CategoriesExpat Life

Lady Macbeth’s Breakdown

In my introduction to the Adventures of Lady Macbeth, I said that the 1997 Jeep Grand Cherokee Laredo lived up to her name in all of the wrong ways, including a propensity to break down. The biggest of those breakdowns took her off the road for at least three months and cost me a frankly staggering amount of money. Frustratingly, most of the trouble was caused by one of the smallest components in the huge 4.0-Litre engine.

By way of a disclaimer, I should admit that my understanding of how cars and engines work is limited – not quite zero, but not that much above it. For this reason, my outrage in the following paragraphs a little bit debatable. I leave it up to you, dear reader, to decide whether or not Lady Macbeth (and, by extension, I) got screwed.

Engine bay of 1997 Jeep Grand Cherokee Laredo in Muscat, Oman

Near Enough is Good Enough

One morning, driving into work, the engine cut out. Despite the impression I’ve giving over the course of these stories, this was not that common an occurrence and was a cause for concern. Once in a safe place to do so, I put the gearbox into Neutral, pushed the brake pedal and turned the key. The engine was turning over, but wouldn’t quite catch. I stamped on the accelerator a few times and, reluctantly, it coughed into life, though it conked out at least once more before I’d reached work.

I asked a friend if he’d help me getting to the mechanic I used because it was an obnoxious distance from the office – just too far to comfortably walk back (especially under the midday sun, if I was going to take the car there during my lunch break as planned) but a little too close to take a taxi. He agreed, which was fortunate because he was also able to act as an escort, slowing down traffic behind me every time the engine died. It did so at least three times over a distance of only about 2 km. On the last occasion, it was at a junction less than 100 metres from the garage, which was bordered by some barren, rocky ground. I pulled onto said ground, walked the rest of the way to the garage, gave them the keys and pointed back up the road to where I’d left the Lady.

1997 Jeep Grand Cherokee Laredo in Muscat, Oman

Oxygen Sensor

After a day or two, I got a call from the mechanic. The problem, he informed me, was a failed oxygen sensor. This was a little device which detected when the engine was not firing properly and was therefore in need of repair. As it was the sensor which had failed, it was feeding the engine’s computer false information and creating the illusion that there was something seriously wrong. The computer was trying to correct a fault which did not exist, thereby creating a fault.

Sadly, replacing the sensor didn’t fix the problem and, within a week, Lady Macbeth was on the back of a recovery vehicle for the umpteenth time, on her way back to the mechanic. After about a month of not hearing from him, I finally called to ask what progress he’d made. He told me that the computer was still convinced that there was a fault and that they didn’t have the facilities to tell it otherwise. Why exactly he had decided not to call and tell me this earlier, I never discovered.

Zubair Automotive Group

In 2010, the official vendor for Jeep in Oman was Zubair Automotive Group. It is now Dhofar Automotive, which is a subsidiary of Zubair, but I do not recall this name on the building when I arrived at their garage in the passenger seat of the recovery truck. Once again, I handed over the keys, this time asking them to call me with an estimate for the cost of repairs.

A representative from Zubair Automotive called me back a day or two later with an estimate. He said that the repairs would cost 1,200 rials – just under £2,000, at the time. My exclamation at this certainly caught the attention of the people around me in the office, and I explained to the guy that I only spent 1,000 rials when I bought the bloody thing! He reluctantly said that he would see if he could get me a discount and would call me back with a revised estimate.

1997 Jeep Grand Cherokee Laredo in Muscat, Oman

While waiting, I discussed what I should do with my friends. They gave me the sage advice that I had to set myself a spending limit based on how much I thought the car was worth and how expensive and troublesome replacing it would be. The danger, my friend pointed out, was that buying a different second-hand car could be buying into a new set of potentially even more expensive problems. Effectively, I may be better off with the devil I knew than the devil I didn’t.

The man from Zubair called me back, this time quoting 1,000 rials. Reluctantly, I accepted.

And the Rest

After a few weeks, I got the call to collect Lady Macbeth. They were delighted to tell me that the total cost of repairs would actually be about 900 rials. True to their word, they had replaced the computer and the dodgy oxygen sensor. This, the invoice informed me, came to a total cost of only about 300 rials. The rest of the cost was attributed to the fact that they had replaced the entire exhaust system, from the manifold to the outlet at the back of the car.

Underside of 1997 Jeep Grand Cherokee Laredo in Muscat, Oman
As you can see, the old exhaust pipe was a little rusty, but was that reason enough to replace it entirely?

As I said before, I don’t know enough about cars to say for certain that this was unnecessary. It is extremely faintly possible that the exhaust system is part of the sensor suite and that it was a fault with the exhaust which caused the sensor malfunction which, in turn, caused Lady Macbeth’s nervous breakdown. Frankly, I don’t see how three metres of metal tubing could have that much of an impact. My suspicion of what actually happened is that they decided to see how much I would accept paying and then kept replacing parts until they reached that amount. Then they ran out of bits they could justify replacing before they reached the magic number – hence the “discount”.

This belief comes from some of the smaller parts they replaced. In particular, they swapped the cover for the low-gear controls, fitting a version from a simpler model with a different selection of available gears. Why did they replace this? Well, the old one was cracked. The fact that this crack did not affect the car’s running in the slightest is irrelevant – it was something they could add to the invoice to try to get it up to four digits.

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Ben has been an expatriate since he was 21, a writer since he was about 10 and a photographer since he was 12. Degema Travel is the culmination of that experience.

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