Brake repair nightmare and being trapped on the side of the highway for 2 days

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You would think that when a person spends $2200 at a large, supposedly reputable business that they would provide the promised service successfully and expertly. Apparently instead one can expect total failure and life-threatening conditions.

On Saturday, I mentioned that we had stayed overnight in the Les Schwab parking lot in Crescent City and were waiting for the parts to come in for our brake job. We needed new brake pads, rotors, bushings and air bags for the suspension (apparently we had these before, but they had disintegrated in the hands of the technician when he went to install the new ones). It took them 8 hours to finish. They got a late start, so by the time they were finished the shop had been officially closed for over 2 hours.

We didn’t feel bad for keeping them, though. The previous evening they stayed at least 2 hours past closing as well. I think this may be par for the course considering how busy they are.

Before the let us go, they of course tested the brakes themselves: one guy instead manning the brake pedal and the other outside. They said it was good. We were warned that they might be a little soft at first and to take it easy on them.

I jumped in the driver’s seat and right as we pulled out of the parking lot I noticed the brakes felt quite soft right away. They were somewhat more responsive to lighter taps, but it still took some time to slow down. We took it slow and started heading south on the highway. I went into 2nd gear most of the time and tried to be gentle on the brakes despite all the twists and hills. As I came up to a stop light, though with just a slight decline, I found myself standing on the brake pedal and not stopping. I had to shift to first and then put it in park and engage the parking brake in order to come to a complete stop. I could smell the brakes burning, and had a very, very bad feeling.

When the light changed, I went back to first and found that that parking brake light remained on. We inched along until we found a turnout. Again, I had to stand on the brakes as we pulled in, terrified that I would keep rolling into the guardrail straight ahead of me. I was able to stop, but that was something I never wanted to go through again. I told Ryan that I didn’t think we could go any further.

He went out with a flashlight (it was after 8:00 at night and very foggy) and found one of our rear tires to be covered in a viscous fluid. At that point, we decided it was better to have a back-up to the parking brake since we were still on a hill, and he took out our wheel chocks. We also put down the stabilizer jacks.

The picture above the title is of the foggy Highway 101, about 12 miles south of Les Schwab. This is as far as we got. A few calls into Les Schwab found them to be closed (as expected) and without any type of voicemail.

I called our Good Sam Roadside assistance and were told by the first person I spoke to that they were unable to pinpoint our location well enough to send for help. They suggested I call 911 and get their help. I did, was given a mile marker and called back. This person stated that he couldn’t locate us based on the mile marker. He wanted a city name and cross streets. I explained we were in the middle of a forest. We finally gave him some references he was willing to work with (8 miles south of a campground we had passed), and he commenced calling tow trucks in the area. Of course, being 35 feet long there turned out to only be one towing company that could accommodate us. Strangely, he was asked if he could call back because the person who answered the phone didn’t have a pen and paper to write down payment information. When Good Sam called back, nobody answered then or at any time for the rest of the evening.

We were next asked if we wanted to try calling the police again for assistance, and that if we had not found help by the morning we could call Good Sam again. We called the non-emergency number. Dispatch tried calling the towing company as well, got their voicemail and said that was “not normal.” We were told that a CHP officer might call us or stop by and check on us, but they never did. We told them we were going to bed (it was about 11:00 at that point). In between the traffic noises, I could hear the waves crashing below.

In the morning, Ryan went outside and found a huge puddle of brake fluid next to our tire. When I tapped the brake it made a clicking sound and he watched more brake fluid ooze out. Les Schwab is not open on Sundays, but we called them again anyway. I remembered hearing them sending a technician on a mobile service call, and was hoping we could drag them out here to fix their mistake.

Brake fluid dripping from the tire.

Brake fluid dripping from the tire

It is now Sunday afternoon, and we are still here. We tried calling Good Sam again in the morning. The person we spoke to this time tried once again to call the towing company and got voicemail again. Again, it was suggested that we call the police and then the towing company. We did, and the police were not very helpful other than to give us the phone number for the towing company.

We called twice in a row and got through on the second try. We explained our situation (in a turnout, 20,000 pound motorhome, no brakes, pets and humans on board) and it seemed that he was uncertain whether he could fit his 40-foot tow truck into the turnout to get us hitched. He also said there was no room for 2 people, let alone animals. We discussed getting a taxi for ourselves. Then he quoted us the price: $1200. That’s $100 per mile.

At that point I called back Good Sam and spoke to a third person. They had mentioned that if I contacted a company myself after they were unable to assist me that I could “submit the bill for reimbursement consideration.” I wanted to ensure that they would pay this bill, since it was so large. And could they possibly get a better price if they called directly, now that the towing company was answering the phone again?

Things went downhill from there. There was no guarantee that they would pay all (or any) of the towing fee, I was told, and for some reason when I “called the authorities” I became responsible for getting my own help. It didn’t matter to his person that I had called both the towing company and the police at the specific instructions of the previous Good Sam agents, and at no time had they informed me that doing so would void my coverage. The response: “Well, I’m just telling you how it is.” My response: “Then I want to speak to a supervisor.”

I was put on hold for over ten minutes before I hung up. I proceeded to call my brother, the automobile guru, and was told that unfortunately there was no way we could jerry-rig the leak with duct tape and extra brake fluid and then limp back into town. Meanwhile, Good Sam called back about six times and I ignored their call each time. I was done with them.

Ryan and I talked it over. We determined that since there were no repair shops open today anyway, and we are (mostly) and have what we need, we might as well stay here again tonight. We checked, and even if we could get towed to a campground they wouldn’t let us in while we’re leaking brake fluid and not able to drive away on our own. So we would pay $1200 to get towed back to the Les Schwab parking lot to await Monday morning.

Instead, we’re going to try our luck with the shop bright and early tomorrow in the hopes they will send someone out (or foot the bill for the towing?? That part’s a pipe dream). I guess we’ll see what happens tomorrow. If need be, we will pay the $1200, because 3 nights in a row of dry camping is our absolute limit at this point. To be continued…


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