Los Angeles Part II: The Lowlights

During our second visit to the City of Angels for some repairs to our RV, we spent much of our time being tourists and seeing the sights. However, during the visit, we also dealt with some very trying circumstances. Being the optimists that we are, we did our best to take these situations in stride and to learn what lessons we could from them. From some, we learned greater lessons than others.

The first and overarching challenge of the LA visit was the length of time that the repairs we were there for took to complete. We were originally anticipating a week, maybe a bit longer, for the repairs to be completed. We arrived on Tuesday, March 7th, and did not end up leaving until Saturday the 25th. Needless to say, this was far longer than we were expecting.

There were delays waiting for an adjuster from our warranty company to come out to review the repairs that were needed, then delays waiting for the warranty company to approve the repairs, then delays waiting on parts to be delivered.

While these delays were extending our stay, the accommodations were not exactly comfortable. Beggars cannot be choosers, of course, so we were very grateful to the repair shop for allowing us to stay, and we were grateful for being able to stay in LA at no cost. However, towards the end of our stay there, we were so exhausted by the challenging accommodations.

The facility was enclosed by an 8-foot iron fence with the only entrance being a large rolling gate with a padlock. We were given keys to this gate as we had to unlock and relock the gate when coming or going after hours. Unbeknownst to us before booking our repairs there, the shop was also not in the greatest of areas, so they were allowing us to park our Jeep off the street, inside the gate at night. Sometimes this was quite challenging as there were several other vehicles that were also parked inside the small area just inside the gate.

Walking our furry family was another challenge during our stay. There was no grass or dirt to be found inside of the facility, so we had to walk them outside of the gate each time, to a small patch of grass in front of an apartment complex next door. After hours, this required unlocking and relocking the gate.

I try to mostly post photos of pretty views, but the truth is that RVing is just not always pretty views. We have been in an RV repair shop having some extended warranty work done for a little over two weeks now, and this Sprinter van and RV have been our daily view. Supposedly we will be ready to go tomorrow, but I'm trying not to get my hopes up because several different dates have already come and gone…? . On a more pleasant note, I'm really loving all the new air plants that we purchased yesterday from a really lovely garden center in the Northridge Valley (the ones in front of the window box). The plan is to mount them to the wall, but for now, this window is a great spot for them. I went over an extensive mini-guide on how to care for air plants, so check out our story if you are curious about them. ??✌? ~S #LifeAmongPlants #PhileasRemodel

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The first issue we experienced while in LA actually began on the day of our arrival. We were still towing our Jeep when we arrived (a mistake, looking back), while making a pass around the block where the facility was located, I was turning right at small, busy, four-way stop intersection and ended up clipping the curb on the right to avoid the other traffic and parked cars on the street. The Jeep also rolled over this curb with both of its passenger tires. Since our Jeep is a pretty rugged, offroad, 4×4 vehicle, a curb would normally not be a big deal for it. However, even though I had rolled over the curb as slowly as I could, the impact was severe enough to damage the passenger side axle U-joint.

As soon as we disconnected the Jeep a few minutes later, we heard a knocking sound from the front-end when making left or right turns. With the remainder of that first day, we finished sorting out our arrival at the RV repair facility and decided to figure out what was wrong with the Jeep the following day.

The next morning, I took the Jeep to a Pepboys down the road for a $20 diagnosis (which was clutch, by the way!). A few hours later they informed me that the issue was the front axle U-joints and quoted me $650 for the repair. Ouch. Since I was not interested in spending $650 for the work, I picked up the car and began doing some research on the problem myself. One of the perks of owning an older vehicle that has it’s own cult following and community around it is that there is a world of valuable repair info and instruction available online from other owners. I quickly found out that U-joints are a very common issue in the XJ model Cherokees, and, although the part itself is quite cheap ($20 from a local O’reilly Auto Parts), it can be a very labor intensive repair.

