maintanence reports

Mexico and Central America Truck/Camper maintenance report

all that really matters in Central America is that your car still runs…

With over ten thousand miles of road traveled since we entered Mexico we have settled right into our Latin American driving style.  We estimate that we have spent over half our time in the car driving on dirt roads.  This is not to say we have covered more miles on dirt because typically our speeds are 10 to 20 mph on dirt roads and on tar around 50 mph, so we actually have covered more ground on tar but have spent more time on dirt.  Our truck could go a week without seeing a tar road.

the road ahead

Most of our dirt road driving revolved around finding that perfect wave that no one is surfing on, or the occasional search for an elusive volcano hiking trial.  We bumped down countless slimy, muddy roads that covered our truck from wheel to roof with a thick layer of Central American dirt.  The truck got so muddy that when we would cross over borders the car inspector would come out to have a look at the truck and have to ask what color was it. While he scratched at the thick layer of mud, we would reply Mugrey [Mud] , this always invoked a chuckle.    Nicaragua and Costa Rica were the lands of river crossings.  Meghan spent a lot of time wadding across streams to ensure they were not too deep or muddy or rocky for us to cross in the truck.  The last thing we wanted to do was flood the truck and destroy the engine in a deceptively deep river.   Without a snorkel we have a rule that we only cross if water is no higher than top of wheel.

Having spent very little time driving in sand before this trip I got to get my feet wet on the beaches of Baja.  Getting out of the truck and airing the tires down quickly became a routine.  There is something so fun about speeding down a deserted beach carving the wheels on the sand with that idea always in the back of your mind of getting burried in the soft sand with no other 4×4 insight, ensuing a terribly slow and painful truck recovery, possibly racing the incoming tide.  Luckily this never happened to us.  Whenever we got that sinking feeling we would simply stop, air the tires down even more, engage the rear locker and retreat to harder sand.

With all these fantastic muddy, dirty, sandy and pot hole ridden roads we have covered in these last 5 months we have given the truck and camper an immense beating.  This is something we anticipated from the start of the journey and that is why we chose the Toyota Tacoma and the phoenix camper, because they are built for this kind of abuse.  But as the hard miles come, parts wear out and rigorous vehicle maintenance is a must in order to keep the rig in good and safe driving condition.  This is a general description by country of what we have had to fix and our preventive maintenance routine.

Broken Things

California [1 day before we crossed the border to Mexico]:

Replaced rear wheel bearings and seals:  cost with Labor of only pressing the new bearing about $200.

The next day the rear wheel fell off driving down the highway due to improper tightening of lug nuts,  subscently rear brake pads and two lug studs had to be replaced:   I hastily replaced the brake pads in a extremely unfriendly Napa parking lot.  With the threat of police intervention my quick brake job actually turned out to be quite bad and the rear brakes worked about half as good as they should have.

New rear brake pads and two lug studs:  about $60.00

Mexico:

New rear bearing and seals with labor:  $90.00

Note: Two weeks after replacing wheel bearing in California the other side goes.  Luckily for us it happens in Todos Santos, the first place of civilization we have been in two weeks.  Even luckier it happens in front of an auto parts store that has the bearing and seals for a fraction of the cost then in the states.  The next day the bearings are replaced and instead of removing the axle myself I opt to have the mechanic do the whole procedure.  He does a terrible job bleeding the rear brake line and now we have no rear brakes and spongy front brakes.

Rear brake bleed and rebuild: $15.00

Note:  after a week of frightingly slow stops we opt to pay another mechanic to bleed the rear brakes and fix my terrible rear brake job.  He does an ok Job, at least we can stop in an acceptable distance.

New clutch line: $15.00

Note:  While driving in terrible city traffic my clutch disappears and I immediately fear that I will have to stay in this horrible city and replace my clutch.  I grind my way to a nearby hotel and after inspection see that I have blown through a rubber hose.   It is fixed within two hours and we are on our way, thank god!

Guatemala:

Lots of brake fluid: $9.00

Note: While parked for two weeks attending Spanish school I continued to wrestle with our eerily bad brakes. I completely dismantle both rear brake drums and realize that the mechanic not only installed them wrong but failed to adjust them properly.  Meg and I also spent two hours bleeding the entire brake system witch proved to be not much fun but very fruitful.  We finally had brakes that worked!!

Miscellaneous welding to the truck: $40.00

Note:  We had noticed some movement in the floor boards when we achieved a large amount of articulation in the truck.  Upon inspection I noticed the body mounts on the truck had begun to crack and flex away from the frame.  I had a welder reinforce the mounts and attempt to seal the cracks in the floor boards.   He did manage to reinforce the body and to light the interior of the truck on fire several times.  This did not seem to bother him as he smiled ignorantly and continued welding.  I spent the remainder of my time dosing flames that lept from his welder and fanning the acrid smoke that stained my seats and left an awful burning plastic smell in the truck.  I wondered if I had not been there would he have blissfully burnt the truck to the ground?  His attempt to weld the floor board cracks failed as his welder only melted larger holes in my floor boards, I stopped his futile attempts, paid and bought some sheet metal and silcon to fix it myself.

Oil Change:  $40.00

Note:  No more synthetic for this truck, the best I can find is 10w30 Valvoline regular old oil.  I of course change it myself in a hotel park under the watchfull eye of the well armed security guard.  He is a Latin American male so automatically assumes I need his expert car wisdom.  I am forced to usher him a safe distance from my truck and give him a beer to keep his hand that is not holding the 12 guage shot gun  busy.

