A new engine, two tow trucks and a trip back down South – July 2023

After leaving the van in the hands of Jonno from Delica Garage QLD about a month earlier (see last post), it was time to fly back to Brisbane to pick up the van.

Ollie wanted to see a picture of the plane I was going on

This time around I was determined to not have to rush the trip. I got there in two days last time which didn’t give me any time to enjoy the sights and trip. So I got some time off work and flew up on a Wednesday, giving me around 4.5 days to get back to Canberra. I’d even organised to see some friends of our on the Sunshine Coast on the first day, which is 100km in the wrong direction.

I flew Virgin this time. Jetstar was better, but both were late and had surly staff. Maybe it’s just me.

I got to Delica Garage around 2pm, looked over the van and got a quick lesson in key differences and maintenance requirements for the new engine and diff. Yes, a new limited-slip differential was installed as well. I figured while I was getting everything else fixed up, I may as well improve the vans offroad capabilities a bit as well. The complete list of improvements that Delica Garage managed is as follows:

  • A used 6G75 3.8L V6 engine from a Mitsubishi 380 installed (~110,000kms)
  • New filters
  • New water pump, timing belt, hydraulic tensioner, idler pulley, tensioner pulley
  • New vacuum fuel pressure regulator
  • New engine seals
  • New spark plugs and ignition leads
  • New rocker covers and rocker cover gaskets
  • New thermostat
  • New massive 45mm triple core all aluminium radiator
  • Additional aftermarket transmission cooler
  • New alloy vacuum hose T pieces
  • New belts
  • Air conditioner reconditioning
  • New heavy duty torsion bars
  • New front shortened bump stops
  • Replacement ash tray
  • Replacement hood prop storage catch
  • Second hand LSD from Series 2 Jasper model

Total costs were about $11,000 all said and done. I didn’t think that was too bad considering how much it would have cost to sell the van and purchase a new vehicle, which was one of the other options I was considering. I’ve not factored in the costs of driving and flying up to Brisbane either.

So in my newly upgraded and much more responsive van, I filled up at a petrol station and then set off up the road to the Sunshine Coast to spend the night. Things initially went really well, though that didn’t last too long. The first issue I had was with brakes, with the ABS kicking in as I slowed down to come to a stop, something Brisbane traffic was causing me to do regularly. I phoned Jonno to find out what might be causing this, and he said it was likely some air in the brake lines after the diff install. Given I still had braking and it wasn’t urgent, I continued on and organised to head into the garage on the way back through Brisbane the next day.

It was about this time that I noticed the other issue – my temperature was higher than I would have liked. I’d been told that these engines were a little hotter than the old one, but this had the gauge pegged at about 2/3 the whole time. I also noticed a fair bit of smoke coming from the exhaust when I stopped to check on things, but chalked that up to oil in the chambers due to the reconditioning processes.

Then I noticed that they’d forgot to fit the ashtray! I’d been without one for years since some wanker had stolen the coins and ashtray together back when I was living in the Canberra city, so I was a bit disappointed and glad that I was heading back to Delica Garage the next day.

Then, around 90km into my journey on the Bruce Highway, I started to notice grinding noises coming from the rear. I saw some scoring on the brake disc and assumed it was something to do with the ABS, which had fixed itself by that point by turning itself off completely. I kept driving, but the grinding sounds kept getting louder and then significant vibrations started happening in the van. Unfortunately I was stuck in 80km traffic in a construction zone at this point without any place to pull over, so I kept going and the noises kept on getting louder.

Grassy verge, hot car, red and orange lights

By the time I found a grassy verge to pull over onto, the rear passenger side was sounding like gravel. Given the brand new LSD was the last thing to be fitted and the only part that hadn’t been fully tested, I thought it was my diff that was making the noise. There was a possibility that the clutch packs had been too tight and the pressure had broken them apart.

So stuck just off the busy Bruce Hwy, I rang my friend who came out to lend moral support. We called up RACQ and told them that we were on the side of the motorway, something they consider a dangerous situation requiring immediate emergency towing to a safe place. They arrived 2.5hrs later….

The van was still drivable at slow speeds, so it was pretty simple to drive it up and on to the flatbed towtruck. We drove it up the road and dropped it off in the carpark of the Aussie World service station. Now night time, we found a well lit area and parked the van there overnight. Then around 9pm I got into my friends car and we drove back to her place for some pizza and beers. Not the best start to a roadtrip.

The next morning I rang around to try and find the best prices for a tow truck to get the van back to Delica Garage in Ipswich. We finally settled on a small tow truck operator that charged us $770 to pick up the van and take it back to Brisbane, and they were available that morning. I got dropped off at Aussie World and waited a while for the truck to arrive.

