Car repairs in Chile

With 347000km on the clock and long stretches of difficult mountain roads, desert and high altitudes, the van has to work hard in less-then-ideal situations. So when we arrived in Chile it was time for some maintenance again.

Rear Axle

First point of attention was the rear axle. It started to produce creaky noises, and produced more and more vibrations under load, when driving uphill for example. It became especially noticeable on these smooth tarmac roads here in Chile. The leaf spring supports were almost rusted away, which caused the axle to rotate a bit under load, creating that nasty sound when driving away. the support was deteriorated so much that diff oil was leaking out there as well. Also some serious play had developed in the diff itself, between the crown wheel and the pinion. Not surprisingly with the amount of kms on the clock. But this problem could go two ways; worn out gears or just a bit of adjustment needed. Well, keeping in mind that in Argentina parts are difficult to find -at least they say- but labour cost in Chile is high, we decided to do this in Chile, should we need new gears. In the end it was luckily just an adjustment of the gears, reconstruction of the leaf spring supports (Welding) re-arching of the leafs itself, and replacing the universal joints of the rear drive shaft. And of course new oil for the differential. On top of that I replaced the rear shock absorbers because the started to leak oil.

Oil leaks

While on the subject of oil leaks… I noticed some leaking in the power steering as well, but after inspection the leaking suddenly stopped. I only looked at it! the Hydraulic rod looked good, no scratches so I think it will be OK. Repairing or replacing is expensive, so for now we’ll leave it as it is. I tried to find a set with all the needed seals and bearings to overhaul the steering, but it wasn’t available. So I’ll keep an eye on the steering. I will ask every now and they for an overhaul set.

I also noticed the engine leaking some oil. Closer inspection revealed that it is not a serious leak. Possibly the seal inside the valve cover has become too hard to properly seal, so next time a bit of sealant must be used. Or I have to find a new rubber seal. And maybe a seal of the balance shaft needs to be replaced. But that is a bigger job because the timing belt has to come off. And the covers, and the radiator, and the fan and… So it is a least a full day work. It’s not needed right now anyway. So I got myself the timing belts and seals. If there’s a nice opportunity to do the job, at least I have got the parts that I need.

Household water pump

In Peru the water pump (for kitchen and shower) stopped working. After taking it apart it was clear that the micro switch was broken. Surprisingly -to me anyway- I found an exact match in the nearest town. So it was repaired easily. Now however the pump started to cause trouble again. Only six months later. It looks like the micro switch (or the mechanism to operate it, is at fault again. At the time of writing I replaced the micro switch four times already. At first I bought two new ones, but because they failed so quickly I bought another two switches, just to be sure. But still, that means that now I only have one good spare left. The main reason for failing seems to be electrical corrosion on the contact points, but the first replacement was exactly the same switch. So why did the original one last 6 years, and the replacement only 6 months? After that one I had to use Chinese switches, so you might say “there’s your problem” but still. I managed to increase the time between engage and shut off, minimising the on-off events, and for the last one I used the micro switch to control a relay. Now the relay takes care of the higher amperage. For now it looks good. All in all it took a fair amount of time to keep the pump working. Let’s keep the fingers crossed on this one.

Solar panel

For no obvious reason our solar panel just stopped working. It was less than a year old, we replaced it in Cuenca, Ecuador. It didn’t give any voltage at all, and after some internet study I could only find that maybe the diode was at fault. so I removed it, but that was not the cause. Finally I came to the conclusion that something inside the panel had failed. After removing it I still could not find any cause (burning spots or impact damage for example) so we just had bad luck with this panel. Finding a new panel was not really easy, and when I finally found a good option on Mercado Libre, I could not pay online, because I did not have a RUT number (the equivalent of a social security number). When we finally found a way around this problem (Asking a Chilean who we could trust to order for us) the first choice panel was no longer available so I had to search again… The actual work of replacing the panel took up most of the day: removing, cleaning, measuring, masking tape, apply the sealing adhesive, curing, and electrical connections. At the end of the day we could see the new panels charging our battery again, just before the sun went down.

New Tires

…were needed too. Our old tires were from Marmaris, Turkey. That was in November 2021. Since then we have driven 38.310km to get from Marmaris, Turkey to Rancagua, Chile. A town just south of Santiago de Chile. Our old tires were Yokohama Geolandar G015 in size LT225/75 R16. Considering the bad roads, lot’s of gravel, rocks and desert I think they did well. But unfortunate these tires have a variable profile depth; it is not equally deep everywhere, otherwise these tires would have lasted a little longer. As with all the other parts, there is -in South America- no certainty that you can buy what you want. It’s all about availability (or sometimes exorbitantly high prices; Koni shock absorbers are a whopping 400 USD). I found BF Goodrich AT T/A KO2 tires for a reasonable European price level, so that’s what we have for now. Bad roads here we come!

New rear lights

I wanted to replace the rear lights of the bicycle carrier for a long time already, but when I finally went for it, I was in the wrong country… Bolivia had surprisingly enough no after market for vehicle lights. Of course there was some stuff, but compared to all the other countries we travelled through… But in Santiago de Chile I found some led units that I could use. The next thing I needed was a plate to mount them on. I was thinking aluminium, but that was like finding gold here in Santiago de Chile. It was nowhere to be found, or, if there was, they would only sell 1m x 3m or so. Too much for me to handle. so here I was, wanting to spend some money and they would refuse me! They sent me to scrapyards to find a piece but it didn’t wok out. Then I realised that I had this old solar panel, so I cut out two strips and glued them together, a sandwich, which was strong and lightweight enough for what I needed. And a bit flexible too! Actually quite a good solution.

Parking Heater

I had high hopes: i-overlander showed a waypoint for an Eberspacher representative. One -if not the only one- in South America. But this was false hope. It was actually a sailing school, and they only have some minor experience with air heaters. We have a water heater. We had some trouble in Bolivia that it would not start. The failure code was f31 (combustion fan…). Of course in Bolivia (and Peru for that matter too) we were operating this heater at higher altitudes than Eberspacher had intended. duh.. With the altitude sensor it would be “possible to operate in the 1.400 to 3.000m above sea level. Well, we were operating above 4000m up to 4700m. Anyway, the failure mode didn’t seem to make sense considering the altitude. The main problem with this height is incomplete combustion, (not enough oxygen) and that creates a hard soot layer in the combustion chamber. In Bolivia I took the Heater apart as far as I could without opening the combustion chamber itself, because I only had a replacement gasket that was broken in two parts by some greedy fingers, a souvenir of the theft from our van while shipping RoRo

While I didn’t really fix anything, the problem was solved, so it may have been just a bad electrical contact…

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