Worst case

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Arizona and New Mexico; back in the USA
We were welcomed into the USA in damp conditions, but we felt a little safer after the paramilitaries on the other side of the border fence had given us directions; rain or no rain. From Organ Pipe Cactus N.M., we were accompanied by low-hanging clouds and lots of raindrops in a northerly direction. This time we followed the well-maintained state roads, as we wanted to visit a Jeep workshop in Tucson. My trusted car mechanic in the Allgäu (Allrad Pauli) recommended replacing the rear wheel bearings, as the many illuminated indicator lights signalled some kind of disaster. So, don’t take any chances!

Out in the Ironwood Forest, we found a place to stay for the coming weekend. It was damp again and the sky favoured the otherwise very dry area with plenty of water. The paths were already soaked and the sticky sand clogged the tread of our AT tyres within a very short space of time, which led to some great rutting. A lot of fun for one of us (Tom), my co-driver (Chantal) clung more and more to the grab rail to avoid being whirled through the car. 🙂

After the rain, the sun was shining in Tucson and we wanted to get on with our plans. But it was the weekend and all the specialist garages were closed. We decided to drive on, somewhat negligently, as this vehicle fault had been present for some time. We were convinced that it would surely last until we reached the next town. So we continued our journey somewhat carefree in an easterly and later north-easterly direction. After visiting the Pueblo settlement in Acoma, we were supposed to head straight to the workshop in Albuquerque.

But we didn’t get that far: once we passed the Santa Catalina Mountains, the joy of driving came to an end. On the bumpy road, our car, or rather the automatic transmission, did what it wanted. It shifted up, then down again and the engine howled when the torque converter was open. Well, that was probably it; end of the journey! After checking the error messages, we reset the brake monitoring light and, lo and behold, our automatic gearbox was doing its job again. Why this happened is beyond me; what does the brake fault light have to do with the transmission? Manual shifting via the Tiptronic was no longer possible, but we were able to drive back towards Tucson.

We crept up the gradients on the motorway and finally the gearbox seized up. I never knew that there were so many warning lights in a car and that they could all light up at once. On the flat sections of motorway, everything recovered somewhat and we were confident that we would be able to ask for help at a Jeep workshop before the end of the day. But we didn’t get that far; our Jeep simply stopped in the middle of a junction! The gearbox went from emergency running to “nothing at all”. We were sure to be met with a concert of honking horns and the familiar “bird” from Europe told us to finally clear the road.

Our adrenaline levels were already high from the journey back, and now they shot out of our heads right at the top. We looked at each other questioningly and didn’t know what to do. In no time at all, Chantal switched from the passenger side to the driver’s seat and I tried to push the three and a half tonnes to the side of the road. I should have known that you don’t just push such a heavy load away. Nevertheless, I wanted to give it a go, until a terrible pain went through my right calf. Perhaps the honking Americans had seen my scream and my face contorted in pain. It was suddenly quiet. One of them then dragged us to the next petrol station in his heavy pick-up, he didn’t want to or couldn’t go any further. Even when we asked him to tow us the three blocks to the Jeep garage, he refused. We don’t know whether it was because of the arsenal of weapons in his driver’s cab, but it could have been a reason.

After cooling down for a while and resetting a fault, we were able to drive to the workshop ourselves. Unfortunately, we were not the only “jeepers” who wanted help from a specialist and so we were given an appointment for the following week; there was no chance that any technician would be able to read out the faults any sooner and we would have to wait a little longer for repairs. Frustrated, we got back in the Jeep and drove through Tucson at rush hour. There is another Jeep workshop on the opposite side of town.

With much trepidation and pain in the calf (Tom), we chugged through the city, which in the end – more or less – went well. But the second workshop also said it was closing time, come tomorrow morning and we’ll connect the diagnostic computer to our car.

We asked if we could stay on the garage premises for the night. It was explained to us in a friendly but unmistakable manner that no people were allowed on the premises at night; safety. So we drove a few kilometres to the Tucson Mall and looked for a quiet spot for the night in the spacious car park. But no sooner had we put the saucepan on the cooker than there was a flash next to our car and a security guard told us that we couldn’t stay here for the night. The car could, but we would have to go somewhere else.

