Engine Failure 2.0

When we awoke in the morning, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the Wallas had managed to stay on overnight. I sat under the blanket and nursed my hangover. Drinking at high altitude was maybe not the best idea, I felt like I might possibly die. The guys around us packed up and headed off, leaving us their contact details so that we could meet again in Guadalajara later on. We also passed them a note to give to Hanno and Kikki as they went past them on the way down, we knew they were camped in the spot we had broken down in earlier about halfway down the volcano. 

So we said our goodbyes, we had enjoyed a nice evening together, after a slightly sketchy start. My banging headache was a testament to that. We had arranged to leave in the afternoon with Gerado, the iOverlander host, so we spent the morning packing up the camper. By this I mean I lay there groaning, while Lee sorted everything out. By early afternoon, we decided to go, we would need to make a slow and steady start down the mountain. We also had the issue that people kept parking next to us and blocking the little dirt bridge Lee had dug us to get back out by ourselves. After asking two lots of people to move, we decided it would be far easier if we were the ones to move. 

Really, it should have been my turn to drive. But my sole contribution to that morning was to check our oil level, which was low. After emptying in the two litres of spare oil we had and just about getting it to halfway up the dipstick, it was clear we were losing a fair bit and needed to get back down. I sat in the passenger seat with ibuprofen that wasn’t working and a bottle of water. Lee was in charge of navigating the road again. 

We got to the entrance and met Gerado again. He said he would be down shortly, and we would meet him in the town. So we started our descent.

Much like on the way up, we drive slowly. I was surprised by how bad this road was, as we approached particularly lumpy sections we constantly discussed the route. 

“My side, then your side in a minute”. 


“Yeah, but slowly”


My cue to get out and check the clearance under the van. At least this time we weren’t fighting gravity too, so it was a lot quicker to reach where Bruno was parked, We only stopped briefly, as we were conscience of our oil situation. They had got our letter, so knew about the plans to stop in the town tonight, they’d catch us up down the hill anyway. 

Towards the bottom, Gerardo overtook us and told us to meet him at the Pemex. We had nearly made it down, but now it appeared that our engine was smoking quite a bit. It was a little hard to tell, with the amount of dust thrown up by the road but that blue smoke was definitely there. Still, it was to be expected after a lot of freewheeling down hill, hopefully back on level ground it would stop. 

In a fraction of the time, we made it down to the safety of tarmac. We waited a short time for Bruno at the junction of the main road. On the short drive to Pemex, it became clear that the engine was not ok. Blue and white smoke poured out of the back. Gerado directed us to a park near his house, now that we had the signal to load a map. It was only a fifteen minute drive, with Bruno following us, but there was ample opportunity to film the state of Ruby. What had started out as a quick bit of welding on the sump, now was a far bigger issue. 

Before too long we met up with Gerado at his house and were introduced to Gina and their son Matheus. Gerado’s dad was a mechanic and he said he would be over soon to have a look. I looked at the oil dripping from our exhaust and spattered all over the rear bumper. This was not good news. Gerado waved a hand, declaring everything ok. “We can fix it, no problem. Have a beer.” He instructed. I was a little less optimistic, but at least we had found a good place to stop. 

A little while later, his dad appeared. He thought out air filter was no good and had let dirt into the engine, ruining the rings. I didn’t agree. While the oil did seem a bit dirty, I thought it had failed too fast. We also knew that we had seen blue smoke before, and we hadn’t gone down any dirt roads at that point. I suspected valve stem seals and potentially the head gasket. You could discuss it to the nth degree, but until you strip the engine, you won’t know. That’s what’s going to be happening now, an engine rebuild. One month on the road and there we were, off it again. 

The irony of the situation was not to be missed. We had purchased a more expensive engine, all the way from Canada to avoid an engine rebuild. I could have probably bought a scrap engine in Baja and rebuilt it for less, but I wanted to get us back on the road quicker. Could we blame the dirt road? Was it all our fault? Questions swam around my head as the reality sank in. Nothing could be done now until the morning. 

I can’t say that night that I slept well. It was a combination of the days events, but also the noise of the city. Ruby is not a good choice for sleeping on city streets. The dogs, the cars and the cockerels all contributed to the extensive aural soundscape of that street. 

The next day, we all had breakfast in the garden. I wasn’t particular hungry, but I hoped that maybe it would’t be so bad. Maybe a few days to order some parts and a few more to rebuild. It should be easier here, next to a major city surely. First we needed to pull the engine and see what was needed. 

