San Diego: more van repairs with new friends

After driving up and down the correct street several times trying to figure out which house it was, we were glad when the garage door opened and we were waved over. I still can’t get my head around American house numbers, that make no sense whatsoever. Fortunately, Lesley spotted us and we parked up on the drive an introduced ourselves. We also spotted their Vanagon, Bluey and I was surprised to see that it too had a Subaru engine fitted! Lesley invited us in, and soon after Bryan came home from work. We spent an enjoyable evening chatting to them and also meeting their two daughters Elizabeth and Cecilia. We had initially planned to go to another host the next night, but after seeing Bryan’s garage and establishing he didn’t mind we decided to make the most of his tools.

Much wine later on, we hooked Ruby up to their power and called it a night. Tomorrow would be another day dedicated to getting our van in good running order for Mexico.

The morning came and our list of jobs seemed surprisingly long, considering it felt like we had just down a bunch of work to her in LA. To start, we changed the oil, took off our leaking rocker cover. The seals to the HT leads were letting oil past them which was filling up around the spark plugs and causing the engine to struggle with delivering a spark on that bank.

Lee set about cleaning the rocker cover before we reattached it.

While rooting around in the engine I noticed just how dirty the throttle and air filter was, so both of these had a good clean. We also did an oil change too.

Finally, I decided that trying to bolt the shock absorber on the back hadn’t been enough and that I did need to cut and weld in a new captive nut to the top mount.

This didn’t actually take too long, it was just one of those jobs I didn’t want to do. Soon enough though this was reattached and thread locked in place.

The other main job was sorting the wheels. We had mentioned it the previous evening and Bryan and Lesley who said they would invite around one of their friends and his family, who is the local VW mechanic (and also English) by the name of Mark. That evening they came around for dinner, and he mentioned that he might be able to sort us out some tyres which was great news. Another pleasant evening, was had by all, especially Aimee who was getting used to the two big dogs and enjoying running around like a maniac.

That morning, Mark messaged us saying he had found some tyres for the price of a bottle of Jose Cuervo, and so we headed over to have a look at them. We got there and met Bob, whose house it was. In the back garden he had several vans and in the garage was Mark’s current project, also a Subaru conversion. What I didn’t realise was that he was actually offering me a complete set of wheels, for about $20. This was a ridiculously good deal of course, and we took the set outside to wash them off and load them into Ruby. Deciding I wanted to get her tracked and the wheels balanced before swapping them, we waved goodbye to these two who had really done us a good deal, and set off in search of a wheel alignment place. We had several recommendations including one we had spoken to on the phone that said they could do it.

The first garage was only just down the road and said they could do it but not till tomorrow and quoted us $135, which seemed a bit much. The next 4 garages, including the one that said the would on the phone, took one look at it and flatly refused. I’m not altogether surprised, as they steering setup on this is a bit different, but it was frustrating nonetheless. Finally, we arrived at Clarence Browns which said they would happily do it, but not till next week. Feeling a bit fed up, we decided to see what the San Diego VW group on Facebook recommended and heading back to our camp spot.

As ever, Facebook delivered a lot of helpful options. People recommended several different places we hadn’t tried yet. We decided that in the morning Lee would ring round and I would change the front wheel bearing. We had looked out the outer bearing and it was definitely worn, having had problems with it before we decided that it would be better done and out of the way.

We were lucky to enjoy more good food with Bryan and Lesley that night, as well as several bottles of wine. We were having a lovely time with these guys and they had been so welcoming to us, letting us use their house like it was our own. Seeming completely unfazed that we were planning to spend another day with them, we set about enjoying Lesley’s homemade tacos.

Today was Friday, and probably our last chance to get the wheel alignment sorted unless we wanted to wait until Monday. Today we had better luck and the first place Lee phoned not only said that they could do it, but also that it was $70, a much better price. This left me to finish off the wheel bearing. I knew that the outside was worn, but the inner bearing was dry and covered in little metal flakes… not good.

Have replaced both, and greased everything up, the wheel now spun silently. Quite excited by the prospect of driving without that whining noise, we got loaded our new tyres, and set off to the garage.

Once we had arrived we were told it would be around a 1-2 hour wait and they also agreed to check and balance our new wheels. Initially, they wanted $12 per wheel, which I got lowered to $8 after being slightly outraged by the price. To get her sorted for $100, isn’t too bad and when you’ve got a complete set of tyres for next to nothing you can’t complain. In the meantime, we killed a bit of time in MacDonald’s and then went to sit in the sun. an hour later, and she was still parked outside so we decided to go back and sit in the garage, thinking they might get on with it. Sure enough, she was quickly on the ramp.

A little while later, they called us in to have a look at the settings. The offside wheel’s camber did not have enough adjustment to get the reading into specifications. Although our tyres we wearing on the outside not the inside, so hopefully it won’t matter too much. Everything else was completely wrong too, but he managed to get this all adjusted fine, the tyres were balanced and we set off.

