Bringing the Vixen Home


Two months ago when I last left the Vixen, it would start and run well. Well, to be honest, it just ran. There were several issues that needed fixed before attempting to drive it anywhere.

First, the air ride suspension system would not hold air, which allowed the air bags to drain and cause the wheels to be pushed all the way up into the wheel wells. The front tires couldn’t turn more than 5 degrees.

Second, the transmission wouldn’t shift into reverse. Or 5th gear, but I could live without that for a short time.

I also had a few more things to bring home, so my buddy Nathan came along to haul stuff and be the backup vehicle in case of roadside issues. And we took a lot of tools.

When we got there, the first order of business was to put it up on jack stands. On gravel. Super safe.

Don’t worry, I fixed it

Next was to pull the skid plate and try to figure out why the air compressor isn’t pumping up the tank. During the last visit, I had installed a new air compressor my dad had bought but not installed. It ran, but didn’t seem to build tank pressure. I had realized this after I had reinstalled the skid plate and dropped it off the jack stands during my last visit. Grrrr…

In between the compressor and the tank was an air dryer. When I opened the drain valve of the dryer, there was decent pressure, but barely anything in the tank. So I took the outlet off the dryer…and a tiny hiss escaped. I drained the air and removed the air dryer media bowl. It was empty. Confused, I just took off the entire air dryer. Sure enough, the outlet would barely let any air through without being obviously clogged. It just did not function.

Whatever! I didn’t need that for my drive home. I connected the compressor outlet to hose that previously left the dryer. The air system was put together with those plastic push on fittings connected by stiff plastic hose. I let the pressure build in the tank (which it actually did!) and then went under with a soapy rag. Lets just say every plastic fitting leaked a bit. But not greatly. And the more pressure, the less they leaked. Good enough.

I was walking around inspecting each corner for air leaks. At the left rear, I heard quite the steady hiss. Instead of the large line headed to the air bags, it was a tiny 1/8″ line that was severed. Both halves were there, just a nice diagonal slice had split it in two. A quick run to my dad’s favorite store, the hardware store, and I had something that would close the two halves up.

With the major leaks fixed, the system would pump up and hold air. The air bags valves would work. Sweet! Onto the shifter.

I crawled under the back and everything looked fine. And by that, I mean there was nothing obviously hanging down or on fire. I had Nathan attempt to go through each gear. First off, I noticed that there was no clunk when attempting to go for reverse. This transmission uses a reverse lockout pin controlled by a solenoid to prevent downshifting from third to reverse. But there was no solenoid movement when the button was pushed.

I removed the skid plate to access the reverse solenoid, which is actually a really nice feature. It is tucked away out of the rain and sludge of the road in its own little compartment. It would not be fun to fix on a roadtrip.

With the skid plate off, the problem is evident. There are two wires that trigger the solenoid. One was separated at a barrel wire connector. As I grabbed the barrel connector for further inspection, it easily pulls off the end of the wire. Both ends were crimped, just not well.

OK, at least this is an easy fix. Worm my way out from under the Vixen, perform my 100th sit-up and search out another barrel connector. This one I crimp on tight and test both ends of it. Now reverse works fine.

Back to the transmission and the two shifter cables, it is obvious that the shifter doesn’t have the range to push the lever into the furthest selector position. I loosen the cable sleeve end nuts enough so that it makes it into 5th without feeling like you have to force it. Nice.

Except now it won’t physically shift into reverse. Shit. And yes, the solenoid was working. It appears there is some slop in the shifter causing a shortened throw at the transmission. So, I can choose reverse or 5th gear at the moment. I choose to have reverse, tighten it all back up and call it go.

Since it all seemed to be working, we were on track to get it to the DMV the next day to make it road legal. As I was buttoning it up, I decided to check the air system again. Of course, it didn’t work. Oh, what the hell now? Not only would the compressor not turn on, but none of the valves worked.

I swear this thing is haunted.

I checked my connections. The compressor fuse looked good and underneath, the relay had a good 12v. Tired, hungry and cold, I called it a night and grabbed the wiring diagram.

Not knowing what the problem could possibly be, I made up a jumper to bypass the relay so I could use the fuse at the back to turn the compressor on and off. But I didn’t really want to deal with that all the way back to Utah, so I rolled back under the Vixen and checked all the connections of the entire air suspension system.

After and hour or two checking on all the valve wiring, I finally check the pressure switch for the tank, which is mounted on the side and the electrical connections pointing up to the floor, right next to the frame rail. In other words, it is hard to see, much less work on. I can barely see that the inner wire connection was no longer attached. I struggle with it for a couple of minutes to line it back up to the terminal that I can’t see, only to realize that the connector is too loose to stay on. It just vibrated off last time. So, I crimp the female end tighter and struggle some more to reattach it.

Thinking it should be magically resolved, I happily try the system again and am bummed when I’m still greeting with nothing. I had glanced at the fuses already, but decide to get out the voltmeter and test everything. Being that the air suspension was aftermarket, I wasn’t too sure which fuse to check, so I started checking the ones marked “ride height”. The second one measures 0v on the output. Fuse looked ok, until I pulled it and the bottom cap came off the glass tube. The fuse wire had separated at the very top. Silly electrical BS.

