Engine Problem Check Engine Light

500 miles with an engine problem in remote Canada

We traveled more than 500 miles with an engine problem through the most remote part of British Columbia. We loved our Alaska trip, but not everything was perfect. This story is about our engine problem and how we got it repaired.

Not all sunshine and roses

Having an engine problem after 100,000 miles on a vehicle is not unexpected. Over the years engines have become more complicated, a little more efficient, and a little less polluting. Our Cummins diesel engine is more than sixteen years old and has more than 100,000 miles on it. Overall, it is a very easy life for a diesel engine. This means that our engine went less than 7,000 miles a year. Commercial trucks often go ten times further than our RV year after year.

A very nice BlueFire Dashboard layout made by Bobegd for his motor home. Perhaps I can get mine to look something like this.
A very nice BlueFire Adapter dashboard layout was made by Bobegd for his motor home. Perhaps someday I can get mine to look something like this. I will discuss the BlueFire Adapter later in this article. One of the things it does is enable you to create an electronic dashboard. The BlueFire Adapter was critical to diagnose our engine problem.

Compared to commercial truck engines, our engine is nearly new and some describe it as almost broken in. In terms of the big parts, our engine is perfect. It was one of the small parts that failed causing our engine problem. Our engine problem was complicated by being in an extremely remote part of British Columbia.

Remote Canada

In our last story, I described that we spent the night sitting on the edge of the road waiting for a fire to go out so we could take the Cassiar Highway south out of Watson Lake through the most remote part of British Columbia. I described the road as crazy remote. I also described it as 550 miles of road, without any towns. Here is a link to the story. The Cassiar Highway is the wildest part of Canada

Mountain View from the Cassiar Highway.
Mountain view from the Cassiar Highway.

South of Watson Lake, about one hundred miles give or take, is when the check engine light on the dash turned on giving us the first indication of our engine problem. We were committed to continuing down the Cassiar to the only place that could repair it. At first, the check engine light would turn on when we first turned the key on and then go away. Then, after another hundred miles or so the check engine light would turn on and not go away. Since the light wouldn’t clear, we knew we had a real engine problem and not just an incorrect report of an engine problem.

Kinaskan Lake Provincial Park

As I mentioned in my story about the Cassiar Highway, we cleared the fire zone south of Watson Lake and went right past Boya Lake, only stopping to change drivers (without visiting Boya Lake). Our first night on the Cassiar Highway we spent at Kinaskan Lake Provincial Park. In the United States, this would be similar in some respects to a State Park or maybe a Forest Service Campground. Kinaskan Lake was about two hundred miles south of the wildfire. Somewhere between Boya Lake (just south of the wildfire) and Kinaskan Lake is where we first started getting our check engine warning light indicating our engine problem.

Our campsite at Kinaskan Lake Provincial Park  was tight. Much better campsites were at the lake but we took the first one that fit our RV and didn't look any further.
Our campsite at Kinaskan Lake Provincial Park was tight. Much better campsites were at the lake but we took the first one that fit our RV and didn’t look any further.

Meziadin Lake Provincial Park

By the time we got to Meziadin Lake the check engine light turned on and wouldn’t go away. We were happy to be there; mostly because at Meziadin, we had friends who we could feel our pain and perhaps help us with the engine problem. The distance between Kinaskan Lake and Meziadin Lake is 130 miles

The view Lake Meziadin from inside our RV.
The view of Lake Meziadin from inside our RV.

Prince George

As a preview, Prince George was the next city on our route. There were a couple of small towns. If we were going to get professional help it would be in Prince George. Prince George however was 400 miles away and we didn’t know why we were getting a check engine light. Our only choice was to leave Meziadin Lake earlier than we wanted and drive to Prince George not knowing what the engine problem was or how to fix it.

Grizzly Bear at Lake Meziadin.
Grizzly Bear at Lake Meziadin. We first saw him through the front window of our RV. I can’t seem to write a blog post without a picture of a Grizzly Bear, even if it has nothing to do with the subject.

Diagnosing the engine problem

We didn’t go to Alaska with Devin and Cheryl, but did meet them in Alaska, and they were taking the same route as we were heading south on the Cassiar. It was at Meziadin Lake that Devin diagnosed our engine problem. He used a device called a BlueFire that when plugged into a port under our dash converted the check engine light into a real complaint.

