This is related to my 1991 Mitsubishi Delica, the dumpster fire service visit to Nomadic Vans in Ketchum, Idaho.
One of the perks of this vagabond lifestyle is flexibility. I had flown back to Tampa for some medical services. While I was there, I was helping my previous neighbor market his NuCamp trailer. He is also traveling, but bouncing around warm tropical spots.
He is renting his house to a nice couple, and the guy is a certified car nut, the guy you want for a neighbor. . He had a 1991 Mitsubishi Delica Japan market van. These vans are unique in their 4x4 setup and rugged Diesel engine. Not fast, but agile. Think mountain goat with wheels.
I made the mistake of letting my usual sarcastic humor surface and telling this guy that his Delica was withering in the sun of Florida, when it deserves to be in the PNW, amongst pine trees and mud. He lets me know it's for sale and he was motivated. What do you know? Now I own it. DOH!
Driving the Delica back to Spokane was relatively uneventful. It's got a highway speed of around 60 mph, max. This is due to a 75 hp Diesel engine and tall gears for off road use. It has high and low range 4 wheel drive. I'm used to driving slow in the Balboa, with it's 3 speed automatic and 4:10 rear end, so this was not a shock to me. Aside from the rear u-joints giving up in Albuquerque, and adding some fluids, things went smoothly.
Arriving back in Spokane, where the Balboa was waiting for my return, I arranged to take the Delica to a specialty shop in Ketchum/Sun Valley called Nomadic Vans. The shop was recommended, and this 4 man show specializes in the Mitsubishi Delicas. Nomadic Vans in Ketchum, Idaho, sells and repairs Mitsubishi Delica vans of various years, according to their website.
Now, Idaho is a big state. Everything in the west is big. On a map, Sun Valley looks like a quick bebop down the road. It's actually 500 miles from Spokane. No problem, it had to be done. Everyone raved about these guys, and I figured it was better to let experienced folks work on the van, rather than have someone learn how, on my nickel.
The trip was beautiful, traveling across the autumn forests of the Idaho mountains. It was October and snow was already falling in the higher elevations. This is rural Idaho, with all it's old school western charm. Small towns, real people and limited facilities. You fuel up when you can, not when you want.
After dropping off the Delica at Nomadic Vans, on the date instructed, I was told to expect a month before it was ready. Based on other feedback, this was expected. I headed out to pick up a nearly new Toyota 4Runner from Hertz, so that I could get back to Spokane. I followed the Google maps route and learned a lesson about the west. The first 30 miles was up a dirt and gravel road, through mountain passes and no guard rail hairpins. It was amazing, and thankfully, I had the 4Runner. At one point, the snow was 6 inches deep and blowing. 4 wheel drive was needed, not just a cute accessory.
Back in Spokane, I prepped for my departure in the Balboa. My plan was to head to Utah and get my '96 Chevy Van ready for sale. It's a great truck, but my daughter decided to live in Idaho, so it's just sitting. I don't want to watch it collect dust in a storage lot. Best to get used.
I was told that they would get at the van at the beginning of the following week. I waited, heard nothing, A week went by, then 2... At the end of the third week, I called and asked for an update. I had provided a punch list of issues that I wanted checked and sorted. The van was still sitting, untouched. At this point, because I had expressed my disappointment in the lack of action, I started getting estimates. Keep in mind, Nomadic Vans didn't give me any paperwork, like a normal repair shop. When asked, I was told "most people just trust us". That should have been the first red flag. The first estimate looked like a form that was prepared, like a menu, at around $10K.
This estimate of repairs was just a bunch of upgrades that they offer, including replacing parts as a preventative option. When I asked about the coolant that was shooting 6 inches out of the radiator neck, for example, Gardner seemed to know nothing about the list that I gave him. He was just pitching unneeded upgrades, exhaust systems, the infamous aluminum radiator, tuning and parts that "might go bad int he future". I wanted to replace what needed to be changed, not make a museum piece.
I told Gardner that this was completely opposite to the discussion we'd had about what I wanted. Next, I get an email with another estimate, for around $6K. Again, none of the issues were addressed. Was an inspection even done? Keep in mind, the van was only supposed to be there for about another week, and completed.
