A Most Expensive Vacation
By Judy Herlich

“No, NONONONONONO!!!!! Not now! $%#@+*!%^&*sonofabitch!!”

I was on my way to work on Monday, June 19th, a scant six days prior to leaving for NC/GA with the Spokes-Women to ride Deals Gap and attend the International AMA/FIM Women and Motorcycling Conference. The “check engine” light on my 2002 Toyota Tundra had just illuminated. A couple of days prior, I also noticed a clunk when the transmission shifted, but it happened only very occasionally. I immediately turned around, went home, called out at work, and Tam and I took the truck to American Tire. I was planning on doing this after work anyway, to get an oil change and have them check out the clunk noise. We absolutely needed the truck to go on this trip, as we needed to trailer our bikes down. We had to bring our track gear and tools, as we were attending the Women’s Skills Day at Road Atlanta Raceway on July 3rd, one of the optional conference activities, then staying for the next two days to attend the Kevin Schwantz Suzuki School, also at Road Atlanta.

American Tire called me around 1 pm on Monday and said the diagnostics indicated a bad solenoid in the transmission, and they sent me over to Aamco in Bridgewater. The guy there said he’d do his best to have it fixed by Saturday, after explaining to him we needed to go on vacation. He would run diagnostics, and by Tuesday morning, he had the same diagnosis as American Tire and had the solenoids on order from Toyota. “It may take a couple of days to get them, since it’s a factory part” he explained, “but as long as they come in by Thursday or even Friday, we can get you on your way on Sunday.” I hope he’s right.

Wednesday afternoon the guy from Aamco called with the bad news. He’d gotten the solenoids in quickly, but when he pulled the pan to change them, the pan was full of metal. Very, very bad. He’d have to remove the transmission to find out what exactly was wrong and wouldn’t know till Thursday. I had recently learned from perusing a Tundra forum online that the pre-’03 trucks were known for problems with the overdrive planetary gears. On Thursday the guy from Aamco called, and that was exactly what was wrong with my truck. He was very apologetic and told me there was no way he’d be able to get it fixed until the middle of the following week, at the earliest. The truck, naturally, was 3000 miles out of warranty. If I’d had the time, I’d have taken it to Toyota and raised hell in an attempt to get them to at least cover a portion of it. Although it was a known problem, it wasn’t terribly common, and there was never a recall or even a technical service bulletin for it. Figures. Well, it could have been worse. A lot worse. It could have happened a week later, stranding us on the side of the road far from home with a trailer. I don’t think AAA tows trailers.

What to do? We have to leave in three days. Even if we could find a rental pick-up with a hitch, it’s highly unlikely it would have the electric brake controller installed, something that’s needed with the 7x14 dual axle enclosed trailer we tow. Rent a U-Haul box truck? The mileage would be expensive, and we weren’t confident that the tie down rings would be acceptable to transport motorcycles that distance. Plus U-Haul stuff is sort of known to not be exceptionally reliable.

“OK, that’s it, I’m buying a new truck.” It was either that or forego the vacation we’d been planning and looking forward to for months. I’d been commuting to work on the Ducati, and on the way home from work on Thursday I pulled up to the front door of Fullerton Ford. A salesman by the name of Mike came out. He wanted to check out my bike. He rides a Buell and we spent several minutes talking bikes. “Oh, did you want to see anything while you’re here?” he asked. “I’d like to look at some F-150s” I replied. We looked at some, discussed towing packages and axle differentials, and I took a test drive in a model similar to what I’d want. I asked him how late he was there. “Till 9”. When Tam got home at 6:45 we went first to the Nissan dealer. We wanted to check out the Titan, as Tam’s employer has a program with Nissan to get them at dealer cost. It was nice, but I wasn’t horribly impressed, and the salesman kept trying to unload a leftover ’05 on me that didn’t have their “Big Tow” package. He kept trying to tell me they could put a hitch on it and it would tow whatever I wanted. “Well, I’m sorry, but I’m not buying that, your trucks have a ‘Big Tow’ package for a reason, and this truck doesn’t have that package”. He said he’d call me tomorrow after he locates one with that package. Whatever. We’re now off to the Ford dealer.

Mike was there, but busy with some other customers, so someone else let Tam and I take a test ride in a model closer to what I’d want. This one didn’t ride as nicely. It had been sitting on the lot since October and they said it probably had developed a flat spot in the tires. Tam is not impressed with the ride. I assured her the one I’d driven earlier was MUCH better.

By 8:45 pm we’re talking with Mike. He said he could get whatever we wanted in a couple of days. Tam and I both had a good feeling about him, so we looked at each other, then at him and said “Well, we don’t have a couple of days” and proceeded to tell him our story. “I’m a rider, too”, Mike said “and I’ve ridden down that way, I know where you’re going, and I’m going to do everything in my power to see that you can leave on time Sunday, or Monday morning at the very latest. I’m going to spend all day tomorrow just working on getting you a truck”. Very cool. We discussed all the required options, especially the towing package. “Do you have a trade in?” Mike queries. I laugh and tell him about the sick Tundra. “Where is it? Aamco? Where’s that? I can send our appraiser there first thing tomorrow morning to give you a trade-in price, then when it’s fixed, we’ll go get it. Just bring the title when you pick up your new truck.” Wow! The next snag was that I’d need to get the electric brake controller installed. I figured I’d somehow have to get it to the trailer place on Saturday, not likely as they close at 2 pm. Mike to the rescue again. He said they have a local guy that installs them, they do a lot of volume with him, so he’s sure he can get him to do it Friday afternoon. Woohoo! He said he’d make some calls tomorrow, as what we want isn’t on their lot, and then call me.

True to his word, Mike calls me at 9:30 on Friday morning. He’s found an F-150 SuperCrew truck with all that I want, then we realize it has the 6.5 ft bed. That is one looooong truck. I’d prefer the 5.5 ft bed. “Call you back in a few” he says, after I tell him that would be ok if he can’t find a shortbed. I figure I can’t be too terribly picky, but still, I’ll hopefully have this truck for a long time, so I want to try and get just what I want. Mike calls back with a couple of more options. One sounds absolutely perfect. It’s 50 miles away, he’ll send someone right away to go get it after verifying that it’s still really available, and he’s got his trailer guy lined up to install the brake controller at 3 pm. I go in at lunchtime and sign the paperwork. Things are looking good. The color of the truck is Smokestone, it looks beige in the catalog. That’ll do. Mike calls Friday afternoon. “Did I want a bedliner?” They had only one on the lot they were going to put in another truck, but Mike told them to wait till he found out if I wanted it. “Yes, thanks, I could use a bedliner, throw it in there!”

Mike calls me Saturday morning. The truck got washed Friday afternoon, and the brake controller was installed. They are doing the mechanical prep now, and it’s good to be picked up at 11 am on Saturday! Mike is the man!!!!! We go in to get it and that Smokestone color is beautiful in person. It’s not really beige at all. Depending on the light and angle, it’s beige or a silvery color. Had I seen it in person, it probably would’ve been my first choice. They hang signs in the window saying “prepared for so-and-so”. Mike had the one in my truck read “prepared for Deals Gap”. Too cool! I sign more paperwork and we’re ready to roll. Mike goes over stuff with us, and we give him a nice bottle of wine in appreciation for all he’s done. If it wasn’t for his dedication and persistence, we’d not be going on vacation at all. He says it’s the most satisfying sale he’s ever made. He even called while we were on vacation to make sure everything was going alright.

The truck is great. I thought I’d miss the Tundra, but this one is so much better. Best of all, we got to leave on time. This is the most expensive vacation ever!! But, it was all worth it!

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