Johnie does Malawi – Part 2

by Johnie Jonker

Day 1 and 2: Pretoria, Polokwane, Mussina

On 23 June 2011, our convoy left Pretoria heading north, with our main destination, Malawi.

Our travel plan was detailed down to the day, with known accommodation, distances between all towns, T4A (Tracks for Africa) travel time predictions and indications where to get fuel – theoretically anyway.

Through the course of the trip we learnt – from the fuel availability point-of-view – that: “A fuel pump does not a filling station make”. Or something to that effect.

We were aiming for Mussina, intending to cross the border at Beit Bridge the next morning. Well, we had almost made it to Pietersburg (Polokwane) when the Fortuner started surging, allowing us to limp into Polokwane at a max speed of around 70km/h.

Straight to the Toyota dealership latish afternoon – and I know that we should not advertise here – but this was the biggest/bestest/friendliest dealership I had ever visited. We just dropped in, and they started helping us straight away. We could sense their sympathy for our plight, and it made us feel better.

The diagnostic evaluation indicated one of the spark plugs as faulty. This was puzzling, as the car had been serviced around 500km earlier, and the plugs had all been replaced. Would you believe it, plug number 5 had burned yellow. Replacement unfortunately did not cure the problem.

A closer look at the diagnostic results revealed that the high pressure stage of the fuel pump was not functioning. This tied in with our experience, as at slow speeds when the fuel demand was low, the car ran perfectly.

OK, could they replace the pump? Yes they can, only they don’t have one. But they’ll get one from Gauteng overnight and we can get the car the next day around 10, seeing as the fuel tank must come off as this is where the pump resides.

In the meantime, the dealership went out of their way to arrange excellent accommodation for us for the night, as this was our only option. I actually think we got a dealer discount, as it was hard to believe the ensuite accommodation – including full breakfast – at Country Blue being available for only R200 p/p. I mean, at these rates, how do these people make a living?

The next morning the car was ready when we arrived, pulling like a train. We were presented with the replaced fuel pump and the problem pointed out to us.

Debris from the tank had become lodged inside the high pressure relief valve mechanism, jamming it open permanently. This meant that the fuel just kept recirculating back into the tank instead of being delivered to the engine.

At closer inspection, the debris looked very much like a burr from a twist drill, and the theory is that when the long-range tank was installed – specially for the trip – the week earlier, this burr dropped into the tank when the hole was drilled to link the 42l tank.

Well, Armas now had the evidence with which to confront the installer upon his return, and attempt to get his R3000 back for the pump replacement, and we were off.

But instead of having crossed into Mozambique by day two, we were now still in the good old RSA, staying over at Musina for the night.

The kind lady at 22 Limpopo Avenue (Debbie Mitchell, 083 391 1386) had simply transferred our missed booking to the next day as if nothing happened, and at R1200 for 12 people – OK, the kids did sleep on mattresses in the gym – this was excellent accommodation, with the three adult couples all having ensuite rooms.

One thing I must say about Mussina – it has the worst roads we encountered over the complete trip. Other than the potholes, this is the first time I had ever driven on a corrugated tar road.

So endeth day two with a lesson:

If you want to go anywhere far with your car, have that repair/service/modification/wheel alignment/balancing done WAY before you leave.

A month prior, should just about do it.

Part 3 to follow


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