Back at base camp, we swapped our wheels around and posted the old rims for sale in the hope of getting a bit of cash.

Our solar panels we had ordered on amazon had just arrived and we spent a bit of time installing the new charge controller and trying them out. Our much more successful day was rounded of by having a nice Himalayan curry, it’s the first time I’ve had take-away curry in 5 months so this was pretty exciting!

We had planned to leave Sunday morning, but having talked to Bryan about his DIY shower, which was very similar to the one I wanted to build, I was considering trying to make us one. Also coupled with the fact that I’m not sure about the availability of showers down in Baja, this could be a good plan. we also needed to take our rocker cover back off again as it was dripping oil all over the floor, pretty common for these engines, but messy and annoying.

This was the first job for Saturday morning, but we didn’t get started until pretty late as we enjoyed an epic lazy weekend breakfast with the family. Lee then took the rocker cover off and refitted it with some gasket sealant, while I pondered shower possibilities. We even had time to adjusted our juddery windscreen wipers. Deciding that it was now a bit late in the day to start a new project, we went inside to make the most of using some of their internet and planning what we would need to buy to make our shower.

That night it was also a school concert that Elizabeth was playing in so we joined everyone to go and watch both the honour band and the honour orchestra play. I was impressed by how good the kids were, it was also nice to go and do something different. We didn’t get back till around 9pm and so Bryan ordered in some pizzas as it was pretty late to cook anything by that point. We were also joined on our drive way camp spot that night by Catelyn, (one or Cecilia’s careers) in her Vanagon.

All of this brings us to Sunday, our final day here in San Diego. We headed out in the morning to not only buy some shower bits, but some food for the evening. We wanted to cook Bryan and Lesley a nice meal to say thank for their hospitality, especially as we had been there nearly a week! First we headed to Home Depot. Our plan was to make a shower out of black PVC pipe, with a few fittings to allow a how to be connected to and it for it to be filled up as well. We were also going to install a Schrader valve so that we could have pressured water.

The first stop was Walmart for most of our food shop for the evening and also as I wanted to buy Lesley a new plant pot after Aimee had smashed one of hers. We then went to walk around Home Depot, seeing what was available and figuring out the best kind of fitting to use. It took us a while to find some fitting that we though would work and that weren’t horribly expensive. In the end we went for hose pipe fittings, and also bought a length of garden hose and a head that would serve as the shower. Having got most of the things we needed, we still had to find a tyre valve and also a tyre inflator that you could set the pressure on. Having found most of what we needed we went to Trader Joe’s, to get some important ‘two buck chuck’ bottles of wine. These are the wines that they sell for under $2 a bottle and are actually pretty good, we had been consuming them in generous quantities all week. Nearly sorted, our last stop was back at O’Reilly’s car parts, where we managed to pick of a reasonably priced tyre inflator and a valve. All shopping out, we headed back.

The shower itself was quite quick to assemble. We built a U shaped section that would be strapped to our roof rack, and fitted in the hose valves. The only thing we didn’t have was a way to cap off the filler feed. With everything glued, and siliconed, we strapped in onto the roof rack and left it all to dry.

We would wait till the morning before testing it. We had also managed to sell our wheels to someone on Facebook, who gave us $40 for our old set, meaning that in terms of just tyres we were in profit!

It also helped pay a little towards the cost of taking Ruby to a garage, something I am not accustomed to doing. Feeling pretty happy with ourselves, we called it a night for van DIY.

We headed inside and set about cooking everything up for our Greek themed menu. Lee made Moussaka, while I made a Greek salad and fried zucchini. We also had feta fried in sesame seeds, that you serve with honey. All of this was dished up with some pita breads, tzatziki and hummus. Everyone seemed to enjoy our meal, which was great. It’s always nice to be able to do something in return for people’s generosity, even if it’s only a small gesture.

It was now Monday morning and it was time to leave. Before we headed off we made one last use of the shower, and filled up our water tanks. We also set about testing our new shower. First filling it up with the hose.

Not really expecting it to work straight away the first time, I was pleasantly surprised when we filled it with water, and pressurised it to 15psi with no leaks. There was also a nice jet of water coming out of the shower head, that definitely looked like it would work. Now we just have to hope that the weather is warm enough to use it. if nothing else I supposed its additional water storage!

The last thing to do was fit my new plant holder, Lesley had made me this the previous evening after realising that I also had a love of succulents and driftwood! I think it’s pretty awesome, I just hope it survives not only van off-roading, but also the cat.

Now it was time to say our goodbyes, before we headed across the border. Normally, we get a picture of all of us by Ruby, but unfortunately this time we didn’t. I think it’s because after our Baja trip we are planning on coming back through San Diego, so this was not quite such a final goodbye as normal. We were still sad to leave, and we can’t thank the pair of them enough. We had access to all of Bryan’s extensive tool selection and had been fed and watered too, as well as enjoying some nice time hanging out in the evenings. We will definitely drop by after San Diego and see them again, hopefully next time we can go and see some of the city rather than just repairing our van!

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