One item on the estimate was a $400 aluminum replacement radiator. I asked why it need this, I'd had no leaks on the trip west, but it was pushing coolant into the overflow tank, and used about a gallon and a half of water on the trip. My rocket science skills helped me figure there was something wrong in the head gasket department, not uncommon on these vans. I was told that the radiator was "full of pinholes". Fascinating. And total, um... nonsense.
Being in Utah, and having my 1 ton Chevy van available, I packed a bag and started to drive the 600 miles north and just get the van, lick my wounds and bring it back to my storage. I'd deal with it in the spring. I arranged a tow dolly in Twin Falls, Idaho, and headed north. I called ahead, Gardner was fine with me pulling the plug.
90 miles into the trip, I got a call from Ron at Nomadic Vans, the other owner. He seemed shocked that I was unhappy and as I explained that the van was untouched and I couldn't get a straight answer on what it needed, I had lost confidence in the shop and I was coming to get it. He told me a completely different story and listed in detail, all of the issues. He's a persuasive guy. I turned around and drove back to the storage and put the van away. Ron told me I didn't need a radiator, but gave me a list of items that needed attention, and that the coolant issue was deteriorating cooling hoses, especially on the back side of the engine. It's 30 plus years old. Ok... They had done a compression test and the low cylinder was within 8% of the highest. Not ideal, he said, but workable. So, he said it's not a head gasket. I suggested on my list to check for a failed head gasket. It's a textbook case.
It didn't make sense, but... okay, they're the experts. I've never heard of tired hoses creating pressure. I asked for a written estimate and approved most of the work, around $4600. Loads of deferred maintenance. They said, plan on December 8th to pick it up.
The Delica, sitting in Ketchum... not fixed.
I had been traveling around the southwest in the Balboa, enjoying warmer weather and meeting some great folks. As the date was approaching, I headed back to Utah and my storage location. I have a covered RV parking place there. I winterized the RV, emptied the fridge and arranged to go to Ketchum via Salt Lake Express, a shuttle service that went from 2 miles east of my location, right up to Ketchum. It does take 12 hours, but that's the easiest way. The trip was delayed in Salt Lake City, by an overturned oil truck, and I had to overnight in Pocatello, catching the later van to Ketchum. I arrived at 8 am in Ketchum, early for pick up, so I headed for the Big Wood Bakery, for breakfast. Great place, if you're headed to Ketchum.
I was enjoying my food, when the phone rang, it was Ron. He asked if I was in town yet, and after I told him I was a block away, he said he'd come up and join me. Pretty friendly, I thought.
Ron and Gardner are both nice guys. No question.
Ron arrived a few minutes later and we briefly chatted about the huge snowfall they had overnight. After the conversation, Ron took out a stack of invoices and broke the news that, 1), the van wasn't ready. they were buttoning up a couple loose ends, because they hadn't installed the front driveshaft yet... and 2), it shouldn't leave, because he misdiagnosed the coolant issue. It did indeed have either a blown head gasket and/or a cracked cylinder head, and needed to be taken apart to confirm. He had known this the day before, and said he was awake all night over it. Well, I was awake overnight in a Sprinter van, being shuttled to frozen Idaho. All I needed was a phone call to tell me it wasn't ready, I could have saved the trip, and expense of getting ready to travel up there. Add around $2600 to the bill. Now, it's the end of January, for pick up.
Now, I'm pissed off. I should have taken it as is and driven away. Had I been told this at the start, I probably would have sold it as-is, a mechanic's special.
Ron listened to me vent for a bit, and I told him that I needed a way back to Utah, and it wasn't the shuttle. It was now high season in tony Sun Valley, the previous off season bargain Hertz rental was now $329 one way, for one day. Ron continued to apologize and paid for the rental. I drove back to Utah. It still cost me about $400 in fuel, hotel and Uber fees, for this trip, alone.
