Belgian Breakdown

Image of damaged engineSo, this happened. 

Diesel injectors are complicated things that squirt fuel into your cylinders. They are under immense pressure and so are held in place by a large, solid metal clamp which is bolted onto the engine block. When you change an injector, or take it out to clean it as I did you must take off the large bolt and clamp and then pull the injector from it’s seat. The bolts that hold the clamp down must be in very tightly due to the pressures involved, otherwise the injector would simply shoot out of the hole and punch right through the bonnet.

They can be responsible for poor fuel consumption and as I am plagued by that I have been refurbishing an old set of injectors. So I was parked in a layby in Belgium swapping the injectors for the replacement set but when I was taking this one off, the bolt head snapped clean off. Oops. You can see the threaded part of the bolt still in place arrowed in the picture.

With no way of holding the injector in place the engine simply won’t work. To get the bolt out I need a screw / bolt extractor and I haven’t got any. I could try drilling the bolt and hammering a small flat screwdriver into the hole, but if it doesn’t work I could damage the engine irreparably. 

Luckily I have breakdown cover for Europe so I rang them and after establishing where I was they said they’d send someone. I was on the computer and kept looking out of the rear window for the breakdown truck and the guy in the car behind kept smiling. I think he thought I was looking at him. I glanced around and it was obvious that this was like some layby’s in the UK, a place for men to meet other men. I tried glancing without him noticing that I was but he did anyway and he probably thought I was simply being coy!

Anyway the truck arrived and the although the guy spoke barely no English this is Flemish Belgium so everyone speaks French so we managed to get by, resorting to using Google translate on our smart phones when we got stuck. The guy from the car behind came out and started stroking Jack as the recovery man was getting my camper onto his truck. He tried to speak to me a couple of times and it was slightly embarrassing because his intent was obvious and yet given the circumstances he was not prepared to give up.

If I was a woman and had to put up with that shit daily I’d buy a bloody big baseball bat…

Anyway we finally got on our way and Mr Breakdown texted almost the entire 40 minute journey grr. I tutted a couple of times as he was veering toward the side of the road but he seemed totally unperturbed. I had to grit my teeth and bear it.

We finally arrived safely at a garage and he handed me over to the mechanic who spoke even less English. I am not sure if he was putting it on cos he seemed not to even understand “OK!” However with sign language and my little French we got the van parked in a bay on the street outside the garage, as of course I’d be sleeping in it that night. I felt more settled as the AA had rung me twice to check progress and when I mentioned his lack of English and my poor French they said if I got stuck they’d liaise with the mechanic for me. 

Parked outside the garage in BelgiumSo, here I am outside the garage after a good nights sleep. Notice anything? Yeah…my van is 10 and a half feet tall and the garage doors are about 7 feet tall. So there’s no way he can fit me inside, and it’s raining outside, so…

And yes I was right, it was 2 days before he finally got round to repairing the van. I phoned the AA again to let them know what was happening and he had told them they did not know where I was. They did however know I was sleeping in the van so I think they were simply avoiding doing the work in the rain outside.

He came out anyway and I had googled the words I needed and explained what I wanted doing. Pointing at the bolt I said “Percer” to mean drill it. Then “Extrait” for extract, then “Remplacer” for replace. He nodded and went off (presumably to get a new bolt) and was back and had the job completed within an hour! Merde! I was secretly chuffed cos although it took them ages to attend to me, the job was done quickly and the bill was high for what they did, but within reason.

Anyway I was just chuffed to be fixed so I paid the €112 bill (Daylight robbery!) and took off. 

So, I’m driving down the motorway after leaving the garage and after spotting sign for a rest area I decide to pull in for a cuppa. Guess what? Yeah, the exact same one I’d been taken from a few nights ago by the breakdown truck. Given that you join the highway about a mile before it, and leave the highway about 3 miles after it to get to the garage, how come it took 40 minutes to get there last night? Well I did a bit of Sherlock thinking and came up with this:

I was a foreigner and stuck. He was an independent breakdown operator. He texted almost throughout the journey. He brought me to a garage that could not fit me in. It took 2 days to get round to fixing my van. For what was actually done to my van the price was steep.

I think he was texting the whole journey because he was trying to ‘sell’ my breakdown to a garage. He must have been driving around the streets waiting for a good price before settling on the one he took me to. Conspiracy theory? Or truth? Who knows. Anyway, I’m off to France now to find some screw extractors and some new parts cos if this ever happens again I can do the job easily myself.

