This is the first part of a series of my hilariously rookie mistakes in the world of car mechanics…
It was a seemingly simply affair, pop up to Ecuador, renew our vehicle permits and passports for another 90 days, jet down to Lima to watch our buddies SprinterLife’s hound-dog for a few weeks while they introduce their new baby to friends/family back in the States. But as we should know by now about best laid plans in the world of overlanding…
Like ourselves, the 4runner does not take to kindly to schedules and as we teared north out of Huanchaco we joked that the last time we set a “deadline” for ourselves we ended up with a big ol’ mess on our hands. This time we decided to give ourselves a big cushion of time. SprinterLife was not planning to fly out for 5 days from our starting date. It was technically an easy 3-day trip from Huanchaco-Ecuador-Lima, but we gave ourselves 2 spare days just in case something goes wrong…
It felt nice to stretch the 4Runners legs again, too long had she been idling in front of the apartment only to be driven to the grocery store or some other lame domestic chore. This was not the life of our truck, she was born for the road. Now we all flew happily up the blacktop towards Ecuador diving deeper and deeper into some of the most remote desert landscape this side of the Sahara. Things felt right again.
After a few hours Lauren hollers that she needs to pee (Sorry babe, the devil is in the details!) We follow a dirt-track down to a roadside garbage pit (all too common along the coastline of Peru). With her lady business complete I went to start the truck to get back on the road.
Crank-Turn over-Die… Hmm that’s odd.
Crank-Turn over-Die. Weird.
Crank-crank-crank. No turn over.
Come on girl… Crank-crank-crank-crank. Nothing.
I jump out of the truck and pop the hood. The 4Runner has been known to randomly decide she doesn’t like a sensor or two from time to time and chuck the plugs willy-nilly off of her engine block. This time though, all sensor plugs checked out. I look for loose hoses, all accounted for. Check Battery strength 12.5 Volts. This all seems fine. Check oil and coolant, Ok all good there. Lets crank her again just for giggles. Still nothing.
Alright so we got a no turn-over situation. My mind goes into my amateur mechanic diagnostic mode; I figure our problem is likely no spark or no fuel. I pull the plug wires and jam a screwdriver in there and have Lauren crank the truck. From the electric shock I receive in my spasm’ng palm, I assume we got spark.
I pop the Cold-Start Fuel valve and have her crank the truck. Now that I am half-blinded by gas in my eyes I assume we have fuel. OK… so now what.
I decide to bust out the Orange bible AKA the “1987 Toyota 4Runner Factory Service Manual”. This badboy is the go-to-guide for Toyota service factory technicians; Weighing in at close to 8 pounds, 900 pages, and almost a foot thick. If the answer was not in here, it might not be anywhere.
Today I follow the trouble-shooting path for a no turn-over situation.Check sensors, Check spark, Check fuel. I decide to recheck everything, just in case. Sensors good, Spark good, Shield my eyes for the fuel check. Expecting a face fuel of gas I am surprised this time when nothing spurts out of the Cold-Start Injector. I have Lauren crank again, still nothing.
Aha! No Fuel!
I remember troubleshooting a fuel pump issue on my old Firebird and ran back to the tank to listen for the tell-tale whirring sound of a functioning fuel pump. I have Lauren crank the truck. The fuel tank lays silent. I have her crank again. Still nothing.
OK. So there is our problem. Fuel pump.
I go back to the bible and follow the Fuel Pump troubleshooting steps. Check the Fuel pump fuse. I pull the fuse, looks fine. I replace it anyway just in case. Same Problem. Next, there is a Fuel Pump override jumper switch under the hood that I can enable with a simple paperclip (Welcome to 1987 baby!) that might overcome any random sensor or relay issues. Same problem. Now I start to think maybe the paperclip isn’t overriding all the relays that head to the fuel pump so I start ripping apart the dash and taking apart random relays, inspecting them, and reinstalling them. Same problem. Crap.
We might be broke down, but at least we got beers!
