In the morning, we went to the garage to get the verdict. The differential gears had little marks (see picture) and the passenger side wheel bearing had signs of overheating. This is presumably because of two things. First, we had never changed the oil in the differential. César said the old stuff was pretty thin and full of metal shavings. And second, the deflation of the airbags most likely caused the brackets which held them in place to hit the chassis every time we hit a bump. This force was then transferred to the wheel bearing.
César determined that the easiest and cheapest fix for the camper was a complete new rear axle, rather than find all the individual components. He said we were lucky to be in Baja where it’s still relatively easy to get Ford parts. Any farther south and we would have been in trouble.
The garage gave us a total estimate of 8800 pesos for the axle and the work, about $450 USD. It was a lot, but most likely cheaper than it would be in the states. And with something as serious as the drivetrain, well, the cost wasn’t as important as the quality of the work.
While he worked, we offered to buy him something to drink, but he said, “No, I already have a little beer over there.” Fair enough. It was already 6pm, and it was hot.
Our original differential gear ratio was 3.54, a number you get by dividing the number of teeth in the drive gear by the number of teeth in the pinion gear, that which is spun by the drive shaft. Changing the ratio greatly can have significant effects on towing capability, speed and RPMs.
The boss had an old pickup and originally told César to take the axle from that. César spent the day retrieving it and taking it apart, only to find that its gear ratio was much smaller than ours, at 2.73. César wasn’t covinced about it and said he’d keep looking. That helped earn our trust.
César was hard-working. His skinny build, which earned him the nickname”El Flaco”, made him agile and even small enough to climb up and squat inside the hood to fix a squeaky belt. And dealing with our van-jacking it up, taking tires on and off constantly-was a physical effort that he never tired of. Though I hoped his absent two front teeth wasn’t because a car had dropped on him.
He was a smart guy, too. We spoke to him in Spanish, but he insisted on practicing English, and explained everything he was doing.
He also had a good sense of humor. He asked what we called the cogs in a gear. When we told him “teeth”, he said, “Ah, you mean the ting which I doesn’t have”.
César found an axle from an old truck with a 3.55. Ace. But he wanted to put our original wheel hubs on the new axle as he thought they were in better condition. He spent hours removing the new bearing retainers, so he ended up cutting them off.
Meanwhile, Edd and I tried to entertain ourselves around the industrial town as much as we could. We walked back and forth on the dirt service roads between the main intersection and our hotel. We did get some damn good ceviche while we were there. Then we would come back to the garage with a Coke or a blue Gatorade for César.
I’m sorry to go into so much detail about this process, but basically considerable time was spent trying to Frankenstein old axle pieces to become one.
For example, César found that our original wheel drums were too deep for the new axle, so he had to use the ones that came with it. Then he realized, a little too late, that the threads on the new axle were the reverse of the standard “righty-tighty lefty-loosey”. Remember those bearing retainers that were stuck on? He had just been unscrewing them in the wrong direction. Now cut off, the broken retainers were the only ones that would screw on the axle, so now he had to weld them back together.
At the end of the day, César wanted to take the van for a test drive to his house so that he could get a cold can of Tecate. In his yard were four old cars. Under one of them was a very large female dog who barked but didn’t get up. It took us a minute to realize that she was lying next to a dead puppy. “Shit!” César said. “She just had her babies and I don’t know what happened”. He covered the stiff puppy with a sleeping bag that was lying around. Then he showed us a tent which he had set up. Another puppy was sitting under it next to a dish of water. That was lucky.
But our van wasn’t so lucky. The tires sounded like they were rubbing when we accelerated. César said that he’d have to adjust the brake pads the next morning.
Everyone was getting a little frustrated now. We would have to spend a fourth night in the hotel. And César had started drinking at about 1pm. To be fair, it was Sunday and he was at the garage several hours after closing time. But Edd said it was better to come back in the morning anyway, before César started drinking and everyone felt fresh.
Now, César said that the edges of wheel drums were jagged and hadn’t been balanced properly, and had a lot of problems getting the brake pads to fit well. He adjusted brake pads, brake fluid, and put the drums on the lathe to grind them down, but nothing helped.
Finally César said he would try the wheel drums from the pickup his boss had given him originally. But it would mean spending yet another night in town.
At this point we could physically drive the van out of the garage, so we went to an RV park. It was a relief to be back sleeping in our own little van.
Back to the garage. The other guys in the shop were moving wooden pallets in the big garage where the van had been parked, so we had to back into César’s smaller garage. He let the air out of the back tires so the van would fit.
César ground down the new wheel drums on the lathe so they would fit snugly with the brakes. He put them on, and told us to drive around for a while to break in the clutch plate in the new differential. In the meantime, the plates would make a loud rubbing vibration every time we took a right turn. César promised that was normal.
We took a trip to San Ignacio for a day (following post) and came back to have César check on a drip we noticed.
After replacing a seal between the differential and the drive shaft, we were good to go. He reassured us that the loud sound of the rubbing differential clutch plates would go away.
Finally, we put on our front license plate, at César’s insistence. He said the “el policía son bien perros” (the police are real dogs). An expression that I have taken up now, trying to imitate César’s accent.
In the end, the shop charged us 10,000 pesos for parts and labor. But we tipped César another 500. Time will tell if the job was good, but he certainly put a lot of effort into it and didn’t complain once. Anyway, that should buy him a couple cases of Tecate.
We will miss César, but are happy to be on the road again.