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  • Writer's pictureMax S

Buying the Land Cruiser - Big risks

About 3 years ago Covid-19 was flourishing and I was in the Air Force, sitting around in central Canada with a course delay due to the new health regulations. I have to say it was a good time to be a government employee, my paychecks were coming in and I was sitting on my a** doing a whole lot of nothing. Like many car guys I was browsing the internet looking at cars for sale just for fun. And then I found it, completely by accident. It looked too good to be true, a 1994 black Toyota Land Cruiser Prado, in seemingly perfect condition. Land Cruiser... This is a name that is almost synonymous with adventure, overlanding and reliability, only ever competing for the title with the Land Rover Defender.

Well I have to buy this of course, I thought to myself. Except... This truck is in British Columbia, and I'm in Manitoba. This looked to good to be true, the price was on par with a rusted out domestic gas 80 series Land Cruiser but this truck looked collector grade. And it's listed on Craigslist of all places. Not to mention it's over 2000km's away, I'm not allowed to

leave the city due to the pandemic (by the base commander's orders), I've never driven a right hand drive vehicle or a diesel and I all but lost my license in Ontario due to some reckless 18 year old driving. Plus the provincial borders are closed, they're only letting people through who have a reason to travel. This isn't going to work.

Except, it had to. I couldn't stop looking at the pictures, it was perfect. So I did what anyone wo

uld do, I went to the Canadian equivalent of the DMV and had my license switched to a Manitoba license. Manitoba has a grid system for insurance so all my tickets and points never carried over from Ontario, they told me I could provide a driving record if I wished to increase my score but knowing this would have the exact opposite effect I declined. Next I messaged the seller, we talked for days. He sent me videos of the truck running, dozens if not hundreds of photos, a recent safety and everything I asked for. All I had to do was get to Vancouver from Winnipeg without the military finding out, buy a truck sight unseen, and drive back a 25 year old RHD import 2200km's through closed provincial borders before inspection. Easy enough.

My friend had a note signed by the base commander declaring he was an essential worker and had permission to move wherever he pleased. Luckily, it wasn't addressed to anyone in particular, he let me borrow this note. This would be my insurance for crossing the

provincial borders. I then looked at flights to Vancouver and with the pandemic being at its peak there was only one flight per day going that way and it got to Vancouver at 4pm, not ideal. I called the seller again and told him flat out if he could guarantee the truck will make it back to Manitoba I would fly out for Friday and buy it. He told me it would. So I booked a 1 way ticket. I have to be honest my heart was racing, I could get in trouble by the military, the regular police, I had approximately 0 mechanic

al knowledge and I knew I had an inspection Monday from my officer.

I told my supervisor I was going camping not too far from the city so my phone might be off for the weekend as a precaution, and had my buddy drive me to the airport. It was empty, there must have been a combined total of 20 people in this whole international airport. No one asked me anything and I got on an empty plane with a few other passengers and thought great, that's the first step. I got to Vancouver, took the Skytrain to a stop the seller agreed to pick me up at and waited, tapping my foot with sweaty palms and racing thoughts. I looked up and that was the first time I saw it, the seller was a Ukrainian-Canadian wearing Ray-Bans and flipflops, it was May and just warming up. The windows were down, the sunroof was open. The truck looked better than in the photos.

Long story long we did the paperwork, put the temporary insurance paper plates on and I set off. It was about 6pm and the sun was low and I had 2 and a half days to drive the 2200km's.

I was driving into the night, I had never been in the Rocky Mountains and here I was, driving on

the twisting and turning roads in pitch black, heavy pacific north-west rain in a Japanese truck that felt like it was gonna flip over in every corner. Was the rain getting harder or were the headlights getting dimmer? I looked at the voltmeter and thought it looked like it was creeping down. Nah no way. But... no wait, the headlights really are getting dimmer and the voltmeter is almost out of the white. I pulled into a truck stop in Golden, BC around 1 or 2 in the morning. I shut the truck off, popped the hood up and started looking. Except the truck wouldn't shut off! The daytime running lights were still on. My ignorant to engine eyes couldn't see anything wrong, I walked over to a truck driver who just pulled in and asked him if I could borrow some tools, thinking back I have no idea what I was going to do with them. He asked my what was wrong and I told him I just bought this truck and can't figure out why it won't turn off, add to that now the battery is dead and it won't start. He walked over to the truck with me and after a little while notice

d the alternator cable had unplugged itself... He was a nice guy, looked at me with h

is white eyebrows raised probably thinking this guy is a moron. Within a few minutes another guy pulled up in a truck and offered to jump-start the cruiser. I was feeling lucky but none of us 3 could figure out how to shut the truck off. So after we got it started I just decided to leave it on, I took the spare tire out the back, folded the seats up and crawled in with the heat on (even though it was may, it was still snowing in Golden) and tried to sleep. I realized then I was way too tall to lay down in the back in any sort of comfortable way. I half slept for about 2 hours and got up to start driving again, it was a

bout 5am.

The sun was coming up and I got my first real up close look at the Rocky Mountains. I have to say to this day British Columbia has to be one of the most beautiful places on earth. I was smiling ear to ear driving east. Eventually the seller woke up and saw my text about the possible electrical issue and the truck not shutting off. "Ah no sorry I forgot to tell you there's a small black button on the steering column you have to press while turning the k

ey, it's a Japanese thing". Well that would've been nice to know. But I was happy there was no issue. When I hit the prairies I think I was in shock at how flat the earth could be, endless hours of endless straight highways. Nothing to see. I had a friend in Saskatchewan that I trained with and she and her husband had a spare room for me in Moosejaw at the air force base. I couldn't wait to get some actual sleep. I was running on coffee, Dorito's and Slim Jim's. I didn't realize in the prairies you have to get off the highway to pull into a gas station, they're not just alongside the road like back home. I was a

lmost out of diesel when I noticed the voltmeter dropping again. Time to plug the cable back in. I pulled over, popped open the hood and immediately noticed a shredded belt in front of me. I was close, so I drove to Moosejaw, found a gas station when the needle was way below "E" and got to Stephanie's. They charged my battery up for me, had a nice evening and then I passed out. Moosejaw to Winnipeg isn't too far of a drive, so after having breakfast and coffee I got in the truck and prayed I would get there before the batteries were dead.

There never were and checkpoints between the borders, and I never had to show my letter. I made it back to Winnipeg on Sunday in the early afternoon and called a mechanic to ask him if he could change the alternator belt. "What kind of a truck is it" he asked "It's a

diesel Toyota Land Cruiser". He hung up on me. That was the beginning of realizing the v

ast majority of mechanics in Canada will not touch an import, and it was the beginning of my journey to learning how to take apart the truck and put it back together.

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