June 4, 2007


We are carless. I know that you know how devastating it is for a U.S. American to be without a car. I don't go into town much, but just because we don't have a car, twenty times a day I think of things to do, most of which include hauling stuff back home.

El Jefe's car was wrecked last year. He was driving home at night around a curve in the highway and hit a patch of gravel on the highway, dropped by one of the many overloaded dump trucks that literally dump their wares on the highway. His car started skidding as if it was on ice and he ended up in a ditch. Thankfully there was no other traffic on the highway at the time and he was banged up but not seriously hurt.

The highway east of La Ceiba has two lanes which immediately drop off to three foot deep vee-shaped ditches, some of them concrete lined. In an incredible feat of highway safety engineering there are no shoulders whatsoever. So generally, if the trucks, buses or taxis don't kill you, the ditches will.

The problem with the Jeep is the transmission. It won't shift out of second gear. Finding someone capable of working on it will be a miracle. The last time we had this car worked on, it spent three months in San Pedro Sula. We took it to a mechanic who was highly recommended by a friend. The guy seemed capable and eager to do the work.

El Jefe had to give him US $300 up front to order some parts from the U.S. Turns out that those parts weren't the problem. Weekly phone calls to find out the status resulted in numerous promises that the car would be ready on "Friday."

Three entire months, $40 in phone calls, and three bus trips to San Pedro later, El Jefe stood there while the workers put the pieces of our car back together and then drove it home in the same shape it was in when we took it there. Who knows if we even got the parts we paid for. The shop owner was hiding somewhere.

There is a dealership that has the Jeep logo in La Ceiba. They have instilled our confidence by telling us that since we didn't buy the car from them, they can't guarantee their work. Example? "Por ejemplo, if we take the car to change the oil and forget to put oil in it, we aren't responsible." I swear to God that is what they told us.

We took the Jeep to them originally to have the computer analyzer thing done. The "check engine" light was staying on. Problem was, I have a 2000 Jeep Grand Cherokee and they tried to analyze it with a 1999 Dodge Durango computer. And then they didn't know what the computer code meant anyway because the manual is in English. They turned the "check engine" light off and charged us L.500.

This time another friend recommended someone who used to work in the U.S. and has a Jeep computer analyzer. He couldn't get a reading and said that the Jeep's computer was bad. He charged us L.300. He then took El Jefe and the Jeep to a transmission repairman. He also said the computer was bad and wouldn't touch the transmission because there might not be anything wrong with it. He suggested another repair shop that has up-to-date analyzer software. They checked the Jeep, said they couldn't get a reading because the computer was bad and charged us L.500. They also said that it might only be a bad computer and possibly nothing is wrong with the transmission.

So we get on the internet to find out about buying a computer. Turns out that there is more than one computer, an Engine Control Module and Transmission Control Module. So, which one is it? The first guy says that without a doubt it is the transmission computer. The third guy says that without a doubt it is the engine computer. He also asks how much the transmission computer costs. We found it on EBay for about $75. "That's a good price. How much is the engine computer?" Same price. "That's a good price. I'd just buy them both."

Of course, those prices don't include shipping, duties and taxes, so it could be twice as much. And then, of course, we'll probably find out that the transmission is bad anyway.

Are you beginning to see our frustration? Aaargh!
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