Thor Palazzo 33.3 diesel
Brand: Thor Motor Coach
Model: Palazzo 33.3 34'bunkhouse
Our recent trip to Alaska, or at least the starting week, we experienced the same 'catastrophic' bomb drop within the engine/transmission of our '14 Fiesta SE. And, from an experience reference, we had towed it more than 70,000 miles over almost 3 years.
We were in a fairly 'remote' part of Canada... near Prague, Manitoba, after leaving the interesting section of Minnesota, surrounded by Canada: the Angle Inlet. We passed thru Prague MT on the way out and west on the main highway to make our way across Canada to the Yukon and Alaska.
I felt a sudden 'tug' of the Palazzo. It's 34' with a 300hp Cummins diesel in the rear, and the car behind. I felt uneasy, but couldn't put my finger on exactly what it could have been - no alerts, notifications, nothing. I felt another - now I knew something wasn't right. I started to slow and also pushed the 'rear monitor' video screen on, and was startled to see billowing smoke from my engine!(or, so I thought)...
as soon as I could bring 13 tons to a safe stop, and with little shoulder on a already very 'thin' two-lane road, I hopped out and ran back to check it out, very sad that of all places this is where something like this would happen to our coach...
to my fortunate surprise, it was NOT our coach diesel, but to my dismay, it was the FIESTA! ? ? What???? How can a towed vehicle 'catch on fire', at least that was my first initial gut question... but then I realized that there was no 'fire', but only a lot of arid smoke. The tires were not dragged, and were not flattened, matter-of-fact they were brand new tires and still looked just the same... oh, ok, then what??
As the smoke started to clear, and my wife bounded around me to see the same, we both looked at each other in dismay... hunh??? How could anything happen to a car that is NOT RUNNING, the ignition is in the OFF position, the KEY is removed and in the coach, and the SHIFTER is in NEUTRAL! Also, I have a 12v battery cutoff under the hood... no way any 12v could ever even get to the vehicle systems!
I then noticed the hood, it was slightly cracked as though someone had pulled the hood RELEASE, but we had not. I then also noticed two SHRAPNEL holes in the hood!
I released the hood and was SHOCKED! The engine compartment looked like a BOMB had went off, and I even noticed thru all of the blackness of engine hoses, cables, wiring and such, that even parts of the Transmission were on top of the engine! At least that's what I assumed.
In dismay, and a little confused, I decided that it was best to move this beast off the side of the road and to the next place where we could safely park and collect our thoughts.
The car was still towable. The wheels still turned correctly. There was no hesitation with the Fiesta. We could have towed in all the way to Alaska and back and no one would have known any different.
As we got back into the coach and proceeding on 10 or so miles to a more 'main' road, my wife mentioned the large truck that had just passed us before this tragedy happened. I now remembered, too. It was an 18 wheeler semi, with TWO side-dump long trailers. It passed us as we must have been going slower than he liked. We had seen many of these 'double-trailer' trucks along this route the day before. My son mentioned that he had heard a 'sound' as the last truck had passed us, but didn't think anything of it to mention to us at the time.
As we racked our brains about how something like this could happen, especially knowing our towing experience and expertise over the miles and years and number of connections, I even started trying to run down every single detail of the last 24 hours that I could possibly remember that would have any bearing on this. Nothing different or out of the ordinary had occurred.
We checked when left that morning that the Fiesta front wheels were turning: Check
That's usually the last point of reference that the tow setup is correct before traveling, since the Fiesta is not visible without the rear monitor, you cannot see the wheels turning without being IN a turn, and the weight of the Fiesta is not noticeable when towing it.
We got to the main road, which fortunately had a small gas station and mechanics shop. I knew the Fiesta was totalled, no way to financially replace the engine and transmission and all affected systems for anything close to the value of the vehicle. I also knew that this was not a MECHANICAL failure, but had realized that this was an INSURANCE COMPREHENSIVE CLAIM. Something from the roadway, specifically an object thrown from a passing large trucks with many, many large wheels.
I immediately called my insurance company claims department. An hour later, we were still talking, as this type of claim and it's catastrophic outcome is certainly not something they see everyday, ESPECIALLY when it comes to a 'towed' vehicle!
Ultimately, we left the car sitting next to a mechanic's shop for a tow company to come and pick up and remove to an insurance salvage yard - later we found out to be Copart in Avon, MN.
I suggested to the insurance company that the passing truck had thrown an object, probably of substantial size, weight, and composition, under/into the Fiesta's engine/transmission front end. With the transmission turning while towing, it's quite possible that the object made contact with the gear shift cable Mechanism that sits between the transmission and engine, pushing it into gear. The gear would then engage the engine, turning it at very, very high RPMs, probably in 1st gear, but being towed at 45 to 50mph. The number of RPMs, in conjuction with NO 12volt power to the engine, thus no oil pump, no water pump, no radiator fluid cooling, no fans, that the engine would then 'blow up' from the massive heat generated.
While I never crawled under the Fiesta, which is very low, to look specifically at the transmission, which sits right below the engine, I assumed that the Transmission was destroyed since parts of it sat on TOP of the engine, or what was left of the engine.
A month and a half later, just as we returned from Alaska back thru the western US, the insurance company paid my claim in FULL, as a total loss, and as a comprehensive claim, which does not affect my future premiums. Nice.
Here's what the final Physical Inspection of the vehicle statement showed, as viewed at the Copart salvage yard by the insurance inspector: " The vehicle looks to have had an object make impact with the transmission. The transmission is cracked open with it's internal gears and rings exposed and damaged extensively. The engine has many missing components and looks to have been subjected to extreme heat, causing it to throw two or more pistons or similar parts and pieces. The hood of the vehicle has two large holes and two small holes, from the inside to the outside. " Photos were included. The inspector also noted that the probability that the object was thrown from another vehicle was very high, and that the car certainly should be totalled, although the rest of the vehicle showed no signs of damage.
The insurance company had also contacted the Tire Store were the new tires had recently been installed, less than a week before. The tech who worked on the vehicle admitted that the vehicle had driven fine when he delivered it to the customer(us!) after the work was completed.
yes, these Fiesta and Focus vehicles have a unique transmission setup, and while a little hesitation every now and then, especially on certain hills and grades, is part of the deal, this vehicle was purchased certified used with 30,000 miles. We put another 30,000 miles on it, and towed it another 70,000 miles, and until this episode it worked perfectly. I've commented many times on this forum and others that this is a perfect vehicle to tow. This episode has nothing to do with the car, and doesn't change my mind.
I now own and tow a 2014 Ford Focus, purchased with the same check that the insurance company provided. Less miles and no more money out of my pocket. Nice.
Here's to you and yours! You might have had the same situation happen.
'14 Palazzo 33.3 bunkhouse 34' diesel
KingTailgater2 Dish HD, 100w/5a SOLAR, BlueOx
110,000+mi since '14 - US, Alaska, Canada (also, '14 Gulfstream Amerilite and '07 ForestRiver Rockwood) : )b