While driving through Georgia on my Massachusetts-to-Florida trip, I encountered a bit of a problem. I stopped for lunch in a roadside restaurant. Upon returning to the Winnebago, I got in and inserted the ignition key and turned it.
Nothing. NADA. Not even a clicking sound from the starter solenoid. It was dead.
Instant panic set in until I remembered that the Minnie Winnie has TWO batteries: one for the motor vehicle and another for the motor home's appliances. Even better, there is a switch that can be used to connect the two batteries together in case either one of them is dead. I pushed the switch, turned the key, and VROOOOM! The engine started immediately. The battery for the appliances apparently was in great shape.
I thought to myself, "I must have left the lights on or something... I'll just drive down the road for an hour or two to charge the battery again."
About 100 miles later, I pulled into a rest area for a biological break. When I was ready to leave, I turned the key and again nothing happened. Dead. Not even a clicking sound from the starter solenoid.
Again, I pushed the switch to connect the second battery and the motor home started instantly. In other words, the problem had not been corrected by driving down the road.
Slightly panicked, I made some phone calls on the cell phone. It was Saturday afternoon and the nearest Winnebago dealer was closing up for the weekend. I remembered that the motor home was built on a Ford truck chassis so I called the nearest Ford dealer and received the same story: the mechanics had already gone home for the weekend. Then I remembered that Sears Auto Centers are well equipped to handle battery problems. If I need a new battery, I would prefer a Sears DieHard. Even better, Sears Auto Centers are normally open all day on Saturdays and Sundays.
I checked the GPS. The closest Sears Auto Center was 40 miles behind me and the second closest was 80 miles ahead of me. "Never go backwards," I thought to myself. I headed off on the 80-mile trip.
I crossed the Florida state line with one defective battery but everything seemed to work properly while I was in motion.
I eventually pulled into a Sears Auto Center in Jacksonville, Florida where courteous employees were very willing to help. The motor home is too tall to fit into the garage service bays so the mechanic had to work on it in the parking lot. The weather was pleasant so it wasn't too much of a hardship except that he got a lot of exercise walking back and forth to his toolbox inside!
He replaced the battery with a brand-new top-of-the-line DieHard. He turned the ignition key to start the engine. Nothing happened. NADA. Not even a clicking sound from the starter solenoid.
"It must be a defective battery from the factory," he told me. He walked back inside, obtained a second battery, and replaced the previous new one. Turning the key produced the same results: dead silence.
The mechanic went for help and soon a second mechanic appeared on the scene. After some head scratching and consultation, the second mechanic declared that the starter must be dead and that it would need to be replaced. I objected. I then pressed the "secret" button to connect the two batteries and the starter kicked in perfectly. "There's nothing wrong with the starter," I proclaimed. The two mechanics agreed.
I'll skip all the dull details as the three of us stood in the parking lot, examining wiring and everything else we could think of. Eventually, I noticed there as some corrosion on the aftermarket battery shut off switch installed by a previous owner. "Let's clean that," I said.
The second mechanic said, "That's not the problem" but he cleaned the connection anyway. I then climbed back into the driver's seat, twisted the ignition key, and the motor home immediately started as it should, all without pressing the button to connect the second battery. Problem solved.
I believe there are several lessons here:
- Never believe a mechanic or any other expert when the diagnosis contradicts your own common sense.
- Ask for a second opinion. In this case, I had already obtained a second opinion from the second mechanic. I then demanded the consideration of a third opinion: my own.
- Be curious. Poke around a bit.
- Be friendly and smile a lot. Mechanics are a lot more cooperative when their customers are patient and understanding.
- "Speak softly and carry a big stick... uh, battery; you will go far."
The motor home has started perfectly every time since the corrosion was cleaned.