The 4Runner Revolts – Day 1

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…

Day 1:

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.

Shit.

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-Turnover-Die. WTF
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…

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So how did the story end?

I picked myself up off the ground and got back to wrenching on the truck. With less than an hour to go and not much progress getting our truck running right I decided to throw in the towel. Sheena (Brads right hand lady) called us a cab. $60 ride to the airport! Ouch.

On the way to the airport, We recount our tale of Bill the Butcher to the cab driver. The cabbie says he never heard had of him (Its a small town) and apologize that someone in his town would do such a thing. He suggested we not take our car to an Ex-pat mechanic in a foreign country. Surprisingly… the local mechanics don’t appreciate them edging in on their business and the parts houses like to screw them over every change they get.

The cab driver told me he is good friends with a local mechanic who in charge of repairing the towns fleet vehicles, rentals, and taxis. He says he can fix anything and on the super cheap.

We stop by his shop on the way to the airport. We meet the mechanic who is a younger fellow, probably around 27 or 28 with a lot full of taxis, newer rental cars, and locals old junkers. Even though I could barely understand a word he said, I trusted him. He said his friend has the exact same truck and he could test parts between the two instead of just throwing money at it.

After picking my Mom from the airport, We dropped the 4Runner off with him and left for a week to do more exploring via rental car.

Got a call 2 days later that the truck was all done!

Came and picked up the truck and she was running better than she ever has before.

The mechanic said it took him a long time to to figure out just what the hell the last guys had done. In the end he re-adjusted the AFM back to stock, cleaned and adjusted the TPS, cleaned the injectors, replaced the O2 sensor, dropped the fuel pump and discovered it was fairly weak and not pumping properly, replaced that. Replaced the fuel filter and a few other adjustments. The final bill was steep since the fuel pump was around ~$150 but we were just happy to have the damn truck back and purring once again!

She is running amazing now! She starts on the first crank and has been getting around 20MPG.

Gotta love Toyotas!

Moral of the story: Wrench on your truck when you can and stick with the locals when you cant! at least I know I am.

With the truck back in good order we pointed her towards the “Osa Peninsula”. Known as the “most biologically intense place on earth”

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Bill the Butcher

I have sat down to write this post 3 different times. It is such a convoluted story and I am so pissed off every time I write it that I just end up mashing the keyboard with intelligible nonsense. Here goes Round #4

A few blog posts back I had mentioned we were having problems with the 4Runner running properly. It did not have much power above 3K RPMS. The Check Engine Light was on and throwing an O2 sensor and a TPS sensor code. Simple enough I thought? Ill throw a new O2 and TPS on there and see how she runs.

Well it turned out finding parts in Costa Rica was harder than I expected.

Luckily our friends from DriveNachoDrive whom we were staying with were recently recommended an ex-pat mechanic in Atenas, Costa Rica. They had just left their van with him to get some work done. I figured it would be easy to have him track down and install the parts of my truck as well.

We ended up meeting Bill up at Brad’s house. Seemed like a nice enough guy and we discussed what needed to be done and my hard date of 2 weeks when I would need the truck back to make airport runs and take my Mom around Costa Rica in the 4Runner.

No problem! Have her done in just a few days.

Sounds good! We left our baby in his hands and tooled around Costa Rica via rental car with Laurens parents for the next few weeks.

So far so good right?

Well… Brad would walk/hitch a ride down to Bill’s shop every few days to check on the progress of our vehicle repairs. Despite much pleading and prodding he was sorry to report that after the first week nothing had been accomplished on either one of our trucks.

OK, I guess he does have another week to get the job done…

Unfortunately after having our truck for almost 2 entire weeks Brad reports that practically nothing at all had been done to it. He said they managed to finally pop the hood and start wrenching on random things but had no luck in tracking down a new TPS.

Fed up and in need of my truck to make an airport run the next day, I phoned Bill from Playa Bejuco and asked him to return the truck to Brad’s house in Atenas and forget about the whole thing. After all, the truck still ran decent enough to get us around for the past month or so.

Bill assured me that he would have all the parts that day and have it up to Brad’s early the next morning before we arrived to head to the airport. I reluctantly agreed to this…

Next morning we pull up to Brad’s house in the rental expecting to see the truck. It’s not there.

We call Bill. He doesn’t answer.

WHERE THE HELL IS MY TRUCK?

I go into panic mode. We had less than an hour to put Laurens Dad and sister on a plane. The only car we had is the rental which needed to be returned. We would end up stranded down there without the 4Runner.

