Troubles on Dalton Highway – Alaska

We were in Prudhoe Bay in June, when the sun shines all day/all night long. During the day a temperature wasn’t that bad, around 0C (32F) but when the sun was lower on the horizon or behind the clouds it was very cold and below freezing point. We decided to leave the oil camp around 8 pm so we could reach Ice Cut and spend the night in a warmer place. We were driving and chatting about our future travel plans while Chev became silent and very serious on his face. I could tell there was something wrong. He stopped the car at the side of the road and said out loud “F**ing hell, we are in a sh*t hole!!!”

Breakdown somewhere in the middle of nowhere…

 

A breakdown in the Arctic – don’t wish it to anybody!

We jumped out from the car and clouds of steam were getting out from underneath. There was not only the steam but the water flowing out from the exhaust around half way of the car. Water in the exhaust in this place? How? From the crack around O2 sensor! (it was hit by a rock) We had lost all coolant and engine got red-hot.
First thought: Head gasket or crack in the engine block! That’s it! We are stuck in the middle of nowhere!
Where is nowhere? Well, Dalton Highway, 30 miles south of Prudhoe Bay (there is nothing there, just barracks, as you could see in our last post -> Prudhoe Bay) and 470 miles from Fairbanks (the nearest city). No phone reception, no cars or trucks around. It was just us and broken car in freezing cold with basic crap (Harbor Freight) tools. There was no way we would tow the car anywhere at that point and probably such a service would cost more than our car!

dalton highway tundra
This is how the place where we broke down looked like. Tundra. [photo taken earlier, on the way to Prudhoe]
 

What’s the best way out?

We came back to the car to think what we’re going to do. One of the thoughts was to abandon it and hitchhike to Fairbanks. Anna was quite optimistic about it (or just not aware how to fix head gasket/engine block) and was thinking about coming back to Prudhoe Bay, ordering some parts, borrowing tools and fixing it in the Arctic. Easier said than done, fixing it without proper tools? A bit easier would be to find a new/used engine and bring it to Prudhoe, then replace it… but finding the Land Cruiser 80 series in Fairbanks (pop. ~30k) sounds almost impossible. Whole Land Cruiser 80 series would be hard to find so getting parts would be even harder.

prudhoe bay hotel
Prudhoe Bay – the oil camp at the shores of the Arctic Circle, not so good place for car repairs…

 

Checking Land Cruiser once again – is there a hope?

Chev went out to check Toyota again. We’d seen small creek nearby so Anna went to get some water to replace lost coolant. We had to filter it through a sock. Water was pouring out from the exhaust straight away. Wierd. We started the car once again and the engine was running smooth… There was hope that maybe it wasn’t the head gasket… (?)
Chev went underneath the car again and Anna kept watching for grizzly around. People in Prudhoe Bay had seen them many times so there was a chance that there would be some around. We had to have eyes wide open all the time.

 

Dalton Highway under the construction…

It turned out that rocks made a little mess on the undercarriage of the car. Last 20 miles of Dalton Highway was under the construction and the road was covered with stones size of the fist. In some spots, there was only one lane and we had to follow a pilot who was speeding 50 mph… Oil field workers from Prudhoe Bay use company cars so they don’t really care how fast they drive on such a road. We do but we had no choice as we were in somewhere in the middle of the line so we had to keep up with others. That must have been that part where we damaged the car… We hadn’t noticed anything wrong with the car back in Prudhoe cause we parked it and were sightseeing on foot. We realised something bad was going on on the way back, unfortunately.

 

Light at the end… πŸ˜€

Land Cruiser has pipes for rear heater right above the exhaust. Chev had found out that rocks smashed not only an exhaust but these pipes as well. The coolant was pouring from them, not from the exhaust! Coolant was dropping from the exhaust cause it was just underneath the pipes! In this case, a solution was kind of easy task! Just by-pass it and should be fine. πŸ˜€
Hmm… No, it wasn’t! It was crazy cold outside and access to the heating was a nightmare. Chev had to put one leg in the engine bay and the other one on the bumper while holding falling bonnet at the same time (it was very windy). Because of cold, his hands became numb. We also didn’t have enough clamps so had to improvise… It took 2h to fix it what normally would be done in 15 minutes!

fixing toyota
Chev’s fixing the car – just reconstruction of events. When the car broke down we didn’t think about taking photos πŸ˜›

 

Slowly towards the south…

We managed to set off. The car was driveable again but with no heating inside. It was the first time Chev was happy with Anna’s purchase. She bought portable 12V heater/fan. It wasn’t very strong though, we had to stop every 5-10 minutes to remove frost from the windscreen and check our temporary fix. We were wrapped around with blankets to cope the cold. The only thing in our mind was the Ice Cut! It’s the spot where the temperature rises very quickly and gets only hotter. We came to our camping spot in the middle of the night and fell asleep straight away…

broken heater in toyota
We wrapped ourself with blankets and dreaming about higher temperatures. Our heater didn’t work!

 

dalton highwat photos
Stunning views along the road πŸ˜€ haha!

 

It wasn’t the end of troubles!

We woke up in the morning to find out we had a flat tire!! Like that wasn’t enough, crane for spare tire got stuck forever (when off-roading we have a wheel on the roof but this time road was flat so we left it underneath). After some time and lot of f* words, we got it out. In the meantime, we found more damage… Another part of the exhaust was split as well… Another thing to fix on our list!

flat tire 4x4
Happy Chev! Flat tire!

 

spare tire land cruiser
More problems … this time with the crane for spare tire.

 

dirty spot lights
Our dirty LC – even on the roof

 

Back in Fairbanks and… there is one more surprise

It took so long to drive back to Fairbanks! Twice as long, a few days! We were driving very slowly and stopping every so often to check under the bonnet our temporary fix. We had no more spare tires as well so way back was even more stressful. We also noticed a car wreck at the side of the road so we stopped to see if we could source some hoses and clamps to carry on driving. We’ve found some! πŸ™‚ First things we did back in Fairbanks were visiting auto parts shops and then gas stations. While filling the car up someone came to us and said we had a fuel leak!

wrecking cars alaska
Roadkill – part donor for our toyota

 

car mechanic toyota
Reparing flat tire in Fairbanks…

 

Oh, c’mon, what else?!?!

We did 10,000 km in Australia in our old Mercedes, then 6k in New Zealand in another Merc. In South America, we had Toyota 4Runner and did 26,000km with just one flat tire. Land Cruiser did pretty much trouble-free 15k km from Colorado to Alaska. It was only 20 miles that messed our car out that bad that we had much more problems than ever before. At the end of our journey?! Oh well, at least we are back in one piece. Ok, but what is going on with that fuel leak? Damaged exhaust was blowing extremely hot air at the plastic inlet to the tank pipe. The temperature had been so high that pipe cracked…

land cruiser repairs
Under the car. AGAIN.

 

Time to fix everything…

We have stopped at the campsite near Fairbanks for a few days to get our car to work as it should again. Chev did mechanical part of the job while Anna took care of that visual part. Luckily, everything ended up well for us. We managed to fix the car and could carry on driving to Anchorage. Now we’re laughing at that situation but back then?

black toyota
Ready to go! πŸ˜€