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Thread: Engine meltdown disaster

  1. #1
    DonTom
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    Engine meltdown disaster

    Here, I am going to explain all the problems, from the very beginning we had with the RV, in the order they came, during our trip half way across the country.

    Before we got out of Reno, the oil pressure gauge stopped working. I figured that was not worth worrying about for now. The gauge was acting like the wire came loose from the sensor.

    When in Yellowstone, we stopped at a store at a place that was level and I decided to check the tranny fluid. It was a quart low, so I added a quart. As I was filling it, a cup or so of it dripped to the ground just as if there is a hole in the tranny filler tube. I know that this could be the case, because I once had a small hole in a tranny dipstick tube in another GM van which leaked the tranny fluid right on the the drive belts from such a small hole. I have no clue how or why this hole develops. Anyway, the RV only drips the tranny fluid as I fill it, not when I drive it, It didn't lose a drop of tranny fluid after I added the quart in Yellowstone.

    Besides it eating a quart of engine oil per day at high sustained speeds, these were the only problems on the way to Dodge. All very minor problems.

    Then, about five miles west of Dodge, the very start of the return trip, while Tom was driving, the engine died. About as far from home as possible! I checked what I could and noticed the fuel pump had no voltage from the ECM, fuel pump relay not keyed by the ECM. I wiggled a few wires and heard the fuel pump come on and drove another 20 minutes and the engine died again. After this happening three of four times after many hours, I changed the ECM (I carry a lot of spare parts). By now, it is later and a little cooler and the RV ran perfect for many more hours until we stopped for the night.

    The next day, with the ECM changed, the RV ran fine until about 1600 hrs, when it was again over 100 F outside. Then the engine died again and I changed the ECM to the first one and went on for about a half an hour and the engine died again. By this time, I figured out that the ECM was getting too warm and that was really causing the problem. The ECM is mounted in front of the right door inside the cab right next to a vent hat I can open and close. But it gets too warm there for the ECM with the vent open or closed. It was just a coincidence that the fuel pump came on as I wiggled some wires the first time.

    Tom (who knows nothing about electronics ) came up with an idea that I would not have thought of. He said remove the 12 VDC van that we keep on for the doggies when we park in the heat and use it to help cool the area where the ECM is. That worked to keep the ECM cooler so it would no longer fail.

    BTW, during all this, I was wondering if technophobic Eric is correct, Carbs have no ECM to overheat!

    BTW, I think I heard somewhere that there is a much more expensive ECM that can take a lot more heat and can even be mounted in the engine compartment. Seems that's what I am going to need to fix this problem of the ECM failing at very high temps. The only cooler place I could move it to would be to block the A/C.

    Tom's fan trick worked for the rest of the trip and no more ECM failures.

    Now, the BIG problem:

    About six miles east of Wendover, NV (on the state line between Utah and NV on I-80), while Tom was driving (late night), it SEEMED like we had a blow out on one of our new tires. The vehicle shook all over the lane. We were doing about 70 MPH, slightly downhill, when this happened at around 0100 hrs on Friday. When we got out and checked the tires, all looked fine. I knew this was bad news!

    We tried to start the engine. The engine is FROZEN. Only straining the starter by trying to start. We used a cellphone and called AAA to be towed to Wendover, NV. We're there by 0300 hrs or so. We find all the hotels in Wendover are booked because of races in the Bonneville slat flats. We stayed in the lot overnight (that we were towed to) and slept in the RV overnight. This was next to Brad's Automotive Repair in Wendover. Seemed we had a lot of problems. In Wendover, there was no kennels for the doggies. No way we could think of to get home. We're stuck 420 miles from home.

    In the end, the next day, we made contact with the same tow truck driver and I made a deal with him. He would tow me 100 miles free on my AAA Plus card. And to be towed the other 320 miles to Reno, I pay him a thousand dollars. He drops off the RV at Bob's Auto and Truck repair in Reno (the same place the engine was replaced last time) and from there, drove us home.

    Now, I have some questions.

    What's the most likely problem with the engine (I have a guess, but I want to hear the guess from others, before I give my guess)?

    If it needs a new engine do I junk this RV with the new $1,300 A/C and new thousand dollars worth of less than one week old new tires tires?

    One thing I have decided on is that I will NOT have another 400 CID small block rebuilt engine. Most of the miles this blown engine has on it is from this trip. This 400 CID rebuilt crapped out in about 8,000 miles. Barely broken in!

