After the excitement of the Roof of the World tour there was in the end a price to pay for days and days of hammering over rough corrugations and running the poor truck at 15,000 feet (not to mention bashing the roof on the exit barrier of a police fortress in Pakistan). This post is intended for the more technical minded or those who are considering such a trip themselves so if you are interested in stories of travelling in exotic places then look away now…..Below I will work through the trucks systems and discuss learnings, upgrades and repairs needed following the trip. This is the sort of post I found very valuable in my trip research but not so entertaining for those of you who do not work on your trucks…
This was the big story of the homecoming, I had bought Nelson as it had an unusually low milage 300tdi Engine and a sound chassis, in theory one of the simplest most reliable of the possible Land Rover Defender engines. In earlier posts I have recounted how the chassis turned out to be rotten from the inside, now it has a brand new recondition engine so I could have saved myself the premium I paid and just gone for a cheaper Landy and changed both of the big expensive elements – as I ended up doing that anyway ! but I am jumping to the end lets start with the positive.
The Landy got me half way round the world, to the roof of the world, and back safe and sound. And when it did break down it was 40min recovery to the best Land Rover mechanics I know so that was a real stroke of luck. That said it was a pretty scary break down as I had a “diesel runaway” on the M90 motorway – the engine makes a nasty crunching noise but when I dipped the clutch and brake to gently coast into the side of the road, the engine revs went off the scale instead of dropping to idle. I had in theory heard of such a thing and dropped the clutch in top to stall the engine, which worked, but my heart was in my mouth at the thought of all the damage that probably had been done.
In the picture below you can see the engine with the head off, what has happened is that there is a hole down the side of number 4 piston on the left and this has pressurised the oil sump so that all the oil was forced into the top of the engine, timing case etc and fed the engine with engine oil instead of diesel in an unrestrained manner. The hole itself was caused by a malfunctioning injector which has created a hot spot on the top of the piston slowly eroding the metal until a hole appeared. It is likely that this injector started misfiring in the Pamir highway due to over rich running in the high altitude, I had noticed the engine note changing but had not wanted to mess with the injectors for fear of breaking one and getting stuck. I was not aware that a misfiring injector on a 300 tdi engine can burn a hole in the top of the piston or I would have changed them ( I do carry spares ) instead I put it on the list of things to check when I got back to the UK as the truck was running smoothly after a few doses of injector cleaner.
Anyway no tears for split milk, the engine was fried as the wear on multiple pistons etc was significant and the safest way to set things up for the long trip around South America was to go all the way to a reconditioned engine swapping this unit for a fully prepared new one. This is an expensive option but has the advantage of ensuring that every critical element of the engine has been sorted out to an “as new” state and the engine should give me a long reliable life probably for as long as I will have the truck. Total cost of the reconditioned unit was 4500 GBP and as I decided to let the guys at GEMM fit it so that the warranty was ensured that cost me a further 1500, thankfully they do this sort of thing all the time so they were able to have Nelson back on the road inside a week of the breakdown with a nice shiny engine in place – as you can see below
In replacing the engine I had wiped a few things off the work list which will be attached, so timing belt was new, vacuum pump had leaks and was renewed, fan belt etc is new, glow plugs and injectors replaced and the water pipes which had been rubbing on the steering system were all fixed and adjusted, after 500 miles running in the valve clearances were reset so it should be as good as new ! What is very noticeable is that the old engine was struggling to start on a very cold morning where the new one starts in one turn, presumably due to the combination of the good compression ratios, injectors and glow plugs.
With the engine sorted, all be it quite expensively, time to look at the other aspects of the truck that need attention wile running in the new engine over Christmas and New Year Holidays
A common problem with all the Defenders I know which are used for overlanding is transfer box oil leaks and mine in no exception, I had it oil tight for the start of the trip to Mongolia but by the time I got it back it was using about 500ml of oil every 2000km, this is not a serious problem as it is easy to top up, specially if you take care to keep your squeezy EP90 oil bottles with a spout otherwise you need to use a big syringe to fill it which gets messy. So the transfer box was taken out and the front face input shaft seals renewed, now no drips. Otherwise both the gearbox and the differentials were fine and still oil tight so an oil change was all that was necessary there. We did get a shock when we were checking the wheel bearings, the bearings themselves were fine just cleaned and regreased but the half shafts on the rear and the drive flanges had developed a good bit of play due to wear on the splines, apparently this is a common problem with the 110 defender, and if the wear is bad enough can cause a loss of rear drive, so I took the precautionary approach and replaced both the shafts and the drive flanges but this time coated in special anti-fretting grease. If you have a 110 this is a good one to add to your regular check list
In Kathmandu I had replaced a brake pipe with a non standard one so that had to be changed. During the trip the wear rate on the rear brake pads was a lot faster than the fronts (2x), I thought this might be a sticking problem but the garage I used said that increased wear on the rears was normal for a heavy 300tdi, the brake disks all round had to be replaced after the trip and an extra pair of rear pads have been added to the spares list for South America.
