A Broken Fuel Pump – Downtime in Serbia

by Sep 14, 2019Autumn Tour 2019, Mishaps & Misadventures, Serbia

7 a.m. on Saturday the 14th of September and I flopped out of Iggy’s drop down bed a bare two hours after I fell asleep. The man from Bosch was due to run the diagnostics test on Iggy in one hour, and I needed to take Marley to the loo and have a coffee before he got here. Dealing with garages in foreign languages melts my brain cells a bit, and a groggy head was not going to help one bit.

Jay grumbled his way out of bed behind me and in to the wet room, as I sloshed coffee into mugs and groped in the messy depths of the treat cupboard for breakfast croissants. Half of my brain was trying it’s darndest to run overtime with scenarios of how the day would go. The second half was sensibly telling half number one to calm down and take it as it came. Both halves had already spent a couple of hours online the night before researching “All you ever need to know about your oil pump conking out in the middle of Serbia.”

This research had taught me two things. Thing number one was that I was as confident as I could be that Boss man mechanic ( “Mr. Boss ” as we will now call him ) was 100% correct about it being the fuel pump that was the problem. The occasional, random, two second bursts of engine revving we’d been experiencing since February fitted in with the sudden refusal of the engine to start. This was a not too common sympton of approaching fuel pump failure apparently.

Thing number two that I had discovered was that to have this job done by a Bosch garage in the UK would likely cost us in the region of £1,000. We weren’t exactly jumping at the thought of paying £1,000 to get the van fixed, but it was doable. If this was the problem, and the price came in within UK budget, then the rest of the tour was still on. We would get the van fixed and be able to carry on our way.

Amazing upcycled van windows on the shed next door.

It was with a happier mood then, and a lot more confidence in our Mr. Boss, that we went out to greet the man from Bosch when he arrived at 08:20. Everyone clustered round the bonnet once more and we held our breath as the Bosch mechanic ran the diagnostics and held the results out for all to see. Fuel Pump failure.

If Mr. Boss had been a younger man he may well have leapt in the air in jubilation. Instead he peacock strutted towards us with the widespread arms and grin of the conqueror. Everybody grinned. Everybody also held their breaths, just a little, as they waited to see how the difficult Scottish woman would react. I grinned. I bowed a little and raised my hands in congratualtions to Mr. Boss. I grinned. I nodded.

“Da! Dobro. Dobro.”

Everyone relaxed. I made the universal sign for money – rubbing my thumb and forefinger together. How much? Great. We know the problem. Now how much did they want to fix it?
Mr. Boss had given up trying to sideline me now. Accepting that he was going to have to deal with a woman he gave in with good grace and got his English speaking friend on the phone. Mr. Boss and his boys would charge us €200 for all their work including removing and resetting the fuel pump. He could not promise what Bosch would charge to refurbish the pump, but they would phone with a price once they had looked at it. Then we could decide whether to go ahead or wait till Tuesday for a new pump.

No sooner had we agreed than the guys went straight to work. Saturday or no Saturday they were on a mission to impress and get us back on the road as fast as possible. Iggy was over the pit in seconds and three mechanics set to work dismantling bits of engine to reach the broken fuel pump.

How many mechanics does it take to change a fuel pump?

Jay, Marley & I loitered in the growing heat of the yard while we waited, until Mr. Boss shouted us from the doorway. The fuel pump had been removed and he wanted us to see it before it went in the courier box to be rushed to the Bosch centre. Proudly, he held a gooey, misshapen, black lump of oil encrusted metal triumphantly under my nose. It looked like a tar covered, cancer ridden human heart. Yup! That definitely looked broken to me!

Jay and I both made lots of “Ooh!” and “Ahh!” noises, and wide eyes and head shakes of disbelief to the delight of Mr. Boss and his crew. Then the poisionous looking pump and our equally poisonous looking fuel injectors were swiftly bubble wrapped, boxed, and in a car speeding out of the forecourt. Now it was time for coffee and waiting for the call from Bosch to say how much to fix it all. If it was even fixable that was…

Waiting, waiting, and more waiting.

Back in Iggy we made coffee and speculated about the state of the pump. We were thinking it might have been dirty diesel due to our love of travelling off the beaten path that had led to the pump’s demise. But mostly we were just killing time, waiting to hear from Bosch, waiting to know if we would be back on the road today. And although it felt like forever we didn’t have  too long to wait.

Forty minutes after the car left, Mr. Boss called us back out of Iggy. Bosch had phoned with a price, and he had the breakdown ready for me. €200 for them + the refurbishment fee from Bosch for the fuel pump and the cleaning of the injectors + the fee from Bosch for doing the diagnostics + local tax came to 138,000 Serbian Dinar or €1,150 if we wanted to pay that way. This was for cash. If we wanted to pay by card we must pay an extra €60 to cover the card fee.

