Stranded in Guadalajara! Is the trip over?

Posted: November 26, 2012 by Central America Overland Expeditions in Expedition/Travel
Tags: , , , , , ,

We stayed the night at the campground we found in Guadalajara. It had rained that day so the grass was wet and a  thick dampness settled in the air. It was nice to have some relief from the intense heat. Before setting up the tents, we stopped at an open air grille that offered a hamburger bar. The challenge was communicating what we wanted on the burger.  Another patron sitting at a table near where we were ordering came to our rescue translating for us. We thanked her as we sat down at the massive wood stump that doubled as a table. The TV was broadcasting a Mexican channel, people were talking loudly and, to top it off, we were near the highway, so the traffic noise bustled nearby. However, there was something enjoyable, even peaceful, about sitting back and relaxing after the stressful day of limping the Land Rover into town.

The next morning, we followed the internet directions to the Land Rover dealer. It took about 20 minutes to make our way through the early morning traffic, We carefully watched for the signs so as not to miss our turn. According to the internet, it would be a long way around if we missed it. As we approached the intersection of our turn, we noticed a detour sign! We had heard about this but did not realize it might affect us. Crossing in front of us and riding along the road that we needed to turn at was a steady stream of bicycles. It was not a race or coordinated event, just local families enjoying the open streets without traffic. Apparently, on Saturday mornings, certain streets are closed to vehicles and open to pedestrians and bikes. It is a very good practice and I would have been much more supportive had I known where to go to get back to the Land Rover dealer.

We finally arrived at the dealer. We pulled right into the reception bay and were greeted by friendly faces. A gentleman met us at the door and said “Beunas Dias”! He spoke excellent English and after sensing we would be more comfortable speaking English, he said, “How can we help you today”? I have been working on a nice bronze tan, being on the coast for so long, and Bernard came ready-made with a bronze tan ,but some how we still stood out as outsiders.

My next Expedition vehicle

Full attention of three mechanics!

We were ushered into to a very nice waiting area, offered coffee, Coke, and the password to the internet, while the Land Rover was being dissected in the shop area. I walked out there a couple of times and there were three guys working on it, computers hooked up, and diagnostic machines all attached with wires running from under the hood. It looked like an operating room. One mechanic was sitting up on the engine compartment while the other two monitored the equipment and spoke back and forth. After three hours of intense diagnostics, tests, and head scratching, the manager walked in to announce they think they found the problem.

We were told that the only thing they could come up with was it needed a valve job. I immediately questioned this as prior to leaving on this trip, we had replaced the head gaskets, machined the heads, and had the heads pressure tested. The machine shop said they looked great and would not need a valve job. I explained all of this to the manager, to which he said,  “We are confident enough that it needs a valve job that if it is not, we will cover the cost of the job”. I asked how much will that cost? “Dont worry, it is cheaper than in the US. “Really, well how much?, I asked again. He said, $40,000 Pesos (about $3,000 US)! However, the shop was about to close and it was Saturday afternoon. We would have to come back on Monday morning.

What a slap in the face! $3,000, and 3-4 days for repairs??!! I was downcast on the ride back to the campground. What is the best thing to do? Should I scrap the vehicle, fly home and call it quits? Should I look for another vehicle? I don’t know, but I just do not believe it needs a valve job since we had just inspected the heads before we left on the trip. We drove back to the site in silence. Luckily, the Land Rover was still running. As long as I didn’t have to get up to high speeds quickly it drove fine. The check engine light glared at me as a reminder of the predicament we were in.

Before setting up the tent again, I called my dad to see if he had any recommendations. He has been in the automotive field his whole life, and was blessed with an over abundance of mechanical knowledge that has come in handy on countless situations in the past, not only for me, but all of his family and friends. He spends a lot of time on the phone or under the hood helping people out. I grabbed my tablet and headed toward the office to get the best wifi signal possible. We were using a couple of apps, Skype, and Tango to communicate, and it required a good signal.

