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third-world autocare

Kenyan roads are not kind to automobiles; off-roading on self-drive safaris is even less so. After a few trips on roads whose questionable surface almost made us regret leaving the city [see African massage], our car started making all sorts of odd noises. At one point, S considered calling into NPR’s Car Talk to ask for advice on why our car was whistling and tweeting like a bird. Sometimes the squeaking would go away for a day or two, but then we would drive over a bad patch of road, the underbelly of the car would rattle, and the noises would return.

On top of it all, our battery was acting up. In the US, we only use sealed, maintenance-free batteries. Our car, on the other hand, came with a maintenance battery that apparently required water or electrolyte fluid to be periodically added. When we first got the car, we had to jump start it about once a month. We chalked it up to our own forgetfulness (leaving the lights on), but eventually the evidence that our battery was in trouble became insurmountable. When the car refused to start multiple times in the course of a 2-day period, we reluctantly reconciled ourselves to the fact that we needed to get our car checked out again.

After our last mechanic experience [see take-home auto care], we decided to test out someone with an actual shop. On the recommendation of our neighbor, whose job entails maintaining his section’s motorpool vehicles, we had his mechanic come pick up the car to take it back to his garage.  The diagnosis for our car woes seemed reasonable: we needed new front cap washers, shock bushes, and bottom shock bolts and nuts on the front right wheel to solve the tweeting problem, and a screw needed to be tightened on the chassis to stop the rattling. Unfortunately, Kenyan service is remarkably lacking in expediency or efficiency. S had to pester the mechanic with multiple phone calls a day, calling him on several different phone numbers, just to get a quote. If it were up to this guy, the car might have sat in his shop indefinitely.

The rattling and squeaking fixed, our new mechanic added some electrolytes to the battery and drove it back to our house. The next morning the car refused to start again and we were obliged to pronounce the battery dead. S spoke to our neighbor again and called a company he recommended to order a new battery. This company sends a delivery guy on a motorcycle to one’s home to install the battery. He arrived after S had come home from work, took the old battery out of the car, opened the box he had been toting, and only then realized that the warehouse had given him the wrong battery. With dusk rapidly approaching, S silently cursed the home-delivery company, called up a nearby tire shop, hitched a ride with our next-door neighbor, and convinced the store manager to allow one of his guys to work overtime and drive back to the house to install the new battery.

D had asked for the car to be fixed as his birthday present. Well, the car was fixed for a few blissful hours. While out for a celebratory sushi dinner, however, the skies opened up and it poured like we’ve never seen before. In addition to uncountable potholes, Nairobi’s streets also have a drainage problem. During the rainy season, whole sections of the city become impassible. We had to wade through almost knee-high water in the parking lot, and by the time we drove home, some of the streets were completely flooded. Even with our high clearance, we managed to get water in the engine. The next day, starting and idling the car made it vibrate and shake as if it had a bad cold. Thankfully, we live close to our new mechanic and we were able to bring the car in Friday before close of business to get the spark plugs dried. After a long, arduous week, the car appears to be back in running order. All we have left to do is to replace the windshield, which is now sporting a second crack after our latest safari.

One Comment Post a comment
  1. Lissa #

    What an accidental adventure. I will no longer complain about the undercarriage rattle on my Subaru; or will at least think of you when I do!

    November 15, 2011

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