Field Repairs!

An expedition into the wilds is, for me, an opportunity to observe, as intimately as possible, but as distantly as possible, the astonishing beauty and brutality of what is untouched Nature; to learn and understand and to admire more of Her subtle mysteries. It carries uncertainty, danger, unexpected challenges, amazement; it is often quite poetic, but it is often practical reality.

Part of an elegantly executed and enriching expedition into the wilds is to get your vehicle and yourself there and back with the least possible hassle. Of course, one must expect to do quite a few tyre repairs if you are going to be on very rough roads or moving through virgin bush, but with a reliable vehicle that had been thoroughly checked before departure, other field repairs should be the rare exception.

However, in Africa things never work out quite as planned and if something does go wrong in the remote bush, you better know how to fix it. Else your situation may become very unromantic very quickly – you may end up doing a lot of walking; or you may not make it all…

In this case the vehicle started to overheat. It is very easy to overlook something like that (overheating, or low oil pressure), but one has to be super aware of the state your vehicle if your life depends on its correct functioning – which is I guess mostly the case, irrespective of where you find yourself…

Anyway, I fortunately noticed it (the overheating) in time. Overheating is of course a terminal condition for a vehicle that must work hard in the  extreme African heat. Not fixing it almost certainly means losing the engine, and what would follow would likely be a horror experience that could end really badly.

I was able to quickly establish that the cause was the thermostat (a device that regulates the vehicle coolant flow rate through the radiator) that had gotten stuck in the closed position – years of deposit build-up. I removed the thermostat and decided it was not worth the risk of trying to field repair it and having it get stuck again. So I left it out and closed the housing without it. Sans the thermostat the engine would run a bit cool, especially during cold conditions, but at least it would not overheat and damage anything. A new thermostat was on the list for when I got back!

I had opened the thermostat housing very carefully but the sealing gasket stuck to the sealing faces and it was damaged, so I had to make a new one (you can see it lying on the radiator top). the new gasket would have sealed adequately, but just for extra peace of mind I smeared the sealing faces with a thin layer of gasket paste as well.

Being able to do basic repairs to one’s vehicle is essential if you are going to head off into really remote regions alone. Of course, your vehicle needs to be basically reliable and in sound mechanical state at the outset, but, importantly, it needs to be repairable under field conditions. Vehicles loaded with fancy electronics are really cool when you are close to a facility with sophisticated diagnostic devices, but out in the bush a very simple electronic component failure could mean disaster.

So, one needs to carry a set of basic tools and spares and some emergency repair material. In an earlier blog posting (Preparing for the Expedition) I had discussed this in some more detail, but as you might have read there, what you take depends a lot on where you are heading and on your vehicle itself. Suffice to say that if you are unsure of the conditions you will be encountering or you are not mechanically confident or your vehicle contains a lot of key electronic control systems, make sure you are not the only vehicle in the travelling party…

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