Tellaro Love Lesson: A Borderline Wild Adventure

Getting my Tellaro fixed at Thor Motor Coach Company

This Tellaro VanLife adventure is wild because it was so unexpected, unpredictable, and spur of the moment – a dedicated four days and three nights of unchartered persistence and learning. It had to happen. Without this adventure, our more “normal” VanLife could not get off to a good timely start.

So, it wasn’t borderline wild in the scenic nature sense. But it was important and memorable.

In fact, other than driving the 2023 Tellaro home from the dealer, this was the first time out in the van. And this first trip was a return to the dealer. I had gone from southwest Michigan to southeast near Detroit, and now it is vice-versa. This came about because of an issue with our new Tellaro’s electrical system.

What’s the Problem?

Inexplicably, when not plugged in to shore power or when the van’s engine was not running, the lithium batteries were consistently failing whenever there was a 120V load on the system. In other words, whenever an attempt was made to run 120V appliances (like the air conditioner!).

Some people might not notice this limitation, such as those who stay plugged in or keep the engine running. But to us, this is an important feature of the new lithium system. This capability is necessary if you want to actually get “off the grid” – to dry camp a little. I actually missed a small 4th of July trip, unwilling to go without the electrical resolved.

The situation came up fast and had to be resolved to keep bigger adventure plans intact. I’m a total rookie with this new rig. I go solo on this shakedown trip because partner Paula is importantly busy-busy (retiring!). And as she might tell you, I probably wasn’t doing anything anyway. Haha. I am resolved not to come back until the electrical is all correct. It crosses my mind I might have to spend a night.

So, here is the story, captured along the way.  

Night One: Camping at the Tellaro Store

At home, early on Tuesday July 5th, I methodically go through the test sequence again. I learned this from Will Handley, a leader on the Tellaro Owners and Wannabes Facebook site. With the help of that site, and people like Will and others, I was able to do the testing and get the problem well defined. We verified the problem one last time before I headed out to the dealer.

It’s the peak of camper busy season, but I rush over to the camper store, intent on getting to the bottom of the problem. I arrived at Krenek’s RV in Coloma, Michigan, a couple of hours before they closed. The initial review was not productive. After some persistence and getting an okay, I was given a secluded place to park for the night. I picked Krenek’s because of the inventory and then I got comfortable with the family nature of the business.

It rained all night my first night sleeping in the van; lightning flashes and an overflowing ditch. A sure-fire way not to have everything you need to camp is not to thoughtfully pack. This was the state of my mind and hurry, and this forced me to learn.

The Krenek’s folks are helpful and caring. After most of Wednesday, they conclude the batteries are faulty and they can order them. But they had no ida when thy would be received. Then they said arrangements can be made for me to drive on to the Thor factory. If I’m up for it.

Night Two: On to Camping at the Factory

You might say Wakarusa is a suburb of Elkhart, Indiana, if such small town rural qualifies. The entire county is most definitely the camper and RV mecca.

With the black tank full and the gas tank empty, I roll into Wakarusa. Right behind a hog transport semi; it is empty of pigs but still stinking. I stop at the headquarters building and get directions to the service department.

It is right at 3:30PM, and I am driving headlong into a flurry of pickup trucks on their way out of the factory. It is a surprise that they close at 3:30. There is no lobby or customer door at service building #854. With everybody leaving, I hurry to find their 800 number. I get passed around and get connected with a service manager who steps out of adjacent building #829. This is Terry. He waves at me where I stand in an empty lot. Terry is friendly and knows nothing of my quest for electrical help, and asks for names on who made the arrangements. He makes a note and says the only option is to get started on it when they open at 7AM in the morning. In the meantime, he offers use of their on campus “campground”. It isn’t bad.

As it turns out, all of Wakarusa shuts down at 3:30.

I go out for gasoline, food, and a couple essentials. By luck of the draw, I turn the wrong way on the main drag, away from Wakarusa’s gas station. I am quickly out of town and the next town, Nappanee, shows to be six miles on. Someone mentioned a restaurant there, and surely, they will have a gas station.

In Nappanee, I look hard for a gas station. Brightly lit churches galore but not a station in sight, and I am getting worried. Especially after repeatedly getting trapped behind Amish horses and buggies. Somebody is trying to tell me something.

Suddenly, I see the light. Or lights. Three gas stations at an obscure intersection on the far side of town. The restaurants are a mix of closed and shut down.

This is my second night in the van. So, I have lots of basic practical things to learn.

I throw water on my face and drive to the appointed place at 7AM.

Service supervisor Mark walks up and starts talking and changes settings on the battery management system (the Balmar) before I am fully stopped. In short order, he has the AC and the microwave working directly off the battery system – the exact thing I couldn’t do.

