What happens if you break down?

People often ask "what happens if you break down?".

So far on this trip all three vehicles have had some mechanical problems. Bodo has ground to a halt twice. The first time they were able to limp into a Mercedes Benz garage in Guadalajara who diagnosed dirty fuel and changed the fuel filters. The second time that Bodo stopped with similar symptoms Bruce changed the fuel filters.

Bodo has also suffered from a leaking wheel hub oil seal (fixed by a Mercedes Benz garage in San Luis Potosi ) and a cracked exhaust pipe (welded locally).

After a particularly long and steep descent into Chichicastenango, Bodo's brakes over heated, boiling his brake fluid and causing partial brake failure. After waiting for the brakes to cool and topping up with brake fluid, everything worked again.

Mog has had three problems, none of then "show stoppers", so far. Like Bodo, Mog has had a leaking wheel hub oil seal - messy but you can carry on driving if you keep filling it up with oil. The oil seal was eventually replaced by the excellent Mercedes Benz garage in Guatemala city.

Potentially more serious, Mog has suffered from two cracked wheel rims, causing loss of tyre air pressure. These have been fixed, temporally, by fitting inner tubes. However the only long term solution is to replace the wheel rims. Unfortunately the Mercedes Benz garage in Guatemala no longer had any wheel rims for a 1980 Unimog U1300 in stock (ironically they had four until December last year when they not unreasonably scrapped them - there have never been any Unimog U1300s in Guatemala!). They could of course order the parts from Germany, but that would take several weeks. The solution (I hope) has been to get the Mercedes Benz garage in Guatemala to contact their counterpart in Cost Rica and arrange for them to order the rims. Getting a UK bank to transfer the required $1100.00 USA to Costa Rica quickly is the one outstanding problem.

Mog's third problem is a leaking steering oil reservoir, hopefully cured by some 20mm pipe and self-amalgamating tape.

K-Nine has had a couple of problems, one of them a real "show stopper". The minor problems have been a loose anti-roll bar - fixed in Guatemala city, and a cracked seat base - welded by the road-side in Belize.

The "show stopper" caused K-Nine to stop suddenly whilst climbing a steep hill in El Salvador. Luckily there was a reasonable parking area a few metres ahead and Mog was able to tow K-Nine to it. The problem was a recurrence of one that happened in China in 2002. However this time Clive knew exactly what wrong. The fuel line was blocked near the fuel tank (before the first filter) by pieces of plastic that may have pealed off the inside of the fuel tank. The short term solution was to remove the fuel line and using a tyre compressor, blow the offending blockage out of the fuel line. To prevent the problem re-occurring, Clive needed to make a small "filter" that could be inserted into the fuel tank. After some discussion as to what was needed, Ann produced a metal tea strainer. This was cut up, the mesh rolled into a tube and inserted into the end of the fuel line which was then re-attached to the fuel tank. So far everything is working fine.

Although this may seem like a lot of problems it should be remembered that both K-Nine and Mog are quite old and have already been round China, Siberia and Mongolia!

From our experience on this and other trips we would recommend a newish incredibly reliable vehicle with very little electronics, failing that:

  • Drive a Mercedes Benz vehicle, they have the best service network round the world.
  • Carry lots of spare parts and a workshop manual.
  • For major items, like an alternator, fit the new spare and take the old one with you, that way you know it fits!
  • Travel in groups. Breakdowns are far less traumatic with another vehicle nearby.
Stephen Stewart.

Home - This page last changed on 2006-03-18