Guess where we are!

So Jacqui and I are sitting in a familiar place yet again. Several times we’ve returned, and each time seems a little more dramatic than the last. On this occasion we arrived riding on the tailgate of our friends’ truck to spend yet another Dolphin-less night at Tres Amigos. Shall we rewind a bit?

Cruising out of Tres Amigos in the morning, after an hour long battle to the death with a stubborn blinker bulb, we tasted the sweet, liberating air of the open road. However, about ten miles out of town our highway bliss was rudely interrupted by the sound of dragging metal. Full of all the paranoia that comes from a piece of machinery fresh from repair, we pulled over as soon as possible to inspect. The noise subsided before we came to a halt, and nothing was found abnormal under our Dolphin. ‘Perhaps just a piece of road debris’ was running through my mind.

A few more miles down the road the noise returned and our tensions rose, road debris doesn’t usually strike twice after all. A second inspection found nothing again, so I got back in the Dolphin and pulled the e-brake on a theory. Sure enough, it was limp, so I decided something must have broke inside the rear brakes that was now causing the noise.

Finally the decision was made, we were returning to the mechanic to have them take a look. My thought was that during differential reassembly, they must have made a mistake causing our e-brake problem. With only a few miles left to go we were startled by an explosion!

The Dolphin was clunking, grinding, and the rear of the car was shaking violently while we slowed rapidly. Being no stranger to cars crapping out on me on the freeway, I remained calm and steered us toward the shoulder. Stopped, I leapt from the vehicle and crouched down to see the smoke billowing from the center of the differential. I called to Jacqui to grab the fire extinguisher in case it turned to flames, luckily we didn’t have to use it.

Standing on the side of the road again, our morale hit the lowest it has ever been on the trip. We had been working so hard to get to this day only to meet defeat. Since Jacqui and I are growing quite accustomed to being on the side of the road, we made ourselves comfortable. Grabbing some snacks, water and our fold-up chairs, we found a shade tree to wait out the tow truck.

If I thought our last Mexican tow truck was a sketchy situation, this one blew it out of the ballpark. This driver loaded the Dolphin on front-first, but was unable to pull our rig all the way on the flatbed. This meant that almost all of the weight was BEHIND his rear axle. I’m really surprised that the tow truck didn’t stand up on two wheels during loading. To top it off, there was so much weight on the rear of his truck, he couldn’t lock the flatbed down. So with the flatbed still slightly at an angle, he used ratcheting straps to hold down the bed before we set sail. It would seem the rule of thumb here is, if you’re carrying a dangerously precarious load, drive fast. As we cruised down the freeway passing cars and busses I refused to even take a glance at the Dolphin. At this point if she was going to fall off the truck, I couldn’t care less, I just didn’t feel like watching it happen. We survived yet another tow truck ride in Mexico and pulled into the mechanic shop where they were ready for us.

Bumper dragging while the Dolphin gets loaded on another tow truck.

The winch wouldn't pull the Dolphin any closer, so we drove down the road like this. Notice the flatbed is still angled back because it wouldn't lock down.

Skipping ahead a day, we got the conformation that the differential had blown up. Our friend Dani came to the rescue again, and we set out to explore the yonke (junkyard). Unfortunately, finding a dually rear end like ours was not going to happen. But I had a theory, we might be able to pull apart one of these wrong differentials, and find that on the inside they were the same. You see, car manufacturers commonly reuse the same stuff in different outfits to save costs. So after scouring the available Toyota rear ends, we disassembled a diff from a 4x4 pickup and found that it was interchangeable. The 4x4 rear end was pleasingly more heavy duty, and visually appeared different, but the gear ratio was the same, and it was plug-and-play to install it in our Dolphin. Victory!

Exploring the yonke

Possible donor differential 

A 4x4 Toyota we decided to explore further

Parts, parts, parts, sorted out and ready to grab.

Hmm...wish i had known there was a good door nearby before.

Nature will reclaim

When we returned to the mechanic shop they were swamped. They told us they were going to do the work for free, but didn’t have time to do it till later. With my new education on the inner working of differentials, I said I’d do it and hopped into the pit. It didn’t take long to get her back together, but when it was done, we were left with a new problem. Our poor old girl would start shaking violently above 40mph.

Old and new side by side.

You can see how all the teeth sheered off.

Getting greasy in the pit

Now that I’ve had some time to reflect, Jacqui and I are simply dealing with a logical chain of events. The differential housing was bent during the accident, so the mechanic shop straightened it and put it back together. What we didn’t know at the time was that the differential gears had been bent as well. So when everything was reassembled, we were shoving a bunch of straight parts into a bent gear, which when driving 50+ miles per hour, generated massive amounts of heat until the entire assembly seized and shattered.

After installing our junkyard gear assembly, everything differential related was squared away. However, the impact of the differential freezing had jarred the driveshaft (the long steel rod that transfers rotating power from the engine to the differential), misaligned it, and was causing the vibration. In other words, one problem leads to another. I’ve since spent many hours working away at the Dolphin to straighten everything out. So now Jacqui and I are hoping that everything is golden to make our third attempt at leaving Tres Amigos. The plan is to spend a few hours driving around Mazatlan until we have the upmost confidence that it’s safe to continue our journey. Fingers crossed.

Pulling over Dani's pit to do some driveshaft work.

Driveshaft out.

Dani's shop is a little rustic

Cruising back to Tres Amigos in the evening.

If you need a good mechanic in Mazatlan.