We are trying to plan several more overland trips :) before we leave Africa later this year :( , two that will be quite long. However, we won’t have a sweet Land Cruiser at our disposal for those expeditions, so I have been trying to baseline our 2001 Mitsubishi Pajero before we start building an overland plan.
(Quick editorial note: a lot of this post and the one that will follow is drawn from some correspondence that I sent to Rufant and Hammerheadfistpunch, as well as some exchanges down in the comments section of previous posts. I thought I’d synthesize some of that discussion here and see where it goes.)
We are looking at a ten day drip next month, a four day trip in April, another four day trip in May, and then one more epic loop around southern Africa in June/July (possibly up to six weeks) before we check out of here. The question, of course, is how much do we invest in a truck we’re ultimately going to sell in just a few months? The basic mechanical work will probably come out in the wash when we resell, but there’s very little market for the camping goodies around here. Do we just suck it up and accept that we’ll lose money on a rack, roof top tent, etc. and a calculate it as a trip expense, or take a different route?
First, let’s get to that “baseline” question. The big blue Pajero was in need of some essential repairs and regular service after we returned from Namibia, the most pressing of which was the complete and total lack of air conditioning.
My mechanic here in Gaborone is from Serbia. Micky is about 6'7", and he’s got huge hands with a crocodile’s bite of a grip that will absolutely mash your tiny mitt when he greets you. If he’s in a particularly good mood, you might even get a crushing one-armed bro-hug. He’s got a crooked nose, and he chain smokes and yells constantly at his techs in a mixture of Serbian, Setswana, and English. He carries around magnificent wads of cash in both front pockets.
Micky’s much smaller brother and his kind and pretty wife also work in the shop. Hatchet-faced eastern European men with thick gold chains and dark sunglasses hang around the place in grim silence, as Batswana techs fiddle with their big murdered-out Bimmers and Mercs. These intimidating characters are in stark contrast to Micky’s joviality and enthusiasm. He’s downright bubbly compared to those guys... whoever they are. They don’t introduce themselves.
The shop itself is a cavernous affair - your standard mix of cinder block and pre-fab. Cars and trucks in various states of disassembly are parked nose to tail inside and out, awaiting either mechanical or body work. What’s immediately striking, however, is how much of that work is being done with simple hand tools. There is not a single lift in the entire garage, and the constant hum and PSSSSHHHHT of compressors and airtools one normally finds in a big automotive shop are completely absent. It’s all jack stands and spanners at Pop Motors. Entire engines lay dismantled on the spotless floor, the techs working cross-legged on the concrete for want of an engine stand.
Micky appears to have every single one of the thousands of second-hand parts in his inventory memorized, including all of their prices. Of course, he also trades in used cars, and he loaned one to me - a Japanese market Audi A4 2.0 with Mercedes AMG rims (?) - while the Pajero was in the shop. It had “FOR SALE” and his phone number stuck to the windows in 12"-tall white vinyl.
“Steef. You take zis Audi, okay. Drive it around. Park in busy places.”
“You sell zis car for me, okay? Okay, Steef? I give you discount on labor. Okay.”
Okay, Micky, okay.
I got the Paj back from the Serbian on Saturday, and left $1200.00 USD lighter.
I did not sell the Audi.
It turned out the A/C compressor and the condenser were shot. Both were replaced, with all new lines, and, of course a refrigerant refill. In addition, the power steering had been pretty noisy lately, so that pump and line had to be replaced; and, the moaning sound from the rear end turned out to be brake pads at the end of their service life. So new brakes all around, rotors turned.
New drive belt. Transmission vacuum lines repaired. Oil change. Various fluids topped up and joints lubed. It’s like it just rolled off the factory line now - the A/C is especially icy.
Bonus! The previously dead, and hilariously primitive “infotainment” system (“Mitsubishi Multi Communication System”) now seems to be working where it had been dark before. However, the interface is all in Japanese, as are the buttons on the dash, and the navigation menu seems to think we’re in Tokyo. It looks like there are some tutorials online about how to get it to function properly, so I’ll have to play with that.
The kicker, of course, is that back home I could have done nearly all of that work (except maybe the A/C recharge) in my own garage over the course of a long weekend. It kills me to have to pay someone else, but I just don’t have the tools or especially the space here. Micky did cut us a deal on the labor after all, and at least I was able to replace the battery on my own (which gave up the ghost when we were on our trip over the holidays). The liabilities of a 17 year old vehicle, I suppose.
That big bill on Saturday was painful, especially when new tires are also probably on the horizon. They’re ok on tread-depth, but I do NOT trust these Hankooks to take us to the grocery store, never mind Zambia: four punctures in the last six months, all but one in city driving.
The sidewalls are peeling rubber like three-day-old sunburn after only a few minor curb scrapes. Needless to say I’ve been pretty disappointed in the Dynapros. Hammerhead suggests they are excellent in the snow, and I have found their performance in sand, mud, and on rocky terrain pretty decent so far. But that puncture problem has me all kinds of nervous.
I believe it could use new shocks soon as well (and Micky confirmed this), so I might think about a very mild lift kit (the Ironman version isn’t terribly expensive), coupled with a taller tire. The Pajero will never be a rock crawler, and it is inherently articulation- and break-over angle-challenged. So there’s no real point in going wild in the suspension department. But it would be nice to have a little more capacity in the springs, and fresh dampers at the very least.
Once the tire and suspension situations are sorted, I think this son-of-a-son-of-a Dakar winner will be ready to rock. The next question then, is, how do we organize a camping strategy that is livable for long periods, but doesn’t leave us holding the bag with a bunch of overland equipment that we can’t sell and can’t take home? More on that next time.