Engine Failure 101

This was the turning point of the next month. The big puddle at Cerritos was back, but a lot smaller than before. We figured a bit of speed to stop us slipping and we could easily make it. We were very wrong. It was infinitely deeper than we thought and very dirty. I suppose, in hindsight it was pretty stupid. We got stuck pretty much instantly.

The good thing about Mexico though, is that it’s part of life here. We have pushed many a stuck local out of the sand so maybe we had some good karma. We had barely got out of the cab into the slurry puddle when another Subaru began backing up. Shouting at us to get a tow rope. Another guy was also there offering his car if the other one couldn’t do it. First they tried to pull us out with ratchet straps, but these broke and so we dug out our tow rope. Nothing special, but it had got us out of trouble before, the Subaru slid on the muddy ground until he engaged 4×4 and slowly a dripping and muddy Ruby emerged. He towed us off to the side while another local excitedly filmed the hole thing on his phone while providing a running commentary. Stupid gringos. We thanked them with a couple of beers and set about cleaning the van, we also realised she wouldn’t start. 

After some testing, I found that one of the HT leads had completely given up. I spent a good hour cutting, cleaning and patching it back together before I got a spark out of it. Then, happily she fired up. It was all fine now, until for some reason the engine cut out when we ran it up to temperature. Now, when the clutch was pressed, the engine stalled. Perhaps our dirty air filter was finally too much, I had been meaning to do that for a while. So another hour spent cleaning the air filter. Now she started and ran much better, the stalling had stopped too although we would definitely need a carwash. Lee also noticed that the oil light was one, a check revealed that the oil was very low, again we have had a few leaks over the last few months so maybe it just needed topping up. 

After all this drama it was now getting on in the day so we decided to stay for the night and leave tomorrow morning. We would now needed to stop off for a new set of HT leads, ours were on the their last legs. Jaro joined us and gave us some more oil to top up our engine. Then Clem and Emilie arrived with Toby who had agreed to give Clem a surfing lesson. We took a few beers down to the beach to watch and then after went up for some drinks at the bar. It wasn’t a bad end to what had been a rather questionable day. Tomorrow, we should be back on track. 

The following morning, we said goodbye to Jaro and drove off. When we stopped at the shop, the engine died again, not a good sign. We decided not to stop off at the surf shop again despite the fact that he said his friend might had a board for me. With the engine now sounding quite bad this morning, we just wanted to get some oil in it. Again, at the end of the road the engine cut out and wouldn’t start again. After a few minute it was running again, oil light on. I was worried that we would seize the engine, so we decided to stop off in Pescadero just a mile or so a way and get oil. We also needed to refill our shower after using it all to clean off the van the day before.

It was when we were in Pemex, the engine sounded horrible. Loud and rattling. I went around to have a look and saw oil pouring out from behind the crank pulley, that was it. We went straight to the nearest garage. The mechanic told us to come back in two hours, so we collected Aimee and went to wait in Baja Beans, hoping that it wasn’t something major. 

I think I already knew it was. I had seen the crank pulley moving when the engine was running and I think I knew that was already going to be bad news. My brain discounted it, just needs some more oil, and probably a seal! Everything is going to be fine. 

Two hours later and we were back, we moved the van onto the concrete and the mechanic began to take of the covers to get to the crank pulley. They started the engine again, and watched as the oil poured out. He looked at me and shook his head. He grabbed the pulley and the whole crank moved from side to side by several millimetres. “No es bueno.” He told me. No good. 

The other mechanic put everything back together while we sat there, stunned. The owner retreated to a safe distance, I think he realised how upset we were. With a major engine fault, we definitely weren’t going anywhere anytime soon unless it was home. We discussed our options. 

“Listo!” The mechanic putting the covers back on announced. Ready. Sure, but ready for what?

We could abandon Ruby and get another van. We could go home. These two options we discounted fairly quickly. We could replaced the engine or try and fix the engine. I sat there mulling over the options. Aaron the owner came over again asking what we were going to do. I asked him if he thought he could repair it, he shrugged. It would need to be taken apart to assess the damage, then they could see. He was of course right, what else did I expect him to say. 

