Replacing our engine

We waited at Cerritos. With our engine dispatched, there was little else to do. Fortunately, we could surf to break up the day and cool off. Despite the fact that it was the end of September, it was still incredibly hot with little sign of cooling down.

Our engine was dispatched on Tuesday and according to UPS would arrive in San Diego the following Wednesday. We waited with baited breath, I checked the tracking rather obsessively and occasionally freaked out when it declared ‘exception’ with a big exclamation mark. Nothing untoward happened however, and sure enough to the engine was delivered on Wednesday. This was good news as the lorry for the freight forwarding company leaves on a Friday, arriving in Cabo on Monday. This meant that hopefully on Tuesday, we could fit the new one. Less that a week to wait.

Things were not made to be so simple however. We were informed on Saturday, after happily thinking our new engine was en route, that it was not. Apparently it had taken too long to clear customs and had been left in their warehouse in Tijuana. We were pretty angry. Lee phoned the company and I listened from the van as Joni from Cabo Freight Forwarding shouted back. I’m not sure what right she had to be shouting, but nevertheless she was. It now seemed likely that we would have to wait another week, this was particularly frustrating as we knew while we sat waiting, our engine sat in a warehouse in north Mexico, also waiting. We looked at some other options, but nothing was really viable. Its a 42 hour round trip and the fuel alone would have cost triple our arranged shipping cost. No other courier would be close to the price halfway through a delivery, we didn’t really have much choice. We let Kikki and Hanno know the bad news and resigned ourselves to another week. Only a small part of me was glad for the delay, after a rather late night with Clem and Emilie the day before I was not in the mood or feeling capable of picking up an engine.

In the meantime, we bumped into Alejandro and his girlfriend on the beach with the dogs in tow. Chollo looking a bit more lively now, compared to the very ill and sad looking puppy we had seen before. 

I started to get ready the bits of the engine that I could. Removing the intake manifold and sensors, repositioning the ignition coil so that we could use stock HT leads. Cleaning out the air intake properly and so on.

These were all small things however, and we spent a lot of time sitting around the campers or surfing. We were very glad of Clem’s tent, which kept out the incredibly enthusiastic mosquitoes and it was nice to have the company of Jaro who stayed with us throughout. From time to time, we walked to the local shop for supplies. The one time we had to get water we were lucky enough to have only walked a few minutes down the road before a passing car offered us a lift. In the midday sun, carry 40L of water for half a mile wasn’t fun and we gratefully accepted.

Occasionally we went to the bar for a change of scenery, taking Aimee with us. 

Then, we had some good news. Joni had pulled her finger out and our engine would now be put onto Wednesday’s truck rather than Fridays. She had also agreed that the delivery driver would drop it off at Pescadero, rather than taking it all the way to Cabo, meaning we would get it a day earlier and it would actually be at the garage Friday morning. This was good news, and suddenly the remainder of the week passed in a blur. After spending a few days unable to surf because I had an ear infection, I decided to give it a go Thursday, our last day. I didn’t even make it to the waves, as I stopped to get Lee to sort out my bikini, the next wave hit me around the head with his surfboard whilst simultaneously breaking the leash on my board. Cerritos was clearly done with us. Not done with extreme sports, I decided to clean our solar panel.

Hanno and Kikki were still at Nine Palms, meaning that the only way to communicate with them was to message Clem to message them on their satellite phone, a rather longwinded process. With the new engine scheduled to be delivered between 7-8am the following morning, we asked Jaro for some help.

The following morning we were up before sunrise, awaiting a call from the delivery driver. By 8am, we hadn’t heard anything. We had also be unable to get hold of Aaron from the garage, which was stressing me out somewhat. I had visions of us delivering the engine to a locked gate and being stuck all over again. In the end, we decided to drive into Pescadero anyway, leaving Ruby behind, packed and ready to go. We headed to the garage and happily it was open. Aaron was happy for us to come and work, so that was one problem sorted. We assumed that the engine would be arriving soon, unsurprised by its lack of punctuality. We left Lee in town to sort out the engine delivery, while Jaro and I headed back to collect Ruby. 

