| Cars do brake down, we are all aware of that unpleasant fact. If you own a cell phone you don't even have to leave your vehicle to prove that AAA or a manufacturer's roadside assistance is just a phone call away. At least as long you are driving on pavement.
What if you are exploring that intriguing trail in a very remote corner of the desert and your four wheeler starts to act up, or even worse, it breaks down and you have no clue how to fix it. Help out there is not just a phone call away, even if your cell phone gets the signal out. No tow truck operator dares to put his wheels on that frame-twisting trail.
Sure you shouldn't go alone on those trips close to the center of nowhere. Exactly, you shouldn't, but many of us have and know only too well how it feels to barely make it back. Should have and would have aside, you are stuck out there. All those promises by manufacturers, insurance companies and auto clubs to always stand by you, seem to be worthless where the pavement ends.
We leave it to your imagination how much those assurances are worth when you are on a four wheeling trip in a foreign country. I mean really foreign.
But wait, there is also good news. Sometimes auto clubs and manufacturers lend a helping hand to stuck motorists even in the jungles of Africa.
| I would like to report of one such positive cases. As no surprise it involves the name Mercedes-Benz. A few years ago I was hired to guide a 7,000 mile expedition exploring the Ukraine, parts of Russia and Kazakhstan. The caravan of 75 participating 4WD vehicles and 20 support vehicles was an organizational nightmare.
Given our long trip with almost one hundred 4x4s traveling mostly grueling "roads", some things had to give sooner or later. Many things actually did. Most repairs were minor though. Flat tires, broken roof racks, and myriads of nuts and bolts that had rattled loose were the order of each day. But serious problems did occur too. Many participants felt they had to take most of their belongings with them to feel comfortable. This resulted in overloaded vehicles and breakage due to stress on major components. Broken springs, broken lug nuts and busted bearings. We found creative solutions. From welding to prayers, we used them all. So we kept going, and going, and going.
Even an exploded water pump on an older Jeep with no spare part in sight didn't stop us long. A gifted Russian mechanic in the small town of Nikolajev built one from scratch. In a few hours.
|Only a blown head gasket on a Mercedes-Benz 230 GE Gelaendewagen (G-Class) caused some serious headaches during a two day stop over in Yalta on the Crimean peninsula. This one required nothing but the genuine part. "No problem, " said the owner "I purchased special insurance from ADAC (equivalent to our AAA) that guarantees hand delivery of needed parts to foreign countries." One of our support vehicles had satellite fax and we notified the agency of our troubles. No answer. Another try. No answer.
Still no answer by the next day. ADAC may have thought the Ukraine was too remote to be considered a foreign country. Who knows. We never found out why they didn't answer.
What's next? We had to continue our treck soon. Somebody remembered that every Mercedes has a sticker with a phone number for emergency service inside the glove compartment door. The disabled Mercedes "G" displayed one too - even a fax number.
So we faxed them about our tragedy. Only 20 Minutes later, we had an answer from the Mercedes-Benz emergency center in Stuttgart/Germany: "Parts in Moscow in stock. Mechanic could be with you in two days". Now that was good news. But to wait two days in Yalta didn't quite fit our schedule.
We decided to hoist the impaired Mercedes "G" onto the bed of one of the supporting 6x6 Tatra trucks, and cart it along for two days. We would be in the Caucasus Mountains by then, and we asked Mercedes if they could have the mechanic meet us in two days on the soccer field of a small village (I forgot it's name) right below the Elbrus mountain. That soccer field was our proposed camp for the night. This was confirmed as well as from Stuttgart as from Moscow: "Our mechanic will meet you there in two days."
We rearranged the load on our four 6x6 Tatras to make enough room on one truck, winched the Mercedes "G" up on the bed and went on our merry way. Precisely two days later we set up camp in a valley of the Caucasus mountains, Europe's highest mountain, 18,481 ft. Mount Elbrus looking upon us.
Nikolai Salnikov, mechanic with Mercedes-Benz in Moscow, dressed in a blue overall with the prestigious Mercedes star was already waiting for us.
| He had an adventurous trip from Moscow behind him. The round trip airline ticket, according to Nikolai, only had cost him $15.00, but he had to bribe the pilot personally for the same amount in order to be seated. Rather have a few dollars disappear into the pilot's pocket than wait days for a seat to open up. Picture this: The only seat to be had was the one in the lavatory. "Still better than standing for three hours in the isle" Nikolai said. What really had irritated him was the cabdriver who had taken him from the airport to our camp and had demanded $40.00 for the trip. The equivalent of a worker's monthly pay.
Nikolai immediately went to work. He knew his trade, stripped the engine of some attachments, and removed the cylinder head without any hesitation. Diagnosis: Head gasket blown, cylinder head O.K. Just in case, Nikolai had brought every part with him that would possibly have been needed. Some of us assisted him at work. So it took only a few hours and the "G" was ready to roll again.
Everyone in our group agreed that this was a fine example of how road side assistance for a good 4WD vehicle should be executed. Especially when you are stuck a hundred years east of your home.
more of Carlos' adventures
4x4abc.com :: 4WD 101 :: Jeep 101 :: 4x4 Training :: SUV Trips
rubicon-trail.com :: baja101.com
JimRogers :: M-Class :: G-Class
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