Brad felt bad but with his truck stuck in the same situation he couldn’t offer a ride. I call in a favor from our buddies over at LifeRemotely.com who graciously agree to cancel their plans for the day and scoop us up from the airport after we drop the rental and put the family on the plane.

OK mild crisis adverted. It’s good to have friends.

We get back from the airport, wave goodbye to Life Remotely, and start blowing up Bill’s phone. No answer.

WHERE THE HELL IS MY TRUCK!?

Brad and I hatch a plan to walk down to his shop, about 5 miles away and start busting skulls and steal our trucks back.

The phone suddenly rings. It’s Bill.

“Oh hey! My partner Rick is on a parts run, We should have it all done this afternoon.”

BILL, WHAT THE HELL!? I NEEDED THE CAR THIS MORNING! WHAT HAPPENED!?

Oh, It wasn’t running right so we couldn’t bring it.

NO PHONE CALL BILL!?

We’ll have it done this afternoon.

BILL! FORGET IT! JUST BRING ME MY TRUCK

OK OK I’ll bring it up to you this afternoon as soon as Rick gets back.

BILL I AM BEGGING YOU I NEED MY DAMN TRUCK TODAY. MY MOM WILL BE AT THE AIRPORT AT 10AM TOMORROW AND I NEED TO PICK HER UP!

No problem, No problem, I’ll have it for you this afternoon.

FINE!

I drink a few beers to calm down. We head over to LifeRemotely’s pad for some dinner and await Bill’s call that the truck is on its way to the house.

4PM. No call
5PM. No call
6PM. No call
7PM. No call. I start calling Bill.

Phone rings 3 times, then goes to voicemail.
I call back. Straight to voicemail!

BILL IS HIDING FROM ME, WHAT IN THE F!

I ring back 3-5 more times, still straight to voicemail.

WHERE THE HELL IS MY TRUCK!!!?

I start frantically pacing the floor imagine my truck being chopped to bits and shipped off to various parts of the globe. What is this man doing to my poor baby? What in the hell is going on!?

Brad mentions he has this “partner Rick’s” phone number and maybe we should call him and see if he knows what is going on since he supposedly went on the parts run today.

I phone Rick.

Hey Rick, This is James with the 4Runner. You heard from Bill or know anything about my truck?
WHY THE F ARE YOU CALLING ME!? I DONT EVEN KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT THIS TRUCK. I DONT EVEN KNOW WHO THE F YOU ARE.
Uh… Ok calm down buddy
MY SISTER JUST DIED AND I JUST FLEW BACK FROM FLORIDA. I HAVE NEVER EVEN SEEN YOUR F’N TRUCK
Uh… Bill said you were getting parts for it today
F YOU CALLING ME UP HERE WHEN MY SISTER DIED I DONT KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT YOUR F’N TRUCK
Uh….
F YOU!
*CLICK*

I stare wide-eyed back at Brad who was listening to the manic screaming on the other end…

I tell Brad what just went down on the phone. Brad tells me he has personally seen Rick working on my truck twice. So his story makes no sense….

WHERE THE HELL IS MY TRUCK!?

We again start hatching a plan to break into the orphanage (I did mention Bill butcher “shop” is actually just a covered garage area next to an children orphanage?) and steal my truck back that night.

Thoughts of a rapey Costa Rican jailhouse and 2 lanky gringos caught busting into an orphanage full of little kids quickly squelch that idea from our mind.

OK NEW PLAN, TOMORROW MORNING WE GO DOWN THERE AND STEAL MY TRUCK BACK AND GET THE HELL OUTTA THERE!
YA!!!

We all rally around and continue drinking, plotting the battle versus “BILL THE BUTCHER” and his sidekick “Rick”.


We wake up at 6AM the next morning, Dress in all black (Looking back dressing in black doesn’t help much during daytime capers…) We grab 2 crowbars, a lance, and a rabbit pelt from the garage and head towards the door. Prepared for battle.


Phone rings. It’s Bill.

Hey guys! Going to come by the house and pick you up to take you to the shop.

No apology, No explanation, No recognition of anything being wrong whatsoever. I start to think this man may just have severe mental problems.

We decided to play it cool, let’s catch the ride down to the shop and I will just drive my truck away. We put away our spears and lances.

About 30 minutess later, Bill pulls up cheery as can be as if nothing was amiss. I say nothing to him, fuming in the backseat just hoping I can get quickly get my truck as far away from this madman as possible.

We pull up to the orphanage, little kids running around happily playing. Not realizing there is a group of lunatic mechanics working just feet from their paradise.

