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…

The Journey

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. 

Oh I’m back…

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

Van finally in for repair!

Finally, after waiting since March, I dropped the van off at Camper NE today. I’m due to get it back next Saturday morning and I have a brand new Astra to play with in the meanwhile.
They are rebuilding the bumper assembly by hand, using fibreglass as they are not manufactured anymore since my van is ‘obsolete’ having been made in 2004. The side panels are simply wood clad with aluminium but those also have had to be made by hand as the patterns don’t exist now.

I find it difficult to believe that since the accident in March it’s taken this long to sort it out. And I still haven’t got my excess money or the replacement computer from Silverbeck Rymers. According to them they are bound to contact me only once every 3 months with updates, and as I’ve called them several times the 3 months starts from when I last rang them. Absolutely appalling if you ask me.

I’m in the Rex hotel in Whitley Bay for the time being. It’s a bit run down, but the beds are clean and the dog is allowed so it serves me OK. Plus it has a bath as well as a shower so I’ve been lazing in that every night. The beach is about 150 yards form the front door too so me and Jack have partaken a little of that. I have a relative in Whitley as well so it was nice to catch up with her and she showed me some local shops.
Jack doesn’t like the hotel room. He’s very clingy with me and isn’t eating much, but he’s loving the beach. No phone signal, but the dongle works fine which is just as well as the hotel internet is good, but keeps dropping now and again for a few seconds. That wouldn’t bother me when not at work but work demands an always on connection so I use the dongle for that.

I find it very odd to be within four walls again. I pulled the plug out of the telly and watch Star Trek and movies on my computer. But the view is of a brick wall 5 feet away from my window so I’m glad I’m only here for 9 nights.

Alternator repair

Coming back form the lakes I noticed the battery warning light flickering on the binnacle. I stopped and checked and the alternator was only putting out 11.72 volts grr. Luckily the battery was fully charged so I quickly diverted the leisure batteries to they would feed the engine battery and set off.
I phoned my favoured garage, GC Autos in Gateshead and he quickly had me booked in and a new 150 amp alternator fitted for £166. First class service from them as always.

I probably demand much of an alternator as I have a battery to battery charger. What this device does is it fools the alternator into thinking that the leisure battery is flat so that the alternator puts out it’s max voltage. The charger then checks that the engine battery is fully charged and when that’s done it starts charging the leisure batteries with up to 50 amps and 14.8 volts. So my alternator is working a lot harder for a lot longer than most.

That’s the second alternator and the van has done 130,000 miles now. The first one failed at year 2 and was replaced under warranty, so lets hope I get almost 10 years out of this one as well, especially given the work it has to do.

More brakes…

I was very pleased with the job done on my brakes when I came back from Italy, although I have since then found some vented discs, which I intend to buy and fit.
However I did ask that the brake cables be replaced at the time, and they convinced me that the existing ones could be “made good” so I allowed myself to be swayed. Here we are almost 6 months on and the cables are giving me problems now. The first 2 inches of pull on the handbrake handle is loose, and then it suddenly goes stiff as though the brakes are on, but they are not. So I’m going to get the whole cable assembly replaced in the morning.
Let’s hope that doesn’t break the bank.

Repairing the bumper

I’ve come out to a place called Jesolo that I found when I first came to Italy. It’s a large carpark which is almost derelict it’s so grown over. It’s almost hidden from the road too I only saw it as there were 3 vans in it when I drove past.
Therefore it’s perfect for repairing the bumper: you know, the one I damaged in Arne back in 2008  *blush*  To be fair it’s had many temporary repairs but it now needs fixing properly. It’s actually in 2 pieces and some of the retaining wood at the side skirts has torn off so I need to replace that too.

These two photos show the bumper with large chunks out. It’s only fibreglass and easily damaged even if you reverse over shrubs and bushes. The red is the resin I use to repair it, and the two vertical lines show a large square section that was ripped out. On the rear I used almost an entire tin of resin and a large wad of matting to join cracks and splits. Underneath the number plate is a crack about 10 inches long that splits that section in two, and there are numerous cracks in the glaze and smaller tears. The main aim here is to get the bumper into one section and get it fitted properly to the van.

IMAG0360This is the rear of the side skirting. On the outside is a thin skin of aluminium, and on the inside a thin cover of plywood. What you can see in the centre of the ‘sandwich’ is in fact polystyrene! There’s a 1 inch square lath at top and bottom to keep the polystyrene in place, so I’m going to hopefully tap into that to attach the new piece of wood which has to go there. The wood is what the end of the bumper section screws into. The aluminium is starting to corrode too, I am seriously not looking forward to replacing that side skirt!

IMAG0367Where was Jack all this time? Well he’d gone and rolled in some unmentionable stuff which was so bad that for the first time in his life he needed a full and proper shampoo bath.

I attached him to a long tie out line afterwards and he went to sunbathe in the long grass and dry off. It was about 25 degrees today so here he is drying off and sleeping in the sunshine.
Just follow the red line, he’s in there somewhere haha


IMAG0371This is the most damaged side, it was all torn off one day when I got stuck down a narrow country lane in Dorset in 2008, and has been repaired and ripped off several times since then. The last time was at the Falkirk Wheel car park in Scotland. There were some small posts in the ground to mark the bays and I reversed too far and one of them went under the bumper. When I pulled away it dragged that whole half of the bumper off, tearing all of the electrics to the lights and tearing the aluminium and ripping the wood stay off.

That corner has taken a lot of work to get it fixed and although it looks ugly right now, that’s mostly resin and glue residue and dirt marks where it was held on by gaffer tape for some time! It will all be cleaned up eventually and I’m very pleased with the job done. 🙂


IMAG0369And here it is in place. 2 days later after the major work is done and all the resin has dried off. It looks awful with the red and the darker grey scars are cracks that are surface cracks and I’ve not done them yet.

The main thing is that it’s all in one piece now and fitted to the van properly and securely.

The next thing is to use resin without matting on all the cracks, then sand it all down and get it smooth. Then I can use the white gelcoat to finish it off. It’s still quite a lot of work to do but they want £600 + VAT for a new bumper, and the cheapest quote I’ve had to repair it was £300, so I’ve saved myself a canny chunk of money there and also learned something: never mix more than 20 ml of resin and hardener at one time…it goes off before you can use it!



Taking a brake

Put my van in to be checked at G and C Autos in Gateshead. I was worried about a brake light on the dash, but apparently it was just the sensor on the rear going mad. I knew the front one was broken too as I had snapped the lead one day when putting the snow chains on, so they fixed that also. Topped up the brake fluid and reported that the load balancer was leaking. *sigh* Another part fitted by Croxdale Autos just over  a year ago, so now I gotta get booked in for that. I wonder where Croxdale get their parts from cos they fitted a wheel bearing that failed too, although luckily that failed in warranty.

Anyway, brakes all cleaned and working again, so they aren’t the reason the van is using too much diesel and lacking power. They suggested going to a diesel inejctor specialist so thats what I’m going to do. Happy days :s