1970 Avion C11 Truck Camper driving among the glaciers on Old Fall River Road in Rocky Mountains National Park

I don’t need to tell you this, but I will. Because, years of exceptional schooling and life experience is not a panacea against occasional brain farts. So, when we arrive in Rocky Mountains National Park and encounter a very welcome discount for low octane fuel, we give it a try. The mistake is not immediately apparent. Our truck drives well for the next day. It isn’t until we turn off the highway onto a forest road while searching for the night’s camping site that we know something was wrong. The engine turns off mid turn. Fortunately, we are at the side of the road…this time.

I guess I already gave away the solution to this mystery with the title. You see, at the time, we have no idea why the engine cut out. The truck is getting older. The battery has just been replaced. Could this be another case of some aging truck component? We do have an inkling that the gas could be the problem, but extensive googling and conversations with mechanics we know can not give us a clear response in the affirmative. And good luck getting so much as the time of day from a mechanic in Estes Park. They are so booked up maintaining local tour operation rigs that they don’t have time for the random tourist at short notice. So, we top up the rest of the gas tank with the highest octane fuel we can and continue our trip.

From then on, we have good days and bad days. The engine seems resistant to shifting into high gear when at highway speeds and flirts with cutting out while idling. Even after we empty the tank of the low octane fuel, the engine will occasionally turn off when we slow for a turn or stop at a light. It is nerve wracking. Yet, we continue to have terrible luck finding a mechanic that can see us with short notice. So, whenever we have to slow the truck to idle, we turned off the air conditioning and cross our fingers. It seems to make a difference.

It isn’t until we had leave Colorado and are in Nebraska that we finally catch a break. The mechanic at the local Dodge dealership has already left for the day, but he does answer his phone when the manager calls. He offers a piece of advice. The kind of advice that we, as “computer people” have given to so many inquisitive family members asking for help: try turning it of and turning it on again.

Yes, we disconnect the battery. Today’s cars are so sophisticated that they have programs meant to adapt to the changing conditions of the vehicle. The low octane fuel may have triggered our problems, but the truck’s computer is still trying to recover from the shock, long after the fuel is consumed.

It seems too simple, but, as soon as the batteries are reconnected and the engine starts up, we can tell the difference. It no longer sputters while idling. It reaches highway speeds with a confident roar. And it switches gears with gusto. We haven’t had problems since.

But, the lesson remains: don’t buy fuel outside of your engine’s specifications. And if your car starts to get all wonky, take a tip from the IT crowd and try turning your computer off and on again.

Lexi lives in a truck camper down by the river.

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