15 Days of hell

Car of the Americas

Having bought my very inexpensive car ($650.00) I took it on a test run and to the automobile association for a 50 point check-up. The car swayed a lot on the freeway, the engine was strong, the clutch seemed to be going and the brakes were soft.

I envisioned: 19,000 foot passes in the Andes, rivers of mud in the Amazon basin and six hundred miles between gas stations in the Atacama.

Somehow the mantra of reliability, reliability, reliability frightened me to extreme action. I remembered my father telling me that the engine and the brakes were the most important parts of the vehicle. My father, however having driven mostly in Ireland, had never driven had a 4-WD so I added suspension to the list and off-road tire capability. Still I began with Dad’s list.

Sure enough the brakes were shot, pads all round, rotors in the front and some suspension components (pitman and anti sway bars). Who does the work myself or a professional? Apply the catastrophe rule: “Is failure of this part catastrophic? Ans: Yes!”. OK let a professional do it, 1 day 1K, done.
Next the engine! Pressure test and smog check by AAA revealed good cylinder compression but she was blowing white smoke! A smog test pre-check confirmed high emissions. This meant 2 things: 1: The engine is on it’s way out; blue smoke with no steam means oil is burning with the fuel/air mixture. So oil has got into the cylinders so the piston rings are going, a rebuilt head would fix this. 2: Failure in a smog check means no plates which means i can’t register the car, no plates no entry across international borders. This is a major job!

The Montero has a five speed transmission which means gears and clutch need to be working well. The clutch turned out to be hydraulic which meant that even an expert could not tell whether the clutch was OK or whether it was the hydraulic system that needed repair.

Lastly there was the suspension. The sway meant that the car would not handle well. The shocks were shot and the springs on the back wheels seemed a little light to me so i decided to replace both. 4 new tokico shocks all round and new heavy duty springs for heavy load. Bought them myself and installed.

So what to do about the clutch and the engine? Applying the catastrophic failure rule I realized that I could fix these myself but at what cost and how? I opted for ultimate reliability and manual labor. If I was going to fix this I was going to replace everything that could go wrong. The transmission, the clutch and the engine. So began 15 days of hell and a full apprenticeship as a mechanic, it wasn’t easy, my body is complaining but it is almost done and the new engine sounds good!

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