegas Cummins Service Center. We again overnighted in their lot with E hookups, they were able to get us in the following morning. During the rest of the day we continued to inspect the interior and exterior of Rosie for damages. Jeanne was flustered by the amount of grease smudges left inside, she dang near used a whole box of wipes to clean the vertical hand rail next to the door. She also found a couple of nasty scuff marks on our Flexsteel couch where the tech(s) evidently squeezed through the living area and scraped the corners of the sofa, only expanding the bedroom slide-outs to access the rear bathroom. 

The next day we got in at 0700 on the button for diagnostics. Let me tell you, Clinton Shepherd, the Service Adviser at No. Vegas Cummins, was night and day different from Jerry in Bakersfield. Clinton actually possesses a high level of customer service skills. They got Rosie right in and plugged her in for diagnostics. No problems with excessive temperatures, but they found what is called our SCR Catalyst failed. I’m guessing that is the diesel version of some sort of catalytic converter. He said that repair could run upwards to about $16,000. But God is taking pity on us this go-around. Clinton said Cummins has what is called a Temporary Repair Practice regarding this issue. The TRP is not a campaign (Cummins’ term for a recall), but nevertheless is a warrantable repair. So yippee kayay, I don’t have to go sell my body parts and blood for this one.

While waiting in the lounge, I sent John the Advocacy Leader more information regarding Rosie’s history for their further review, seemingly a last ditch effort to save our request for warranty coverage. Jeanne also sent photos of the couch scuffs with her complaint. As of now we still wait for the final warranty claim decision, but not holding my breath for a favorable outcome. John did return an email with their offer to pay for upholstery cleaning or 50% pay for re-upholstery (both direct pay to the provider, not us). Unfortunately, Flexsteel has discontinued our upholstery material. He also offered $500 credit toward our next maintenance service on Rosie at Cummins, “as an act of goodwill for you given your frustration with the entire process…”.

So, final act. Here we sit at the Boulder City Elks Lodge, waiting for the SCR catalyst parts to arrive (1-4 day estimate). Clinton said it would be a full day needed for the repair and reprogramming of all the computer crap involved in these systems. But hey, we should be driving off knowing we basically have a new engine starting from square one. But research continues, trying to save that warranty claim. Time will tell…in the meantime I will close out with a few photos of happier times during this Cummins disaster. Pardon me if they turn out sideways or upside down or without caption. I am still fired up over WordPress and their extremely un-user-friendly media system for these blogs. They were edited for proper aspect and captioning, but don’t show in my edit mode. Until next post…


About rvrrat520

Recreational wanderers just livin' the dream while we can still get vertical.
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2 Responses to Oh, Woe is Us (Engine Woes, That Is)!

  1. Dave says:

    Oh my aching ass, what a flippin ru. You were on! I think how that could have been us so easily because like you we mainly did yearly maintenance sheeeot. I have to ask, do you have or do you think an extended warranty would have madde any difference? Probably not if they claim proper maintenance was not performed. Hope things level out soon.
    Dave & Diane

    • rvrrat520 says:

      Yeah it’s been a huge eye opener. We do have an extended warranty thru Warranty Warehouse I think, they denied coverage as well. So now we prepare to start over from square 1 with basically a new motor. Might be pulling a “Dave & Diane” here soon, you never know maybe looking to go back to the 5er world. ANYWHERE where Cummins is not involved LOL!

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