Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Smuggling and Hovering -- Peru and Chile

by Scott

One of the bigger hassles for overlanders is the inevitable vehicle repair. Finding parts is hard. Finding good mechanics is even harder. I recently lucked out on both fronts.

While back in the states, my shopping list included an air box, coolant sensor, various filters, assorted gaskets, caliper pins, wheel studs, shock bushings, fuel injectors, and glow plugs. Imagine the pit in my stomach during our flight to Peru when they handed us the customs form that specifically called out the restrictions on auto parts, boat parts, motorcycle parts, and RV parts! Used parts are an absolute no-no, which included the air box and the rebuilt injectors, and new parts must go through an extensive and expensive import process.

A small sample of what was in our baggage

Rather than sleeping through our red-eye flight, I came up with a plan. We would not declare any of this stuff. Instead, if we got questioned, we would insist that the parts were for a Peruvian friend with an off-the-grid beach house. Truck? What truck? These parts are for a diesel generator!

While waiting at baggage claim, we observed the process at customs. All bags went through the X-ray, but people were not being searched. So, I stuffed my pockets with injectors, and Heather put the glow plugs in her purse. These were the small, but expensive parts. The rest stayed in our luggage. We chose the line with the two young female scanners, making the sexist assumption that they might not recognize car parts. It was 2am, so maybe they were just sleepy, but either way, it paid off. We walked through customs with a thousand dollars worth of undeclared parts for El Tigre. I didn't even get to use my well-rehearsed generator story.

The next step was to find a mechanic. I usually do all the work myself. The couple of times we've used mechanics have confirmed that no one else should be allowed to touch El Tigre. This time, though, I was nervous about doing it myself. I had never changed glow plugs or injectors, so I decided to leave it to a professional.

At the grocery store in Arica, Chile, I approached a guy who had an "HR Diesel" sticker on his truck. He recommended them, so I went there first. However, they refused to work on Chevy diesels, as they are extremely rare in South America. I went down the street to "Canchaya Diesel", another sticker I saw at the grocery store. It was siesta time, so we waited...and waited. I finally decided to walk around the block to see if there were any other options.

Beyond these gates is an overlander's oasis

As luck would have it, "Centro Diesel Turbo" ended their siesta a bit earlier than their competition. Jonathon, the mechanic, was super friendly, and told me to bring the truck over. He and Flavio, the owner, looked over the situation, and we all talked about our concerns. They gave me a short tour of their facilities to convince me that they could handle any unanticipated difficulties. They had an onsite welding shop, machine shop, and injector laboratory. Oh, and they'd do the job for less than $100 USD!

Don't judge a book by it's cover, this place was outstanding... and a really quiet campsite

We returned the next day, and I spent 7 hours hovering over Jonathon. He was the ideal mechanic--patient, methodical, and meticulous. I couldn't believe when he asked for the torque specifications for the injectors. I was even more surprised when he pulled out his torque wrench. I thought for sure he'd just go by feel. Are we still in South America?

Jonathon only lost his cool one time when I was trying to help a little too much

We ran out of daylight with a few more injectors to go, so we slept in the lot. It took Jonathon another 3 hours the next morning to finish up. Meanwhile, Flavio took me into the lab to test my old injectors to see if any were suitable for spares. Though the job took a little longer than expected, they stuck to the original estimate...less than $100 for 10 hours of labor! I gave Jonathon a $20 tip for the Spanish lessons, the injector tutorial, and especially the hovering. These guys can touch El Tigre any time.

It was worth the money just to not have to contort myself into the wheel well

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