Monday, 16 July 2018

The slow grind of gearbox trouble

Ever since we set out on this trip we’ve had some trouble with Blac’s gearbox. First it was just difficult to change gears, but eventually we had this list of troubles:
  • Noise in 5th gear. 
  • Getting stuck in 2nd and also in reverse.
  • Play in the output shaft, 
  • Oil leak and 
  • Last oil change (gearbox) revealed silver speckles (7000km ago)
Initially to fix this H looked at replacing the gearbox with a second hand one. Parts for Blac (a Mercedes Benz G-Wagon) aren’t cheap. A new box could be sourced for about €3500. H started looking and asking and used ones were offered to us for €700-1000. 

But, this gearbox was already a used replacement of the original. H had replaced it 30,000 kilometres ago, and it started troubling us 10,0000 kilometres ago. So, we decided that used gearboxes are too much of an unknown. 

This left 2 choices: new or reconditioned. I always want to save money so I was pushing for the reconditioned option, which we were told should cost in the vacinity of €1500 (a price can’t be firmly quoted until the gearbox has been opened to inspect what’s needed). 

Finally we decided on getting a reconditioning done, which meant we had better find a place and get it done. We figured it should take 3-10 days depending on parts availability. H would need to remove the gearbox and hand it to them, and Blac would have to stay wherever it was. We’d like to stay in Blac too, as this is our home and anyplace else is an extra hassle and expense. 

We know that country places suit us better. So, we sought a gearbox specialist who wasn’t in a city. Freight, phones, and internet make these businesses able to source whatever is needed while they have less overheads. Rural industrial businesses are also more likely to have more space, and we were hoping we could remove the gearbox right there and camp onsite. 

Lucky for us we found Neil Engineering in Glengarnock. Stuart and Andrew are super friendly, know gearboxes, and had a yard more than big enough for us to camp in (not the most picturesque or quietest of camps though). 

Unluckily for us, amongst the parts needed 5th gear wasn’t available. I mean, eventually we could get one as Mercedes Benz will make such parts on demand, but we couldn’t find one sitting on a shelf somewhere. 

That was until the Neil brothers looked in their storage container and found they had a whole used G-wagen gearbox sitting there. In fact, turns out it had been sitting there about 25 years and long been forgotten. 

Finger crossed as it was opened, it was discovered that it was in much better condition than ours and 5th gear was fine. It however couldn’t be swapped into Blac as the bell housing had the starter on the opposite side to ours. But parts we needed were usable. 

Parts and special oil did have to be bought in, some from Germany,  so the job did end up taking a while to complete. Added to this, when we paid our bill and left it wasn’t quite right so we brought it back to them after driving 30km. The guys were good though about rectifying the problem. These things happen, they had made an error but it wasn’t a big problem. They could fix it and it’s this and the attitude that matters. 

Unfortunately, on a subsequent reinstallation of the gearbox H managed to damage the bell housing, by kind of shearing off the thread. It was buggered. But we had a spare: in Belgium, on the gearbox that this one had replaced 30,000 kilometres ago. With help from H’s brother and a neighbour we had DHL pick it up on Saturday morning and we had it by Monday morning. And it was good to see it opened by Stuart and Andrew and see what condition it was in. 

Finally, it’s all back together and we are driving down the road after 3 weeks of lingering around Ayrshire! (Although we did leave for a few days in the middle while extra parts cane in). 

The final price? Well we’re so glad we didn’t spend €700-1000 on a used gearbox because we just got a reconditioned gearbox for £850 (€960). Plus we spent at extra €255 with DHL, but that shouldn’t have been part of the story. Even with the DHL bill it’s cost us less than our original budget of €1500. 

We’ve learnt lots about gearboxes too: and 30,000 km ago we shouldn’t have replaced that one with a used one, we should have gotten the one we had reconditioned. 

The brothers at Neil Engineering have told us our reconditioned gearbox should last the life of Blac.... but they couldn’t possibly imagine how much more we want to do in Blac. 

The reconditioned Gearbox ready to go back into Blac.

The reconditioned Gearbox ready to go back into Blac. 

Inside a gearbox this is what a gear looks like.

Inside a gearbox this is what a gear looks like. 

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