It was only a matter of time before original axle U-joints on a Cherokee as old as ours would have failed. Given that ours failed after hitting a bad curb, we figured they were probably already on their way out. Looking on the bright side of the situation, it is much better for them to have failed in a city like LA, where I had access to all of the parts and tools that I would need, rather than on a backcountry trail in the wilderness. (Hello Death Valley Racetrack!)

Growing up, I had the good fortune of having a master mechanic for a father. Myself, I am not the most adept mechanic, but I do have that rich mechanical upbringing to tap into. After doing my own research, and watching a YouTube video, I determined that it was a repair that I could make on my own.

We continued to drive the car for another few days, trying to hold out on making the repair as long as we could. Later in the week, we made a two-hour round trip to Crystal Cove State Park, and it was on the way back from there that the passenger side U-joint finally became too bad to drive on. We limped the remainder of the drive back around 30mph. I actually pulled us into an AutoZone to attempt the repair that night, however, after pulling the wheel, brake caliper, rotor and axle nut off, I realized that I did not yet have all of the tools that I would need to complete the repair. So I put everything back together and we returned to the RV shop.

The next morning, I woke early, gathered all of the tools that I would need, and limped the Jeep to the nearest AutoZone about a mile away, to make the repair. In our last house, I would have made the repair from the comforts of our two-car garage, but being on the road, and especially while stuck in a repair shop lot, we no longer have the luxury of using a garage. Luckily, AutoZone’s corporate policy is to allow installation of parts purchased there in their lot, so long as you are not in the way or disruptive. I arrived around 8 am and set to work.

I mentioned earlier that this particular repair could be very labor-intensive… Well, replacing this passenger side U-joint ended up being an 8-hour ordeal when all was said and done. Once everything was reassembled, I was extremely relieved.

This bolt was the reason for the repair taking so much time. It is a 12pt 13mm bolt, one of three that secure the wheel hub to the axle. On old Jeeps, the heads are prone to stripping, which mine did. Badly.

With that ordeal behind us, we thought that we would be in the clear for the remainder of our stay in LA. Sadly, we were mistaken.

Next, after a beach trip to Manhattan Beach where I did a bit of surfing, my wetsuit was stolen out of our Jeep.

To make matters worse, while dropping off some orders to the local post office, Sam lost her phone. We believe it was swiped right out from under her nose while she was packaging orders to be sent out. But the misfortune is still not over.

Since the repairs on our rig were continuing to be delayed and it seemed that we were going to be in LA for several more days, we thought that it would be best to be ahead of the game and get the driver side U-joint replaced as well. My thought was that since I already had the experience of changing the passenger side, I would be quicker at changing the driver side, right? I was very wrong.

I returned to the same nearby AutoZone to replace the driver side U-joint. Unfortunately, the driver side took even longer than the passenger side. So long, in fact, that I was not able to finish it that same day. When it began to get dark and it became apparent that I would not be able to finish the repair that day, I asked the AutoZone folks if it was ok for me to leave the car overnight to return first thing in the morning to complete the repair. They were very helpful and assured me that it would not be a problem. With permission from the AutoZone manager to leave the car for the night, I thought it best not to leave it where I was at in the repair, in a state of disassembly. I was worried that this could attract pillaging.

At this point, the driver side wheel was off and the axle assembly was in several pieces. I replaced the wheel hub and brake rotor, then reattached the wheel and took the car off of jack for the night. I left the axle shaft out (inside the car) and the brake caliper resting on top of the axle strut. Feeling confident that the car would be safe for the night, I made sure that it was locked up, then I walked the mile distance back to the RV repair shop.

The next morning, I grabbed a quick Uber over to the AutoZone, arriving shortly before 8 am. Upon my arrival, my heart dropped as I realized that the Jeep was not where I left it
I immediately realized that the car had been towed from the lot overnight. I walked straight into the store to get some answers.