When the truck arrived, we strapped the van down and set off down the very busy highway. The trip took about 2 hours, and I was probably at my limit for small talk with the driver by that stage.

Fuel economy is excellent when travelling on a towtruck.

We dropped the van off, the guys tested it, declared it definitely fucked, and then they all set about trying to diagnose and fix up the issue. I hung around, keen to see just how much I was screwed.

First thing that was done was empty the rear diff oil. There were some flecks in the oil, but nothing major that we could see. So we removed the entire rear passenger wheel assembly and out dropped some very mucked up and misshapen wheel bearings. The bearings were so chewed up that they had scored and potentially damaged the rear axle as well.

It was then determined that with this particular type of LSD, a 20mm shorter rear axle is typically required to prevent this sort of thing from occurring. Having learned this, and confident in the teams ability to fix this issue, I left them to it and went for a walk around the industrial estate. I found a fairly decent pub and had lunch, trying not to think about the trip back and the reduced timeframe I was probably going to be dealing with. After a couple of mid-strength beers and a pulled pork roll, I wandered back to the garage around 3pm to check and see what progress had been made.

The guys had basically replaced everything just in case the bearings and damaged axle had caused further issues. Both rear bearings were replaced, along with the damaged axle. The rear diff that was potentially too tight and may have caused the issue in the first place had been replaced with a known good diff from the personal van of Jonno, the owner of the shop. This was a slightly different type of LSD, a helical diff rather than a clutch plate based one, and this design is a lot more forgiving onroad.

Great place to poke around for Delica spare parts.

With the rear done, the brakes were re-bled to remove the air bubbles that were probably mucking up the ABS, and then the ECU codes were cleared to get it working again. A new temperature sensor was installed which immediately put the temperature gauge back to normal. I even managed to install a new ashtray.

Around 4pm Thursday, the van was declared done and ready for a test drive. There was no bill for me for the work and parts the team had put in that afternoon, and they paid for the tow truck as well. After that, I thanked the team and set off, a little wary of my new van and conscious of every small noise and movement it made just in case. I started heading up through the Dividing Range towards Warwick, intent on taking a new route back to Canberra this time.

As the sun started setting and I climbed up into the south Queensland hills, I started to trust the van a little more. All the issues I’d noticed the day before seemed to have been resolved. The new rear diff was much quieter and well behaved at low speeds compared with the old one as well. The van powered up the hills as I climbed to get to Warwick.

Once there, I discovered every single motel room in the city was taken. I drove around for about 30 minutes checking out different motels, cross checking Google for any that I may have missed. A lot of places had their ‘No’ signs burnt out, so they looked like they had vacancies until you went into the office – these motel owners can burn in hell, that was very frustrating!

With no place to stay, I continued on down the road to Stanthorpe, QLD’s coldest town. I’m glad I did – while a lot of the motels here were booked up, I managed to get a good one at the Apple & Grape Motel which I highly recommend. Newly renovated, it was a welcome sight.

Given it was getting late I immediately walked down the street to the nearest pub for a couple of beers and a schnitty before they closed the kitchen. After a few more beers, I snuck off to bed exhausted after a long day of ups and downs (and small talk).

The next morning I left around 7.30am, with the temperatures around 3 degrees. Just like Canberra! I got a pie for breakfast and headed down the New England Highway towards Tamworth. The van did very well and I made pretty good time, though with a speed limit of 100km/h and lot of turns and hills it was definitely slower going than some other routes out of Brisbane. In Glen Innes I stopped for a stretch and some snacks, then kept on down the road.

I arrived in Tamworth around lunchtime and stopped for another stretch and a photo at the big golden guitar, along with some petrol. It’s not a very impressive ‘big’ thing – I don’t recommend going out of your way to see it.

Not impresssed.

In Muswellbrook I stopped for a stretch and to pick up some tasty noodles from a very dodgy noodle shop. I kept driving a bit further to see if I could find a nice roadside park or place to eat them and eventually found a crappy roadside rest stop near Lake Liddell. Traffic was starting to get pretty bad, but I wasn’t far from Newcastle.

I wasn’t confident on finding a campsite in the area that wasn’t fully booked out, so I kept on going until dusk where I pulled off the M1 into Morisett. There was a motel room available at the Bay Hotel Motel, a big complex with a pub and bottleshop. It wasn’t as good as the night before, but it was fine for a night. I had a decent pizza there and then watched some Friday night footy in the pub before heading to bed for a relatively early night.

