Waterin’ the desert

This isn’t meant to be a tale of gloom whilst travelling with a Land Rover, it’s just we’re using it under fairly extreme conditions and some things happen when on the road – it’s just that out here you need to be able to fix them yourself.

We did have a problem with aftermarket brakes in the Tankwa Karoo in South Africa. This time we had a problem with the expansion tank whilst we were travelling around a 45km  4×4 Quivertree trail which is part of the camp we stayed at tonight along the Orange river.

We set off at 2:30pm for what is meant to be a 2-3 our trip depending on how often you stop and look at the scenery.

We’ve been trying to keep the dust out of the car since cleaning it out at the wonderful Amanzi Trails camp. This involves closing all of the windows and turning the fan on to pressurize the cabin to keep the dust out. We had trouble doing this on our Honeymoon trip with the Defender and another Defender owner says he’s given up trying to keep the dust out. We thought we’d try it in the Disco anyway.

We had been trying to acclimatise to the heat, so haven’t been using the air-con, until his afternoon. It was too hot, so we put it on as we started the trail proper.  It was a fantastic trail driving up through the canyon – it felt like something out of an Indiana Jones set.

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The start of the canyon route

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So. Hot day, middle of the afternoon, air-con on, heavy car with all of our gear on – what could possibly go wrong.

Angela noticed a strange smell after a while. We popped the bonnet and saw the expansion tank on the coolant system venting itself from the side of the tank, not the cap where it should if it gets too hot. That’s bad – switch the engine off. As it turned out, we’d watered the desert with about half of our engine coolant Sad smile

Time for a ponder and a cold water from the fridge. Our fall-back position is the campsite will send someone out after sundown if we haven’t returned, but we don’t want to rely on that. Our real fall-back is the sat-phone, but we didn’t want to use that either.

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As you can see we’re a little away from anyone

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It’s not supposed to look like that!

The tank is plastic that is manufactured in two halves that are welded together to produce the overall tank. The split is in the seam of these two halves. It’s not that uncommon a problem if you check the forums (though not regular enough to warrant carrying a spare one out here – unlike some other parts). So we had to improvise a field repair (some might call bodge). We have a length of square leather shoe lace, which we put in “as it might cone in handy” for tying things like wood to the roof etc. It’s square section exactly fitted down the gap where the split was and helped prevent the one half of casing opening the gap up. This was held in place by good old waterproof duck tape. Put the tank back in place and attach all of the coolant tubing and refill with some coolant we’ve brought with us and water out of our water tank. Start her up and drive gingerly down to get back to the camp, checking withe the bonnet up every so often.

We hadn’t gone half way round the trail, but looking at the contours on the GPS, decided that forward is the way. This was a great little drive down the canyon, over some rock steps, through a quiver tree ‘forest’, past some wild horses and back to the road. It would have been even better if we weren’t looking at the temperature gauge as often, but we got the 25km back to camp, arriving just after 7pm. Fortunately the restaurant was still open (and more importantly the bar), so we tucked in to a fantastic pair of steak and chips with the odd refreshment Smile.

A quick call on Sunday had a spare part located near Keetmanshoop with a guy who specialises in Landies. He told us to drive with the cap off the expansion tank (a first for me and a paranoid trip ahead), to drive in the coldest part of the day (meaning very early), don’t go over 80kph (don’t worry about that) and be gentle on the engine.

Trouble was that we needed fuel to get to him. If we set off in the dark we couldn’t find one open in time. There was one station 40km in he wrong direction that was open 24/7 (allegedly) and one that was only 10km off the route, but it closed at 5pm. Decisions, decisions…

We made the call and drove in the heat of the afternoon to the hot springs resort of Ai-Ais at the end of the Fish River Canyon – the second largest canyon in the world. We have an exhaust gas temperature sensor fitted and use it to see how much work the engine is doing. This was invaluable at giving us an indication of the engine load. The heater was on full hot to try and get some more temperature out of the coolant so that it wouldn’t boil over. It was a case of feathering the throttle, checking the temps and opening the bonnet every 10 miles or so. Driving with the heater full on did also de-hydrate us a bit as well!!

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This was our improvised cloth cap, so we could tell if coolant was coming out and keeping any dust out of the coolant.

We got there with 5 minutes to spare and filled up and went for another cold drink.

We stayed the night and were up early again to drive the last leg to our saviour. Trouble is now we’re 60kg heavier with the fuel and need to climb out of the resort. It was much cooler, but the exhaust was about 100degrees hotter – more checking required!

All turned out fine, we have a new expansion tank now and he thought the problem was the thermostat. So he fitted our spare we’d brought along and put more fluid in the engine than normal to give the cooling system a bit more of a chance (something you learn in a much hotter climate) and we had a good chat about the car and he gave it a good look over.

I asked about squealing brakes which we still have. He said you might have to get used to it – no chance it’s seriously loud and embarrassing. “You could try anti-squeal” (brake cleaner) – unlike a guy that works for him who it turns out sprayed the equivalent of WD40 on the discs – yes the squeal stopped (temporarily), but so did full braking. Anyway, the braking is back to 100% now and we’re going to try some new pads when we get to Swakopmund.

The engine did impress me with the amount of abuse it took to start with and then what you can do to drive on it with minimal throttle and an open system and it get’s you 120 miles or so out of the desert after a cracking little field repair.

Anyway, on with the journey with the magical air-con returned to life and the ability to use it and the radiator doing some of the cooling now with the thermostat working properly again…..

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