Emergencies when “on the road”; seeking your input!

Our 2013 Ford Escape "on the rack", sans transmission, at Whitefish Ford, MT, in February.

Dealing with emergencies when “on the road”; seeking your personal horror stories…

I am seeking your insight into emergencies you might have suffered “on the road”; and I’ll make these into a future article in the Record’s travel pages.

What a disassembled Escape transmission looks like on a shop table (Ford Motors required the dealer to tear it apart, to determine if "fixable" or needing "total replacement"), which added 3-4 days in the process. Ughh.

So, what is your experience?  Have you had auto emergencies, trouble with passports/visas, medical emergencies, or totally screwed-up travel plans that left you stranded for unplanned days? Share the highlights/lowlights, and how you surmounted those challenges – and what you would do differently to preclude such disasters in the future.

A few weeks ago, I wrote a column on such travel challenges, highlighting a vehicle breakdown in Whitefish, MT in February that caused us a week-long, unplanned stay and caused us to trade in the vehicle on a new one.  Reader Steve Spatola of Stockton wrote to me with the suggestions below for avoiding transmission failure on a variety of vehicles.  With his permission, I am sharing his good advice:

Tim, Sorry to hear about your car eating a transmission. The amount of towing you do leaves you susceptible to such problems (I did note to Steve that the vehicle with failed transmission had done minimum towing).

Some good information to know. Most small new cars have what is known as a CVT (Continuous Velocity Transmission). Under most circumstances they are reliable. There are no planetary gears as in a normal tranny (aka bands) to wear out. The problem with that is when they go there are no repairs, just replacements and the amount is not cheap. Cars with CVT’s that are popular are usually the imports but Ford may have them in their “World Cars”, the Escape may be one and for sure the prior one was a world car. Cars known to have weak transmissions are Chrysler, Ford, VW and some Nissans and Honda’s

Another new thing to learn. Most new cars do not have transmission dip sticks to check your fluid levels. Bad in my opinion! Heat kills transmission in escalating degrees above what is normal. Just a few degrees can burn your fluid, especially conventional fluids.

I would suggest that you have what is called a BG Flush. That refers to the name of the company, BG that makes numerous products for engine wear as well as transmissions. Go to www.BGfindashop.com for one nearby. The only one in Stockton is Martin’s on Churchill and El Dorado street. Back to the lack of a dipstick, there is no tranny drain plug most often either. The shop will splice into your tranny line that enters your radiator and flush out all 14-16 pints of factory fluid and replace it with a synthetic transmission fluid. Not cheap but at the cost of a transmission it is actually very cheap.

At the same time have the shop add an external transmission cooler, one that exceeds your maximum towing capacity in rating. I.E. 4,000 lb. or so. That will take the load off your radiator to cool the tranny. This work will not affect your warranty as it is service work required at some point in your ownership. Dealer transmission service entails dropping the pan and letting the fluid drain in to a funnel. They clean the screen and replace the filter. The remaining 12 or so original pints remain in the transmission. Not exactly a big improvement. If you do these two things, you’ll be transmission worry free for a very long time.

Prevention is the essence of repair avoidance. Most cars today should exceed 200K with synthetic oils and good maintenance schedules.  I have used Mobil 1 for over 40 years and I have never had a tranny or engine failure due to lack of proper maintenance. I have pre-empted failures by rebuilding trannies and engines. One engine failed me because I was not aware of the oil composition no longer provided zinc in the oil. Using SL/SN additives to oils in catalytic convertor cars is bad for the cats but cars prior to 1994 with hydraulic cams and lifters need the zinc even if they have convertors. Know your fluids to include the coolants. Some factory ones, like GM’s, suck. They claim a 100K lifetime. BS! On aluminum engines that can spell disaster as heads warp and that is a major problem in today’s cars!

Steve Spatola, Stockton
Car Crazy, with 8 classic cars and a maintenance freak

So take Steve’s suggestions to heart; preventive maintenance might save us all future challenges.

And, send to me those woeful comments about emergencies you have suffered “on the road”.  Thanks!

Read more from Tim Viall’s travel blog, follow him on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter; or, email him at tviall@msn.com. Happy travels in your world!

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    Tim Viall

    Viall is a local travel writer who retired in late 2012 after 10 years as executive director of Stockton, CA's, Emergency Food Bank and six years with the Downtown Stockton Alliance. Previously, a 21-year career in daily newspapers helped shape his ... Read Full
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