Somewhat frustrated, we found an RV park next to the motorway late at night. For a lot of dollars we could at least stay there for a few hours without being turned away. We really wanted to be at the garage very early. So we were at the garage gates before seven o’clock. It took a whole five hours for the technicians to come to us with a sheet full of error messages. It was all a mystery to them and they suspected a faulty ABS computer. A replacement would not be available for another two to three weeks and other garages did not want to give away their ABS computers from the spare parts warehouse.

I tried to explain to them the knowledge of Peter Pauli from the distant Allgäu that the whole problem came from the wheel bearing play at the rear, where the speed sensor for the gearbox was located. If faulty signals were coming from there, it would mess up the entire control electronics. But I soon had the feeling that both my and Pauli’s knowledge was worth nothing and that only they here in Jeep-land would understand anything about this car. When I asked if the car had been checked for wheel bearing play, they said no and were still looking at the printout of the many fault codes.
We were given another appointment for the following week, where further checks were scheduled. Great!

Disappointed, we looked for a place to stay on a larger campsite where there was some infrastructure and Chantal could treat my damaged leg better. We both thought that I had torn a muscle and took it easy on my leg. Before the upcoming weekend, I wrote a detailed email to the service manager in which I reiterated Pauli’s suspicions in the hope that something could be done to repair it soon and that no further clarifications would be made.

My health situation had deteriorated in the last few days and walking without sticks was no longer possible. But there was some movement in the workshop and – oh wonder – the chief mechanic changed the rear wheel bearings. After five hours of waiting in the workshop lobby, the head mechanic came back beaming from the successful test drive; “yes, he’s never driven a diesel like this before!” After topping up the missing gearbox oil and replacing other wearing parts, the work was done. When it came to payment, I (Tom) was amazed at the high prices for the spare parts. Great America and all parts come from the Far East!

It was “all’s well that ends well” for the Jeep and our mobile home did the job it was meant to do and the many fault lights were all dark. Instead, I (Tom) struggled with increasing pain in my lower right leg, which had become swollen and coloured. Thanks to the automatic transmission, I was able to move the vehicle with my left foot, which took some getting used to. We also changed our route and took the direct route towards Alamogordo/New Mexico.

Despite further pain, we didn’t skip the San Francisco Mountains and travelled through wonderful landscapes on many side roads. It was spring and fresh plants were thriving everywhere and the many flowers enchanted the area. It was soon the weekend again when we spent the night east of Silver City in the Mimbres Mountains. In the meantime, Chantal also had to do all the work at our evening camps; I couldn’t get a proper grip and hobbled after her with my sticks. My lower right leg was inflated like a balloon and ached as if it was about to burst.

Instead of driving back to Silver City, we continued our journey and wanted to visit a walk-in clinic in Las Cruces. But in the meantime it was Saturday again and the clinic we wanted was closed. We didn’t want to go to the emergency ward at the local hospital as we feared too many obstacles, although the redness on our lower leg continued to increase. We were also a bit overwhelmed by now and suddenly didn’t really know what my injury could be. All measures to alleviate the situation failed.

In Alamogordo, we finally managed to visit a walk-in clinic, where after three hours we were referred to the local hospital. They couldn’t do any further investigations for me (Tom), nothing was broken. The problem was much deeper than we realised! So we had to be very patient that Monday afternoon. Many people were already sitting in the waiting room hoping for an early appointment. After the initial triage and preliminary clarifications, the wait was never-ending. At some point you no longer know where to sit and we were always amazed that people arriving later were given priority.

Later in the afternoon, after about 5 hours of waiting, the time had come for us too and we were led into an examination room. Once again the many repetitive explanations, which was very demanding in this particular area. Although a live translator was called in via the Internet, this did not lead to the desired success despite all the efforts; no one was available in German and even Chantal had difficulty following the conversion in French. Translation programmes in the mobile phones helped in the end and the special technical terms were no longer an obstacle.

However, the diagnosis was somewhat devastating for us: when we tried to push in Tucson, it wasn’t muscle tissue that gave way, but a vein must have suffered a tear, which was also the cause of the swelling and the blue discolouration in the foot. I was sentenced to expensive medication for treatment, and in a fortnight’ time we will have to visit an emergency centre again on our onward journey to find out what to do next. The doctor in charge was worried about our return journey to Europe at the end of June. She just said that it wouldn’t be easy and that everything would be very sporty.
Well, great prospects!

We returned to the campsite late in the evening and sat outside for a while in the mild night. We exchanged a few words, as there were once again many new questions.
Perhaps we need to stay in America?

Chantal and Tom/April 2024

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