Upon hearing that the car was towed, the AutoZone staff was just as shocked as I was. They made some calls to local towing companies and were able to locate the car at a towing yard in another town called “Mr. C’s Towing.” The AutoZone manager on staff demanded that they release the car as they had not provided authorization for it to be removed from their lot, which is private property, but the towing company said that it didn’t matter what the situation was and I would have to go down to the yard and pay the fees to get the car back.

Apparently, the situation was that this company had a contract with AutoZone corporate to patrol the lot for this store, removing any “unauthorized” vehicles and collecting whatever fees they charged from the owners. I was told that this had even happened to a store employee before. We also found out from the AutoZone regional manager that after several issues, this specific AutoZone location forbade Mr. C’s Towing from ever touching a vehicle in their lot again, and that they had illegally towed our car.

Meanwhile, I was extremely worried about the Jeep being towed at all in the condition that it was in. I mentioned that I had left the brake caliper resting on the axle strut (still attached to the brake line). I was certain that the caliper would have fallen out and been ripped off, severing the brake line, during the ten-mile drive from the AutoZone store to the tow yard. This would have turned my cheap repair into a far more costly ordeal if a new brake line needed to be run and a caliper replaced.

Feeling frustrated that I was not warned about the tow hazard from the staff the night before, I reluctantly took another Uber 30 minutes to the next town over, to retrieve the Jeep. When I arrived at the tow yard, I tried to reason with the staff that this was a misunderstanding and that I had explicit permission from the AutoZone staff to leave the car overnight. A manager at the tow yard explained that this was not their problem, that they have a contract with AutoZone corporate, and AutoZone would have to take it up with them. In the meantime, they would not be releasing the Jeep unless I paid the $205 fee. They wouldn’t even let me into the yard, just to see if the Jeep had been damaged during the tow. With no other recourse, I agreed to pay to get the Jeep back.

At this point, they asked for my ID for identity verification before releasing the Jeep to me. After providing my ID, the clerk informed me that the car was registered in Sam’s name and that they could only release the vehicle to the registration holder.

I called Sam and informed her of the new situation. We couldn’t help but laugh to each other at the scale of our misfortune. After we hung up, Sam took another Uber over to me as quickly as she could.

Once Sam finally arrived, we paid the fee, and they went to retrieve the Jeep. Once they brought it out to us, we were tremendously relieved to see, by some miracle, the caliper had not been ripped off during transit. The yard tech placed the Jeep on the side street outside of the yard for us.

Thanks to some help from a very kind auto body shop across the street who graciously lent me a tool that I needed, I was able to complete the U-joint replacement, and reassemble the Jeep in about an hour’s time. Relieved that we had our Jeep back, and all in one piece, we returned to the RV shop.

If all of that was not enough, LA still had one last misfortune to throw at us.

During our time at the RV repair facility, they were accommodating enough to let us store our canoe inside of their gate during our stay, instead of leaving it on top of our Cherokee. It was being stored just inside the gate to the facility, where it was out of the technician’s way during the day.

On our very last full day at the RV repair shop, the canoe was stolen. It was taken in broad daylight, around 1 pm, while the techs were at lunch and there was no one immediately nearby. Sam was out doing laundry with the Cherokee, and she noticed that the canoe was missing when she returned. She asked one of the techs if they had moved it, and they replied that no one had moved it while she was out. I was in our RV, working, further inside the facility, when Sam came to inform me that the canoe was missing. After talking to some of the techs who had returned from lunch at this point, we quickly realized that the canoe had been stolen…

We went to great lengths trying to get it back. We filed a police report, we called local scrap yards, thinking that someone may have taken it for scrap since it was aluminum, but all to no avail.

The canoe did not possess much monetary value. It was old, a cheap Craigslist purchase from a few years before. But for us, it had a lot of sentimental value. We had a lot of happy memories in it, we had painted it the current red color, then we had traveled across the country with it as part of our rig. We were extremely sad to lose it. As silly as it might sound, losing our canoe was the most difficult out of all of our LA experiences.

