Busted in California

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Our hope was lost. After calling Honda the morning after our van called it quits, we were devastated to find out they were full for the day, possibly even longer. We moved our camper to a site that would be available for the next night, and continued on to Honda anyway. There was nowhere else for us to go. After begging and pleading with our young, yet savvy service coordinator Andrew, he agreed to ‘try’ squeezing our car in. Camped out in the dealership lobby, we realized our carefully planned out itinerary was over. The kids were confused. So were we. Stranded in Fresno, what felt like the homeless capital of the world, we were ironically close to the same. Our home away from home was stuck in the residential Fresno RV Park campground, surrounded by video cameras installed by the owner to keep the homeless out. We now had no way to move it.

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Eerily familiar to a couple weeks prior at the Colorado Honda, we set the kids up with the ipads, and I began to make all our calls, cancelling our site in Sequoia’s pristine Lodgepole Campground, setting up trip interruption coverage with AAA, and trying to get in touch with cousin Jill, who was stranded in Sequoia without a tent or sleeping bag. Then came the call to the extended warranty company that would become a daily occurrence and struggle for us. When we bought it, we never thought to ask if it was an actual Honda warranty. We had had a few car issues, but had never had a problem with it. Andrew informed us that he had placed the call to them, but was only left with an option to leave a message. It had been hours, yet they still had not returned his call. They had discovered quickly that it was at least a blown head gasket, possibly even the whole engine needing replacement. We were shocked and frustrated that the Colorado dealership had missed this.

Andrew told us that they would need authorization to tear down the engine before they would know how bad it was. He said due to the catastrophic nature, some warranty companies may insist on an inspector being flown in after tear down to inspect the vehicle before authorizing repairs or denying the claim completely. The $2000 tear down authorization was on us, and if the warranty company decided to deny the repairs, we would have to pay $1000 of it even though we would then be junking the car, as the repairs may cost more than the car was worth, with 80,000 miles. The warranty company had still not called Fresno Honda back, so I was left to call the customer line and wait on hold for the first hour of many spent on hold over the next couple weeks. After speaking with the warranty company, I handed the phone over to Andrew, who was told to call them back after the tear down was complete, and that they would indeed schedule an inspector to fly out afterwards. Even after arguing that we were stranded without a vehicle all the way across the country, and questioning whether they could simply schedule the inspector now since it was a Wednesday and we would like the inspector to come on Friday, they were denied. We were told he would fly out within 24 hours, but knew that when they called the next day (Thursday), they would not fly him out the next day, or even over the weekend, leaving us without a chance to order parts or continue with repairs for a week.

Andrew recommended we go without a rental car for as long as possible, as this was almost surely going to take longer than the allowed 5 rental days. Jill had realized we were stuck, came down the mountain, and was with us again. Honda asked if they could make us their last shuttle back to the campground, so we began the painful process of unpacking our well-travelled in van, and loading it all into the Honda shuttle and Jill’s rental prius. We spent the rest of the evening unpacking all our displaced belongings, and trying to relax by the much appreciated campground pool.

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We were told that we would be covered for an equivalent vehicle in passenger size and towing capacity, but discovered the next day that there were no car rental companies that had a hitch or allowed towing of any kind. In addition, the rental place did not have any vehicles that would seat our family of seven people, and that we would only be reimbursed for $30/day for 5 days, maybe 10 if the warranty company agreed. Our options were (1) a non-towing vehicle that would seat part of our family, or (2) a U-haul pickup truck that could tow our camper, but only seat three of us in the bench front seat. We opted for option two since we were fortunate enough to have Jill with us for the next 10 days (who had room for the other 4 of us).. and it would allow us to move our camper to wherever we could go. We would be limited to 1200 miles over the rental period before getting charged by the mile, but it was still the best solution we could come up with.

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We were elated to pick up our new wheels and continue up to Sequoia for the day, even if it was a 3 hour drive to the heart of the park. Not all had been lost! We spent the day seeing as many sights and sequoias as we could while Clawson Fresno Honda worked hard to get our engine torn down. One more night in the RV park, and we would be on our way.

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On our way north to Yosemite, we stopped by Clawson Honda to discover the engine was torn down, but that the warranty company still would not return their phone call. It was a worst case scenario – the engine was blown. We were looking at an $8500 repair. Again, we set up camp in the lobby and spent the next hour waiting for them to pick up my call so we could be hand the phone over to Andrew and get the inspector scheduled to fly out. As expected, they told him nobody would be able to make it until early the following week.