I decide the problem must be with the fuel pump itself. So let’s check out the fuel pump directly. Our only problem is the fuel pump is inside the damn gas tank (Thanks Toyota!) and to access it you either
A. Need to drop the entire fuel tank
B. Access it via a hatch located under the rear passenger seat
Now, in a normal truck this hatch would not be so hard to access, but in our situation where we have removed the rear passenger seat and constructed a gigantic immobile wooden sleeping platform, it is quite a pain in the ass.
Lauren takes on the fun task of removing our entire lives from the truck and neatly stacking it in a pile among the garbage dump of our new found desert home.
Our lives removed from the truck I can now prop up the wooden beams just enough to allow me to wiggle underneath and access the hatch.
My new workspace for the foreseeable future. Comfy!
I rip up the carpet, cut up the insulation, and remove the bolts to the hatch. Now I am staring at the culprit, well at least the wires to the culprit. Thinking there might be some sort of wiring issue between the fuel pump and the brains of the truck I decide to snip the wires leading to the fuel pump and apply direct 12 Volts from my jumper box to see if I can get the pump to crank to life. I hesitantly slice the wires and apply 12 volts of juice directly to them. Nothing.
Damnnit! Must be a completely dead pump.
Now what? Were in a garbage dump in the middle of friggin nowhere desert. The sun is setting and I have a completely dead fuel pump.
I decide my only option is to pull the fuel pump out tonight and hope to hitch a ride from some passing car in the morning to a town to try to track down a new one.
So that’s what I do. I unbolt the fuel pump carrier, slide it up and unbolt the fuel pump from the carrier. (This only took me 1 sentence to explain but probably took my rookie ass 2 hours to do…) Now that I have the fuel pump out of the truck I decide, for fun, to try and apply 12 Volts directly to the fuel pump terminals. To my complete surprise, the damn thing whirs to life without a care in the world, spurting gasoline giddily into my eyes and face yet again.
What the F! I yell into the hot desert night spitting gas out of my mouth. (Note: By this time, Lauren is serenely reading a book by headlamp, occasionally asking if I need anything but mostly just keeping out of the way while I curse the Japanese bastards who decided inside of the fuel tank was the best place to locate this blasted pump)
After washing my eyes out with water, I think, well maybe the electric leads from the fuel pump were just loose? I remove them and reinstall them tightly, then test them directly. Pump works just fine.
Awesome!! Problem solved!
I yell to Lauren, well be getting back on the road soon! She looks up and smiles sweetly, then continues reading.
I slap the whole thing back together, splice the cut wires up with some electrical tape, and go to the start the truck, dreaming of the hot shower that I will soon be locating to wash the grease and gasoline from my hair.
Crank-Turnover-Die. OK… maybe she just needs to prime up a bit.
I turn the key to the ON position for a few seconds then crank again.
Crank-Crank-Crank. Nothing! What the hell!
I have Lauren crank the truck as I lie in the garbagey sand listening for the fuel pump in the tank. Nothing!
What the F!!
I pull off all the electric tape on the wires and apply 12V directly to the pump again, it whirs to life!
Blahrlabhalghhlbah What the hell!!
OK so now its midnight, I’m exhausted. I decide there must be some sort of wiring issue between the trucks electronics and the fuel pump.
I decide I am going to rig the 12V jumpbox directly to the fuel-pump and run it that way. I rig it up nicely and it is running the pump just fine. I go to crank the truck and receive the tell-tale fast CLICK-CLICK-CLICK-CLICK of a battery that has been run to low to turn the damn motor over.
I can hear my curses ricochet off the desert cliffs. A far-off coyote returns my expletive calls of the wild.
I get the idea that I can run the fuel-pump from my auxiliary battery (My poor Aux batt is too dead to start the truck at this point in the trip) if I wire it up directly, only problem is the only spare wire I have long enough to reach is speaker-wire, which proves to be useless as it melts the second I apply 12V current to it.
At this point I realize I can run the fuel pump OR jump-start the truck off the jump-box, but can’t do both at the same time, so I determine I am at the end of my troubleshooting rope.
Completely exhausted, sweaty, sandy, and soaked in gasoline, I pour myself a super-sized rum and coke, slide into bed, and wonder what the hell I am going to do tomorrow.
Lauren smiles sweetly, sips her large cup of wine, tells me everything is going to be OK, and continues reading her book as the desert breeze blows serenely through our garbage-dump camp…