Devin and Cheryl.
Devin and Cheryl. Devin is smiling even though he crawled under my dashboard twice right before this picture.

I am going to cover the BlueFire later in this story, but it was Devin who had the knowledge and the tool to tell us that we had an error reported in our Exhaust Gas Recirculation (EGR) Valve. As a side note, I purchased a BlueFire in Washington as soon as we got back to the US. The BlueFire is plugged in under our dash right now and I have been playing with it and could check it any time, even with the engine off.

Exhaust Gas Recirculation Valve

An exhaust gas recirculation valve opens and closes based on the engine computer input to take some of the exhaust gas and put it into the intake of the engine. This allows the engine to send it through the cylinders and burn it again. It is part of your engine pollution control system that helps keep the exhaust a little cleaner.

A green EGR valve on a red Cummins engine
A green Cummins EGR valve on a red Cummins engine. This is not my valve. I took this picture from the Cummins website because the contrast between the red engine and the green valve is easy to see.

Each time the engine is started, the engine computer checks the position of this EGR valve and when it is in an unanticipated position this triggers the check engine light. Our problem was that the EGR valve was sticking and not moving when it should have moved and thus it either was recirculating too much of the exhaust gas or not recirculating enough exhaust gas.

Older diesel engines

Recirculating the exhaust gas isn’t required to operate a diesel engine. For years diesel engines never recirculated exhaust gas. Our engine was perhaps in a sweet spot concerning the EGR device. Our engine recirculates but unlike newer diesel engines, our engine still functions fine when the valve isn’t working correctly. On newer engines, the engine computer will limit the power output of the engine so much that it makes the vehicle unable to drive more than a few miles per hour.

The top of my Cummins engine. The EGR valve that caused my engine problem is on the left.
The top of my Cummins engine. The EGR valve that caused my engine problem is on the left.

So, since we have an older RV we were able to drive the next four hundred miles at full speed. Since we had an engine problem, we cut our stay at Meziadin Lake a little short so we could arrive in Prince George a little early and get the repair done. We also left Meziadin Lake a little early to make sure that most of our friends were behind us and if we were stuck in the middle of the road they could participate in our rescue.

Fixing the engine problem in Prince George

So we got to Prince George earlier than expected and hoped to get our repair early. We left extra time in our route so that if we had a bigger engine problem, requiring a tow truck, we could still make it to our appointment at the shop. When we arrived early, we hoped they could fix our engine problem earlier than our appointment but that didn’t happen.

Having the BlueFire diagnosis enabled me to show up at the shop knowing what was wrong. I even showed them a picture of the BlueFire fault codes. However, even though I knew what was wrong I didn’t know how to fix it. I am usually not afraid of taking things apart but emissions control devices are above my skill level. It is a lot like plumbing except you are making adjustments to airflow, not fluid.

Cleaning the valve didn’t work

Our repair was done by First Truck Center Prince George. Other than not being able to help us early, they were very accommodating. After cleaning, the EGR valve still didn’t work correctly, so the tech put the malfunctioning valve back in the RV so we could return to our campground and spend the night in our RV rather than sitting in his parking lot. Either way would have been fine by me.

A red EGR valve removed from an engine.
A red EGR valve from a Cummins engine. This is not the picture of my valve. I didn’t get to see my valve removed from the engine.

When cleaning the valve didn’t work, we had to get a new valve from the First Truck Center in Vancouver sent overnight to Prince George. I was amazed at how fast the tech installed the new valve and put us back on the road heading for Vancouver. If you already know what is wrong and already have access to the engine, it seems like a 20-minute repair.


I mentioned the BlueFire Adapter earlier and have put a picture of Bobegd’s dashboard display near the top of this article. The BlueFire Adapter is a device that translates your engine computer information into usable readable information. It allows normal people, without out advanced scan tools to see what information the engine computer is thinking about. When you get a fault code, it allows non-mechanics to clear the codes. If however, you clear a code without making the repair you can expect the engine computer to complain again about the same issue.

The BlueFire Adapter

The BlueFire Adapter is a small device that plugs into your diagnostic port for your engine computer. It is a little smaller than half a soda can. Ours has nine pins on the connection side. Inside the adapter is a small computer with a Bluetooth transmitter that sends engine data out to a remote monitor such as a cell phone or computer.

