Part 13: Repair and Diagnosing in Las Vegas

Having been thoroughly slathered in a strong dose of wilderness over the past couple of weeks, we both had a yearning for a taste of civilization. While Las Vegas does not necessarily stand out as a shining beacon of civilization, it certainly stands out as a shining neon beacon of seething humanity, and this appealed to us somehow. Plus, it’s Vegas! How could we be so close and not pay it a visit?

With this sound logic firmly entrenched in our minds, we chugged towards the cheesy neon glow of Sin City, overnighting first in the toasty town of Hurricane (praise be to Walmart parking lots) then in a splendid BLM campsite in the mountains east of the towns of Mesquite and Beaver Dam, close to Mount Bangs (no, I did not just make those names up).
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As usual, I spent the evenings oiling, hammering and cursing in the RV engine compartment, in the ongoing battle to improve our ailing Hunk o Junk. By this stage, things had become somewhat dire, with overheating after driving only a few miles down the road (not helped by the 45 degree heat), smoke once more billowing into the passenger compartment, and singe marks appearing on front dash area, threatening to engulf anyone sitting nearby and succeeding in thoroughly melting the floor mats. It had even become so serious that we actually set out alarms for the crack of dawn (early mornings having been thrown out the window with our job resignations), seeking to hit the road before the temperature reached boiling point.
Innocent victims of the overheated engine, which melted all things that came close to it. I particularly like the deformed pen with it's new appendages, consisting of a button and a small eraser.

Innocent victims of the overheated engine, which melted all things that came close to it. I particularly like the deformed pen with it’s new appendages, consisting of a button and a small eraser. Note that the small black blob is what became of one of the sunglass lenses, while the rest of the lenses appear to have melded to the dash. 

RV fixin Arizona

A prickly pear I (possibly illegally but definitely sustainably) harvested in Zion and which we had much enjoyment eating

A prickly pear I (possibly illegally but definitely sustainably) harvested in Zion and which we had much enjoyment eating

As it turns out, the temperature is always at boiling point in those parts, and our early morning escapades were to no avail. Thus what should have taken one hour to drive to Vegas took us around 5, with our speed limited to a measly 30 mph (the highway speed being 85 mph) and regular roadside stops required to cool the engine and choke down some “fresh” highway air, away from the fumes of the RV.

That may all sound a tad dramatic, but if anything I am for once understating the unenjoyability of that particular journey. The RV had hit rock bottom, and things were looking dire as we limped into Vegas, thoroughly drenched in sweat and engine excrement.

Having been confined to a noisy, smelly, boiling RV-sauna for the past 5 hours, and considering our hotel check in was not for another hour, we made haste to the nearest mall. This ended up being the Las Vegas North Premium Outlets, which proved very difficult to park in with a motorhome, and which unfortunately were mostly situated outside – our primary aim being to find somewhere air conditioned. Still, we made the most of the situation, browsing interestedly and buying the odd shoe, clothing item or sunglass. One thing we noticed was that, contrary to other outlets we had been to in other parts of the world, the prices at this one were not any cheaper than regular stores. We wondered what exactly the point was in calling it an outlet mall. A question for the learned shopper, perhaps?

Having eventually checked in to our hotel, we emitted a collective gasp of relief and oozed into our fancy hotel suite overlooking The Strip. Having splurged out on a nice room for a few nights, Palms Place was quite opulent indeed, considering our previous surroundings. Still, considering we paid over $400 CAD for 3 nights of accommodation, the room was a little unclean, the furniture was a bit tired and scratched, and the pool was closed the whole time. I found pool closure most upsetting, considering that we had to pay a daily $40 “resort fee” which included access to the pool and limited wifi for one measly device per room, and was moved to post various scathing reviews on Google, hotels.com, and tripadvisor. Take that, Palms Place.

Palms Place suitePalms Place suitePalms Place suite

the view from our room

the view from our roomPalms Place suite

Bitching aside, we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves in Vegas, perusing the lavishly cheesy casinos and hotel lobbies, dabbling in the odd slot machine, attending a topless burlesque show (X-Burlesque = highly recommended!), going to a cheesy 007005but entertaining magic show (Nathan Burton), and wining and dining like the pros. Highlights of the experience were the impressive music-fountain shows outside the Bellagio, sleazing it up at the slot machines and getting to order free drinks in the process, the burlesque show (surprisingly, Liivi’s suggestion, and a very good one at that!), and simply strolling through all the crazy, opulent hotels and casinos throughout The Strip.
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025Las Vegas - the StripLas Vegas - the StripLas Vegas - the Strip