    -Don-


  2. #2
    Vulture of The Western World Eric's Avatar
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    Re: Engine meltdown disaster

    Hey Don,

    First - very sorry to hear your trip went sour this way. I won't say a thing about the ECM, either (will save that for later!)

    Based on what you wrote - and the fact that you have a 400 V-8 - here is what I would guess happened:

    The high heat/load led to a head gasket failure (common with these siamesed-bore 400s), coolant got into the engine and it experienced hydraulic lock in one or more cylinders.

    You also mentioned the oil gauge reading erratically - so it's also a good guess that this "new" engine" had a defective oil pump - or that it simply used enough oil (a quart per day struck me as way excessive, incidentally) so that it ran low enough to cause you serious trouble.

    Let us know what it turns out to be... .

    And as far as the replacement issue:

    I agree with you on NOT using another 400. I know some people have used these engines without problems, but there's a reason why GM discontinued this particular small block after just a few short years of production.

    I would, if I were in your place, find a low-miles GM Vortec (5.4) V-8 or similar from a junkyard and remove all the EFI crap and swap on a conventional dual-plane four-barrel intake and HEI ignition. These are very strong/durable engines and when converted to a carb, simple as hell, too.

    GM also sells "Targetmaster" 350s (brand new) over the counter for about $1,500 (with a warranty) last time I checked. This is a complete long-block engine. Just add inatke/ignition and accessories....

















  3. #3
    mrblanche
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    Re: Engine meltdown disaster

    It wasn't hydraulic lock, at least not initially, since it happened at speed. But a blown head gasket is not an impossibility. If so, it squirted enough water into one or two cylinders to kill them, then locked it after it stopped. But my guess would be a broken rod or rod end. It broke, stuffing the piston to the top of the bore until they stopped, causing the crank to be severely unbalanced. After they stopped, the piston fell back down, and the rod blocked the crank from turning any more.

    The first and easiest fix would be to buy a good new crate 350 and put everything from the 400 on it. I think everything fits, but I'll see a 400 expert this afternoon. As Eric says, the engine would cost you less than $2000, and the labor would come close to that, maybe less. You wouldn't lose much power, and you'd gain a lot of dependability. My advice would be to go for a 350 designated for truck use; the main difference would be four-bolt mains, rather than 2. Again, I think all the electronics, exhaust, etc. would bolt right up.

    And believe me, for less than $5,000, you won't get another RV worth having.

  4. #4
    Vulture of The Western World Eric's Avatar
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    Re: Engine meltdown disaster

    Quote Originally Posted by mrblanche
    It wasn't hydraulic lock, at least not initially, since it happened at speed. But a blown head gasket is not an impossibility. If so, it squirted enough water into one or two cylinders to kill them, then locked it after it stopped. But my guess would be a broken rod or rod end. It broke, stuffing the piston to the top of the bore until they stopped, causing the crank to be severely unbalanced. After they stopped, the piston fell back down, and the rod blocked the crank from turning any more.

    The first and easiest fix would be to buy a good new crate 350 and put everything from the 400 on it. I think everything fits, but I'll see a 400 expert this afternoon. As Eric says, the engine would cost you less than $2000, and the labor would come close to that, maybe less. You wouldn't lose much power, and you'd gain a lot of dependability. My advice would be to go for a 350 designated for truck use; the main difference would be four-bolt mains, rather than 2. Again, I think all the electronics, exhaust, etc. would bolt right up.

    And believe me, for less than $5,000, you won't get another RV worth having.
    Amen to all of that; and esp. what Mike says about the four-bolt "truck" blocks. Another option to consider is a big block (396/402/454). These engines will cost you more than a small block, but you'll get the horsepower and toughness you need....

  5. #5
    mrblanche
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    Re: Engine meltdown disaster

    I believe Don said he didn't have room for a big-block already. And they are significantly more expensive.

  6. #6
    Vulture of The Western World Eric's Avatar
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    Re: Engine meltdown disaster

    Quote Originally Posted by mrblanche
    I believe Don said he didn't have room for a big-block already. And they are significantly more expensive.
    I wonder whether it's a question of swapping motor mounts (easy to do, as you know) or having to cut/beat the firewall, etc. to make it fit (too much hassle)...?

