By Brooke Gazer
A lifetime ago, one of my University professors assigned us to read “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”. This was a Philosophical book using a motorcycle trip across America as a literary vehicle. The premise was that there were two kinds of people in the world: those who understood how things worked and could fix them and those who were clueless. The author was of the former group which he labeled as “classical thinkers” and his companions were a well meaning but inept couple of “romantic thinkers”. You didn’t need to be Einstein to figure out who was not going to reach California.
I got my first car the same year and was warned to check the oil frequently but the first time I tried to add oil it made a mess all over the pavement. Who knew that you check the oil in one place and add it somewhere else? You can guess which category I fall into. My “better half” knows where to add oil and has some idea about what is under the hood but he would not have made it to California either. This is one of the reasons we chose to live in Mexico. There are plenty of people willing and able to fix things for us.
During our first year in Huatulco we had the brakes checked and were assured they were OK but a few weeks later they failed on highway175, half way between Pochutla and Oaxaca. The brake pads were completely worn through but “technically” there was still some wear left on the brakes when they were checked. The lesson was that in Mexico you must develop the ability to ask the right question. The brakes had some wear but were still functioning… so they were OK, we failed to ask “how much” wear they had. Total cost for brake pads and a tow truck going two hours each way was under $200.USD. I shudder to imagine what the bill might have been north of the border.
Huatulco is a small town with limited facilities; no one seems to carry much stock and there is no large parts store. Most car parts have to be special ordered and your car could be tied up for a while, especially if the wrong part was ordered or shipped. This has happened frequently but fortunately taxis are relatively cheap while you wait. The out of stock situation may be one of the reasons that the mechanics here are so resourceful.
By the time we retired the car we brought to Mexico, our “taller de mecanico” was practically holding it together with duct tape and paper clips. After rebuilding the distributor 4 times over the course of about 18 months, he was ashamed to admit it could no longer be salvaged and a new one must be ordered. A lot of the repair parts come from China and are very poor quality so if you can get them it is worth paying for a premium brand name part.
On the subject of spare parts, if you are planning to bring a car to Mexico, save yourself some misery by bringing a model which is sold here. When a water hose blew out the mechanic was able to do a “temporary fix” but he warned us not to take the car out on the highway. It was impossible to find the correct hose for that make in Mexico so we had someone send us one from Canada. What really hurt, after paying shipping and duty, was that the thing was actually made in Mexico…exclusively for the export market. Thank you NAFTA!
We once took our Ford Windstar down to the dealer in Salina Cruz to have them analyze it with the Ford scope. I am not sure if they saw a gringo wallet coming but I do know we could have bought new vehicle for less than the quote they gave us. According to the print out, literally everything short of the upholstery needed replacing! On the other hand perhaps we just asked the wrong questions. We took it back to the local guys and although it took some trial and error, a year later it is still on the road.
Overall the “talleres de mechanico” do a good job. They tinker, they adjust and eventually they diagnose problems making every effort to repair the vehicle in the most expedient way possible. They are exactly what that long forgotten author had referred to as “classical thinkers”. Unfortunately, vehicles are getting more complicated with sophisticated computer systems. Perhaps those “classical thinkers” will one day become as obsolete as we “romantics”. In the mean time we are thankful to have a somewhat reliable auto repair service.
Brooke Gazer operates Agua Azul la Villa, a bed and breakfast in Huatuclo.