January 19, 2014

by Stephen Jan in Guadalajara, Mexico

We arrived in Guadalajara Saturday afternoon, determined to solve the intermittent acceleration issue plaguing the Jeep since day one. Finding help on a Saturday afternoon wasn’t easy, but the two guys who looked like they were hot wiring a pickup truck parked along the road pointed us up the block to Gabriel, master mechanic. Gabriel checked the fuel pressure, and scanned the computer. Nothing came up. Next he took the car out for a spin. Driving on the local roads was fine, but the moment we hit the highway, there it was. He was unable to accelerate past 40 mph. Applying more gas stalled out the engine. With a problem confirmed, he spent the next half hour inspecting various parts of the engine. He speculated that the problem could be in the power relay or it could be the transmission. He wouldn’t know for sure until he spent more time with the car Monday. By then it was late afternoon, so he called it the day and charged us 100 pesos ($9).

Monday morning, we called Gabriel’s shop. The apprentice on the phone told to try again tomorrow because he wasnt coming in today. After waiting all weekend, that wasn’t exactly the response we were looking for. Spending another night in Guadalajara waiting around for a mechanic to come back from the weekend wasn’t in the cards. We could have found someone else, but so far, Gabriel was the only person who had even witnessed the issue, so we decided it was worth our while to try and track him down before seeking out another mechanic.

We reached the shop at 11AM and as expected, Gabriel was absent. However, rather than getting brushed away, an apprentice instantly got Gabriel on the phone. Gabriel told us that he would be in at 1PM but in the interest of time, he would call the neighborhood transmission expert to take a look at car to first confirm that that wasn’t the issue. The specialist spent 30 minutes crawling around the car and listening to the engine rev before he cleared our transmission. Gabriel hadn’t shown up by the time the transmission guy left so we took a walk in search of food.

By the time we returned from lunch, we found Gabriel already working on the car. He confidently reported the results of his investigation: a busted catalytic converter. He described 3 tests that proved his theory. First, Gabriel ran the car as-is to reproduced the issue. Next, he disconnected the oxygen sensor. The issue persisted, indicating it wasn’t a computer issue. Finally, he completely disconnected the catalytic converter - issue disappeared. All we had to do next was to replace the dysfunctional catalytic converter. Our two options were to replace it with a properly functioning unit at moderate cost, or to replace the unit with a pipe at negligible cost. Sounded simple enough.

First, we went to Autozone to find the part. Autozone told us that a catalytic converter for a 1996 Jeep Grand Cherokee would need to be special ordered and the delivery time was 7 days. No thanks. What they did have was a universal catalytic converter, so we picked that up instead. Next, we drove over to the muffler guy and asked him to perform this supposedly simple procedure. The muffler guy took a look at the part and told us we had the wrong size. The Autozone catalytic converter was for a 4 cylinder engine, the jeep was a 6 cylinder vehicle. He generously offered to sell us a “correct” universal catalytic converter at 4x the price of the one we already bought. Instead of overpaying for a part that clearly shouldn’t cost all that much, we returned to Autozone once again and asked for a 6 cycler universal catalytic converter. The sales guy told us that there’s no such thing. According to Mr Autozone, who incidentally spoke perfect english, catalytic converters are not rated by cylinder count but by diameter. The one he gave us matched the one in our car. At this point we were all pretty confused and frustrated. Compound that with the doubts cast by both Autozone and my New Jersey consultant on the viability of the catalytic conveyer solution. The simple procedure was turning out to be not so simple.

Finally, I gave up on installing the catalytic converter. We returned to the muffler guy empty handed and instructed him to fit a pipe in to replace the catalytic converter. If it turned out that that was the problem, we would install a “correct” catalytic converter. At the very least, we needed to confirm to ourselves that we have identified the problem. Mr Muffler performed what turned out to be an extremely invasive surgical procedure on the car and welded a pipe in its place. We paid him his 200 pesos and were on our way.

The drive back to the hotel wasn’t long, but it did confirm one thing - the catalytic converter that we just surgically sawed out of the underside of our car was NOT busted. The acceleration issue did reappeared, and it looked like we would have to return to Gabriel again.

We were tired and ultimately unsuccessful at completing our mission to fix the car. Instead, we spent a bunch of money and the entire day needlessly disfiguring our vehicle. We parked the car near a bus station for dinner. The pizza at 4 cheese pizza was decent, but that won’t be the most memorable able part of that dinner. We returned to the car to the sight of broken glass. and a shattered passenger side window. Stolen items: my laptop and Martha’s backpack.