For anyone who doesn’t understand the problem, I will attempt to make things simple. The crankshaft sits right at the heart of the engine. To access it requires dismantling the engine entirely. Judging by the movement, the bearing had failed or the crankshaft could be bent. I thought back to the puddle incident wondering if we could have got water into the engine… But no I don’t think so. 

So, you can take the whole thing apart. Maybe it’s as simple as changing the bearings, this is still quite a job just because of the time taken to strip the engine. It’s also a high mileage engine, so if you’re going to do that, then you’d be stupid not to replace other replaceable parts. Big end bearings, piston rings, valve seals etc. This is assuming that nothing else is damaged, you don’t know this until you take it apart, by this point the camper is already committed to a garage and we need to find a place to stay. If something else is damaged, scored bores, bent rods, scored crank, then the works goes from doable to not viable. Yes, it may be possible, but the time and money is simply not worth it. The parts would have to be imported from America. It is this uncertainty that made me sure that if we were to continue, we would be better off buying an entirely new engine. The process would be far quicker.

This is something we would need some time to think about. In the meantime we needed to leave the garage and find somewhere to stay that night. 

Someone else was also not having the best day. An agitated American chap arrived at the garage, waving at his car that was a hundred yards or so down the road. We looked over, the wheel had come off. He wanted a tow truck. We wanted a tow truck. 

We spoke to Clem who said we could stay outside where they were staying for the night, we also knew we could stay on Alejandro’s land. In the end, we decided to spend the night outside Clem’s and then try to get to Alejandro’s in the morning. I didn’t want to try and drive even though we still kind of could. We had lost all our power and the engine sounded horrible.

We walked over to the guy with his broken wheel to see if he had source a tow truck. We introduced ourselves and found out he was called Jimmy. He had been unfortunate enough to collect his car from the garage and have the wheel fall off just after, this wasn’t because of the incorrectly tightened bolts or anything like that, both the top and bottom ball joint had sheared off, meaning the only thing holding the hub on was the track rod. This was not obviously up to all this new responsibility and was very bent, the drive shaft had come out the gearbox too and the wheel lay on the floor, next to the car with the drive shaft sticking up in the air. Jimmy wasn’t too happy, but he was certainly chatty. We got talking for a few minutes before he decided we needed some beer. Minutes later he returned with beer. I sat in the shade of his car and we had a few drinks and a good chat, in the middle of the road. Three police cars came past and looked like they might stop us for having some beer until they recognised Jimmy. He clearly knew a lot of people. The most surprising of these, was that his friend turned up and just so happened to be the person who had thrown us out of the waterfall camp spot just after Lee’s birthday. It’s a small world sometimes. 

An hour or so passed and no tow truck was evident. Lee went to the garage and got Aaron to sort something out. Before too long the tow truck arrived. They dragged Jimmy’s car into the garage, in place of where Ruby had been. We explained we needed towing too, the guy had a look at Ruby and then told us he needed to get his other tow truck. We waited for around half an hour or so before he returned. Eventually we were loaded on, and we set off for Todos Santos. 

Clem met us outside La Esquina where we were going to park for the night. It had slowly dawned on us that they were renting another house in the same complex that we had been in for dinner with Shaye, way back in March. Clem was very apologetic about how we couldn’t come in, the owners were very worried about Corona. This was fine though, as we heard several dogs start up barking as he walked back inside and apparently they had recently killed the owners cat. No thank you. Today was plenty eventful enough. 

With Ruby unloaded from the tow truck, Clem returned with plated of food that Emilie had cooked for us. I realised we hadn’t eaten all day and I probably wouldn’t have cooked either. We were tired, stressed and done with it all. It was wonderful to have a dish of hot food put in front of me with an ice cold beer. Clem brought us some drinking water and more beers. Then, he, Emilie and Lu came and kept us company in the car park. More beer was consumed. Emilie put Lu to bed, and I decided shortly after that I would follow. Today had taken it right out of me. Lee promised to be right behind me, but as it’s Lee he decided to stay up for another two hours or so shouting outside the pop top and drinking all the tequila. I lay there, on the verge of sleeping, but not quite, getting incredibly angry. I probably should have just told him to shut up, but for some reason I didn’t. By the time he came to bed I was slightly hysterical I think. Today had not been a good day. Tomorrow we needed a plan. 

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