Rebuilding our Suspension

Before we knew it, it was Friday morning. We were up early, wanting to give ourselves some extra time in case we had any engine issues leaving the spot. Fortunately, the morning temperatures were still very cold, meaning we were less likely to have problems. We left Aimee behind with the others who had agreed to look after her for that night which we thought we would likely spend in the city again. Not wanting to keep her locked in the camper in a garage all day or drag her around town in her bag when it was so hot, it was much nicer for both her and us to be able to leave her in the mountains.

We made it with no problems back out of the mountain roads and into the city. We arrived outside Jamie’s at 9am as agreed. He had sorted the garage and we followed him there, driving behind his own VW bus, the newer water-cooled bay.

In the garage we saw that they had already taken apart and stripped the front beam. They told us one of the bars was no good and they would swap it out of our existing beam to make a good set. It was nice that they had already made a start and seemed to know what they were doing. It turns out the main mechanic has his own ’77 bay window, which was reassuring. We weren’t sure whether we would stick around or not, but in the end we left. It was odd to trust someone else, normally I stand over them watching every move. This was a big job though and would take all day, it was also on stock parts, nothing odd or customised. We decided we would go and run some errands, checking on it periodically. Jamie kindly gave us a lift back to his garage with our bikes in the back of his van.

The first thing we needed to do was find a parts shop. I wanted to buy a new fuel pump and filter to sort our fuelling problem. We managed to find a fuel pump fairly easily and a new filter. We also bought some bits that Hanno wanted and got lunch again at Boulenc.

We then headed back to the garage to drop off the parts and see what was going on. Ruby was in bits all over the floor. we also got a proper look at the old beam, and once off it was evident just how badly it was rusted. I think we were lucky to get this far without having the wheel completely fall off in a bad pothole.

They needed to send the beam away to be welded as the replacement one was from an earlier bus that does not have the bracket for the brake servo. This meant it needed to be cut off our old beam and welded on the new one. The mechanic wasn’t entirely sure if it would be done today or not. Taking our laptops we went to find a quiet place to sit and kill some time, we found a park and hid in the corner as we were supposed to be there. When the laptops died, we returned. We had pretty much decided we would book a cheap hotel for the night, after all we didn’t want the job done in a rush. When we got there though, he told us it would be done today.

We cycled around to Jamie’s to see what was going on there. Liz offered us some beer and snacks and we sat in his garage and chatted for a while. He said the garage had told him it would be done by 8-9pm and said we could stay outside his garage in the van. In the meantime he had sorted out some new bushes for the anti-roll bar and when they we needed he drove us back to drop it off. The front end of Ruby was now largely attached, we were pleased to see.

Jamie then drove us to a beer shop, as we wanted to buy a few for the mechanics. The last part of the evening we sat in their shop as they did the finishing touches. Finally, she was put onto the ramp and tracked.

Before we left, I arranged with the garage to raise the rear suspension, another job I wanted doing. We agreed to bring the camper back in the morning, now, at around 9pm, we were able to drive back to Jamie’s garage. We ordered in a pizza, before getting into bed. It had been a long day.

The next day at the garage we waited with the van. I sat in the front and Lee in the back doing work on our laptops. One of the great things about being in a Mexican garage is that they are quite happy for you to come in and wander around in your flipflops. They’re also fine with you sitting in the car while they work on it, which was convenient. After a couple of hours the mechanic showed me our rear brake shoes, completely worn on the ends. We clearly needed new drums, but for now he fitted us a new pair of shoes so that we could at least have our handbrake back. This delayed us a little and by the time we were ready to leave it was late afternoon again. We got a slightly worried message from Jamie who was concerned we hadn’t paid for our new tyres yet, so we headed off the square up with him. 

Everything completed, it was time to head back to the mountains and our cat. A good test drive for Ruby’s new and improved suspension. As we headed out towards the steep hill again, our engine hit a worrying 105 degrees before we even really hit the incline. It was down on power and struggling. We pulled over before the steep part, it looked like I would need to try changing the fuel pump and hope that helped.

This was a problem I had created myself. When I did the fuel system, I matched the size of the tank outlet to the pump, about 10mm tubing. I then put the fuel filter before the pump as our tank has no filter in it and I didn’t want to wreck the pump. This meant I needed a fuel filter with much bigger outlets than normal. I found one easily in the UK. There was no issue with the system until you needed to change something. I couldn’t find a filter here with the right size fittings meaning I would need to change the fuel hoses too. This means draining the tank which we had just filled up to load the suspension for the garage. Not possible roadside. I could change the pump though.

