Bad Mechanic Experience 2 – Barranquilla, Colombia

Following on from the big search for a mechanic, I am now about to make the second attempt to work with a mechanic in Barranquilla.

Soon after 8AM my bike is at Riviera Motor’s workshop and work is about to begin. I go over my work list with Leonardo one last time. I then watch as Leonardo starts to dismantle the exhaust to try and get to the tensioner. I don’t like what I see. He’s fidgeting, focussing his attention from one place to another… first he tries to get to the cam chain tensioner without dismantling the exhaust fully. He gets stuck with some tight bolts. Eventually he decides to get the exhaust off properly so he can get to the tensioner. He’s constantly walking back and forth between the workplace and the toolbox, trying to select the correct size tool for the job. I see him try to initially force a nut and bolt open with a slightly large spanner on the one side – something I don’t like at all – and then he decides to get the right spanner.

My spirits sink. This guy – for all his competent talk – doesn’t seem to be confident. I’ve watched many mechanics work on this bike and I like to think I can tell when someone’s a descent mechanic or not. It’s something about their work-style. They know what tools they’ll need and they get them ready to hand. They don’t fuck about with the wrong tool knowing they’ll probably strip the corners off a nut causing them more headache later.

The exhaust off, we’re ready to remove the tensioner. He realizes after trying with a normal spanner, that he will need a ratchet. He eventually has the tensioner out. He determines that when the tensioner is not fully extended, it has some play, thus needs to be replaced. He spends much effort trying to explain to me that this is the tensioner and that its spring mechanism automatically extends the shaft it as required…. despite the fact that I repeatedly tell him that I already know and understand this – another thing that makes me uncomfortable. It’s like he’s trying to dwell on basics to waste my time.

Following this, he wants to remove the tank and the spark plug. I am distrusting of him already now and he hasn’t even installed the replacement tensioner yet. I tell him I’d rather he complete this first before we move on to the next item. I take him outside for a private talk: I tell him I don’t believe he has the experience he says with this type of engine, that he seems very in-confident, and he’s doing things in a way that I’ve not seen despite seeing this procedure many times. I’d rather abort this job and I’ll go elsewhere. Thankfully I’ve learned enough Spanish by now to have that conversation.

He tries to assure me that he has plenty of experience. Back inside I ask him to install the new tensioner so I can move on. After he does this he asks me to just please let him check the spark plug… this is where I make a big mistake and say yes, thinking it is a quick check that cannot hurt, but instead I open a huge can of worms.

Suddenly, Leonardo has miraculously acquired some English skills. The sparky has about 15000Km since Bolivia and shows a dry black carbon deposit on it. In addition there is some rust-coloured powdery deposit in the mix as well, and just a little bit of white deposit on the centre electrode. Leo says this is lean burning. I question that since I would expect a lean burn to show very white, and I suspect that the back must be oil, because it’s been consuming a lot. Besides we have been at sea level for several months. Leonardo gives several explanations but I catch him contradicting himself.


We verify online. The picture guides online guides make a convincing case that we’re dealing with lean fuel mixture, the black not being wet and oily suggests that it’s carbon deposit and not oil. Convinced that this is the case, I agree to a clean of the air filter (he taps it out) and check of the fuel filter (it’s clean). He then wants to test ride. I ask why not check the carb, but he reasons that if it still burns lean, the carb is the clear culprit. I make him install my new spare sparky so we can tell the difference before and after the ride. On his return the spark plug electrode is slightly white: lean fuel-air mixture. This would then agree with what Niki in Sucre was saying, that it appeared the engine was running lean at that time.


We then check the carb. Leo sprays it out with carb cleaner and says it is a bit contaminated. He doesn’t take it apart completely and clean it with fuel as I would expect, but hey I’m not the expert. He says the carb is not adjustable, but says a bigger jet would solve the problem. I check the Honda NX4 service manual and it specifies the standard jet to be a 148. The current one installed is a 142. (Though later I check the parts catalogue and it lists three options: 140, 142, 150)


Keen not to go down this rabbit hole any further I ask him how this would explain my oil burning problem. By this time, under all my cross-examining, Leo’s English has become almost fluent. He reckons that a lean mixture could heat the oil temperature to levels where much of it evaporates out of the engine enclosure, re-introducing itself into the combustion chamber through the air intake. Also he says that the high temperature could expand the valve seals and allow oil to seep in there. He doesn’t have me convinced but somehow convinced enough to try this jet step and see.