Mr. Boss tried to persuade Jay this was a good deal while Jay smiled and dodged him so I could run calculations. Using our Revolut cards, and if we could get enough cash out in one day, it was going to cost us £1,008. This was UK prices and in Serbia it should be cheaper. Clearly the guys had googled to see how much it would cost us at home and charged accordingly. But if the pump had gone in the UK this is what we would have paid. And we wouldn’t have had an entire team of mechanics working flat out on a Saturday to get us back on the road either.

Decision made I turned my face back to Mr. Boss man. Everyone watched with breath held, waiting to see what the “Bossy Lady” would say.

“Da! Dobro!” I grinned at them with a big thumbs up.

“Dobro! Dobro!” said Mr. Boss. “Good. Two hours. Is done.”


Mr. Boss walked off to the shady tables by the house, and Jay jumped in a car with one of the mechanics, to go into the city to an ATM for cash. Somebody gave Bosch the go ahead, and all there was to do now was relax and wait a couple more hours. It was eleven o’clock. All being well they would have us back on the road by three.

Feeling a bit shy on my own, but too hot to stay out in the sun, I followed the crew over to the shaded tables where everyone was smoking and drinking coffee. An elderly couple who appeared to be Boss man’s parents waved me and Marley over to sit down.

“Kava?” asked the elderly man, his eyes sparkling smiles at me across the table. “Coffee? You like? Turkish? European?”

Guessing that Turkish was probably the way Serbians normally had their coffee I immediately agreed.

“Da. Hvala. Turkish is good.”

It was the right answer and everyone beamed in delight as the man wandered off indoors to make me coffee, stopping to pick up his wife’s cup to fetch her some too. The team relaxed over their break, everyone happy now, smiling, chatting. The deal had been done. Everything had been agreed. They were making good money, and I had not been ripped off. Now they could show me how good they were at their work. How trustworthy Serbians were. How good a place their country was to visit.

And that, was pretty much what happened.

Jay was back in forty minutes with pocketfuls of Serbian Dinar. We were short by €26 worth of cash and I offered to pay this by card, but Mr. Boss man waved it magnanimously away, and our bill fell to £987 on the spot. Free rides in and out of Smederevo to collect cash, and dogs, included.

The Pappa brought Jay coffee and he told me his adventures running around Smederevo with the mechanic. And then we wandered around the nearby fields for an hour with Marley before heading back to see if there was any news.

The remains of the summer’s maize crops that filled the fields around us.

Just as we arrived the mechanic who’d been sent to Bosch with the parts drove back into the yard, and everyone gathered round to watch…

“The Grand Opening of the Box!”

And grand opening it was indeed. Boss man made a great show of breaking the Bosch tape sealing the box shut. This had been done by the proper people he was telling us. Then in the manner of an Antiques expert unwrapping a Faberge Egg he carefully removed the bubble wrapped parcel from inside.

He paused for effect.

Then slowly, carefully, he unfolded the gleaming, shining, silver beauty of an immaculate piece of beautiful machinery. We had no idea at all what we were looking at. But still our gasps of delight and astonishment were one hundred percent genuine. Could this really be the same diseased lump that was carried away just three short hours ago? And those perfect, shining injectors? Were they really ours? Could they do the rest of the engine while we were here?

Mr. Boss was delighted with our response, and with a wave of his hand his trusty team jumped back into the pit and began to put Iggy back together again at full speed. An hour passed and the second head mechanic came in search of us. The fuel pump was back in place. Now he just needed to reset the timing. He wanted Jay to turn the engine for him to see that everything worked.

We were both holding our breath as Jay turned the key in the ignition. And Iggy sprang to life with that old familiar rumble that is like a lover’s whisper to our besotted ears. Iggy was alive! I nearly cried with happiness and relief.

But our mechanic was not quite finished yet. The timing was not quite to his liking, and twice more he fiddled under the hood and then asked Jay to turn the key. On the final turning Iggy did not so much rumble into life as purr. The mechanic could tell by the looks on our face that our van had never sounded so good. This man knew his job, and took pride in doing it well. Everyone came. Everyone listened. Everyone grinned. I wanted to kiss them all. At least twice.

But instead we exchanged cash for receipt. Boss man had refused to take the money until the job was finished and we were completely satisfied. Jay backed Iggy out of the workshop, and we set the Satnav for the Bulgarian border. Everyone grinned and waved. Happy to see they would get a good review for their work from our ecstatic faces.

“Hvala! Hvala!” we shouted “Ciao! Ciao!”

Thank you and goodbye. And then Iggy’s wheels took us down the dusty road and round the corner towards the motorway.

Fuel pump fixed – £987. Our Serbian experience? Priceless.

Fi. x

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