The next morning I filled up with petrol again, then set off down the M1 towards Wollongong. It was Saturday and the Illawarra Caravan Camping Lifestyle Expo was in town. I’d checked the oil that morning and found it much lower than the previous day. It wasn’t a concern yet, but I would have preferred a good measuring device. Because of the engine swap, the dip stick was far too long and wasn’t marked in the correct places for low/high levels of oil. Something to consider, particularly considering the smoke I was seeing that first day.

I cruised down and through Sydney, with the new NorthConnex again being outstanding at letting you get through to the M7 without any traffic lights. From the M7 I kept heading down, getting onto the Hume before veering off to the coast down Picton Road. The day was beautiful – low 20’s, sunny, but the wind was picking up and there was severe wind warnings for that afternoon. I got to the caravan show and spent about an hour looking around, but mostly focused on a camper that we hope will be the next big purchase.

This is the only picture I took at the expo. No regrets.

The wind was really picking up, knocking over tent poles and displays in the caravan show, so I left there and headed down the road towards Jervis Bay. The wind had gotten up to 80km/h gusts and as I was heading down the coast the crosswinds on the Princes Hwy were very intense.

Exiting Wollongong

I managed to get down to Huskisson unscathed though and had a beer with a mate at the pub there. The weather was getting worse and worse, so I made a call to stay in Basin View that night and have a few more beers.

The next morning I woke up and checked the van’s oil and found it quite low. I topped it up with a litre of oil I keep in the van just in case, then headed home via Wandean Road, a fairly steep dirt track that is an alternative way to get onto the Braidwood Rd heading to Nerriga. I filled up in Wandandian as well. The trip home was fairly uneventful, with most of the potholes filled in after the rains and fires went through this area. It was good to be able to compare the van’s performance on a familiar road like this. The new suspension components felt much better on the damaged road surfaces between Nerriga and Bungendore.

I arrived home that Sunday afternoon to find two sick people in my house, and a cat that was very happy to see me.

All up Google tells me that the trip was around 1400kms. I got the following fuel figures on the way down:

  • 17.5l/100km – This isn’t really a fair measure, as it was just a top up after the engine was installed and god knows what the mechanics were doing to rev, test and tune the engine. Excluded from average.
  • 15.53l/100km – This was after the trip up to Sunshine Coast, so a lot of idling waiting for the tow truck is included.
  • 14.52l/100km – This was the first stretch of the New England highway, which is quite an uphill and twisty road
  • 14.49l/100km – This on the next section of the New England Hwy coming down to Newcastle. 100km roads and a bit of late afternoon stop/start traffic getting onto the M1
  • 14.01l/100km – This was the fillup after driving down the M7, M1 and Princes Hwy, so mostly motorway kms.

So the average fuel economy on this trip is about 14.63 so far. This is slightly worse than the old engine, and similar to what I was getting with the rooftop tent on top of the van. There is the potential that I’ll go to a tuning company in Canberra to dyno and reflash the ECU with a new tune to fix up the economy a bit, but if these figures remain consistent there won’t be a need to do that. I can live with this for an unladen van. If towing figures are huge though, I’ll check and see what I can do about tuning improvements, possibly with an aftermarket ECU.

Since returning to Canberra I’ve been driving the van around as my daily. It is much more responsive when merging and negotiating traffic, but not so much that it doesn’t feel familiar still. I like the extra power, but I do tend to granny the van around town to conserve fuel when I can.

I’ve gotten a lot of questions about why I bothered with a bigger engine in the van when I could sell it and buy a newer vehicle. I did look at a few other 4wds, but none really had the same factors I was looking for. For less than $15K I have an upgraded van that will sort me out for another 7 years, whereas I was looking at near $60K or more for a new vehicle. That extra cash is worth a lot in petrol and can be put forward towards something to tow in the future. I did a big pros and cons list for this, and keeping the Delica won mostly due to its unique abilities perfectly suited for what we need it for.

For other Delica owners, it’s too early for me to recommend upgrading your engine. If you have blown up your current one and want to keep the same chassis, definitely spend the little bit extra for a 6G75. But if you don’t need the extra torque and power for towing or the driving you do, I probably wouldn’t bother if you’re currently happy. The big trade off I’ve made is I’ve got more power, but introduced a big unknown into the van – an engine it was not designed for, a transplant that required specialist installation and an unknown used engine from a different vehicle. It will be a long time before I am comfortable with the van again, but I’ve found that’s par for the course with any major change.

I am a bit concerned about the possible oil burning issue. So far in the two weeks since getting the van back, I’ve put about 3L of oil back into it over about 1800km so far, but the unhelpful dipstick isn’t very good at telling me how much oil is being burned up. I’m looking at oil pressure gauges, but in the meantime I may just do a full oil change and definitively notch out the top point for a fully oil filled engine (5L).

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