He disappears for an hour. He returns with a pack of jets, the closest for our needs being a 146. He wants to install it but when I ask the price he says he doesn’t know; that they belong to another customer and if it works, he would ask whether they were willing to sell it. Once again I find this ridiculous and say I won’t install something if I don’t know the cost. A few minutes later he comes back stating it’ll cost 25000.00COP. (I check the Honda network and they charge about 15000.00COP for an original).

He suggests we install the jet, take a 5 minute ride and check the condition of the spark plug. I take the plug and clean it off, as he is about to install it with the already whitened electrode, meaning we might be barking up the same tree later. After the test ride with the 146 jet we check the spark plug comes out again. He seems to use a lot of force to unscrew it but it doesn’t occur to me at the time. When we check the electrode it is white again – shit! Then it dawns on me: the plug thread is baldy damaged… “you’ve damaged the thread on this,” I say. He denies it and takes the plug off to the grinder to grind it down.

This is the new sparky with the damaged thread – photographed post-grinding…

I take a look into the spark plug socket. The thread is broken horribly. There’s no way this was not his mistake – he must have forced the plug in earlier. He denies this stating that it must have happened when removing the plug because the engine was warm. Now I am pissed off. I’ve reluctantly come to this horrible situation and I don’t see an easy way out. To my knowledge the only option here is a re-thread of the socket using a thread cutter or -chaser but that would require taking off the cylinder head! I don’t want to leave the bike here overnight, much less have this guy open up my cylinder head as I already have in-confidence in his skills. What have I got myself into?!


Leonardo and his pals indicate that we will pack up and continue with this tomorrow. “You have to be kidding,” I say. I want that spark plug installed today so I can ride out of here.

Leonardo says not to worry, he can easily chase the thread without removing the head. When I ask how he can guarantee that no metal splinters will fall into the chamber, he assures me he has a special paste to ensure this. I am not happy about it, but if I want to get this bike out of this garage tonight he will have to put that spark plug in there.

His thread chaser end is too wide for his wrench’s socket, so he grinds the end down to fit. He uses plenty of paste with the cutting tool, but the chaser keeps slipping out of the wrench because it’s base is not straight. I see Ney was right about the shit tools. I’m pulling my hair out at this stage but what can I do – that plug needs to be in that engine! Eventually he grinds the end down a bit more and uses a different wrench. This seems to work better. Time seems to lag but eventually he completes the work and the plug fits. We have to use the old plug because the thread of my spare is broken. We start the bike and I cross my fingers the plug doesn’t shoot out of the head. It takes a while, with the battery connected to a charging terminal and some other tricks they use, to get the engine started.

Now comes the time for discussion. I have made a mistake by not walking out of there straight away when I meant to. Leo seems to have found some interesting facts that may be relevant, but then he’s gone and broken the thread on my spark plug socket. He repaired it but I have no certainty of its stability now, nor can I be sure there isn’t any metal swarf in the engine room. And aside from all of that, I came here to get some work done, and the way I see it, it could not be done because the mechanic wasn’t competent to do it – by this alone he has wasted a whole day of my time, which immediately loses me 30.00USD in itself.

I think about whether a customer would pay a cent if I were in Europe – no. But I do want to do the “right” thing. I decide that I would pay for the new 146 jet at most (which they’re trying to overcharge me for), but nothing for labour. Otherwise they can take it back and I pay nothing.

Subsequently, in a nutshell: The boss rolls a trailer into the doorway and threatens to lock the bike into the workshop, as well as myself. He wants me to pay 70000.00COP. I continue discussion with Leonardo, making my points as stated above, but the boss is standing in the door-way being completely useless, something I get quite aggravated with him about. Later they decide to drop labour charges but want me to pay for only the jet. But in the end we agree that I keep the jet as a “trade-in” against the destroyed spark plug, meaning that I walk out paying nothing. I think – I hope – I’ve taken the right action. All I know for sure is that another day is lost and I will have to pay a lot of money elsewhere to get this fixed.

The bike takes me home – by a detour route just in case I’m being followed. Thank goodness for that. But now I’m back to square one and the whole Barranquilla bike saga continues…