The fuel lines had perished and hardened somewhat, making it hard to completely isolate the fuel which still poured out in a thin stream even with the pipe clamped. I lay underneath wrestling with old pipes and stuck brackets. The pump also had different electrical connectors. Then it got dark. The end result was a fuel pump loosing held in place, with the connectors taped on and me standing topless by the roadside trying to wash off the petrol I was coated in that was beginning to burn.

It was done though and we drove onwards towards the hill. It made no difference. We got halfway up before the engine died. We were stuck half on the road in the dark, cars honked furiously at us for being in the way. After a little jiggling we rolled mainly off the road. Ruby refused to start. She made a glugging noise from the fuel tank. The fuel line from the tank to the filter is clear and when I looked, I saw large bubbles coming backwards out of the filter. The fuel was draining in the opposite direction. It seemed to point towards a blocked filter, but there wasn’t much we could do about that.

We were about to walk to the restaurant and ask them to call a tow truck, there’s no signal here, when eventually after what must have been nearly an hour or felt like it, the engine restarted. We managed to turn around and get off the road. It would be stupid to continue onwards now into the mountains where we didn’t have signal or access to a parts shop. We sent a message to the others letting them know what happened, and then one to Jamie asking if we could park outside his garage again.

Back at the bottom, we were glad to be back even though Ruby had driven faultlessly the whole way back. In the morning we could look at the problem, starting with replacing the filter and hoses. Now we knew the problem wasn’t  the pump, my guess was that the filter was partially blocked so when under heavy load the engine was starved of fuel. It also appeared to only happen when the engine bay itself was hot. Looking at one of the fuel lines that seemed to have perished and partially collapsed I had a theory that when it heated up, the line became more pliable meaning that the increased suction from the pump with a restricted amount of fuel in the line was causing it to collapse. It seemed like a good theory, I hoped I was right as that was a simple fix.

So tired from the last few hours, we got some tlayudas from the shop across the road and went to bed. We wondered how Aimee was doing up there, she had never been away from us at night before and we hoped she wasn’t destroying someone else’s camper.

In the morning, Jamie drove us to a shop to buy a new fuel filter as the one we had was too big. He then drove us all across town to buy some fuel pipes that would fit our system, with one end larger than the other. He gave us several large containers to drain our fuel tank into as well. It didn’t take too long to refit the old pump and swap out the lines. It turned out the fuel filter was full of dirt and the earth for the fuel pump had corroded too. With so many problems, we felt we had a good chance of it working well now. The others had messaged us their location as they had left the mountain.

We thanked Jamie for his help, both him and his wife had been incredibly kind and helpful to us, going out of their way to make sure we had what we wanted. Without his help it would have been much more difficult. We promised to add them to iOverlander and set off again, hopefully with better luck.

After a very confusing road layout, that ended up with us paying twice for a toll road we didn’t need and reversing backwards out of a slip road, we made it to the town of Mitla. Here they were having a Covid crackdown. There were several road blocks of locals, they asked us to get out the car and gave us some hand sanitiser while they bleached our inside door handles. Not quite sure how that’s going to help, but they were friendly enough and we continued on out of the village.

The road climbs steeply out into the hills beyond, and we were pleased that Ruby’s engine didn’t have any power issues. We stopped several times to let it cool down, but the view was incredible and this was no great hardship.

Reaching the top, we dropped down into the valley the other side, the sunset framing the hills around us. I got a message from Kikki, “We can hear you!”.

Soon enough we saw them and we were reunited with our slightly confused cat. It promised to be a good camping spot with a nice view. We were right by Hierve el Agua, a petrified waterfall we wanted to see.  Jaro had already built a fire pit and was collecting wood. We had also learnt that the waterfall was closed for Covid, but we were hoping to fly the drone over in the morning.

Then a local guy arrived, he was quite upset by our presence and wanted us to leave. Naturally, we don’t stay if we’re upsetting the locals so we headed out. It was now dark. With not many other options, we headed into Mitla. We asked a local hotel if we could camp in their car park and the owner was happy enough to let us stay. After a quick meal in the town, which was basically a ghost town, we called it a night.

1 Comment

  1. Man, what a mechanical adventure this is! Fortunate that rusted beam held up on those roads, and you were able to find a shop and replacement! That is good fortune.

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