Oh and no…the guy in the car behind me wasn’t there when I returned! lol

Engine woes

When you live in your van full time what’s the worst that can happen? Gearbox fails? Engine fails? You break a leg? Well of the top ones I just had the second…the engine seized.
I’d just finished work at midnight and went to drive to a new place for the morning. I felt the engine struggle and I assumed it was in limp mode. However I only just made it into a layby and it cut out and was clearly seized.
I had been noticing lately that the meter on the binnacle reported only 2 bars of six for the oil, but when I’d tried the dipstick it was full, so assuming an oil pump fault I checked the dipstick again to find…completely empty! A quick look revealed a loose oil filter Grr! Luckily I had oil so I topped it to full again and went to bed intending to try the engine in the morning after it had had plenty of time to cool down and the new oil to get in. As I was very anxious I got no sleep that night contemplating what it could be, what it could cost me and what this might mean to my lifestyle. I didn’t even have internet or phone connection in the layby so I lay in bed worrying all night.

Come the morning I tried the engine and it started fine, so I was HUGELY relieved as you can imagine. I set off to another layby which I knew was close by and where I knew I could get a signal, just in case the engine wasn’t quite right. Very lucky that I made that decision because about halfway to the layby, some 500 yards I could feel the engine struggling. I managed to reach the layby and coasted in with the engine off. The oil was definitely full although the meter on the binnacle said empty, but no oil light was on, so I assumed now there was a fault such as a broken oil pump.

The recovery guy came and they took me to Chris Ritchies in Barrow who the next day confirmed the engine was damaged and needed to be replaced.

FUCK!!!

Now, anyone who reads my blog regularly will probably wonder how it is that one person can have so much bad luck over a long period of time. Well, so do I! I do try to think positively and say some people contract a disease and lose limbs, some people get cancer and are given a few months to live, some suffer appalling injuries in attacks and…well you get the picture. It doesn’t fix my engine, and it doesn’t make me happy, but it does make a difference to the stress to think that there must be thousands of people just in the UK alone who would love to swap their serious problems for mine.
After a scour of the internet I finally found a company called Premier Engines in Paisley, Scotland. They’re going to arrange to get the engine from Chris Ritchies and rebuild it and it will cost around £1140. To strip the engine and put it back when it’s refurbished Chris will charge me about £750, and it needs new oil and timing belt before it’s replaced so there’s another couple of hundred quid. So it’s going to be £2000 or more all told to get it back to working condition.

Fucking bummer eh? But like I said, someone just lost a leg in a motorcycle accident so putting things into perspective it’s not that bad.

As a sort of add on story, I found an organisation called the Federation of Engine Manufacturers. It’s obviously a trade organisation so I checked the site out and tried many of the garages that were listed there. There was one that did marine engines, one that was VW/Audi specific, one for Caterpillar equipment etc etc. The only garage I found that did engines of the sort I’d need I contacted and when he rang me I was chattering on and mentioned refurbished engine. He immediately said don’t touch one with a bargepole and was quite insistent about that. I asked why and how a refurbished engine was different to a manufactured one and he flustered a bit and asked me to check on his website where it was all explained. He continued to ask if I wanted him to quote me for an engine and I said yes but I wanted to know what I was being quoted for, ie: what is remanufactured compared to refurbished. He was still unable to tell me so I left it and checked out his site, which had absolutely nothing at all about refurbished on it!

Meanwhile he sent me an email saying he could not find me a remanufactured engine, here’s a snip from the email:

“The reason you cannot compare reman to refurb/recon is because there is no definition of reman/refurb which is why we do not sell them.”

Of course I emailed back saying if there is no definition, how do you know you don’t sell them! Anyway I went back to the FER site to use their forum and found that of all the questions that had been asked over the years, I could not find a single one that had been answered! Also the site looked like something from the 90’s. So the Federation of Engine Remanufacturers is in my opinion a faded organisation that does not appear to have any clout or standards at all, hardly any members and no participation in their forum so I am left to find my own garage.

 

Insurance renewal

Insurance renewal time again. Always stressful time, but I rang Safeguard who I hvae insured with for the last 3 years, and the premium was exactly the same yet again. £445 with 365 days European cover included and full breakdown both UK and Europe.

I have claimed with them once before, and it was quick and easy. I also saved about £88 b paying it all up front instead of monthly. Excellent service for the fourth year running: it’s becoming a wasted exercise in checking elsewhere!