November 5, 2015
A sign on the last section of highway in California before crossing into Mexico read “sea level”. Immediately thereafter we rose through a bouldered desert landscape to an elevation of 6,000 ft. in a distance of just a few miles. Signs on the side of the road read “turn off air conditioners” and there were pullouts with large cisterns on the side of the road that said “water for radiators only”. We watched the gauges on the dash and noticed that the temperature was higher than usual but not alarming. The following day however in Tecate we noticed that the temperature was hot enough to pull over and allow the engine to cool. Upon checking the radiator level we found it very low. After filling it up with a combo of antifreeze and water. The temp dropped to normal levels. Over the next few days with heightened vigilance I noticed that we had a slow leak in the radiator. I knew we had to get it fixed but it was not an emergency situation since we just had to keep the fluid topped off by adding some more antifreeze every few days.
A couple of weeks later we were just outside of La Paz near the southern tip of Baja where we met an interesting, personable guy at a beach bar drinking beers and eating ceviche. He was Canadian and had been living in this little beach/fishing village for 8 years. After much conversation I mentioned that sooner or later we needed the radiator serviced in the truck. He highly recommended a “radiadore” in La Paz and so the next day we found the shop and had the experts look over the situation. Again, with my bad Spanish and their bad English we were told the radiator would have to be removed, cleaned, flushed and pressure tested for leaks. If there were leaks they would have to be repaired and everything reinstalled and refilled with the proper antifreeze. The removal, cleaning, flushing, reinstallation and refilling was quoted at 650 pesos (a little under $40!). Although I knew that fixing the leak part was going to raise the price a bit the initial cost was so low that of course I had them do the work.
These shops are very specialized and this one was all about the radiator. They were working on a radiator in there the size of a queen mattress and I was told it was to a giant earth moving vehicle. To me that radiator looked like it should be sold for scrap metal but there they were welding and braising away on it and bringing it back to service. In scale my little truck radiator looked like it would be a breeze in comparison. When they got it out of the truck they brought it over and showed it to me. It was caked with leaves, butterflies, dirt, dust and sand etc. I couldn’t see how any air could circulate through that thing. After cleaning, flushing and pressure testing they showed me a little crack in the main top portion of the radiator. It was a plastic part so no braising was possible, the entire part would have to be removed and replaced. It was basically the entire top section of the radiator. Could they get the part? Could it be removed and replaced? Was it going to cost an arm and a leg? Well the part was in stock. To these guys it was an easy fix and it would cost an additional 250 pesos ($15 more) bringing the grand total up to 900 pesos or just under $55.00 U.S. All the work was done in about an hour and a half while we waited. The housing where the radiator sits was also loaded with debris and that was all cleaned out as was the air conditioner coil that looks like a second radiator. Everything was finished and fluids were topped off and Amelia was off and running as cool as ever. Again I am astonished with the competency of these Mexican specialists.