Suspension Rebuild in Chia

So that morning we awoke to find ourselves in the garden of a nice Colombian family with yet another breakdown on our hands. Mauro had kindly offered that we could stay as long as we wanted and we also had the option to access the basic garage on his property. While it would have been convenient to be in the capital, we would have needed to leave the van somewhere and pay for a hostel. Things start to add up quickly that way. Staying for free in the garage meant that we could also get on with doing some work on it ourselves.

The first thing to do was to assess the extent of the problem. We jacked up the car on the driveway and began to take the rear suspension apart. To order a new bar we needed to check the size of what we had already. It was an easy enough job to take it all apart, a broken bar meant that there was no load at all on the suspension. I undid the bushing cover and the front piece of the bar fell out, a bit of a wiggle and we had the other part. At this point we also realised the brake line had been cut when the suspension had over compressed and the driveshaft had hit the chassis. The bushings, needless to say, were now mush.

Now we knew what we were dealing with we decided that we would stay at Mauro’s while we tried to source a new part. So far sourcing parts in Colombia had been very difficult and we turned to social media to try and get the word out with what we were looking for. Over the weekend we messaged countless VW groups asking if anyone had the parts. We had a few offers of ones that were too short and a few more people said they’d get back to us Monday. We were stuck in limbo while we waited.
Mauro and his dad left for Caño Cristales in the small hours of Sunday morning and we sat a little awkwardly on his parents drive with only his mother left behind. While she had helped us out the day before at Mauro’s request but we got the very distinct vibe that she hated us being here. Mauro had left us the spare gate key, but as soon as he’d gone she came and took it back. It was a little tricky being locked inside the compound with no way to leave or return and we decided that first thing Monday we would move around into the garage and get out of the way.

The mechanic (whose name I can barely say, let alone type. Egelbert??) was happy for us to camp out in the garage and so we refitted out rear wheel enough to very slowly manoeuvre out of the driveway and further down to the end of the track where their workshop was.

It wasn’t long before he had started up on our list of welding jobs, leaving us to continue our torsion bar search. We didn’t have much more luck on that front. One person had one, but they didn’t know what side it was for. Another person had a set, but when we were asked if they were labelled we got no response. As ever with things like this, people slowly stop replying and fade into the background when it actually comes down to it. I was also a little suspicious of being sold second hand bars. It is incredibly important they go on the correct side, what’s to stop the seller either getting it wrong or just making it up to sell them. Fit them wrong and they’d soon snap, leaving us back at the beginning. Also, they were all the stock red type and with our heavy rear end, fitting some uprated green bars would be preferential.

By the time Tuesday came, we bit the bullet and ordered brand new ones from Wolfsburg West in America. The bars themselves weren’t too expensive, $236 for the set. The annoying part was that we would pay the same again, just to get them here. While we waited for the bars we also got the heater sensor for the Wallas, as well as the parts to raise the front beam sent from England and a new door handle that had decided to snap too. We fixed the exhaust, the brake line and then we didn’t have much to do except wait.

After a week of being there, we were rather grudgingly given a set of keys which made matters easier as we needed to go into Bogota. The first time was to collect our Amazon parcel, our new water pump was here. One great thing about Colombia is that you can order up to $200 from Amazon and get both free shipping and import. In order to avoid the fun and games of some of our last delivery attempts, I had sent it directly to the courier’s main warehouse by the airport. This was good in that it was hard for them to make any errors regarding the delivery but not so good as it was a long way away.

We started off by trying to get into the capital. We tried a taxi as it was only about half an hour away, but no one would take us. So we decided to take the bus. We stood on the right side of the road and flagged down any bus that didn’t have another town name already on it. As it’s the capital city, the buses don’t say Bogota, rather the area of place they’re going to, none of which we were familiar with. After a few failed attempts, we were on the bus. Now I was glad we didn’t get a taxi as we spent about an hour and a half in near standstill traffic as we crept into the city. That would have been very expensive.

