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John and Mandi

us --> van --> overland
7 yrs and 6 days - end of the road

HD Off

Standing on a Precipice

Dec 22, 2015
by John
in: Ujoint, USA

The van was showing some sickness signs while we were in Yosemite so we decided to skip Sequoia National Park and Kings Canyon, heading straight to the home of Victoria and Jason - Neli’s Big Adventure. The high dose of great friends sprinkled with some K-9 therapy was exactly what we needed to ease our minds for the remaining push before leaving the States.

For any overlander that has the opportunity to hang out with Victoria and Jason, do it! They are a fantastic couple who have become very dear friends of ours. Chit-chatting over morning coffee and sitting on the front porch after Jason arrived home from work was fabulous. It's akin to long lost souls coming together again, unbeknownst of the centuries that have passed since their last meeting. Vic, J, Neli and Maya... forever in our hearts.

Potato Chip Rock, Mount Woodson in Poway, California

Don't do it! You're a young-ish couple.

Ever since we started our trip we’ve been planning a stop at my sister’s house right before entering Baja. We didn’t know what last minute bits we’d need to sort out, just that we’d surely have some. We were somewhat lackadaisical during the months preceding our pre-border hiatus, leaving almost all of our outstanding administrative items until the last minute. In our defense, Mexican insurance need not be bought in advance, having a solid plan ahead of time is helpful.

One of the nagging details we had to solve was keeping the van registration current in Florida. There isn’t an inoperable vehicle status like California, so insurance coverage is required to remain kosher. If we were to cancel our Florida vehicle insurance our licenses would be suspended. After many phone calls, exasperated discussions, and failed attempts, Mandi found an obscure statute regarding self insurance. Within a couple days we had a certificate of self insurance, for now we’ll remain legit.

Dealing with the van repairs was the most taxing. What we expected to be a rudimentary repair or adjustment to our previously rebuilt transmission resulted in the installation of a newly restored one. The cost was monumental, getting our van back to full strength paramount. We are still awaiting a verdict regarding a refund, if any, for the transmission failure.

Our front driver’s bearing unit was also on its way to the grave, much like our passenger side that died in Alaska. Fortunately we had been texting Chris about how to replace the sealed units with serviceable ones. An additional cost we weren’t prepared to endure, one we hope will prevent future problems with our hubs.

We can’t imagine how much worse it could have been if we hadn’t had my sister’s house to crash in while the van was in the shop for over three weeks. It was wonderful hanging with her and our nephew during our six week stall. She took us around and Mandi’s mom flew in to spend a few days with us before we crossed into Mexico. As stressful as it all was, leaning on family and friends is how we endure.

Reflecting back, we are currently parked on a Baja beach with wonderful new friends, we are starting to let the stress from the repairs fade away. The total amount spent to fix the van so far exceeds $7,000, the equivalent of several months on the road. In a weird twist of fate, Mandi received a small inheritance from her late grandmother a little over a month into our trip that was almost the exact same amount.

It would have been nice to have an extra bit of cushion, tack on a few more excursions, maybe splurge on a trip home to see family and friends. Instead, it has covered our unexpected repairs. We are lucky to be traveling, luckier to have absorbed our vehicle problems and remain on the road. Thank you Grandma Isabel!

Navigating by 'USA' tag - Navigate by Date
Say what? (6)
Dec 22, 2015 at 01:00 PM
Love you guys! Hope we can find away to meet up somewhere down the road! xo xo
Dec 22, 2015 at 01:17 PM
You better! We can't wait to be hanging out again. XOXO
Dec 22, 2015 at 06:02 PM
Happy Holidays to you guys! I'm glad it's working out and you can keep rolling.
Dec 26, 2015 at 08:57 PM
Thanks Eric, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! It stung but it is what it is. Van is running strong now.
Jan 6, 2016 at 12:40 PM
Found your blog via Chris at UJOR. I’ve subscribed and look forward to your future posts.

Since I’m considering going to UJOR for a conversion in a year or two, I’m especially interested in how the UJOR 4x4 worked for you in AK. How often did you need to actually deploy 4wd? From all I’ve read, the Dempster & other AK roads can be nasty in bad weather, but otherwise navigable by 2wd vehicles when dry.

I’m also interested in any further details you can (or are willing to) share about the transmission and front end failures. I know Chris doesn’t do the tranny work himself. If I understand correctly, the Stage 2 Dana axle includes new wheel bearings but not the spindles? Any more ideas on what might have happened there?

You listed some pretty rough AK highways, ones that I eventually hope to see. Equipment failures happen. That’s part of the adventurous life. People with brand new vehicles have problems. We can only do what we can do (or afford) and go from there. I wish you safe travels and joyous experiences!
Jan 6, 2016 at 03:30 PM
Hey Drew!

In all of the miles we laid down in AK and Canada we never once needed to engage 4wd or use our MaxTrax. In Baja we have used 4wd on several occasions. It was a fairly dry year in the far north so we probably lucked out. Looking back we'd probably go with a 6" lift and 35s over the 4" and 33s for additional travel, ground clearance, and handling. Smart driving can compensate to some degree but extra cushion will win out in the long run. Some of the Yukon and Alaskan roads had us feeling how shallow the travel is with the 4" kit.

We know we are not the only ones who experienced a rebuilt transmission issue, it is what it is and hopefully Chris will be able to get the sub contracted shop to own up to the failure and get us a little coin back. Mechanical issues are a part of every trip, hopefully the bulk of ours are way behind us now.

Our stage 2 had non-serviceable bearing units which were the problem with our front end. Both ultimately failed. Chris was already working on an alternative so we currently recommend the SpynTec solution we got from him. Time will tell if they can handle abuse, the roads we will encounter the further south we travel will make the ones up north seem tame. We figure most 4x4 vans only see some weekend play, full time use is an entirely different ball game.

We can't wait to see your built out van and hear about the adventures you'll experience. Yours in the struggle.
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