While driving between Grabovë E Poshtme and Grabovë E Sipërme, in search of yet another illusive canyon, our van started to make terrible noises. Because we were (still) waiting for some parts, I thought that the bushings of the upper suspension arm finally gave up. A road side inspection revealed another problem: one of the shaft boots cracked and was no longer protecting the inner workings of the axle joint. A quick fix was to wrap a plastic bag around it to protect the axle joint from dirt.
Anyway, in the middle of nowhere is not a good place to be if a repair is needed, so we drove down and made camp along the SH-71 to decide on the next step.
After waiting two more days and still get an infamous “in transit” about the whereabouts of the overdue parcel, our household battery suddenly decided to drop from 80% to 20% in the blink of an eye. Trouble never comes alone… Our standard backup plan for a low battery is driving a while to recharge using the alternator, but that was not the best option with a failing suspension. To take matters back in our own hands, we decided to forget about the parcel (temporarily) and get the needed repairs so that we could keep moving around. So I decided to check out Gramsh on my bicycle in search of an alternative battery and some car parts.
Asking around and being put back on course three times, led me to a corner of Grams where the local car parts supplier is located, as well as some -if not all- of the car mechanics. The car parts supplier has a good, less-than-one-day connection to Tirane, should parts not be in the shop in Gramsh.
While I tried to explain my problems, the shop owner called somebody to help in translating, and this translator decided to come by to have a look. Some time later a Land Rover Discovery drove up to the shop. I recognized this unique off-roader from a few days ago; just before we drove into Gramsh, he overtook us. So I told the guy who stepped out about this, told him about the van he overtook (equally unique, so he rememberer it too) and he was the one that helped translating over the telephone. It was Alfred Fezjo, an Albanian off-road guide. I told him about the mechanical problems and he helped with ordering some parts. The bushes had to come from Tirane, but would be there at the end of the day.
The next day I drove the short distance from the camp site to a lavazh (car wash) to get rid of all the mud, and then on to the garage area. The people there were very helpful and I parked in a quiet spot where I could work on the van. Apparently it is not uncommon that somebody works on their own car, close to the other garages. (or it must be that I am a tourista..). Anyway, I started work and the other garagistes were very kind to help me work in a safe way: they loaned me some woodblocks for car support. Arben, one of the garagistes, gave me a Jack stand to work with, and he was also curious what the problem was. he helped me with replacing the axle joint boot (a first time job for me) and also investigated the sound. He concluded it was the upper ball joint, and he was right… I never knew and expected that a ball joint could make such noises.
These parts used to come with grease nipples, but not any more.. Still, I think it would be better if manufacturers did make them with a a grease nipple. (I know, it is more difficult, more expensive and less frequent replacement needed means less ball joints to sell). Sadly, a new ball joint was not available so I cleaned it as good as possible and re-greased it. Since a new one should be on it’s way to us, it should be OK for some time. For the same reason, and because the control arm bushes were not the problem, I decided not to replace them yet. Also because it would involve a lot of extra work. And the battery, well, we will try to charge it with the alternator and solar panels fully to see if the voltage still drops too quickly. But for now it seems to be working well enough.
After the work was done we had a coffee together and Alfred told us about the work he does as an off-road guide in Albania. I got to see a glimpse of all the waypoints and tracks he collected, and talking with him made it clear to me that he knows his way around without a GPS. He really knows his way around Albania. He gave us a nice suggestion for another camp site close to Gramsh.