Forrest at work
The Rolling Steel Tent had been making thumping, knocking sounds on rough roads—the kind of sounds associated with worn front steering and suspension parts. So I went to a mechanic in Yuma that had been given high scores on Yelp. He put the van on the lift, shook, jerked, twisted and articulated the steering. He showed me how the Pitman and idler arms were worn.
Some Steering 101: The hand bone's connected to the steering wheel bone. The steering wheel's connected to the steering shaft. The steering shaft's connected to the steering box, and the steering box's connected to the Pitman arm. The Pitman arm is connected to the steering linkage. The idler arm, on the right hand side of the chassis, mirrors the Pitman arm, except it's passive (idle). And all of this makes the wheels turn right and left.
The mechanic worked up an estimate: $911, most of which was for parts. "The parts estimate is based on the highest price. We might be able to knock off thirty or forty bucks."
I know mechanics mark up parts prices to help cover overhead. I don't begrudge the practice, only the degree to which some of them do it. So I went online and to the Chevy dealer to find out the actual prices. The mechanic's prices were 100% more than the dealer's full retail. Dealers are notorious for high markups. The dealer's prices were about 50% higher than full retail at auto parts stores. And the auto parts stores' prices were about 50% higher than online parts, even with shipping.
Before going back to the mechanic (or to a different one) I contacted my mechanic friend, Forrest, to get his opinion on the prices and how to proceed with the repairs. He said he was going to be at RTR (which I hadn't known) and he could do the job there if I were to get the parts. Well sure!
I ordered the parts from Rock Auto and had them shipped to Quiet Times—a shop in Quartzsite that receives shipments for a small fee. The parts and Forrest both arrived Tuesday.
You can see in the video what it takes to replace the Pitman and idler arms. One of the biggies is an air wrench, which requires a compressor and the power to run it. Or, in our case, a lot of grunting, banging, torching and swearing. But Forrest got it done, with me handing him things he needed. Now I just need to get an alignment. And find a way to repay Forrest for his generosity.