We haven't posted in a few days, and it's honestly because there hasn't been anything good to share. Sometimes traveling is hard, and I debated whether or not to share some of what has happened because I never want to seem whiny. However, I think it's also important to share our main experiences on here, whether good or bad. . I've mentioned before that we've been stuck in an RV repair shop waiting on a few minor repairs for almost 3 weeks now. We were originally only supposed to be here 3-5 days…While here, we've had a ton of misfortune. . About a week ago, my phone was stolen while shipping orders at the post office, and the replacement was costly. . A couple days later, Brendan's twice-used wetsuit was stolen from our car. . Then, on Tuesday, Brendan was doing some maintenance on our Cherokee at a nearby Autozone. He stopped for the night around 8pm, and the managers at Autozone said we could leave our car overnight and come back to finish the next day. When we returned the next morning, our car had been towed. A random towing company thought they were doing Autozone a favor by snatching a random car in their lot. Even though the tow was illegal, we had to pay over $200 to get our car back. . But yesterday was the worst of all. I left to run some errands midday, and when I came back to the repair shop, our canoe had been stolen. Someone had walked into the repair shop lot & stole our 20-foot, 60-lb canoe in broad daylight. . To say we are upset is an understatement. This canoe did not have much monetary value, but its sentimental value is huge. We bought it right after we got married, and we've shared so many memories in it. When choosing a tow car for our travels, we chose a Cherokee so that we could house the canoe on the roof. We even painted it red ourselves . I called all the local scrap yards and pawn shops, but it seems it's really gone. And while this lifestyle has taught us the importance of minimalism & not putting too much value in things, there are a few things that we cherish, & our canoe was one of them. Yes, I'm sure we will eventually get another, but it won't be the same. Hoping for better days to come. ? ~S #NautilustheCanoe

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I mentioned earlier that we tried to learn what lessons we could from each of these unfortunate situations. Below are some of those lessons that we took away from our LA visit and the misfortunes that occurred there.

  1. Do thorough research before selecting a facility for RV repair as a full-time traveler.
    Be aware of the area the facility is in. Learn how big the facility is and be prepared before arriving with your big rig by viewing the location on Google Street View. Be extremely comfortable with the facilities reputation and confident in how quickly they will be able to complete your repairs.
  2. Definitely, don’t tow your second vehicle if you know that you will be on city streets.
    This also refers to lesson number 1 in being prepared before arriving. We were still towing because I was expecting a facility with a large parking lot, presumably in an industrial area. Instead, the facility was in a tight, urban, residential neighborhood.
  3. Be extremely overprotective of your belongings to prevent theft.
    Sam and I are very cautious and protective of our belongings by nature, but losing my wetsuit, Sam’s phone and our canoe in LA taught us that it never hurts to be overly protective to prevent the worst from happening. After the canoe was taken, we kicked ourselves for not locking it to the fence with one of our bike locks, just for added safety. We didn’t think that anyone would try to steal it in broad daylight, but that thinking was what cost us our canoe.
  4. Always avoid leaving a vehicle unattended in an unknown parking lot, unless it is completely unpreventable.
    I thought that I was in the clear with permission from the AutoZone staff to leave the Jeep. After the experience of having the Jeep towed, I now know better.

Being relatively new to full-time travel, and also being as young as we are, we recognize that sometimes you have to learn certain lessons the hard way. We hope that sharing these mistakes and misfortunes can help you be more prepared for your own journey.

Have some (bad news bears) travel tales of your own? Feel free to drop them in the comments below so that we can learn from each other’s struggles!

About Brendan Binger

Brendan BingerI’m Brendan, the other 50% of Life Among Pines, and a self-taught designer and marketer. I enjoy the singular privilege of waking up each day to spend my time doing what I love. Recently, I have been applying my time towards growing my freshly founded web design and digital marketing agency: Quarry Design Group. When not working, you can find me riding triple fins or seven-plys, face down in the pages of a new book, or exploring the wilderness of the US.