At the main bus terminal we couldn’t figure out how to leave the terminal, and ended up paying to get out which didn’t seem right. Then, with time running out we picked up taxi to take us the remaining hours drive to the airport. Fortunately, taxis are cheap and that only cost about $7. I picked up our delivery successfully and then decided to check on the torsion bar shipment with Fedex. Despite not being scheduled for another 4 days, the package was already in the city. We went and checked with Fedex to see if we could get it. Annoyingly he told us that it was still in customs and would probably be ready tomorrow. Then we would have to decided whether to come all the way back and get it or wait and have it redelivered to the north of the city.

As it was about to get dark now, we started to make our way back. This time we figured out the local buses which, despite it being rush hour, were incredibly good. They whizzed down their own priority lane and before too long we were back in the north. Now it was easy to find the right bus as going the other way, it had our town, Chia written on it. A short walk back from the bus and we were home.

True to their word, our torsion bars cleared customs the following day. We decided to just go and get them. At least now we knew how the buses worked it would be quicker. Then, we could spend the weekend when we had the place to ourselves getting the suspension back together. While we were out and about, we also paid the inverter repair guy for some more parts. The first parts hadn’t fixed it and now he needed some more. We debated at what point to cut our losses on the old inverter and also at what point we would run out of time on our visa, before deciding we would try one more time. We transferred him the funds to buy a new circuit board, stopped off to buy some new torsion bar bushings and then collected our brand new torsions bars. After being stung with a $110 import fee we once again headed home. This day had gone a lot smoother, we confidently hopped on and off buses and didn’t get stuck in the killer roadworks.

When we made it back we had a celebratory pizza, things were progressing.

We had hoped to fit the new bars ourselves that weekend, but it wasn’t meant to be. After stripping down the side that hadn’t broken, it became clear that recent repairs by a chassis ‘specialist’ in Medellin were truly terrible. The angle of the torsion tube was completely wrong meaning that even if I wanted to refit the suspension, it was physically impossible with the new bar almost touching one side of the tube. Even if I could have done it, it would have destroyed the bushing almost immediately.

Not wanted to refit the other side either, so that the welder had a guide, we resigned ourselves to endlessly drilling the spring plates to fit the new lift plates onto. Without being able to buy a drill bit the correct size, this turned into a lengthy filing job. Especially when it turned out that the welder, only trying to help, had done one backwards and it all needed redoing.

Over the rest of the week that followed, things slowly came together. The torsion tube was re-welded and I set about refitting the suspension. This is no mean feat with uprated bars and brand new bushings. In the meantime, more welding continued on the back end of Ruby. It turned out that our tow bar was being held on with some wishfull thinking, rotted out bolts and a very small piece of weld. Had we actually tried to tow anything, I’m sure it would have been ripped clean off.

The welder got to work on that and had the whole thing refitted in an afternoon. He certainly worked fast, which was a bit of a novelty. Had our visa not been running out I think we would have stay and welded the whole van. Now Mauro was back from his trip and so by the time Friday came around we were nearly ready to go and we could go enjoy a few well earned beers in one of the locals bars with him.

We decided we would aim to leave on Monday. I spent the rest of the weekend adjusting the suspension, although I imagined it would need further adjustment in the future once the new bars properly settled. For now though, we sat a little higher and a little more even. One thing that was also made clear to us was that we desperately needed new tyres. Despite that being another large expensive, its not really something we had an awful lot of choice over. Our rear ones especially, being in a terrible condition.

When Monday morning came, we were packed up and ready to leave. Then Aimee buggered off somewhere for several hours, as she sometimes does. We drove back around to the house and got some videos with Mauro while we waited for her to materialise. Eventually she appeared and both Mauro and his dad wished us a fond farewell. While it hadn’t been a planned stop, it had been a great opportunity for us to get some welding done at a good price, as well as fit the lift plates we had been carrying around since I returned from England. We set off with our new and improved camper to pick up the inverter, apparently it was ready in the nick of time. Now we had a lot of driving ahead of us as we powered for the border ahead of our rapidly expiring visa.

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