As we headed down the dirt road again this time on a tow rope, I felt like I had almost forgotten what it was like to drive. I had got rather accustomed to being pulled along silently. We made it to the garage with no drama, and no sight of Lee. He was still in the coffee shop having not seen us go past. We did have an engine update though, the delivery driver had decided to go early and instead of phoning us to meet him at an earlier time, had driven straight past us and on to Cabo much to the annoyance of not only ourselves but also his company. This meant that the engine now had to be reloaded onto another truck and brought back up. By the time I knew this, the truck was en route, meaning that we wouldn’t long to wait. In a way it worked out well as the small delivery truck was able to deliver the engine not only to the garage but directly to our working space, making things much easier. As it was their mistake, we also were charged only the initial $40 drop off fee, as supposed to the $90 they quoted us for having a small truck delivery before.

Hanno and Kikki had belatedly got the message of what was happening and would be arriving shortly, bringing us a new battery from Walmart. I had decided enough was enough his morning when I had to use the leisure batteries to put the hazard lights on.

By 10.30am we had a new engine.

I set up Lee and Jaro with instructions of how to prepare the new engine. It needed a few parts removing, such as the alternator, air con and power steering pump. We needed to take the inlet manifold off too. While they set about this, I began to remove our current engine. We ended up working on the floor, as weren’t able to use the ramp, but actually it wasn’t too much of a problem. The garage has a nice concrete floor with a roof for shade, making it quite civilised.

Photo by Kikki

Just after midday, Hanno and Kikki arrived. It was good timing, we were ready to remove the block. Aaron was unfazed that his garage had been taken over by a whole bunch of Europeans (I still include us in this) in their respective campers.

The inlet manifold was held up by wood and ratchet straps above, while I had disconnected the exhaust, starter and bell-housing bolts. I was indecisive about whether to remove the gearbox too. It would be easy to reassemble the clutch with everything off, but was more work in the end. We decided to give it a go as it was, I disconnected the gear linkage in case the box dropped, not wanting a newly fitted engine that couldn’t get any gears. 

All of us were hands on. I had planned to get some of the mechanics to help, but with five of us I thought we could do it ourselves.

Photo by Kikki

Unfortunately, the garage only had one trolley jack, meaning that the engine wobbled precariously, supported only in the middle. After some wiggling and pushing the two parts began to separate. A little more jiggling and we held the engine in place while we raised the back of the camper, it was then possible to pull the old block clear. We were half way there.

The new block was pretty much ready. We swapped the old alternator across as the new one wasn’t compatible and soon enough we had the new engine up on the jack, ready to go. 

Hanno fitted our new battery while having a little more room to manoeuvre without an engine in the way.

Photo by Jaro

With some wiggling, slightly sketchy balancing and Jaro’s massive Land Rover jack, we got it back into the engine bay. It took bit more wiggling to align the clutch, but with a bit of a bang the new block slid back onto the gearbox. 

Photo by Kikki

We beat the engine mount bar back into place to secure everything, it’s a pretty tight fit. It was great for us to have so much help, everyone pitched in, covered in grease and dirt.

Now we everything was safe again, the engine held in place. We began to tighten things up and refit. It became apparent that we would not have this finished today. I was not overly surprised, I had allowed two days to do the swap. I thought it might be possible in one day if everything went well, which it had but we had gotten off to a late start. By the time we lost the light, I was still pretty happy. All of the underneath parts were reconnected, meaning that we hopefully wouldn’t be rolling around on the floor so much tomorrow. We just needed to fit the inlet, some sensors and then fill up with coolant and oil. A few hours should see us finished and ready.

By this point it was dark. We tidied everything away and decided we would treat our workforce to pizza. Aaron had said we could sleep in the garage overnight which made things simple. We also made use of the shower, much needed after a day of removing an absolutely filthy engine. We drank some beers and ate pizza before turning in for the night. I was absolutely shattered. 

Photo by Kikki

After not the best nights sleep, interspersed with loud chickens, dogs and cars, I awoke and got ready to finished the swap. There wasn’t too much to be done, and in a few hours we had everything connected and ready to go, included some Mexican style improvements to block off the spare air filter pipe. It was time to turn the key. I made Lee do it. 

