After Mexico 12, 18th October 2004

I stopped and explored a ghost town, Lake City, then stopped in Hatch (where they grow chilies)

to check to front brake pads, I had been hearing a squeaking and thought I may have picked up a stone between the brake pad and the disk. Unfortunately much worse, one of the pads was missing, the squeaking I had heard was the metal backing to the pad rubbing against the brake disk. The pad must have broken up, since the other three pads were thick enough but had become detached from the backing plate. There was heat damage to part of the mechanism and I remembered seeing smoke coming from the front brakes when descending the Coronado Trail a few weeks ago. I was surprised because I normally descend very carefully and I did not notice braking excessively.

The small repair shop I was at could not get all the parts so they replaced the disk pads and I headed towards a brake specialist in Las Cruces. They were closed by the time I got there so I parked in a nearby Wal-Mart, watched the storm,

and returned in the morning to hear bad news. The disk needed replacing, if they were replacing one they needed to replace both, and the calipers needed replacing too. It came to $900. I can think of a lot of better ways to spend $900. They looked at the back brakes, there was an oil leak on a seal which had been replaced in Mexico, and the repair shop, Midas, decided just about everything needed replacing here, including the brake drums because they were a fraction out of specification, they only fitted new they said. I decided they were trying to turn a pigs ear into a silk purse, the van is after all 17 years old, so I called a halt on repairs to the rear brakes.

I stayed another night at the same Wal-Mart then took a stroll around La Mesilla in the morning.

I needed a couple of tyres and bought a used tyre from a repair shop in El Paso, then arranged to return in the morning when they opened so they could check around my rear brakes. There was a handy Sam's Club to pass the night, I bought a new tyre there for the front, in the morning there was no one at the repair shop, it was Saturday, I thought maybe they had got the days mixed up and were closed Saturdays.

I crossed briefly into Mexico, my 90 day visa for the US expires 21st November and ideally I would like to stay in the US 2 or 3 weeks longer, and I wanted to find out about renewing it. It seems there would be no problem in renewing it, but I could not renew it in advance of it's expiry, I would need to return to Mexico 21st November. Sucks! I drove the Scenic drive in El Paso, visited a couple of museums and the Franklin Mountain State Park.

During the day an old problem re-emerged. The starter wanted to keep running after the engine fired. This started immediately after the meltdown in Fruita but I had thought the problem had gone away, I had not even bothered to mention it to the electrician in Montrose who fixed everything else resulting from this meltdown. In Fruita the mechanic had replaced the starter solenoid 3 times to cure the problem so I bought a replacement knowing that if the problem became really bad I could replace it myself. As it happened I passed the repair shop and they replaced it. Seems the boss had been late arriving in the morning and I had missed him by minutes.

The new solenoid did not cure the starter problem. I can only presume that another wire was melted in the meltdown, it is now shorting out, and causing the solenoid to remain in operation after it should have cut out. The only way I know to stop the starter continuing is to open the hood and disconnect the battery leads. This usually resets the solenoid but a couple of times it has remained live and I have had to whack it with my pliers.. I am concerned that something else may melt while I am running around to open the hood to disconnect so I am now holed up in a Wal-Mart waiting until tomorrow, Monday, when the repair shops reopen and I can find an auto electrician.

I am a bit fed up with it all, since none of this work should have been necessary if the work had been done correctly with good materials in the first place. With the exception of the replacement of the rear brake drums, which I thought was a bit over the top, I have had all the work done that a repair shop has advised, and have not tried to cut corners on costs. The disk pads should not have become detached from the supports even with overheating,(my fault), the seals should not have needed replacing in the first place if an earlier check on the rear brakes had been done correctly, and of course the Fruita meltdown should never, ever, have occurred.

My batteries were getting very low and I needed to run the engine to recharge them. I managed to start the engine by shorting across the relay terminals, then drove around to charge the batteries and returned to the other side of El Paso and conferred with the parts supplier. He thinks it's a problem with the starter or the cogs on the flywheel causing it to stick and not the solenoid. I bought another starter from him in case that was the problem. While there I also bought new brake shoes and seals for the rear brakes.

So I am now parked up in Lowe's car park, just down the road from another repair shop that has been recommended. If I can start the engine I'll go there in the morning and see what happens. I wandered over to a nearby Albertson's and bought a bottle of Cooks champagne. If I can wipe that out at least I'll think that something good happened today. Actually I just drained the last of the bottle into my glass and, yes, the day does not look so bad after all..............

I had a minor change of plan in the morning and went to the repair shop where I had bought the used tyre. They quoted me $120 to fit the parts I had bought to refurbish the rear brakes, and their price included re-facing the rear brake drums. The parts had cost me less than $60, total $180. This compared with the Midas quote of near $1000 to do the job their way. Don't ever go even near Midas in Las Cruces............

So now the brakes worked good. The electrical specialist came over and started work on the starter problem. He tested here there and everywhere, he fitted two more starter solenoids, after the new one fitted only 2 days ago, he fitted the new starter I had bought, and continued testing. Still, sometimes, the starter motor continued going when it should have stopped.

I was the first customer in the repair shop at 8 am, it was now after 5 pm and they closed at 6 pm. And just now there was a breakthrough. There appeared to be an intermittent short on the lead between the ignition key starter switch and the starter solenoid. The short only occurred when the wire was live which made it rather hard to find but it made the wire continue to be live and run the starter. Caused, of course, by the meltdown in Fruita. I have by chance a press switch to link my two batteries to help start the engine in case one is flat so the electrician cut the lead with the short and connected it to the link switch. So now to start I turn on the ignition and instead of turning the key further I press my link switch. Everything works fine. It would take hours and hours to trace the short on the original lead, this van has an unbelievable number of wires running around under the hood. The intermittent short is probably still there but it makes no difference there is nothing on the end of the wire. I also have unintended theft protection because the engine does not start by turning the key as you would expect!

I got a bill of about $250 for the whole works. Look, if you are ever in El Paso and need a repair shop go to Quality Automotive Centre on the road number 20 north west of town and just north of Mesa street. With a stack of used tyres at the front it looks like nothing. But there are some guys inside who know what they are doing and they don't charge a fortune. Most of them don't speak English, only Spanish, but then, who cares, they understand motors!

Best regards

David Barker

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