    I agree the big blocks are more expensive; then again, how much has Don already spent on the blown small block?

    I don't know RVs well - but I'm assuming Don's weighs at least twice what a typical ful-size SUV weighs. Asking a small block to lug that kindof a load around seems like it's asking a lot!

  7. #7
    DonTom
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    Re: Engine meltdown disaster

    "But my guess would be a broken rod or rod end."

    That's my guess too, mainly because when this happened, the engine unbalance felt just like a blown out tire. I have had this happen before in the same vehicle. Also, it seems to me that rods usually break when driving down hill as was the case then.

    I am sure that the oil pressure gauge problem is unrelated to anything serious. I know how these gauges act when they are disconnected from the sensor and that's how this one is acting. It's not acting like low oil pressure. In fact, it reads way too high, not low, which is what happens when the wire is removed from the oil pressure sensor.

    No room for a big block (the small block barely fits as it is, making it very difficult to get the spark plugs out, etc.). Also, the exhaust system would have to be changed and my EFI won't fit.

    I agree with the new 350. I will not put in a rebuilt or another 400 CID. I do believe everything will fit, but I should get a new chip for the ECM, but I assume the prom chip for a 400 will work in a 350, just won't be perfect. I can find a way to deal with the ECM heat problem. If I have to go back to a carb, I will also junk the vehicle (hear that, Eric!).

    BTW, when a rod breaks, does it always mean a new engine is needed? And are rods less likely to break in a 350 than in a 400 CID?

    BTW, it was after midnight, downhill and fairly cool when this happened. Does NOT seem to be related to an overheating problem and the coolant temp gauge was only a third up.

    One thing nice about all this is that the more serious problems were on the way home so it didn't spoil most of the trip. OTOH, our trip to China was cheaper!

    I should know for sure what's wrong with the engine by Monday or Tuesday. A small chance even for today (Saturday). They normally are not open on Saturdays, but this week is an exception.

    BTW, Tom and I decided to never take a vacation in August again, Too many things going on, such as Sturgis, the races in Wendnover and even "Hot August Nights" here in Reno, causing crowds just about everywhere. Here in Reno, "Hot August Nights" is when Reno fills up with people showing off their very old classic cars.

    http://renotahoe.about.com/cs/artsen...gustNights.htm

    -Don-




  8. #8
    DonTom
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    Re: Engine meltdown disaster

    "but I'm assuming Don's weighs at least twice what a typical ful-size SUV weighs."

    I have weight my RV at a truck stop. It's total weight is about 11,100 lbs, with all tanks about half full.

    Rear axle weight is 7,520 lbs.

    Front axle weight is 3,580 lbs.

    BTW, in SD, even my RV has to go to the truck weight stations. At least true on I-90 and we did such. The sign says "all vehicles over 6,000 lbs MUST stop at weight station".

    In all other states I have been to, it says all commercial trucks or whatever.

    -Don-

  9. #9
    MikeHalloran
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    Re: Engine meltdown disaster

    Yeah, go with the new 5.7 truck block, and break it in gently ... at least 600 miles before you even get on a freeway.

  10. #10
    DonTom
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    Re: Engine meltdown disaster

    "or that it simply used enough oil (a quart per day struck me as way excessive, incidentally) so that it ran low enough to cause you serious trouble."

    I forgot to mention something about this. Right after the engine broke down, I did check the oil and it showed no oil on the dipstick. I then added oil just to see how low it really was. Two quarts filled it up to a little above the "full" line, showing tha I was less than two quarts low from "full", or less than one quart below the "min" line. This means three quarts in the engine. That's not low enough to cause any problem, is it? Besides, I assume the break down made the oil level look lower on the dipstick somehow, because it has never used up that much oil even after almost 20 hours of high speed driving.

    BTW, the day before we did not have to add any oil, it only went down a drop. We were driving a little slower that day as there were no more 75 MPH speed limits. There were only two days we did not have to add oil, the day when we went 45 MPH all day (not a drop of oil used) and the day before the engine blew up (just used up a cup of oil or so). The high speeds (4,000 RPM's at about 80 MPH for more than 12 hours per day) all day was eating up the oil. However, I agree that a quart per day still seems excessive even at those speeds.

    -Don-



  11. #11
    mrblanche
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    Re: Engine meltdown disaster

    Using a quart of oil per 500 miles is within the "normal" range, especially in as heavy a vehicle as that. Just for curiosity...how was the water level after this incident?

