Field Repairs

[Also in Afrikaans @]

Reflections of a non-mechanically minded traveller

[Published as a letter in LW, April 2010]

In his article Softroading the Dunes (LW, March 2010) Johnie Jonker writes:  “Predicting what other spares could be required would at best be a hit and miss affair, so forget about them and rather think on your feet when faced with a problem.”

Now thére lies a slight problem for the likes of me. I have difficulties changing my bakkie’s wheels, nevermind thinking on my feet when a problem arises.  So at all times the first thing on my planning list is to identify a mechanically minded genie to take along to do that “think on your feet” thing for me, should something go wrong.

A few years ago we were three families that embarked on a trip to the Richtersveld.  It was my maiden 4×4 tour. I even boasted an oversize high-lift jack that someone dumped at my yard.  However, when everything was packed and we started looking for a place for the high-lift jack we decided that (a) none of us had space for it, and (b) we’d rather try to stay out of trouble.  So we left it at home.  Maybe this gives an indication as to how serious we intended to do the heavy stuff off-roading.

[Picture:  Frikkie, Pieter, PG]

Now, it was imperative for my friend Frikkie to go along on the tour.  My “think on your feet” genie.  Shortly before the trip I had a burnt valve repaired on my bakkie.  The 1000km mark, on which the obligatory retorque had to take place, would happen at McDougal’s Bay.  So we rented a house with a lock-up garage so that Frikkie could do the retorque of the engine on the morning before we left for Richtersveld.

I watched in awe as this was done.  Now and then I would hand Frikkie a spanner on request, normally managing to correctly identify the requested spanner on the third attempt.  It later turned out, however, that had the figures in foot-pounds instead of Newton meter, and with the result that the whole retorque exercise was one in futility which eventually had to be done again by the garage who did the initial job.

Later on the tour, somewhere in the middle of the Richtersveld National Park, my bakkie’s remote control stopped working due to the batteries having run flat.  Fortunately another travel mate, Pieter, came to my rescue with an old set of batteries that he had in his cubby hole that did the trick.

However, what Frikkie did not tell me was that, while I was breaking out in panic stricken sweat, he already figured out where he can cause a short with a screw driver to by-pass my immobiliser.

After a rather enjoyable stay in the Richtersveld, we left the park at the Helskloof gate.    At the gate Frikkie noticed that he had a brake oil leak on his right rear wheel.  He was not unduly worried about is.  Very few things of a mechanical nature can unsettle Frikkie.

We visited Khubus (oeps, here I have my spell checker in a frenzy).  I thought Khubus looked a bit like Paternoster, only a lot further away from the sea.  Before Lekkersing we turned off for Eksteensfontein.  At Eksteensonftein we stopped again, and Frikkie realised that the leaking oil is not brake oil, but diff oil.  Now I ask you, how did he know that? Did he test the cultivar or something?!  But Frikkie was still not too worried.

From Eksteensfontein we travelled on an increasingly worsening corrugated surface.  Later Frikkie stopped to inspect a knocking sound coming from underneath his bakkie.  He identified a loose rubber on his exhaust and fixed it.  He was not worried.

However, the knocking sound persisted, and just before the Helskloof Frikkie stopped to inspect again, but could not see anything wrong.  Nothing to worry about, he said.

Just as we exited the Helskloof, fortunately on a straight stretch of road, Frikkie noticed in his side mirror that his rear right wheel was now running next to the bakkie, instead of within the designated space for said wheel.  It turned out that the half shaft had been pushed out of the diff, and had pushed through the brake drum.  I’m  not sure whether Frikkie was now worried, but by then I thought he actually should be.

Pieter left with the rest of the crowd to go make camp at Peace of Paradise and returned to assist with the repairs on the wheel.

It turns out that the last guy who serviced Frikkie’s Hilux did not replace a circlip.  The half shaft’s splines looked like they were melted.  On the other end, the shaft was forced through a bearing and a further metal ring that was supposed to keep it in place.  It forced the brake drum (and thus the wheel) out.

I had no idea what was wrong, that is now apart from the obvious fact that the wheel fell out.  I also had no idea what should now be done, other than to call some sort of emergency number, if we only had reception.  I have to confess that I was very relieved that this happened to Frikkie’s bakkie instead of to mine.  However, through all this Frikkie remained unfazed, setting to work and instructing Pieter and me what to do.  Admittedly, I did not do much, but I do have my moments offering good company, you know.

The wheel bearing and metal ring were heated up with a Cadac utensil, whilst lubricating it with brake fluid.  We then took turns hammering it back into position.  [It was a lot more difficult than it sounds here, believe you me.]  The half shaft got inserted back into the diff as far as it would go (which was not as far as it should have gone) and the wheel nuts had to do the rest.  One of the six wheel nuts was damaged, though.  The drive shaft was removed, leaving the bakkie as a front-wheel drive.  The feeder pipe for the brakes took some effort to get it hammered so as not so spurt out brake oil.

Eventually, after nearly 5 hours, and with not a single vehicle passing us, the Hilux was up and running again, albeit now in front wheel drive fashion.

These notes I made afterwards for future reference, but I have since decided that it would be a lot safer to simply make sure that Frikkie is part of any future touring party.   So spare a thought for those unmechanically minded blokes travelling on your tours.  You have no idea how much stress mechanical break-downs cause them, especially if it happens on their vehicles.

Just to round things off, on our way home in the Piekenierskloof pass, Pieter got his Hilux written off in a head-on collision, fortunately with no injuries.


PG Jonker