I explained everything that we had done so far to try to fix the problem, replaced plugs, added fuel cleaner, tested injectors, secured wire connections, etc. As he listened, he was computing all of the info. All of a sudden, he said, ” I bet you have a plugged cat” A catalytic converter? All of these problems were caused by a bad cat? He said, “Disconnect the exhaust and see if your power comes back”. I thanked him for the direction and jogged back to the truck to try it.

I grabbed my tool bag, hollered at Bernard that I may have the problem fixed. Luckily the exhaust had cooled, making it possible to loosen the bolts. They cam off easily (benefit of a southern vehicle). I pulled the exhaust off the studs and crawled back out from under the vehicle. Turning the key, the engine roared to life, and I mean roared! With the open exhaust poring out of the engine, it reminded me of being at the local drag strip back home. It had a deep throaty snarl that any race car would be envious of, all eight cylinders pumping out the horse power. Bernard could not help but hear the engine start, along with the whole campground. We hopped in and were off for a test drive.


As we edged out into traffic, an opening offered a spot to cross the three lanes. Well there’s no time like the present to test it. I floored the gas and the engine roared, the Land Rover leaped into traffic and responded to my stomp. We had power! Man it felt so good to feel the full power of all eight cylinders doing their thing. This proved my dad’s theory, the catalytic converter was bad. It was plugged up restricting the exhaust causing the cylinders to misfire.

We drove to down town Guadalajara to enjoy the market and festivities. While we were there, a large crowd had gathered around two clown street performers. We stood and watched as they performed tricks and the crowd laughed. All of a sudden, one of the clowns spotted Bernard. Sensing he wasnt a local, he began heckling Bernard. He called him out to the center of the crowd and both clowns had fun with him. I made the mistake of taking pictures, and this alerted them we were together. Now their sights were set on me. “You take picture, come here”. They were friendly and enjoyed bouncing back and forth between Spanish and English, making the crowd laugh at our expense. We got a few more pictures and moved on to see the world-famous market.

Is that an American in the crowd?

Bernard is in for it now!


The market featured everything you could think of. There was everything from watches, clothes, hats, shoes, trinkets, food, blankets, flowers, you name it. We spent a couple of hours walking around, and patronizing a food stand that had remarkable calzone type sandwiches. We enjoyed our time there and had to laugh at the sign for the bathrooms. We were used to seeing a charge for using the bathrooms, but this sign announced an extra charge for toilet paper!

Overview of atrium market

Meat market

Fresh Fruit

One bay muffler shop

Lets, “Git Er’ Done”!

The next day, we drove to a little muffler shop not too far away from the campsite and pulled into the one bay garage. I got out and pointed to a picture of the cat on the wall. We tried to communicate as much as possible, but it wasnt working. I am sure they were not used to someone coming in and telling them what they needed in English. Fortunately, Tom from Barre de Navidad had put us in touch with his brother who lived in Guadalajara. I looked up his number and the young mechanic let me call him. I explained our predicament, and asked him to translate. After their conversation, we were off and rolling! The courier hopped on his moped off to get the catalytic converter.

Job well done!

As soon as he got back they went right to work cutting out the old one and installing the new one. I was charged the equivalent of $225 us for the job! That’s a far cry from $3,000! The Land Rover ran like a champ. Man what a relief. Although I was thankful for all of the help along the way, it was amazing that my dad who was 4000 miles away was able to diagnose the problem over the phone. I am blessed to have such a wonderful man as my Father! Check our Facebook for more pictures of Guadalajara (click here)

  1. Juan Buhler says:

    Good thing your vehicle is back to working order, but I hate to say… you should have gone back to the dealership. You just missed on a free $3000 valve job! 🙂

  2. LeeHamm says:

    Glad you fixed it. You’d kind of hope the LR dealer people would know what they were doing. I am about 4 hours from there and it is still my closest LR dealer. This makes me nervous about bringing my Land Rover to Mexico.

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