    I've checked with my hot-rod friends, and so far they've said that the 350 might have a little less torque, but you can get a version that would actually have more. Also, be sure to get an engine with the harmonic balancer, flex plate, and starter, since those items are different in most cases (the 400 is externally balanced, and the 350 is internally balanced). Also be sure that you get the water pump with the same direction of rotation as the current pump. That means if you have serpentine belt (not likely), be sure you get the same kind of setup.

    It's possible you didn't beat the living daylights out of the engine with a broken rod, but I wouldn't bet that way.

  12. #12
    Senior Member misterdecibel's Avatar
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    Re: Engine meltdown disaster

    I agree with the assessment of a thrown rod, or other major bottom-end engine failure. Maybe a turned bearing.

    As for why it went at a time when it wasn't hot or heavily stressed, well engine damage is cumulative.

    If the engine only had 8000 miles on it, wasn't there any sort of warranty from whoever built it?

  13. #13
    DonTom
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    Re: Engine meltdown disaster

    "Using a quart of oil per 500 miles is within the "normal" range, especially in as heavy a vehicle as that. Just for curiosity...how was the water level after this incident?"

    We were doing well more than 500 miles per day at around 80 MPH, which is a lot of RPM's in this thing (4,000). I wasn't sure if that was normal or not, but I thought there was a chance that it might be when it ate up no oil at all driving at 45 mph all day through the parks.

    "As for why it went at a time when it wasn't hot or heavily stressed, well engine damage is cumulative."

    I have experienced three broken rods, always in a RV or large van. In every case, it was when it was cool and going down hill. My theory is that going down hill is pushing more outward on the rods and after climbing many hills the rods break as the attempt to stretch out while going down hill.
    Think about the piston as it's pushing the rod down. Then it's hard to break. But going down hill, the rod is pushing our from the piston, which is when it's most likely to break. However, it's probably made weak by going up hill, but won't break until going down.

    The question I have is a rod more likely to break in a thin wall 400 than in a thicker wall 350? I can understand the head gasket problem, but does the thickness of the cylinder walls have an effect on the rods breaking? I wouldn't think so. I tend to believe that the rebuilt engine didn't have new rods and that perhaps that was the problem more than it being a 400 small block. If I am wrong, I hope somebody here will correct me.

    If I cannot get a decent and NEW engine put in this thing, it will be junked with the thousand bucks worth of new tires & etc.

    I lean toward junking it and buying a much newer RV with a better, larger engine. I might even consider a diesel, the only problem is I don't know a thing about diesel engines, not even the basics as I never owned one. But I guess I can start learning about them.


    "If the engine only had 8000 miles on it, wasn't there any sort of warranty from whoever built it?"


    They only give short warranties on truck/RV engines. Usually a few months or a few thousand miles, whichever comes first. I am a little over on both. I hear I cannot even get any warranty if I don't put back in the same engine the vehicle came with. However, that's out of the question, I would rather take my chances without a warranty than putting in another rebuilt 400 CID.

    -Don-




  14. #14
    DonTom
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    Re: Engine meltdown disaster

    Today, I heard from Bob at Bob's Auto & truck repair. He said he could see damage near the oil pan, so a rod must be jammed up. Well, later, but after Bob left, I went down there to see for myself. The only damage I saw under the RV was a dent in the TH400 TRANNY oil pan. But that was there before the engine blew out. This makes me think Bob didn't take a very good look. I stayed under the RV for several minutes with a flashlight, I did not see any damage anywhere that wasn't there before the start of this last trip and the engine oil pan looked fine to me.

    The tranny oil pan looks like it got damaged by a large rock or something. It does not leak, so I don't worry about it. Besides, that happened so many years ago I forgot about what even caused it.

    Perhaps Bob noticed something I didn't, but I kinda doubt it. Or perhaps he knows what to look for that I don't. But the entire engine oil pan looked as good as new to me.

    But at this point, I have made a decision anyway, to junk the RV, regardless. I figure it will be at least a year or two before we go on another RV trip to anywhere. We will buy another much newer RV then, before we want to go on the next trip.

    Today, we started to remove stuff from the RV, such as the backup camera, GPS antenna, power inverter, DC converter and such stuff that I would normally keep in the RV if I were going to just have it repaired. Of course, it's still not too late for me to change my mind, but the more we thought about it, it's a good time to junk the thing and buy a much more expensive RV later, before the next trip we take, which may not be for quite a while anyway.