Costa Rica:

Front wheel bearing:  Parts and pressing of bearing $130.00. {costa rica isn’t cheap]

Central American tool set

Note: I dismantle my truck in an overpriced hotel parking lot.  I spend  most of the day searching for a ball joint separator so I can get my front hub off.  I discover that this tool does not exist in Central America.  I am shown numerous methods of removal that reinforce my belief that Central American mechanics are deranged maniacs.  In desperation I finally lower myself to beating on it with a rubber mallet and it works.  I walk my hub to the mechanic and within two hours I have a fresh pressed bearing.

Extended Rear diff breather valve:  $10.00

Note: All of the water crossing we have done are making me nervous that we are going to flood the rear diff and blow out more bearing seals.  I purchase random parts from the states and Meghans mom brings them to us when she visits.

Panama:

Oil Change:  $35.00

Front diff, rear diff and tranny oil change $70.00

Note:  Still no synthetic in panama.  I spend two hours covertly changing the oil in an oppressively hot parking lot of a swanky ocean front high rise next to a jaguar.  I dumpster dive for some boxes and cover the ground under the truck to protect the immaculate parking lot from my messy lube job.  Don’t even ask what I do with the waste oil.

Miscellaneous welding:  $15.00

Note: I have cracks in the radiator supports, fixed and the front bumper welded to the frame.  The welder does all his work in flip flops and does a great job of not setting the truck on fire.

The total :  $599.00

So far this cost has been worth every penny.  $599 sounds like a lot of money but when you compare it to how much other overlanders have spent on this trip fixing their rigs it is nothing.   You may also be thinking that this is a long list of fixes to do on a car in just five months.   However this is not your daily driving routine in the states.  The roads are worse, the hills are worse the gas is worse and not to mention the rigs are loaded to the max with gear and living essentials.  The constant beating really takes its toll.  This is why it is so important to do routine inspections and early part replacement.

Truck Yoga

We do a daily simple check of fluid levels [engine oil and radiator fluid] and under the hood hose and belt wiggling in search of anything that may have rattled loose the day before, this takes about 2 minutes.  The truck does not burn oil but I still check it every day.  I also do a once a month full vehicle check I call this truck yoga.  Truck yoga is a two hour affair of essentially crawling over and under the truck searching for problems.  This includes checking all trany and diff fluid levels, looking for loose nuts and bolts especially in the suspension areas. I look for oil leaks in the engine and moving parts, tightening lug nuts and finding loose electrical plugs and anything else that looks suspect.  I also clean and oil the KN air filter.  The goal is to find problems early before they strand you in the middle of nowhere.  Fixing a simple problem early can also help stop a larger problem later on that may end up costing twice as much.     We have been very happy with the truck and are still convinced that it was the best vehicle we could have purchased in the states for this journey.

The Phoenix camper:

The camper gets heaps of abuse as it gets crashed through low lying trees, bumped over the thousands of enormous speed bumps and pounded by the monsoonal rains of Central America.  Not to mention the day to day wear and tear of two tall and usually dirty people living out of it.  This is a list of what we have had to fix in the camper since we have started the trip.

Coasta Rica:

Interior cabinet door comes off its hinges.

Note:  I re-screw the hinges on

Panama:

Readjust the campers tension straps.

Note:  I notice the camper is not centered perfectly in the bed of the truck perusal.  Over the last ten thousand miles the straps have loosened and it has shifted a small amount.  I simply loosen the straps push the camper to where it is supposed to be and retighten all 8 internal tension straps. I finish the Job in about 10 minutes.

Ok so it’s a rather short list and it actually makes the truck look quite bad but its all we have had to do.  The appliances work flawlessly, the fridge is always cold and we have never had a leak in the roof.  The camper has remained an extremely comfortable and secure home for us on the road.   I could not imagine trying to do this trip while living out of a tent or sleeping in the back of a truck topper.  For example take our campsite we are in right now.   We are parked perched high above a cliff line overlooking the gorgeous mountains of Colombia.  The road in forced us to use four wheel drive just to get here.  I awoke this morning to a stiff breeze and the sound of rain pelting our roof.  I hop from the warmth of my bed, fill the tea pot from the sink and light the stove.  While I wait for the coffee I plug the computer in and start it up.  Within five minutes I’ am sitting on the couch sipping hot coffee writing this blog entry to the sound of a hard cold rain and wind outside.  Of course Meghan is still comfortably asleep while I do all of this.  If we had been in a tent or camping in the back of a suv, this morning would have been a much less comfortable and enjoyable experience.   Yes I love this camper!

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5 Responses to maintanence reports

  1. Hey guys!
    How much of the job can you do by yourself, and how much do you have to pay to a Mechanic??? Estimate %
    keep on rolling!!!

    • I always try to do as much work to the truck as possible. As with the wheel bearings I dismantled the entire axle and brought it to the mechanic just to have the wheel bearing pressed because I don t have a bearing press. It is very important that what ever vehicle you buy that you get a service manual. they make these books for all vehicles and can be bought at just about any auto parts store in the U.S. these books will tell you how to fix any problem that you will have with your vehicle. I am pretty good at fixing my truck and spent a lot of time before we left replacing parts and just getting to know how it works. I also have alot of tools and replacement parts with me. For tools I have a complete rachet set including large sockets for removing CV bolts. I also have a large toolbox of assorted screwdrivers, wrenches and some specialty tools for fixing specific things. You could talk to a mechanic in the U.S and they would be able to recommend specific tools for your car. The mechanics down here are very bad and usually very cheap. Prices very but they are usually about 5 bucks an hour. For any job make sure you get a price before they start because they will rip you off. Most do a shit job and typically could care less about your car and your safety. Did you find a rig yet?

  2. James says:

    I want that camper! Your list of repairs is pretty small bud, you guys are doing great.

  3. Truck yoga, I like it! We follow a very similar regiment…and we’ve probably almost doubled your repair budget! Keep up the good work, we’ll be following along 🙂

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