The main thing in the instrument area was to reattach the instrument panel which had fully broken through its mountings in the Gobi desert after a week of constant vibrations, in the end a new panel surround and mounting were needed and the heater controls all freed up as the dust had jammed them badly.
One of my friends believes that the problem with the engine may have had something to do with it running too hot, so I have added an exhaust gas measuring probe to the truck so I can keep and eye on that in future high altitude situations.
I also moved around some of the switch gear and swapped over the fuel pump switch to one with a big red light on it so that it is more obvious when it is running, there is no cut off on my system so it is possible to overfill the main tank if you do not pay attention which is not very sociable for those following on the diesel skid pan created. I have added an extra double USB socket for the front to give enough to charge a passengers phone or ipad on the move.
The other thing I need to improve in the front is the mounting of the cooling fans, these need some steel plate to spread the load and proper metal bolts as the plastic ones become worn, I may also wire in the fans rather than run them from the 12v sockets just to tidy up the dash
I lost a couple of mudflaps on the way round but other than that there was no serious damage, some touch up painting is needed when the weather is warmer and I have an idea for fixing the awning sides to the truck using C section metal strips as are used on caravans but that will be another project for the warmer months. Electrically we were able to find the short that had knocked out the side lights (behind the heater box in the engine bay) and this has all now been repaired.
The drivers side door had broken through just below the window so had to be rewelded and the door card and window slides all sorted out (by the end of the trip they were attached by duct tape)
I have a leak along the seam which joins the upper body to the lower body on the back of the camper so all of that will be resealed on a warm day with sikaflex and the cold air that was making its way into the cab will be sealed out and backed up with insulation (I did end up with a wet bottom in bed one night at 4am when a rainstorm driven by a westerly wind blew water up into the seal just below the window) . Currently it is sealed with duct tape which is working quite well !
Finally the soundproofing of the bulkhead between the engine and the cabin needs to be replaced and improved – the bit around the pedals has become detached so I plan to go around with soundproofing and filling in gaps in the bulkhead in the warmer weather.
Radio Comms and Navigation
I still suffer from some interference in the radio receptions which will need to be investigated and the CB output power is not good so I may need to work on a fix for that, both may be caused by a bad earth problem.
Navigation wise I found the Garmin Inreach system quite good but not programable or searchable so I will look up the systems which work best in south America and try to get OSM maps for my ipad and maps for my Garmin as a second sources.
Overall the camper systems worked very well but there is a list of things I am going to adjust over the next few months
- Move the heater controller so it can be adjusted and seen from my sleeping position instead of being hidden behind the drivers seat
- Fix the fridge back in place it is loose after all the stresses of the Gobi desert
- The exterior water system is not working unless the internal tap is activated so I have a loose wire there that still needs to be fixed
- I want to improve the insulation of the front cabin, the new rear is well insulated but the front cabin and doors need more insulation added for those cold Andean nights
- There is a nice bespoke system to insulate the sides of the Alucab roof which I may invest in from Germany
- The insides of the cupboards need to be lined with felt or carpet to help with thing rubbing and bouncing around
- I should thing about a layer of insulation under the carpet to help with insulation in the cold
- The system for covering the rear window needs to be improved in its insulation
The other thing I need to do is to improve some of the small storage systems and nets for odds and ends need to be added more securely as some of the mounting screws came out when loaded
The cooking systems worked well, although the vibration took its toll on the anti stick coating on the pot set so I may get a new set of pots, the Coleman stove will need serviced and a service kit put into the spares list for the next trip. One concern is that the gas bottle connections in South America are different and I an not supposed to carry gas bottles in the container so some adaptors will be needed to use local gas bottles or to fill my UK bottles.