Replace the fuse, turn the system switch back on and …. hmmmm. The sweet hum of the compressor! And all the control valves worked! Great Vixen’s Ghost that was a saga. At least now I know the system from one end to the other.

I bolt the front skid plate on, drop it off the jack stands, pump up the air bags all even like and actually drive it out of the backyard and down to the road. The air compressor shuts off around 138psi (sure, why not) and when I cycle the air bags by pumping them up and releasing pressure, the compressor kicks back on automatically. You don’t know how relieved I am.

Quick run to DMV and get it back to mom’s house with half a day to spare. We spend it loading up and have dinner with my sister and her kids. There is only one thing nagging me about the trip. The alternator does not appear to be charging. Like that is important.

Made it 17 miles!

Whatever! We start our journey the next morning. I actually remember to pull up to the diesel pump AND on the right side of the Vixen (diesel hole is on the wrong side).

It is purring away nicely, just about 12v unless I do something silly like step on the brakes or use my turn signal. If fact, the turn signal drops it a full 1.5v on every tick, so I abandon it like most drivers.

Oh, and the heater fan isn’t working. It sounds like it, and I finally realize that it is blasting out passenger side, but not the drivers. I put my fuzzy hat on.

There is one tricky aspect about driving the Vixen: you sit above and slightly in front of the front wheels. I was struggling to remember that I needed to drive deep into corners before turning. Otherwise, the rear cuts the corners badly. I was good of left-hand turns, but I kept dropping the right rear tire off the non-existant shoulders of the backroads. Even kissed the curb at the gas station entrance. And it’s a little different that the “swing wide” style of driving a trailer. It will just take some getting used to.

We make it almost halfway and stop for gas (Nathan’s rig has a drinking problem) and I top off the Vixen just for fun. But when I go to start the thing, the Vixen cranks twice and then gives out the dreaded click, click, click of a dead battery.

Nathan and I give it a little shove backwards and it coasts away from the pumps. Nathan pulls up and we jump it easy enough, but I need to find a way to charge the battery.

Looking around the Vixen, I found a 110v battery charger. And I had let the Vixen charge up the lithium ion house batteries before leaving mom’s house. So, I plug the charger in with the battery cables running out to side door to the vehicle battery. With the cables tucked into the side panels, you can’t even tell.

We walk over to grab some lunch while it is charging. By the time we finish lunch, the Vixen fires right up! That was a lucky find. And since it is all tucked up out of the way and I have well charged house batteries, I can leave the charger connected as we drive. Off we go.

About 3/4 of the way home, we can see rain on the horizon. Since we hadn’t seen rain for four plus months, I can’t really say it was bad sight to see it. It just adds to the adventure.

The good news is that the Vixen drives well in the rain. The bad is that the defroster only works on the passenger side and the wipers… Well, they functioned. They were like your least favorite coworker. Technically, they did the job, but without any sense of urgency or enthusiasm. Turning them to the high setting just caused them to drain more power without going faster than most cars’ slow speed.

Oh, and the battery charger appears to have stopped working.

So we stop to find some RainX and figure out the charger. I notice that the breaker for the 110v outlets is tripped. Resetting just causes it to fault again. I remember seeing an outlet right behind the right front wheel when I had been working on the front end. Seeing as we had been splashing through the water, it was a good place to start.

Well, it was the problem. You see, when I had attempted to move the Vixen during my last visit, the suspension air bags were completely empty and the wheels were as high into the wheel wells as they could be. On the right front, the well weather-proofed outlet had caught the tire and when I moved forward, it rolled the outlet.

I’m not electrical engineer, but it seems fine.

Betting that is the source of the fault, I take it off. That is easier said than done with everything folded in on itself. The outlet comes out in 8 pieces. Clip the wires and wrap them in electrical tape. Looks legit to me. So I throw the breaker and it doesn’t trip. Back to charging the battery.

The rest of the trip is rather uneventful. It continues to pour and then the wind starts to blow, but the Vixen travels easily. Even in the dark, the battery charger is keeping up.

Finally pull into the driveway only 15 hours after we left. The trip normally takes me under 11 hours, but I’m happy it is the same day.

The next day, I’m determined to figure out the alternator. I was about to pull the engine cover, which is a removable panel under the rear bed, when I decide to go through the rear fuse panel. I mainly wanted to see if any circuits were lower in voltage than the others.

And it’s a good thing I did. One of the fuses has nothing on the output. I look at the fuse and my old eyes think it is good. Then I remove it and it is blown at the very end of the element.

Shouldn’t fuses separate in the middle?

So, I look at what fuse it is. There are 24 fuses and the first 22 are printed on the left of the diagram. I’m looking for 23. The last 2 are written in pencil on the top, and the paper has rolled down. After unrolling it, I see “Isolator”. As in Battery Isolator. That is what allows the alternator to charge both the chassis and house batteries, without one draining the other.

No way. I replace the fuse and fire up the engine. Please, please, please, please, please. I check the voltmeter on the dash… 13+ volts! YES!! While I feel silly that it was an easy fix, I’m too happy to be annoyed by that.

I actually drive it to work that afternoon and even driving home, using lights, brakes and turn signals all at the same time, the system stays about 13v. And up to 14v when everything is off. Plus, it is charging the house batteries too.

Now that it is home, it’s time to go over everything else and make sure it works. And it actually fits in the garage… After a lot of cleanup and putting outside.

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