Maybe it was an omen.
Our day at the Volvo dealership started with a shower in the Driver’s Lounge. A tiny shower, barely room for me to turn around, but it was hot, the water pelted my back, stealing me for the day, preparing me for bad news.
We’re in the shop for yet, another transmission repair, our third in 12 months.
Our ongoing headache with our Eaton Ultra-Shift transmission returned two weeks ago in Florida. Twice we’ve had warranty repairs, in New Orleans and at this Volvo in Clarksville, the warranty expired six months ago, whatever it is this time, it is all our dime.
The transmission was slamming down into eighth and fourth gears on the downshift, hitting so hard it seemed to stop the tractor in the mid-air. On the upgrade, shifting down from thirteenth to eleventh, the tractor danced, revving the engine, trying to settle into 11 but popping up to 13 and finally slamming back into eleventh.
On the upshift, the same problem at fourth gear, the engine revving, the tractor dancing, the transmission refusing to shift, the engine revving more, shuddering. The only way to recover the shift was to stop the tractor, return to neutral and start again.
Serendipity — we dropped our load in Chicago, IL and traveled to North Vernon, Indiana for servicing on our OnSpot automatic tire chains — returned us to Joe at Kentuckiana Volvo. He worked on the transmission last August securing a second warranty repair and another part replacement.
We wrote Joe an extremely detailed, three-page list of symptoms dating back to the first transmission repair on warranty in December 2010. Including one new development, MacGyver realized that after the tractor had sat in Florida for more than 24 hours, in balmy temperatures, the first shift from second to third out of the parking spot was a hard grind.
It was this sliver of information that produced the fix. Joe inspected the entire transmission and found no problems. He went back to the list of symptoms. It was the grinding shifts that made him think “batteries.” Sure enough, three of the four top-of-the-line, Glass Matte, Yellow Top, Optima, batteries one month past warranty were not holding the charge.
He decided to remove the batteries and take a look at them.
“This is the part you’re not going to like,” Joe said to us. “The batteries are a good brand, but they are not shaped for the Volvo’s harness. They are rounded, the Volvo has a square harness. They are rubbing at the back.”
One battery has been starting and running the truck for probably months now. Everyday we were on borrowed time.
“It’s a design flaw,” said MacGyver, inspecting the photos of the batteries. “And they wouldn’t have been covered under warranty, we would have been told that the tractor destroyed the batteries.”
We’ve been having electrical issues for months with the Inverter and Auxiliary Power Unit. The Inverter was continually shutting off, failing to hold a charge, throwing low voltage, then high voltage codes. Everytime we stopped and started we had to reset the Inverter. MacGyver has scrubbed all the grounds to the batteries, we took the tractor into the Volvo shop in Allentown, Pennsylvania to have the grounds that we couldn’t reach cleaned. But they didn’t look behind the batteries. We were ready to spend $500 on a new Inverter.
New batteries have been installed, an $800 bill is much better than $15,000. We’ve only driven 50 miles but the tractor seems to shift better and as a bonus, the headlights and the chicken lights along the side of the tractor seem brighter.
Joe is getting a thank you card because if he had told us that we needed a new transmission we would have believed him.