My truck comes into view. I run up to her with my toolbag.

Are you OK!? My poor baby! My poor baby! Daddys here. Daddys here. Everything is going to be alright.

I start the truck. More to say. I try to start the truck. It barely turns over and when it does it is running HORRIBLE. Barely able to stay running unless I work the throttle like a madman. The RPMs swaying frantically from 100RPM to 5000RPM in a state of utter confusion.

WHAT HAS HE DONE TO YOU!!!?

I jump out and examine the carnage under the hood. Oily paw prints all over every sensor, hose, and clamp. Nothing properly tightened. I can tell every sensor has been messed with, the TPS is limply dangling from its screws, the sealed AirFlowMeter has been pried open and fondled. Vacuum hoses hacked, slashed, and lying unplugged across the engine bay.

Oh god, Oh god. My poor baby. I just want to get you out of here. Tell me where the bad man touched you…

I start trying to repair her as best I can to at least limp it out of this house of horrors.

A few minutes into me repairing the truck… Guess who shows up. Crazy ass Rick!

He makes no recognition of my presence. I make none of his. Just focus diligently putting my baby back together.

About 10 minutes later I hear Bill talking to Rick about something. Rick starts cursing at Bill saying

WHAT THE F IS THAT GUY DOING HERE!?
IS HE PAYING US TO USE OUR GARAGE!?
TELL HIM TO PAY US OR GET THE F OUT OF HERE!

I grip the heavy socket wrench in my hand tightly, visions of swinging it down on Rick’s face like the hammer of Thor run through my mind.

No James, focus. focus. You gotta get outta here.

I tighten the last bolt, jump in and start the truck.

Oh man she is still running absolutely horrible. But she is running enough to move now. I pop her in reverse and pull out of the bay lurching and bucking like a wild bronco.

I’m sorry baby, It’s for your own good. We gotta get you away from these butchers.

I walk up to Brad, whisper to him I am getting the HELL outta dodge. He nods in reply but says nothing not wanting to set off any alarms with these two madman.

I say to Bill, “Going for a testrun!”

Then I lurch and buck the truck up the hill and out of the orphanage. The truck is running so poorly that I have to keep it in 4LO to get enough gearing to climb even the most docile of hills.

I throw the CAUTION lights on and limp my poor girl the 5 miles back to Brad’s house. It takes me 45 minutes of stalling, clutch slipping, and basically raping my truck to get her home. She screams in protest but I assure its for her own good.

When I finally make it home Lauren is waiting in the driveway, She runs out and hugs the truck. I open the door and collapse in a heap on the ground.

What a friggin day. It’s not even 9AM yet…. and we have to be at the airport in less than an hour…

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Mashin’ the Miskito Coast – Part #1

We had seen the movie “The Mosquito Coast” with Harrison Ford a few years ago that described this very remote undeveloped area of the northern Honduran coastline. We forgot all about it until we saw the name again in our Honduras guidebook. The Moskito Coastis described as the least developed area in all of Central America. With minimal roads, no services, and no tourist infrastructure. It sounded right up our alley.

We heard about a 4×4 trail that hugs the coastline out to a small Miskito village named “Pueblo Nuevo”.  They said it was rough going, lots of beach/sand driving, river crossings, and no support out their if something was to go wrong. SOLD!

Winding through the hills towards the coastline
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The hits keep comin’ in Honduras…

ATM disaster dodged, Corrupt cops deflected. What else could go wrong!?

We are climbing through the mountain passes of Honduras and I can tell the 4Runner is losing power. Not exactly sure what is going on I do what any proud Toyota owner would do and simply ignore it. Hell… She still runs don’t she?

Eventually we are coming through a construction zone near the top of a pass and I lose all momentum/power. The truck basically cuts out. The accelerator pedal pins flat to the floor and doesn’t come back up.

We are smackdab in the middle of the construction zone. Huge dumptrucks and bulldozers battle it out with the mountainside all around us. It is at least 95F, hot, dusty, and LOUD.

We are stuck blocking the 1-lane of the passable highway with gigantic buses and semi-trucks all honking and trying to squeeze around us.

I jump out of the truck and pop the hood. Chaos everywhere. Tons of dust, huge loud tractors, people honking like crazy at us. I check the throttle cable and its all screwed up, sagging from the throttle body like a limp noodle.

I try to jerry rig it quickly. No go, It wont retract. Something is jamming. I pull out my tools and take it apart in the middle of the highway with people passing everywhere.

No wonder it wont retract… Line is frayed and jamming inside the throttle cable housing.
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