Auto Repair, Baja Style

  • Posted by osprey on September 13, 2022 at 3:43 pm

    Many of you Baja regulars know all about the great chasm between U.S. auto repair and having the same kind of work done far south of the border. Take one more step to a place that is the difference between what it is in Anytown U.S.A. and Almost Not a Pueblo out in the Baja puckerbrush.

    That’s what this little exercise is about because I happen to live in ANaP in East Cape, Baja Sur and my old cars break down a lot and I’m not good with tools or knowledge about metal or rubber things or things that move.

    I’ll do the U.S. thing first because it’s more familiar and perhaps easier to describe. The vehicle is a 1989 Isuzu Trooper 4×4 that I used to launch and haul my small Mexican boat from the beach.


    In The O.C., California, U.S.A. I go out to the garage and discover my trusted Trooper won’t start. The battery seems fine, plenty of electricity but only groans from the starter. I’ve had a problem with the starter before so I look at the Yellow Pages and find a repair shop just a couple of miles from the house and I make the call.

    The gal on the phone finds the repair honcho “Thanks for calling Okay in OC Auto Services. Does the car run? I mean does the motor turn over? How sure are you it’s the starter?”

    “It has given me problems before a time a two. Now I think it’s just froze up.”

    “Is your car on the street or in your garage? I mean can our pickup guys get to it, maybe push it out of the garage to load it? Is the driveway clear for that? Can you be there with the keys at say, 10:15 tomorrow morning?”

    It was just as easy at that and about 10:30 that next morning I rode in the car carrier to the shop and waited in the customer lounge where the TV, coffee, donuts and sweet rolls made me feel at home. Then I heard the intercom say “Chato, lounge please.” Shortly thereafter a short Latino with a shaved head, nice white teeth and a dragon tattoo on his left arm came in to talk.

    He looked at the work order a second. “Mr. Smyth?”


    “Sorry, I get that wrong every time. This won’t take us long. While we have the car on the lift, we can give you a nice discount on our regular service special and it won’t take but a minute or two longer.”

    “How much…?”

    “The new starter is $139.95, the labor to install is $155.00 for a total of $338.45 including taxes. Delivery was $90.40. When you spend over $400 dollars at Okay, you earn a 25% discount on the regular $54.00 Service Special which includes everything but replacement parts and fluids. Safety and maintenance wise the car will roll out of here like a new one — after all it is 25 years old.” He gave me a big smile and waited for a reply. Well, the coffee was hot, the sweet rolls fresh, comfy chairs so I told him to go ahead.

    All of that above is how it might have happened in Anytown U.S.A. Now I’ll tell you how it happened way down here in sleepy little Mexican village land.


    When I got here about 20 years ago there were 2 auto mechanics in the pueblo; now there are 4 or 5. It didn’t matter much as none of them speak English and I’m pretty good at pointing, grunting, playing Pictionary so I picked the guy called Gabby on the beach road and he’s been my main man ever since. Gabby’s a true “shade tree mechanic” because he does his work literally under the shade of a big tree.

    He charged me 20 pesos for the first job he did for me and that set the hook. He learned that I was just a ham ‘n egger living on Social Security so he often gets me going again with used/remanufactured parts appropriate to the old geezer with old beaters. Most of the time I can go to him with parts money but sometimes he’s had to wait a bit for his labor pesos. I try to make up for it with gifts of tools, fruit from my place, fish, when I have a good day in the boat.

    Anyway, my latest 4 wheel drive vehicle to haul and move my boat around is this old Isuzu and lately the problem has been the starter. I had crawled under the Trooper to see if I could easily remove the problem starter myself but it looked almost inaccessible to me. I felt foolish when Gabby drove up, pulled out his jack and removed the right front tire and rim and then the thing was right there staring at us.

    Two days later he stopped by the house and I gave him 400 pesos for parts and 100 pesos for labor. Two days more and he was back to show me the broken guts of the starter and the brand new guts that had to be soldered before he could reinstall it. The next day he called to say that Mundo, the local go-to welder was in La Paz and couldn’t do the work till he came back. Mundo’s father was in grave condition in the hospital and might lose his legs to diabetes. So now, for me, the repair job rested on whether Mundo’s dad died or got better in the foreseeable future so Mundo could drive the two hours back to town, use his special skills and welder to do the 20 second welding job.

    The next day Gabby got word that Mundo’s dad’s condition was still critical but stable so the mechanic would have to drive to the next little town and seek out Tito, a guy with a welder like Mundo’s. I know Tito and he doesn’t do the smallest job for free because he needs to pay for that very special and, rare in these parts, welder for aluminum and the costly rods. All that arranged and the final price was paid, 600 pesos for parts and labor or $46 bucks on that day’s exchange. (including the necessary 100 pesos for Tito)

    I guess I would have missed out on Chato’s big smile, the free car-scent little Christmas tree for the mirror up there in The O.C. but, as they say here in the old west, what I got was “Good enough for the girls I go with.” Beyond all that I know it’s not fair to try to measure the U.S. work by the Mexican work: $46 bucks vs $335.45 excluding the haul cost. In the U.S. they hauled the car to the shop, while down here Gabby did the work in my yard. U.S. parts and labor were done quickly, professionally and come with a written guaranty so you could say it was far superior up north.

    Once I had to wait 8 days for Gabby’s good work and when I learned what had occupied his time I apologized for even bothering him. He was helping in the remodel of an old house for his wife’s family. The old septic tank roof fell in and they covered it up with some cardboard as a temporary fix till’ they could deal with it. One night a cow fell into the tank and it took them forever to get it out so the whole town knew about it. They had to stop work on the house, fix the tank roof proper before Gabby could get back to working on cars again. Same kinds of things might likely have happened to the other mechanics in the pueblo; Enrique, Ernesto or even Homero.

    The Mexican system is only for those who don’t need things done quickly, those with trust and confidence in the people and the process — one has to have a lot of patience.

    The other important thing for me is that each breakdown brings me face to face with my Mexican neighbors and their working culture. The quick, easy way in the states is usually non-personal, mechanical, sterile. In this rustic rural “Take what you can get” style of commerce everybody learns to weigh what’s reasonable and available against the pain and the pesos.

    osprey replied 2 weeks, 5 days ago 1 Member · 0 Replies
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