    But we quite firmly decided to junk this thing, with the new $1,300.00 A/C and thousand bucks worth of one week old tires.

    At least the break downs all happened on the way home, so our trip wasn't spoiled by any of this. We saw all the places we wanted to see from here to half way across the country.

    We will be looking for deals for decent RV a bit later. But I would like to get some advice on a good engine to look for. And should I be looking for a diesel?

    -Don-



  15. #15
    Vulture of The Western World Eric's Avatar
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    Re: Engine meltdown disaster

    "We were doing well more than 500 miles per day at around 80 MPH, which is a lot of RPM's in this thing (4,000). I wasn't sure if that was normal or not, but I thought there was a chance that it might be when it ate up no oil at all driving at 45 mph all day through the parks."

    Now I know why the engine failed. Running that 400 at a steady 4,000 RPM for extended periods likely stressed it beyond endurance. The redline of this engine is probably only slightly higher than 4,000 RPM. Ideally, you want "cruise" RPM to be closer to 2,200-2,500 RPM. The stock rods were not designed for the kind of abuse you subjected them to!

    PS - If you want to save your warranty coverage (if any) do not tell them about running that puppy at 4,000 rpm for hours on end!

  16. #16
    mrblanche
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    Re: Engine meltdown disaster

    Yeah, that was exactly my thought when I saw it!

    A diesel engine would be great, but you need to be prepared for some of the oddities, including problems with letting it sit. But you'll get a lot more easy work out of it than any gas engine.

    However...it seems to me that the for the price of an RV, you could stay in a pretty nice motel every night.

    I wish I was closer...I'd take it off your hands!

    In fact, you could probably e-bay it for the price of your A/C and tires.

  17. #17
    DonTom
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    Re: Engine meltdown disaster

    "Ideally, you want "cruise" RPM to be closer to 2,200-2,500 RPM."

    That would be very slow in this RV. It's geared very low. If 80 MPH is @ 4K RPM, then 2,200 RPM would be 44 MPH, which would be rather slow where the speed limit is 75 MPH.

    But we also climbed several mountains in Colorado to above 11,000 feet, which was not easy on that engine.

    I am not sure, but I think the red line is about 5,000 RPM.

    -Don-


  18. #18
    DonTom
    Guest

    Re: Engine meltdown disaster

    "Just for curiosity...how was the water level after this incident?"

    I think I forgot to answer that. I did check, there was no change. It used no coolant during this trip, not even after the meltdown. It does have a coolant recovery tank.

    There's no evidence of coolant getting into the engine.
    -Don-

  19. #19
    DonTom
    Guest

    Re: Engine meltdown disaster

    "Yeah, that was exactly my thought when I saw it!"

    What are you referring to?

    "but you need to be prepared for some of the oddities, including problems with letting it sit. "

    What happens to diesels when they are left sitting? And would it help much by simply starting the engine once in a while?

    "However...it seems to me that the for the price of an RV, you could stay in a pretty nice motel every night."


    Hotels are often a hassle to find when traveling with a couple of doggies, but if not too hot, they could be left in the car. We sometimes stay in the RV over night far from any hotels. The RV is NOT to save money, but for the convenience. It's much like bringing a home with the refrigerator, stove, bathroom all that can be used at any time. Also, we often drive until very late hours, when motels that are NOT full, turn on their "no vacancy" signs because they don't want to be bothered. We often stay the night at rest stops right on the freeways.

    -Don-

  20. #20
    Vulture of The Western World Eric's Avatar
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    Re: Engine meltdown disaster

    Quote Originally Posted by DonTom
    "Ideally, you want "cruise" RPM to be closer to 2,200-2,500 RPM."

    That would be very slow in this RV. It's geared very low. If 80 MPH is @ 4K RPM, then 2,200 RPM would be 44 MPH, which would be rather slow where the speed limit is 75 MPH.

    But we also climbed several mountains in Colorado to above 11,000 feet, which was not easy on that engine.

    I am not sure, but I think the red line is about 5,000 RPM.

    -Don-

    I understand - slow sucks - but 4,000 rpm continuously was (and is) excessive strain. It's actually impressive it held together as long as it did...

    I forget whether the RV had an overdrive transmission; sounds like it did not.

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