Back in Utah, I got the Balboa ready to go back to the warmer south. Ron told me that cylinder heads were coming in from New Zealand. (?) and expected the last week of December. Christmas came and went, 2023 was ushered in and I was told that the van would be done on February 3rd.
That's 4 months later...
When I arrived to pick up the van, it was obvious that both parties were not excited to see each other, but we were civil. Gardner was probably told by Ron that I thought he was clueless about vehicle repair. I stand by it. I now feel that Ron isn't far behind. Good intention doesn't translate to competence.
We went around the block, and the van did run better. The van was dirty, with greasy hand prints around the body and front carpet, plus it was now missing a rear bumper end. I later found that my aftermarket steering wheel, which I paid to swap with the original, was also missing.
They claimed to have seen a stray bumper end rolling around the shop, but it was not to be found. I pressed the issue, it had one when it arrived. They took one off another L300 there.
I just wanted to get out of there. The new tech showed me the cylinder head, cracked in 3 places on one cylinder. The head gasket was toast. How do you miss that, when the customer says "why is there coolant shooting 6 inches out of the radiator neck, when the cap is off"? C'mon, that's a no brainer. But, what do I know. A simple coolant gas test wold have confirmed this.
Rental car back to Utah.
Cylinder head cracks
You would think that this is the end of a frustrating, expensive and unimpressive visit.
Nope. I headed out towards Coeur D'Alene, Idaho. I was going to visit family and then head back to Utah and prepare the Delica for sale. I figured the run of about 1500 miles would be a good shakedown to make sure it was sorted out.
The next morning, in the motel parking lot... I try to start the van, Dead. Nothing. New battery (not approved, but they killed mine) new alternator, (they said it was installed wrong and was damaged, yet returned it to be rebuilt). Still, I'm dead in the water. I got a jump and figured I left something on. I also tightened the hand tight positive terminal and removed excess connections for an old amp, that was already disconnected when it arrived.
Next morning in Coeur d'Alene... Dead again. My daughter buys a battery charger and brings it home. Charge it up and try the cool alternator test feature. Bad alternator. Great.
I run by an AutoZone to confirm, they test the alternator on their scan tool... bad voltage regulator.
I contacted Ron, and first, he tries to tell me it's the door lights staying on overnight. They weren't.
He wanted to send me an alternator to have installed in town. It's apparently a 3 hour job, and has a vacuum pump attached to the back of it. What local shop would know step one on this thing?
Ron also wanted me to eat the labor, because it would be cheaper than driving back there. Sorry, it was a principle issue. back to Ketchum I go...
Did I mention that the front brakes were now metal to metal on the left front? I guess that didn't get checked during the $200 inspection. I discussed the fact that the wheel would get dark with brake dust, and the other didn't. Nope, they were fine when they looked. That's hard to believe.
Gardner did give me part numbers, but didn't have rotors in stock. I got this sorted out in Salt Lake City, I found a great shop in town, referred to by my pal near SLC. NAPA had all the parts on the shelf. If this was diagnosed in Ketchum, the rotors could have been salvaged. More money wasted. It wasn't a bad caliper, as advised, the slides were crusty. They could been cleaned and lubed.
During the visit to get the alternator replaced, again, I also asked for and received my steering wheel that was swapped (kept and put upstairs in their storage) and an oil filter that replaced the one I had in the van that was used and I was still charged $38 for. The wheel is missing the horn button and half of the chrome bolts that hold it on.
I'm still reviewing the bill, and it looks like I was charged for a $200 EGT gauge that wasn't installed, as well.
UPDATE: After addressing this with Nomadic Vans, this and another overcharge were refunded.
So, would I recommend Nomadic Vans in Ketchum, Idaho.
They're very nice guys, They might be good at bolt on parts, but for diagnosing and performing repair work, I'd go elsewhere, after this experience.
Why? It shouldn't take 4 months to fix a van. They run the business like a hobby. (My opinion, of course). The diagnosis was not even close, there was no real paperwork, the end invoice was not accurate, the work was just ok. Loose connections, missing parts, untested alternator, rocker cover leakage, major inconvenience and wasted time/money...