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During the time we were waiting, Chuck met somebody who played another key role in the Odyssey saga. Reno was the relationship development director for the Fresno Honda dealership. Only in California, right? He felt an immediate connection with us, took us under his wing, and did everything in his power to help. He tried to talk the warranty company into approving the parts order, called our Illinois dealership hoping to have them underwrite the warranty company, and agreed to help us out with part of the rental costs we were taking on. It was unfortunate that unlike many other dealerships, they did not have a loaner car to send with us. Reno offered us some form of stability and comfort in a volatile situation.   We left Fresno not knowing if we would have reception during our week in Yosemite, but insisted we would leave the national park daily to check in on the progress with our vehicle. Since it was Friday, we would have two days with no progress on the car, but a time of peace, knowing we couldn’t do anything about it.

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Despite feeling anxious and worried at times, we tried to convince ourselves that nothing was in our power and that things could be so much worse. We were all healthy and together in one of the most gorgeous places in the world, with a home and vehicle to travel in. Moments of fear were overshadowed by hope and joy. We hiked, played in the river, and enjoyed our time in one of the most coveted campgrounds in America, Yosemite’s Upper Pines. Our site was next to the bathroom, keeping it somewhat easy to keep our phones charged in anticipation of news.

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Monday came and went and nobody contacted us from Honda, despite having pretty decent service most of the time. We called Honda, the warranty company, and our Illinois dealership, hoping they could twist their warranty company’s arm into being more cooperative. Nobody knew what had happened to the inspector. It was a third party company hired to send out the inspectors, so they would try to find out what happened. Tuesday came and went and the inspector finally showed up.

Wednesday, we drove out of the park, expecting victory. Unfortunately, we were met with more trouble. Even though we were stranded across the country, the warranty company was requesting all maintenance records of the vehicle over the last 7 years of ownership, as well as registration information on our popup. We informed Andrew that some of the maintenance records were in our glove compartment, and he faxed them over to the warranty group. Tracy, the warranty person from the Illinois dealership, also played a critical role, as she pushed for some understanding in not having access to all maintenance records while being trapped across the country… and even better, was able to call the rep directly instead of being put on hold for hours at a time.

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Clearly, the warranty company was looking for any way not to be held accountable for this Odyssey. Hours later, we were informed that the warranty company indeed denied our claim. We called to ask what the grounds were for the denial and were informed that our towing capacity exceeded our allowed limit. We were shocked. The 3.000 pound popup was lighter than most, and far below the allowed amount. Unknown to us,. the IL camper registration form lists a generic weight of 10,000 pounds instead of the correct amount. Stranded at a Costco with a moment of cell reception, we sent over pictures of our camper, proving the corrected weight. Tracy called to have them re-evaluate the situation quickly, so parts could finally get ordered. The warranty company was left with no choice but to change since their grounds for denial were incorrect. Approval at last!

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And the waiting game began… 8 days in without our van this time, we had at least another week to go, maybe more, depending on how long it took for the parts to come in. We arrived at the Big Sur Pacific Coast wondering if moving forward with the Odyssey was our best option. Reno had planted a seed about trading the car in, so we spent the next couple days researching Illinois e-pricing on Odysseys and Suburbans, our two top vehicle choices. We waited for Honda to get back to us with the best pricing they could give us in California, knowing it would have to be another Odyssey since ours was torn apart on their floor, yet knowing an Odyssey probably didn’t work for us after what we did to this one. Still, we were so desperate to move on without having to drive around with what we deemed our most worthy belongings travelling around in the back of an open pickup. Within a couple days, we learned that the California pricing system would have cost us a few thousand dollars more, despite their desire to work with us. A different emissions package and destination charges made it impossible for us to consider buying in Cali.

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The weekend hit again and we continued on without much stress, knowing Honda was doing their part to get our car out of there as fast as possible. The Hamiltons joined us in Big Sur and we continued on to Pinnacles National Park. We had a wild night with a truck bed full of raccoons there, a story we can’t wait to share another time. From there, we moved back to the Marina Dunes coast north of Monterey and Carmel. Poor cousin Jill left, after having to be at the mercy of our messed up schedule and discouraged selves for a week and a half.