How can this be? I am a bit worried that they are going to bounce me out. I reinforce that the batteries had been tested the day before at the dealer and found faulty. As we talk, the system starts showing other problem conditions. They say the Balmar is giving incorrect readings, and this is happening in at least two other cases. Another technician joins in. They ordered batteries (from somewhere else in the plant) and agreed the regulator needs to be tested.

The Trusted Technicians Disappear. And then came the wait.

They disappear, leaving the van where it sits. And then came the wait. I learn of the village breakfast spot. Then I find the nice unmarked waiting room. At 10:30 I asked the kind lady in the office if I should be getting worried, and of course she said no. The lunch whistle blew at 11:40 and everybody disappeared for lunch. The whistle blew again at 12:10 and magically they are all back. It’s one o’clock and the van is still sits, though many other vans have come and gone.  

Our Tellaro at THor factory service.
Our Tellaro at Thor factory service.

My nervous habit is walking between the service lounge and out to the big parking lot in front of the facility. The Tellaro sits small but proud among the big rigs. I want them to see me and not forget about me. So, I switch back-and-forth from the van to the lounge. Nobody else is in the lounge. The rock-star rigs have hired help to get them through the process; for them it includes specialized detailing services. Hey, maybe they’ll accidently do mine since it’s there in the way.

Mark and the people I checked in with are not around. My van is standing there, wide open and lonely. So, it doesn’t feel good for today. I go to the boss Terry’s office. He finds a note saying there is a new Balmar with updated code expected to arrive tomorrow via UPS. This is what I am waiting for. Would have been nice to know, but I am not complaining. Terry apologizes and says this has been the week-of-weeks.

Night Three: Thor Me Again, Please

This, my second night at Thor, my third night in the van, is a good quiet one. I am the lone camper at the facility. I take my maiden voyage with the sanitary-flush system and fill the water tank. This is more practical learning. I should have brought my guitar.

They start early, like clockwork, and I make sure the van is readily accessible to them. I have my fingers crossed, trying to be the epitome of patience and grace.

Then comes that 11:40 lunch bell and everybody is gone. And then it’s moving into Friday afternoon.

They are going to stampede out at 3:30, no questions asked.

Terry comes by and gives me some Thor trinkets, tools and a flashlight and a pointer. He’s trying to find me a hat. Then, just after 1:00, Mark sticks his head into the waiting room and says: “Don’t be alarmed. We are taking your van over to a different building. We got the updated code.”

At 3PM, I stand looking out toward the buildings I know they went to. Minutes tick by, and then I see the Tellaro rolling slowly my way. They pull up, and out pops Mark and Terry and Eric. Eric is the lead technician on the Tellaro electronics, the ReLion lithium system. From the looks on their faces, I knew it was fixed.

We had a nice discussion. Dealers had brought in two Tellaros that would not properly run significant alternating current off of the charged batteries. I was the first actual customer to experience it. My first morning there, they had meetings with the ReLion electrical engineers. Together they had verified the required software changes. They flashed the new code onto the two Tellaros the next day, and tested it again. The next day they applied it to mine.

I thanked them for their knowledge and they thanked me for my patience. We were all glad to get it right. I ended up with a new Balmar battery management screen, new software, and new batteries.

They figured out that other new Tellaro vans, with the same 200 Ah configuration, needed to be fixed. I was something of a guinea pig for ercent changes they had introduced.

Morals of this Tellaro Story

Now, a few days later after this dealer-factory adventure, the electronics are all still working as expected, as advertised. I am doing a more technical write up on the electrical lessons-learned.

  1. The ride home from Wakarusa was the first leisurely drive I got to make in the Tellaro. It was a delight after all the rushing around. Make sure your first driving experiences are under good conditions.
  2. Service at the factory is that borderline wild thing. They’ve got the answers and the deep pride of engineering. But nobody’s asking “have you been helped?” or “what can I do for you?”. Push your way into factory service and the challenge is just starting. They think you must know what you’re doing and/or have good connections.
  3. Dealers or high-roller customers coordinate factory service. This is where the dealer relationships with Thor come into play. Everybody knows their own way to work it and it seems quite informal, with little documented.
  4. All the way through I wondered who was paying, and I end up presuming it was Thor warranty. I just know it wasn’t me.
  5. They (the dealer and Thor) truly want it to work and to keep customers happy. They are all suffering from staffing issues and changes. It was helpful that I can speak a bit of Hillbilly.
  6. There’s a very laid-back quality about it all the way through. Like it’s no big deal or not a surprise if it stretches out another day.
  7. It’s great when it finally works. Thanks again, Tellaro Owners and Wannabes. I couldn’t have done it without you.

Yes, it was borderline wild for me. I am finishing this article up as we get ready to go to head south for Dunedin, Florida. Where I’ll have an air conditioner if I need it!