Saturday, December 31, 2011

Our Trip Vehicle: LeTigre, the little van that could...

Our faithful little van/home for the last 5 months.
15,570 miles so far!

Quite a few people have asked about our van and how's she's holding up so I thought I'd do an update on her status.  First a little background...

We considered a few other van-based motorhomes and camper vans before purchasing LeTigre back in July 2010.  A Volksagen Westfalia conversion would have been nice but the purchase price for one of these is pretty steep and I wouldn't have been able to work on it as easily as LeTigre, which is based on a Chevy Astro mini-van.

Which one of these is not like the others?

We knew what we didn't want, a full size RV.  A priority for us was being able to drive anywhere a regular van could go and have something with decent gas mileage.  We've averaged just under 15 miles per gallon so far.  This includes lots of mountains...

The company that made LeTigre, called Provan, is still in business and we encountered a handful of newer ones along our trip.

Needles Highway in the South Dakota Black Hills, no problem.

LeTigre is 6'8" tall so parking garages did pose a problem but this one in San Francisco was 7' so we skimmed in.

Auto ferries were never an issue.  LeTigre is only 17' long, no extra charge!

We encountered this Tiger in Crater Lake National Park, Oregon.  There're quite a few of the older ones still kicking around, especially out west, as they were built in Colorado.  We found ours on craigslist and picked her up in Sedona, AZ.

Problems along the way?  Oh sure, there were a few.
This vent cover blew off in South Dakota... twice!  After the second replacement disappeared, I had to rig it with some tupperware lids and duct tape until we could get another one.

Ahhh the wonders of duct tape, this held for months!

If you're not familiar with this it's a "coil wire".  It carries the spark from the ignition coil to the distributor.  This was the source of our first breakdown in Vancouver, BC.  Luckily, LeTigre is old enough (1988) for me to still understand and work on.  I rerouted the coil wire away from what it was arcing on and got to the nearest auto parts store to get a new set of spark plug wires.  $50 bucks, no big deal.

AAA to the rescue.
We have the membership with the free 100 mile tow.
I highly recommend it if you ever embark on a cross country road trip.

This could have been fixed on the roadside if we hadn't broke down in the middle of nowhere.  Got dropped at an auto parts store and installed the new one in the parking lot.
The culprit?  A $50 serpentine belt tensioner.

LeTigre turned her 200,000th mile along the way!

She's got the old fashioned 5 digit odometer so it's like starting over again!

Starter motor in Albuquerque.  Guess how much?
Yep, $50.

So besides the starter, tensioner, plug wires, and vent covers, the only other maintenance has been front brake pads (in Portland), a power steering hose (in Colorado), and oil changes.

Here in Texas we're required to get a safety and emissions inspection annually for our vehicles.  We left in June and LeTigre's inspection sticker expired in August, oops.  Of course it was no problem in other states and we made it back to Austin without getting pulled over...
until I was on my way to get the van inspected!  No joke!  Luckily the Trooper that stopped me was in a good mood.  I had Kipper with me and some of our business cards to prove we'd been on an epic road trip and he let me off with a warning.  Thanks Trooper Simmons!

Oh, and LeTigre passed with flying colors!

Since getting back to Austin, we've been working on a few LeTigre projects to get her ready for the next leg of the trip.

More on those soon...

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