Camper van: the warts and all
Our Ford E350 van has a 7.3 L diesel engine. It is considered a very good, reliable, and desirable engine. However, it has a notorious weak spot; the camsensor (Camshaft Position Sensor (CPS)). The part can fail without any warning. When it fails, it no longer sends a signal to the Power Control Module (PCM). As a result, the PCM doesn't know where the engine is in the rotation, and it doesn't know how fast it is going (rotations per minute), and therefore the PCM stops sending an injector signal to the Injector Driver Module (IDM). This means the fuel is no longer sent to the engine; the engine simply shuts down without any warning. In some cases the engine may restart again after 10 or 30 minutes, in other cases the camsensor fails completely immediately. So, you may be driving, everything is fine, and all of a sudden you have no more power and the engine shuts down.
We were aware of this issue and were told to:
1. Always carry a spare camsensor.
2. Always carry the tools needed to replace the camsensor.
3. Have the knowledge on how to replace the camsensor (it is pretty simple and should only take 15 minutes or so).
But... we postponed doing all of this and just started using the van. And then the camsensor failed... Just before dark on a highway with no shoulder. It required a long tow to a shop where they confirmed the camsensor had indeed failed... a $25-$40 part that you can replace yourself!
So, we took this as a warning to prepare for this in the future. We now assembled a camsensor replacement kit, and we intend to conduct preventative maintenance. Perhaps replace every 1.5 year or so or every 20,000 mi. Replacing it in your own driveway when it suits you beats emergency repairs while on the road! Doing preventative maintenance yourself also provides you with valuable experience to conduct a roadside repair under more challenging conditions.
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