Now, back to the RV. We had called around and found a place to take it to a few days earlier, and the mechanic, not knowing that this was the Moby Dick of ailing motorhomes, assured us that he would have it back on the road within a day. Later the next day, I received a call from the shop explaining that the thing was basically a lost cause, that it was running on only a few of the 8 cylinders due to a badly warped exhaust manifold, and that it would continue to leak heat and fumes into the already damaged engine and make things worse. This was a very familiar story. Hadn’t we….? Ah yes, that’s right – we had just spent well over four thousand fucking dollars on the bloody thing at the Napa shop in Calgary, to fix the exact same problem!! I was livid, and immediately got on the phone with Napa’s warranty department to get them to front the bill for their malpractice.

They promptly informed me that their warranties did not cover motorhomes (the Calgary shop somehow apparently didn’t know this when they issued us the warranty for the work), and I promptly told them to sort their shit out and find a way around the conundrum. Thus ensued many hours of phone conversations with mechanics and warranty managers, trying to get them to front the bill for the work. In the end, they agreed to pay for a measly $600 worth of work (the mechanic having told me that it could amount in the thousands, if he couldn’t remove the studs from the manifolds), and our hands were tied – we had to get the damn thing fixed if we were to continue our roadie. I called the mechanic once more and told him to do a Maori Job (for those who don’t hail from New Zealand, that means a sneaky DIY job that works isn’t exactly conventional), and he managed to get the manifolds mostly tightened once more (“100% better than they were”…but not 100% fixed) and advance the timing. The RV ran a lot better, but the problem would rear its smelly head again if we didn’t get the exhaust looked at, which was likely causing the darn thing to overheat.

So there we were, with a half-fixed RV on a Friday in Vegas, and with nowhere to stay (we had hoped to be able to leave the city by this point, and hadn’t booked a hotel for the weekend). We decided to extend our stay at the hotel (we were in the slightly less fancy but not unaccommodating Gold Coast Hotel and Casino by this stage) for another 3 nights, so that we might park the RV up and take it to an exhaust shop on Monday. However, it turns out that accommodation prices in every single hotel across the city go up by close to 4 times on Fridays and Saturdays, and so we were looking at paying $170 per night at our current hotel, rather than $45 (keep in mind, this is in USD at a 3 star hotel – for CAD multiply that by 1.35, and for NZD multiply that by 1.5).

Following this revelation, we called a number of RV parks, all of whom refused to welcome us as apparently their standards were too high. To elaborate, at most RV parks in Vegas, motorhomes that are older than 15 years are either outright refused or are subject to an inspection prior to acceptance. Presumably if the inspected RV is considered to look less than appealing, it is forbidden from entering. The irony of this situation was not lost on us, as Vegas is one of the least classy cities on the planet, and for RV parks to suddenly establish a sense of class and standards was completely at odds with the nature of the city. Especially considering that your average Joe Bloggs, complete with chest-high tan shorts, pulled up socks and sandals, faded and sadly askew fishing hat, and stereotypical Hawaiian shirt is permitted to stroll into the classiest of hotels and casinos in town and be treated like royalty.

After calling a number of RV parks, we had started to simply begin the calls with “hello, we have a 26 year old RV, is that ok?”, mostly to the response of “ah, no”. Finally, though, Thousand Trails RV Park opened their undiscriminating arms to us and we had secured accommodation for the weekend. Huzzah!

We spent that weekend confined to the air conditioned haven of the RV, venturing out only to take a dip in the pool or walk to the nearby supermarket mysteriously labelled “Smart and Final”. Those walks were entertainment in themselves, with a sizeable population of hobos roaming the streets selling top quality ski jackets (despite the 45 degree heat) and generally just causing trouble.

Monday rolled around and we headed over to Discount Muffler Brakes and A/C, who examined the RV and informed us that we did indeed have some serious exhaust issues that needed rectifying, including a new cat converter, new muffler, and new other stuff. At one point, the mechanic walked up to us shaking his head and showed us a section of the exhaust he had just cut out – it was tiny, and he informed us that it was probably only big enough for a small Civic hatchback, let alone a 7.5 litre V8 RV beast.

Back on the road only another $1500 out of pocket, we sped far away from Vegas, having sampled more than our fair share in the 8 days we’d been there. And excitingly enough, the Hunk o Junk DID speed, managing to come close to the highway speed limit, a feat it had never before managed to do. While it was far from fixed, it was performing about ten thousand times better than it was when we drove it into the city.

Feeling giddy with power, we made our way hastily east, intent on our rendezvous with wilderness.

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