Today I was driving the Defender with the hood/bonnet up (totally blocking my view) whilst a mechanic crouched under the bonnet, half inside the engine bay. Wish I had a photo of that!
For the past couple of weeks, there has been a metallic ringing sound emanating from somewhere on the Defender. It had become quite annoying as it sometimes seemed like I was driving Santa’s sleigh down the street with all of the jangling going on. Efforts to pinpoint the cause of the ringing were unsuccessful. It seemed to be coming from the front half of the vehicle but that’s as close as I could come. I knew it wasn’t the engine, because the sound only occurred when the vehicle was moving. It sounded like a loose bolt or washer vibrating and ringing, but a search underneath the vehicle didn’t turn up anything.
My major worry was that the noise was caused by a worn universal joint (UJ) in one of the prop shafts, as severely worn UJs can make a metallic ringing noise. I wanted to try to sort out the problem before it resulted in a break-down in the middle of nowhere, so decided to stay the extra day in Jalal-Abad to get it taken care of.
The first stop of the day was the car wash at the service station next to my hotel. Whilst five days of mud was being washed off, I had a half-conversation (mostly gestures and pointing to pictures in the Haynes workshop manual) with a guy sitting outside the car-wash. The guy then told me to get into his car and off we went. He was taking me to show me where to find a mechanic to do the work. As it happens, there is a ‘mechanics row’ of lock up garages on the road adjacent to my hotel. I couldn’t have picked a better location – car wash on one side and a bunch of mechanics on the other.
Once the car wash was completed, I drove the short distance to ‘mechanics row’. All of these freelance mechanics work in and around the lock-ups and within a couple of minutes of me stopping, a young guy approached me and asked what I needed. Again, I was able to get past the language barrier by pointing to the prop shaft and UJ in the manual and using a few gestures. Before long, the Defender was inside a lock-up that had a pit and the mechanic was underneath disconnecting the front prop shaft. Once the prop shaft was disconnected, I checked the feel of the two flanges. Both seemed solid so I decided not to change the UJs (I carry two spare UJs on the vehicle). The Defender was pushed out of the work bay and onto the street in front of the lock-ups, as another vehicle needed to be worked on using the pit. My mechanic and his two helpers then refitted the prop shaft whilst laying on a piece of cardboard underneath the vehicle.
With the prop shaft refitted, the mechanic wanted to hear the ringing sound for himself. I drove him up and down the block and then he wanted the bonnet opened. He jumped up onto the offside wing, with his body wedged between the bonnet and the engine – his head pushed down near the engine so that he could listen for where the sound was coming from. He then motioned for me to drive so that the ringing could be heard. So there I was driving along the block, with my head sticking out of the window in a failed attempt to see if there was anything in the road ahead of me as I drove blindly towards it! Somehow we both came out of it unscathed and the mechanic had decided that the ringing was coming from underneath the vehicle and not from the engine bay.
With the mechanic now laying underneath the vehicle, he motioned for me to drive the Defender back and forth whilst he was still underneath. Can you imagine what the UK Health and Safety people would say about any of this if it took place in the UK? Anyway, I repeatedly drove back and forth, about a metre in each direction, whilst the mechanic lay on the ground, trying to pinpoint the location of the ringing sound. With the engine turned off, the mechanic called his helper for his spanners and he set about working on something before emerging from underneath the vehicle and telling me to take the Defender for a test drive along the block. The ringing had been cured. No more ‘sleigh bells’ as I drove along. It turned out that the ringing was caused by the X-Eng disc handbrake – or at least the cable to the hand brake. Once the hand brake had been adjusted, the noise was gone.
And the cost for two hours of work by a mechanic and his two helpers? $20 (plus tip). A morning well spent, as tomorrow’s drive will be more peaceful and there will be no worries about a prop shaft failing.