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As Honda worked on our vehicle, the warranty company continued to give them trouble. As we were ready to leave Marina for San Francisco, we got a call that the similar used engine with 80,000 miles the warranty group had ordered to “repair” our vehicle had blown gaskets and many other parts that needed replacement. The warranty group continued to fight those repairs. The contract stated the rubberized parts would not be covered for repairs, so we were forced to pay $700 out of our pocket to repair the broken engine they had chosen, but it was the best we had after arguing with them for hours on the next car ride until they agreed to pay the labor charges to repair the engine they chose. Sigh.

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Moving along, we arrived in San Francisco hoping we would be able to join Mom (who had just flown in to San Fran) and make it to Oregon for her flight out the next week.  One of our biggest stressors was knowing we had friends and family flying in and out along the whole route who were depending on us being there.  After spending two nights in Samuel P Taylor State Park, Honda let us know the Midwest rust on our van was making it difficult to get the engine removed, and they would need another day, forcing the Hamiltons to continue on without us.

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We were already 4.5 hours away from Fresno and could not continue up to the Redwoods 6 hours north without completely going above our allotted mileage allowance. Things got a little tricky as we had to find a new spot to camp… in a place we had reserved 6 months prior. We got lucky that night and were able to move to someone’s site who decided to leave a night early. It was one of the most beautiful sites we had ever camped in.

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We were scheduled to pick up the car the next day, but upon breaking down camp and calling in to Honda, we were told they were still having trouble with all the rust and the car would not be done. We would not be catching up with the Hamiltons as hoped and were forced to move to a private Olema Campground, far from a favorite and the location of the poison oak that infected poor Braden. Mom was forced to keep her rental car, and we made the best of the day and explored Point Reyes National Seashore.

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We cleared out everything left in the U-haul pickup and mom’s rental, and Chuck left early the next morning for Fresno, with Mom following shortly behind to return her rental to San Francisco. Chuck returned the rental just in time and he waited at Honda for most of the day. Honda was unable to get the check from the warranty group and Chuck had a little scare, as they are not supposed to send the car of without the payment. Lucky for us, they allowed it, and after picking my mom up at the San Fran airport, they made it back shortly after dark.

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After 16 days in California without the car (24 total including the 8 days in Colorado), we revised our plans one final time, cancelling one reservation in Oregon, and found a one night cancellation in Avenue of the Giants. Camping among the redwoods was definitely a highlight of the trip, and we enjoyed every second we were able to spend there. Despite a couple scares with the temperature gage, the Odyssey made it out of California and all the way home, thanks to the help of friends and family all the way home! Our little log cabin never felt better!

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13 thoughts on “Busted in California”

  1. My goodness, what a story. I do see how the kids learned how to act in a big crisis. In the pictures you are all smiling. I also see how your family came together and encouraged each other to keep on keeping on. Uncle Ron just walked over and I gave him a brie summery and he think he will not read the story …too over whelming. I love the spirit of adventure and hope and love in this family and I am surely feeling in my heart you all are heros. Love you bunches.

  2. Wow..such a story. I love your pictures. You sure PERSEVERE THRU ALL OF THE PROBLEMS YOU ENDURED. READING AND SEEING YOUR PICTURES MAKES ME REALIZE THE STRENGTH, THE SUPER BONDING, DETERMINATION, LOVE YOUR FAMILY HAS. I WILL BE AS ANXIOUSLY AWAITING ANOTHER STORY, SERIOUSLY..YOU NEED TO WRITE A BOOK. ITVWOULD BE THE NUMBER 1 SELLER

    1. You are always so encouraging Pat! It’s so nice to hear that you enjoy reading about our travels. Thank you!

  3. Wow! What an adventure or the kind no one wants to live through. I am sure every vacation you experience from now on will not compare in trials and tribulations. It looks like you made the most of what you could and you should pat yourself so in the back for that.

    1. You never know! We do not expect that is the hardest trial we will go through on vacation, but it would be nice 😉 We look back on the time with fond memories mostly.

    1. It was! Now that it’s over, we will always remember it… and we learned some lessons along the way:)

  4. Great part two Suzy. I like to think that the most troublesome parts of our lives are also often the most educational. After the Odyssey lesson I think you are due for a summer of learning nothing but how blissful an easy, trouble free adventure can be. 😉

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