Later that afternoon, Gerardo drove me around to his dads workshop to collect some tools. It was late afternoon by the time we returned but we nevertheless made a start. We’re getting good at this now. Within a few hours, and finishing in the dark, we dragged the engine out. Tomorrow, we could asses the damage. 

In the meantime, Hanno and Kikki had a few things to be getting on with. Now that they had access to a welder they wanted to make some recovery boards for Bruno. They also decided to go to one of the local car washes after months of living by the sea. Here you can also get the underside of your car sprayed with used engine oil to protect it. While I’m sure that it works, it is incredibly messy and not something I wanted to do to Ruby (In my minds eye, I have visions of a some dude spraying litres of used engine oil into the radiator), despite the fact that she is rusting away before my eyes. 

It took us a while to take the engine apart, as we were missing that all important socket for the head bolts. You could already see the issue however, pools of oil sat behind the valves and the inlet side was coated in oil. To me, a clear indication that the valve stem seals had failed.

On the plus side, that at least couldn’t be attributed to being our fault. In the end, we pulled off the cylinders and revealed to blown head gaskets. As for the bores, I was pleasantly surprised to see no damage. That at least was good. It looked like we would need a full gasket set in order to fix the issue, not so bad after all. 

Knowing what we were dealing with, we set about location the parts. Here was the sticking point, while Subaru is prevalent in the states, it appears that the 2.0L model is not sold there. They only have the 2.2L or the 2.5L. This led to many frustrating conversations where people said they had parts, but then turned out to only stock parts for the bigger engine. The same applies in Mexico. 

Lee had also messaged the people that had sold us the engine, as it had failed after only a month. He tried to tell me that the gasket set was the same for the bigger engine sizes. I began to lose my patience somewhat. 

It looks us a few days of searching to find something. We even asked for quotes the get the parts shipped from England, with some utterly ridiculous quote from UK Subaru. Someone based in Mexico City said they could have the parts with us in 6-9 days. Thinking this was our best option, we went ahead and ordered them, paying half up front with half due when he posted the parts out. Maybe we should have checked before we ordered where the parts were coming from, but at the time we thought a supplier in Mexico was our best bet as we would’t have to deal with Mexican customs fees. 

At least we had our parts ordered. We decided to spend the rest of our time sorting out other things on the camper in the meantime. We had a fairly good list of things to be getting on with. We also had the town to look around too.

Gina and Gerado took us out for some local tostadas one night and on another evening we visited the town square with Gina and her mum.

On the way back to their house we stopped to have a look at her grandparents house, it was a huge and beautiful place. It felt more like a grand hotel than a private residence and we felt privileged to be allowed inside to look around.

During the daytime, we needed to strip the cylinder heads and get them skimmed. We wanted to fix the sump, clean the radiator and maybe raise the rear suspension. At least we could keep busy.

We also had the issue of the clutch to sort. Now with the engine out again, it became very clear that the release bearing was about to fail. Good job I ordered that new one, it was just a matter of getting it here. To that end, we headed to DHL one morning. I explained that the parcel was in Puerto Vallarta and I wanted it brought here. Then the inevitable happened, the lady called the DHL customer service and handed me the phone. That didn’t go so well, and fortunately someone in the queue spoke English which in some way compensated for the fact that it was her son running circuits of the office with squeaky trainers while I tried to listen to the phone call. 

Finally, we had it arranged and agreed to pay the fee for the re-delivery. I was happy though, the fee was infinitely cheaper than the parcel getting sent back or trying to get to Puerto Vallarta. At least we had that sorted.

As we began to sort out a clean our engine, the days passed by. After a week, Hanno and Kikki had decided to leave. I definitely didn’t blame them, in fact I was kind of glad. It was bad enough that they had waited for us once, and while the situation sucked for us, I felt bad for ruining their trip too. There was no need for us both to be stuck here. At least we were somewhere where we could get ourselves sorted and hopefully catch up with them soon, perhaps for some tequila tastings in Tequila itself. It was an odd feeling, after travelling together for so long to say goodbye, even if only temporary, and be alone. 


    1. Even when they are disastrous! The engine is a bit boring now. We hope to be running for Christmas. I hear it’s easier to get cheap welding in here in Puebla, that’s where the vw factory is. So we’ll maybe address some of that there.

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