BlueFire Adapter with exposed pins ready to plug in to my motorhome.
BlueFire Adapter with exposed pins ready to plug into my motorhome. Once you line up the pins then twist the outer collar to make the connection secure.
Under my RV dash with the cover removed the BlueFire adapter plugs in at this location. It is not easy to get it installed.
Under my RV dash with the cover removed the BlueFire Adapter plugs in at this location. It is not easy to get it installed and requires you (me in my case) to crawl under the dash to see what I am doing.

Depending on how your RV is wired, the adapter will either activate with the key in the on position or be on any time it is plugged into the data port. It is easy to see when the BlueFire Adapter is on because of the three blue LED lights on the unit indicating that power is applied to the unit.

Closeup of an installed BlueFire Adapter.
Closeup of an installed BlueFire Adapter.

Normal engine data

We use an Android tablet as the normal monitor for the BlueFire Adapter to create a remote electronic dashboard. The picture near the top of this article is a very nice display created by Bobegd. My display doesn’t look nearly as nice, but someday I will construct something similar. Overall using a tablet computer you can create your own display and change nearly every aspect of the display.

My BlueFire Dashboard
The BlueFire electronic dashboard in my motorhome sits on the center console in front of the radio. I have it installed on my tablet computer. I purchased the tablet to use as a GPS screen. The tablet with the BlueFire display is easier to see than my normal gauges. Someday I will improve the layout when I quit moving the guages around on the display. As you can see from this picture, the engine was off when I took this picture.

Engine problems

If you have an engine problem the BlueFire Adapter will convert and translate the fault code into English and display it on the faults page.

BlueFire Fault Screen for my engine problem. In this case "out of calibration means that it is stuck.
BlueFire Fault Screen for my engine problem. In this case “out of calibration means that it is stuck and not moving correctly. Out of calibration means grab your wallet.

Buying the BlueFire

After getting a demonstration of our fault codes and discussing the BlueFire with Devin, I did some more research including watching the video below. If you are like me, (a show-me type learner) then videos like this one are very helpful. I am not a BlueFire expert but I do find using the BlueFire Adapter very helpful and adjusting my dashboard may even be a little fun.

I used the link below to purchase my BlueFire directly from BlueFire LLC. If you use the link, I don’t get anything from your purchase. I intentionally do not participate in affiliate programs.

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BlueFire Adapter

First Truck Center, Prince George

Cummings Exhaust Gas Recirculation Valve Description

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9 thoughts on “500 miles with an engine problem in remote Canada”

  1. It doesn’t matter that you were 500 miles from help. Even 50 miles from help is way too far to walk. Glad you didn’t need a tow truck or a mobile mechanic.

    That BlueFire device looks very cool. I’m going to get one.

  2. Thank you for the detail of the fault and repair. Volvo trucks have the EGR too. while I can’t use your device for troubleshooting, there is a product from OTR Performance that is similar and you have motivated me to get one! You are an entertaining writer, always enjoy your posts! Chris

  3. I have an equivalent OBD2 reader for my car, guess I need to join you, Devin, and Jamie, and enter the 21st century.

    Really enjoy the blog! Keep the stories coming!

  4. We have similar age Tiffins, and went through this about a year ago.

    The BlueFire has paid for itself over and over again for me, as a Tech visit to just check codes costs me 300 once.

    Had EGR and the rest of the system replaced last year. Safe travels and really enjoy the Blog.

  5. What a helpful gadget! What a great community that helps each other in your travels. As a farmer’s daughter, I find myself enjoying how things work!

    Enjoy your new travels!

  6. Wow, that BlueFIre is pretty cool! Friends on the road are great, aren’t they?

    The picture of the lake is amazing!

    Safe travels!!! Where are you heading to this summer? We are going up the east coast to Nova Scotia, the Gods be willing.

    Hugs, Kate

  7. I am glad to see that you procured and are enjoying the BlueFire, Scott! Ours has been wonderful, but the best example of its utility was an “event” in South Dakota. It saved us days and countless dollars when we intermittently lost power on I-90 in the middle of the state. Consulting the BlueFire revealed the error code and a quick call to Cummins yielded advice to replace the turbo speed sensor. Luckily we were able to find the needed part less than an hour away and it took me an hour or so to swap out the old one. We didn’t even have to adjust our itinerary for the unexpected breakdown!
    I used a dashboard template but I would kind of like to play around with the layout. You’ll have to share some tips and tricks for that process in a subsequent post!
    I hope you and Tami and doing great!
    Cheers, Devin

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