Ruby cranked enthusiastically with her new battery, but didn’t start. We checked the immobiliser hadn’t been knocked and tried again. Still no luck. I checked for a spark and we didn’t have one. I suppose it would have been too good to be true. My first thought was the cam and crank sensors. We hadn’t swapped them with the new block, it seemed unlikely they would be different, but we swapped them just in case. Still no luck.

Lee found a post online that suggested that the crank pulleys might be different and therefore the pick up for the sensors different. We had seven pick up points on the old pulley, a check of the new one with a mirror revealed a lot more. This wasn’t too bad however, as we had an explanation rather than a fault. We just needed to swap the crank pulleys. This meant redoing the timing, but that’s not too bad. With some help from Aaron from time to time, we swapped over the pulleys, retimed the engine and tried again. She still didn’t start.

Another check of the coil revealed we now had spark on the front two cylinders. This was a good start, it ruled out some potential ECU and immobiliser issues. Needless to say, it was not enough for the engine. I went back to the timing. 

Years ago, when I had bought the donor Subaru it hadn’t worked. Not wanting to potentially install a damaged engine I wanted to get it running before we removed it. It turned out that the third party immobiliser was faulty to start with, with that bypassed we still couldn’t get it running. Checking the spark we only had it on the front two cylinders. Initially we suspected the coil pack, but when swapped the problem persisted. I found a post online where someone suggested a timing issue. When we removed the covers to check the timing, we found the pulleys were over 90 degrees out. It’s good job it’s not an interference engine, and no wonder it didn’t start. Timing adjusted and she fired up.

Now, five years later and a long way away I had encountered the same problem. The good thing was that while I was stumped back then, I was now convinced we had a timing issue. We checked it again. Maybe, arguably, it was a tooth out. We redid it and checked again. Still no joy. It then occurred to me that maybe as the crank pulley was different, so was the cam. We had been told on other engines that it was necessary to swap the cam. I had not expected this problem as we had the same engine code, but there are so many different specifications, you never know. Sure enough, a check of the cam revealed a different number of pick up points. 

We pulled the old cam pulley off in a matter of minutes. The new cam was not so willingly. Like the crank pulley it refused to budge with the air gun. Unlike the crank though, we could not use the starter motor to crack the bolt. It’s much harder to hold the cam still. We tried several things for several hours.

In the end, Aaron came to the rescue. After smashing at the bolt with a chisel, the air gun managed to break the seal. It had taken a stupid amount of time for one bolt, but we could now refit it.

We were now well into Saturday afternoon, Aaron was barbecuing and some workers were building a wall in the garage. Kindly he let us stay on and so it was a great moment when we finally put the pulley and belt back together and turned the key. Ruby coughed, spluttered and purred into life. A cheer went up from the garage. We were in business! 

Never one to make my life easy, as I went to torque the pulleys two of the threads stripped out. This delayed us somewhat, trying to find slightly longer bolts. In the end I managed to torque one pulley but the autotensioner wasn’t great. We were now rather pressured by the light and didn’t want to spend another night here. I hoped it would be ok, and fitted everything. Aaron offered us some of his tacos and barbecue which was nice of him. Me and Lee bled the cooling system in the dark. Knowing how temperamental this can be I was expecting we would have to do it a few times.

After everyone had eaten and had a few beers, we had a large tidy up. We were now ready to go. We decided to camp on San Pedrito, as it was quite close. I imagined we would have to stop and bleed the cooling system en route but we needed to test drive it. We went to pay Aaron, who told us to give what we wanted as we had done the work ourselves. We gave him 1000mxp which he seemed happy with as well as some decent spare engine parts from the new engine. No doubt the block is also worth a bit in scrap too. Our convoy then reversed out the garage and headed toward the beach. I sat in the back surrounded by toolkits listening to every little noise. The engine sounded very different, much quieter than our old one. I watched the temperature and was pleasantly surprised to see it rise and then fall. Perhaps dirt roads are a great way to bleed your cooling system as we arrived at the beach with no issues. Hanno and Kikki broke out a bottle of champagne and we celebrated two days of hard work with a successful ending. We were back on the road…

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