Our Disastrous Maiden Voyage

After completing the interior build of the bus, we were eager to head south as soon as possible for warmer weather. A warmer climate would allow us to finish our electrical setup in temperatures that are more battery-friendly. And we liked that we could sleep and live in the bus while we do it! So we left for our maiden voyage on Thursday, March 11, 2021. Little did we know, we were headed for a disastrous day and a 3-week delay of our plans due to bad luck and poor dealership service.

The Breakdown

We headed south from Burlington, Vermont and made it about 2 hours away to around Whitehall, New York. We were cruising down a little highway when we heard a loud bang from the front passenger side followed by scraping noises and we immediately pulled over to the side of the road. Travis jumped out and took a look at the wheel, engine, and mechanics underneath the bus but nothing looked out of place. The wheel and braking assembly were not hot and we hadn’t even been using the brakes until after we heard the loud bang and pulled over.

We deliberated on what to do. Of course, it would be ideal to limp the bus to somewhere where we could get help but we could hear the very concerning scraping noises as soon as we tried to move again. We decided that we did not want to drive the bus any further and potentially cause even more damage.

Soon after we pulled over, a New York state policeman pulled over behind us and came asking questions. He asked what was going on, we said we broke down. He noted that he saw us slowly driving on the shoulder for a brief time and wanted us to know that, “it’s illegal to drive on the shoulder.” Travis reiterated that we broke down and were seeing if we could limp the vehicle to help. The policeman said “okay, well, have a nice day” and left. Thanks for all your help…

We reconvened inside the bus and called the closest Chevy dealership and asked about their availability. A woman in the service department told us that they would be able to look at the bus the very next morning. We would later find out that this was the first of many lies we would hear from this dealership.

We started researching tow companies in this rural New York state town. We called AAA and started a membership only to be told afterwards that they can’t tow the bus. The first local company we called said it would cost $600 to tow. We called at least 4 different towing companies asking for quotes and eventually agreed to one that offered to tow us for $150 and could arrive within 30 minutes. We clarified many times that our vehicle is a short school bus and therefore fairly large. We also clarified that we wanted it to be towed to the Chevy dealership.

The Tow

An older man arrived with a vehicle that definitely looked small for towing our bus. He said he could do it and would take it to another garage we never heard of. We clarified again that we’re going to the Chevy dealership and he said that’s not what he was told. He got his dispatcher back on the phone who said they couldn’t take us to the Chevy dealership for $150 because it was further. You know, despite the fact that we had been clear from the beginning about where we were going. He offered to do it for $200. We agreed.

Watching this man load our bus onto the back of his barely-bigger tow truck was one of the most stressful moments of our lives. Kara was preparing herself to see the bus just tip over the edge of the bed and fall off onto its side. As the tow truck driver started pulling the bus onto the truck bed, the bus tipped back so far that he was actively dragging and scraping our exhaust on the road. He adjusted his strategy but the bus was so heavy that at one point, the front wheels of his truck came clean off the ground. They hung in the air while our bus weighed down the truck’s back end. Kara was screaming. This did not look like a truck that was capable of towing our vehicle. We just wanted it to stop. But it continued.

Eventually, the bus was loaded onto the back of this truck with its wheels just barely on the bed. Then came the incredibly stressful drive to the dealership. We sat in the truck with this immense weight behind us and the bus bobbing around anytime we hit the slightest bump on the rural roads. The tow truck driver made jokes about potentially hitting electrical lines because the height of the bus on top of his truck was concerningly tall. We went about 20 miles per hour for 15 miles.

When we made it to the dealership, we asked the tow truck driver if we could use our blocks to unload the bus this time so that the exhaust wouldn’t scrape again. Travis set them up behind the back wheels of the bus and this is the only reason that our exhaust was spared further damage. Thanks, bright yellow camper blocks!

The Service

We slept overnight in the bus at the dealership and waited for a phone call or knock on the door the next morning. We eventually called and double-checked that they would be looking at it and by 2pm, they were ready to bring it in. That sounded like good news. They gave us a loaner vehicle, told us that they would look at it before closing at 5pm, and would call us with an update before then.

At 4:50pm, we still hadn’t heard anything so we called them. We were told that they were looking at it and it was “a process of elimination” because they couldn’t immediately see what was wrong. She said they were hopeful they would have an update the next day. Based on this information, we decided to get a hotel for the night. As we were checking out late the next morning, we still hadn’t heard anything so we called the dealership again. A man answered and told us that they only had one technician there that day and he had other projects so they wouldn’t be able to look at our bus until Monday, 2 days later.

Annoyed that we spent money on a hotel, we headed home to Vermont. Late on Monday, we called and asked for an update. We were told once again that it was a “process of elimination” because “everything looked good” and they couldn’t figure out what the issue was. We found this hard to believe since the bus was undrivable. The service employee specifically told us that the brake components all “looked fine.” We asked if the wheel bearings looked okay and she said “yes, and the calipers and everything else looks good.” She told us that they couldn’t even replicate the noise. This was very surprising and concerning to us. She said they would drive it again the next day to try to replicate the noise.

The next day, she calls us and says that our brake calipers seized and were discolored from the braking components heating up. She said the wheel bearings didn’t look good and could also fail soon. We were very confused about what we had been told the day before about everything looking okay and the fact that they told us that they were looking at the bus for 4 days now but clearly hadn’t taken a look until this day. Regardless, we paid a large amount of money to get all the components they suggested to be replaced.

They called us the following week and told us the work was done, they had taken it for a drive, it sounded good, and it was ready to go. We showed up, paid our bill, and as soon as we took the bus off the property, the exact same scraping noise we broke down with was still present. We went back to the dealership, waited an hour for the employees to be done their lunch break, then took one of them for a ride in the bus so that they could hear the sound. The employee that rode with us profusely apologized and admitted that they “never should have allowed the bus off their lot in this condition.”

We waited in the waiting room for another couple of hours to be told that our driveshaft had clearly failed. It was evident that this is the issue that caused our breakdown and not only had they originally misdiagnosed the issue, but they allowed us to take our bus back with the original issue obviously still present. This meant an even larger repair bill that was almost twice the bill we had already paid. We were given another loaner vehicle, headed back to Vermont once again, and waited another week for the work to be done. We needed a customized part to be made and shipped to this dealership and the day they told us it would be done, we got a call saying that it would be another week. They told us it would be done by the end of the day on March 31.

Yet another week later, we called on March 31 and were told that the part did come in and they were working on it and would call with an update later that day. Yet again, no call. We called the next day and were told that they’re working on it. We clarified that the estimate showed 3 hours of labor and asked if there were any complications or if it was taking longer. They said no, we just had other appointments. So not only did we get another inaccurate time estimate but they apparently prioritized regularly scheduled appointments over a vehicle they’ve had and failed to properly service for 3 weeks. To say that we’re frustrated is an understatement!

However, we have been trying to make the best of our new found time in Vermont with quality Brandy time, many outdoor adventures, and some relaxation.

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