As an example....Gardner tried to put the front locking hub 4x4 hub covers on the back and told me that they fall off anyway... They stayed on for 30 years... The brake shop I used in SLC rotated the tires and correctly installed the spring clips for the covers. Voila! Now, they stay on. You would think that a boutique specialist shop would know to position them correctly, and put the one with the big hole for the hubs on the right wheel.
At one point, Gardner suggested that some things were handled in the spirit that I didn't want to spend the money. No, I wanted an inspection, and to take care of what the van needed.
Final bill? $7200. Yup, I'm cheap.
Ron did discount the final bill, but it doesn't cover the added repair expenses, frustration and wasted time that resulted from the slack business practices.
Reflecting on this, I wondered if I'm a problem customer.
All I wanted was to get the van assessed and sorted out. I'm not impossible to work with.
The shop in Salt Lake that did the brakes was excellent, fairly priced and.... the brakes actually work.
The shop in Albuquerque that did the u-joints? Still doing great.
Multiple shops have worked on the Balboa and the Beauville. That all went well. It's not me.
Lesson learned, be careful out there.
Afterwards… I’m down in Utah, attending the Matt’s Off Road Wrecker Games. I’d met another Delica owner and was chatting when it was discovered that I had an oil leak. A good one…
Nomadic Vans supposedly changed the rocker cover rubber gasket as part of the head replacement. Now it’s leaking all over the ground, and smoking badly as I drive down the road.
Thankfully, I carry tools with me, and resealed the cover and reinstalled it in a Walmart parking lot. I ended up resolving the issue, but was left with a black, oily mess all over the underside of the van. Degreasing and washing the underside got this sorted out.
After just a short amount of time driving the Delica, I found a body shop in Cedar City that would take care of the minor damage to the front, from my drive up interstate 15.
The work was completed. I took the shuttle to Cedar City to pick it up, and headed back to my storage unit. it was a beautiful day, and things are dried up nicely.
I decided to take the Delica for a drive on the dirt roads outside of town. The scenery is amazing. For reasons that escape me, I decided to stop and shut off the van. After a few minutes , it was time to continue and go back to town. The battery was completely flat. Keep in mind this is a new battery, and the second alternator. Thankfully, I was near Parowan Gap, and some nice folks offered a jump start to get me going.
Back at the storage, using a multimeter, I determined that the alternator was again failed. No output.
I texted Ron at Nomadic Vans in Ketchum, Idaho, and he seemed surprised that a second alternator could fail. It's a real hassle to have this happen, as I have no place to work on it and it's unlikely that anyone in the small towns of southern Utah are going to want to mess with this unknown van. I went through all the testing that I could do on site. Ron was patient and agreed to replace the alternator. Again, Ron is a good guy, but his business has issues. It appears that his alternators have a 10 % failure rate. That's pretty bad. It looks to be the voltage regulator, again. Who know, maybe it was damaged by all the oil that got all over it, from the rocker cover gasket failure.
The current solution is to send another alternator, and arrange to install it. This one is supposedly a new unit from a different engine, it will need a minor modification to the wire harness, but it sounds simple enough.
We'll see how this goes, and I'll add the update.
More below par results. Engine soaked with oil after rocker cover install fails.
Rebuilt fuel injectors
New 12 volt glow plugs, replacing dead 6 volt plugs
New Interstate battery, they killed mine trying to start it.
New drive belts
Reman alternator x2 (Will be 3, shortly)
New head gasket
New cylinder head
New u joints, front
New coolant hoses
New timing belt (actually, no. Why not)?
Front suspension height adjusted
New fuel filter and metal housing
Basic tune supposedly done. Still doesn't make 12 pounds boost
Oil and filter change
Swap aftermarket steering wheel back to original
Things requested, but not done:
Install belly pan shield sitting in the back,
Find middle seat parts missing (tracks)
Rear u joints in Albuquerque
Front brake pads, rotors and LF caliper- Salt Lake City
Mechanical work remaining:
Clean up battery area wiring
Find and replace missing throttle linkage bolt lost at Nomadic Vans
New lug nuts. (replace lug nut stripped at Nomadic Vans)