Chine/China: Qinghai

Chine/China: Qinghai dans Chine drapeau-grande-bretagne To reach Europe from South Asia, it is mandatory to cross China, unless one opts for a route South of the Himalaya and dares to cross Pakistan with a military escort, which was not an option for our family.  Crossing China via the roof of the world was also very appealing, and we rushed in when Benoit saw on the Internet that Greatway – Tibet Tour was guiding self-driving groups on the route from Lao to Kyrgyzstan via Lhasa and Tibet.

The Tibetan route also looked like the shortest on paper, but, as said earlier, was extended by 1700km as we had to enter Tibet from the North due to the Chinese government forbidding the Eastern entry into Tibet to foreigners. Thanks to our guide and a lot of driving, we have dealt rather well with this little ordeal.

Tibet is a huge plateau, 2000 x 3500 km at an average elevation near 4000m with the Himalaya as its Southern borders.  Crossing it requires climbing passes above 5000m.  In addition to the risk of altitude sickness, Benoit identified high altitude as a potential difficulty for the truck.  The advice of questioned Australian mechanics was merely to use fuel additives against poor quality diesel.  What would they know, as Australia’s summit is at 2088m altitude?  Literature will explain you that internal combustion engines loose some of their power at high altitude, due the lower air pressure that leads to a different – non optimal – fuel-air mixing ratio than at sea level; but this is less sensitive for turbo-compressed diesel engines with intercooler, precisely the type of engine that we have on our truck.   Don’t worry, she will be right mate…

Once we had reached an altitude of 3500m in Sichuan, we noticed that the “regeneration of the DPD” was not completed in 20minutes as usual.  Explanation: our truck has got a modern engine that complies to the most stringent Euro V emission standards.  This is achieved with a catalyst exhaust and a diesel particle filter (or diffuser, DPD) that stops all the black soot before it comes out of the exhaust, unlike any polluting old truck.  Of course, this collected soot needs to be eliminated before clogging the exhaust, and this is done on Isuzu trucks by burning it with a little of diesel injected after the engine: the regeneration, done automatically every 500km or so.  However, the particle burner requires oxygen too, and we had burn problems at high altitude, typically above 2200m.  The ECU, ie the computer controlling the engine, will detect this and issue a warning to do a “manual regeneration”, then a “check engine” default putting the truck in a limp mode with reduced power that barely enables to climb mountain roads.

This is what happened to us on the high slopes of Sichuan, and Benoit’s growing concern leads us as soon as possible to the Isuzu dealer at Xining, for a complete engine check.  We arrive there Sunday 23 June, and the truck is inspected immediately, but the Chinese electronic diagnostic tool cannot be used on our truck, as they do not have the right software for our truck model.  The next day is used for a complete service, including filter and oil change, and water cleaning of the exhaust DPD, as advised by Isuzu Australia.  But the “check engine” default remains, and the Chinese mechanics have no way to reset it.  We are left to ourselves, stuck in the middle of China with a truck blocked by its ECU!  At least, the Isuzu manager is very kind and they let us camp on the garage hardstand, which includes access to water, sewer, garbage, and Xining has got a nice climate… but our journey is on hold.

On Tuesday, Isuzu Australia gives us the contact of other Aussie overland travellers who have had similar problems in South America.  One of them, Miles Robertson is currently in China on his way to Mongolia, and clearly explains us the root of the problem: “At around 2200 metres and above I believe the lower oxygen doesn’t allow the Particle Burner to generate a hot enough burn and the ECU reads that as a fault/defective burn.  This can be fixed with an OBD Tool (On Board Diagnostic Tool)”.  Welcome in the world of automotive engineers!  We now have to find and buy a small computer that can read and clear default codes on the ECU.  Had we known this in Sydney, getting one would have been so easy!  Benoit manages to find an Internet retailer of LAUNCH OBD Readers in Shenzen, who can send it express to Xining in two days.  Bingo, once the payment via T/T transfer at the Bank of China is solved.

Already three days at Xining Isuzu, spent by Agnes schooling the children in the lobby of the garage, cooking and supporting Benoit who struggles with the technical issues.  At least, the children love it there, as they are in a more stable environment, and they play Monopoly with dad, or games on their IPod / IPad.  Wednesday, we visit Xining old town, mixing Muslim, Tibetan and Chinese influence.  Thursday, we go to the Qinghai Tibetan Medicine Museum, to get out of Isuzu while waiting… The parcel is still in Shenzen due to a safety inspection by the Transportation Office.  Friday, at 10:30, a courier delivers the OBD Reader.  Benoit tries it immediately, in front of half a dozen Chinese mechanics… but “Error in Communication with the ECU”.  The Heavy Duty CReader ordered does not work.

This is nerve breaking.  Call the retailer again, organise the replacement of the CR-HD for a CReader VI, go to the post office to return the CR-HD, etc.  Saturday, we drive 25km out of town to visit the Kumbum Tibetan temple to change our mind.  Upon returning to Isuzu in the evening, the caretaker gives us a parcel, which was delivered while we were away.  The new CR-VI is tried nervously, and works: Default Cleared.  Hurray!  After one week in Xining, Serko is back to full service.

However, the engine will not complete burns at high altitudes.  The solution is to use the OBD Reader and to not remain for long periods above 2200/2500m… which precludes us from crossing the Tibetan plateau (4500km above 4000m!)  Benoit is convinced of this on Thursday, and asks the agency to re-route us on the Silk Road, via the Province of XinJiang to Kashgar.  This route is shorter, around 3500 km and at an altitude below 2000m.  Unfortunately, due to administrative and political constraints, obtaining the new permit will take 2 to 3 weeks.  More waiting!

To fill this waiting time, and make the most of China, we decide to go to Lhasa by train for one week: tickets are available leaving on the 4 July.  Before that, we drive around the Qinghai lake, the largest salt water lake of China and a growing touristic spot, 200km West of Xining.  This little tour through green steppes enables us to test Serko at 3500m, and to do a couple of short walks to the lake or to a small summit.  We get used to a slow holiday rhythm, without much distance to travel each day.

Overall this mechanical problem is now fully fixed.  We take the train to Lhasa tomorrow, and this should be fantastic.  Hopefully, the Silk Road permit will be ready when we return to Xining, otherwise we will be stuck in China even longer.




2 commentaires

  1. pierre gruchy dit :


    Aie, aie, aie !

    Benoît va pouvoir donner des cours de motorisation, au moins au motoriste de Serko qui aurait peut-être dû anticiper ces difficultés.


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