Catastrophic Breakdowns

When have you been on a trip and had a catastrophic breakdown that left you stranded?

Two events this week, that have brought up this issue. The first is friend Justin Brogan, with his Defender 127, and five days of clutch and fuel starvation trouble, finally called in the tow truck. His breakdowns began in northern Botswana.

Second was a FaceBook friend. He is looking for a replacement for his Defender as he wants more comfort. When the Toyota shouts arrived, he rejected them outright, recounting what sounds like a torrid experience of a Cruiser breaking down five times in Namibia.

I have had a few.

  • Range Rover. 1984. Namibia. Electrical fault caused engine to stop. Followed by carburettor failure causing engine to stop running some more.
  • Range Rover. 1986. Botswana. Oil pump failure. Towed home from Francistown to Joburg, about 1000 kms.
  • Range Rover 1987. Water sucked through broken diff-lock actuator vacuum pipe while launching a boat. The V8 was destroyed. I rebuilt it myself and a great learning curve began.
  • Mercedes G-Wagen 290GD. 2001. Johannesburg. ECU packed up. Caused by the immobilizer that was fitted at Mercedes’ insistence. But the ECU has its own immobilizer. And the two systems got chatting, had a fall out and stopped the car. So Mercedes SA loaned me a vehicle for the trip I was going on.
  • Mercedes G-Wagen 290GD. 2002. Cape Town. Fuel starvation. Engine in limp-mode. Not clear on the exact cause.
  • Mercedes G-Wagen 290GD. 2002. Long distance drive. Turbo-charge failure. (due to bad maintenance. My fault) Another huge learning curve.
  • Toyota Land Cruiser, 4,2 diesel, Cape Town, near my home. Immobilizer failure.

I personally have also had triumphs. The longest, most arduous trips I have been on have been on, were in my first Range Rover, my Defender 110 V8 and my several Land Cruisers.

Looking back since at my first 4×4 purchase in 1982, of the ±12 major trips done in the Range Rover, only two were completely breakdown-free. My Defender was great. Similarly, on the 12 or so trips, probably half of them were fraught with worries about the mechanicals. My two G-Wagens were fantastic, but I would not rate it highly when it comes to reliability. They both gave me trouble and both required far more maintenance that any of my Toyotas.

I am now on my fifth Land Cruiser. Of all of my trips, perhaps the most arduous, have been done in these. One had a smoky engine, caused by bad injector timing, one shed an air-conditioner fan-belt, and the same one a year later, shed a alternator fan-belt, but because it has duel-redundancy, I caught it on a regular morning inspection. The immobilizer breakdown happened just three days prior to my Angola, Okavango 66-day expedition, and the Toyota dealership was worse than useless. I managed to get it started and drive it there. They then wasted the next hours looking for the ECU. In frustration I ended up yelling at the service manager, that if he would just listen to his customer, he might actually get somewhere. I was trying to explain that that Land Cruiser doesn’t have an ECU, but who would listen to a dumb customer? Right? The day ended well. I called my wife who brought down my tool box, and I leapt under the bonnet, having deduced that it had to be the immobilizer at fault. I performed an immobilizerectomy and the engine ran again.

And that is the sum total of my history of major, brain damaging breakdowns. And that is why at this stage of my life I rather like Land Cruisers. I trust them more than others. They give me the same thrill as my Land Rovers, and even my G’s once gave me. And, I don’t want to spend any more weekends fixing my 4×4. I spent the ‘80s doing that, and that is enough for one lifetime.

But surely it is not about the brand, or which faceless corporate giant built your 4×4. It’s about one’s private personal experience, and the thrill a great 4×4 can give.



4x4 breakdowns

Engine replacement therapy for my 1971 Range Rover