I had a new bracket made by GEMM to hold up the light bar which had an annoying habit of drooping as I drove along and the roof rack was moved back 2 inches due to the damage to the roof from Pakistan. The roof box is fine but will be fitted with a bit more robust washers to spread the load a bit, the roof box and the interior of the storage boxes need to be covered with carpet or felt of some type to cut down the vibration damage from the long trips.
Alu- cab roof
The roof did well over the trip although the rough roads did take there toll on the roof catches, as you can see in the picture below on both sides the latches broke under the strain of the yumps in the desert and the constant corrugations with the load we had on the roof. The nice folks at Al-u-cab have kindly supplied me with replacements and a replacement front seal. During the trip I replaced a number of the gas struts so for South America I will carry a full set of spares and start out with fresh struts.
The other big issue I had with the roof was my own fault, in following the armoured car in Pakistan I drove under a barrier that he just fitted under, I did not by about 2 inches and so the heavy steel barrier bounced off the roof box (which held up well) but punched holes in the guttering where the roof rack was mounted, to get me home I moved the roof rack back a bit as you can see below but all this guttering will need to be repaired – a tricky job as it is aluminium so at the moment I am getting a lot of chin scratching and shaking heads from the normal experts.
In the end these were repaired and sealed to tidy them up but not fully welded and the roof rack repositioned to sit on undamaged sections of the guttering, not perfect but a practical solution
The lighting was good for the camper rear and passenger side but I think I will add in some small LED lights for backing up in dark campsites to give a broader rear lighting and a deterrent if approached at night, I found putting on the lights if I heard people around the truck when I was sleeping inside at night was a good way to scare them off but I have a dark side on the truck, I may mount them on swivel bases to allow for specific lighting for tasks
The Awning system has three main issues I would like to find a resolution for over this break
- The sides are very long, specially if I drop the pole length to allow for a good slope of the roof in rain conditions, I need some way to “gather up” the excess length so that the sides do not flap around so much if there is a wind, so some sort of way to roll up the excess and peg down about 30cm up the side of the awing would be ideal, I will keep you posted on that
- Sealing the awning onto the side of the truck is currently very crude so I am going to adapt some of the C section rails used on caravans to provide a proper and simpler seal for the underskirt over the rear wheel and under the back door
- There is a gap between the awning mounting and the side of the truck which means that rain falls off the roof down the side of the truck and if the window is open directly into the bed area of the truck so I may again use some sort of C rail system to close this gap.
I should carry some extra guy lines and pegs for the windy weather which is expected in Patagonia so that the awining does not take off and we have some decent shelter from the constant wind which can be found in that area
Spares and tools
Overall the spares package did well in the trip there are only a few modifications and I will go through the tools to eliminate those which are not necessary in future
Changes are listed below
- Not carrying spare shocks, the truck can limp along with a damaged shock until they can be replaced
- Carry a small slide hammer to extract injectors and spare injectors in case the engine note changes in future
- Carry anti fretting grease for the rear drive flanges given the wear in these from the previous trip
- Get a better cover for the high lift Jack as it picked up a lot of dust and needed a good bit of cleaning before use
The truck as it was set up for the Roof of the World tour actually did very well, in no small part due to reading blogs like this for a few months before building the truck so I hope this is of use to some of you, if I reflect back then the key features which really stood out for the truck were as follows
- The Al-u-cab roof is a outstanding modification, it creates great space but keeps the truck neat and compact, it allows for two unrelated adults to have their own space at the end of the day and it is super fast to set up in the evening
- Keeping the ability to stealth camp without the roof up, or when I am travelling on my own, and to stop and shelter in the back of the truck while cooking without having to put the roof up was valuable in the cold, windy or wet conditions
- Having space for chairs (and table) to be easy to access for short stops really helped
- The secure roof box was super useful to get things out of the cabin and enabled the full use of the rear of the truck during the trips
- Having the fridge available to the driver and the passenger when driving along was very helpful so think about small stuff like which side the door opens on
- The heater was invaluable at night before bed and in the morning to take the edge off the cold, just made everything more cosy and snug
So thats it, overall Nelson did very well, lots of small stuff to do but really all small stuff (apart from the engine blowing up)