05 April 2014

High Cost of Living in Costa Rica

We've had two sudden expenses here that dramatically showed a different side of living in Costa Rica. First we had the air conditioner in our poor old Subaru crash and burn. And then I got a flat tire. We really could live without a car air conditioner here but in the rainy season and on the really hottest days -- it's nice to have.

One day we were driving around with nice cold air blowing out of the vents on our luxury 2003 Subaru Forester. Suddenly, it went warm -- then hot.

Oy. Several days later, we finally drove over to the next big town, Grecia, to have our problem analyzed by Frio Grecia, the local automobile A/C experts.

They hooked up equipment and pronounced our coolant (freon) level to be zero. Then they started taking apart all kinds of piping under the hood. After a couple of hours, I noticed that the shop's "guy that can manufacture parts" was hovering between our car and his blacksmith shop. I asked about that and was told that he was manufacturing a special tool to bolt onto our car's system so that they could isolate the cabin portion of the system from the under-the-hood portion of the system. Cool ... I guess.

After another hour, they announced that the new tool and subsequent testing proved beyond any doubt that there was a major leak inside the passenger compartment of the car -- "probably a total failure of the evaporator." Sounds bad.

But ... they can sure fix it and can sure order the parts and all we have to do is leave the car there for two days.

Yeah, right.

We asked if we could prepay for parts and then bring the car back when the necessary repair stuff arrived.

No. They would order the parts and give us a call when they were ready to do the repair.

Then the really impressive stuff happened. The A/C technician walked out of the office with a fiber optic, real time, video "bore scope" tool, allowing them to snake a little "stick" up inside the dashboard of the Subaru and view/record the part number of the suspect "evaporator" thing-a-ma-jig that was causing the problem. Wow. (This was a full 1/2 day labor and attention to our problem, involving 3 techs and the manufacture of a special testing tool.)

They ordered the part from some Subaru warehouse in Minnesota, USA, and it took a couple of weeks for it to make its way to Costa Rica. (Shipping from MN to some USA port. Shipping from the port to another port in CR. A trip through the CR Customs Agency. Shipping from the tax office to Grecia.) But, it finally made the trip.

Once notified that the parts were in-hand, we dropped off the car for the repair and hunkered down for the expected long wait.


Two days later, they told us the car was fixed.

We journeyed to their shop and found our car all fixed. New evaporator. New internal air filter. Fully charged and tested A/C system.

Guess how much for all of this. Oh ... come on ... guess. $800? A $grand? More?

Wrong. This entire odyssey was out the door for $220.


Yes. And, it is working like a champ, now, weeks later.

Expensive -- not.

Next up was the always aggravating flat tire.

Last week we were about to take a trip into Alajuela when I noticed that a tire on the Subaru was looking a little "poochie". As I watched, it got flatter and flatter. I hooked up our little 12V air compressor and watched as it pumped its little heart out and the tire continued to flatten. Oh well.

I've become really good at this flat tire thing in Costa Rica so the dead tire was replaced by the spare in just a few minutes and we were on our way.

The next day (amazingly quickly for me) we dropped the damaged tire off at the Atenas Coope TBA (tires, batteries, accessories) shop. It looked like the tire repair would take more than a couple of minutes so we left to do some shopping. A half hour later, we returned to find our tire repaired and leak tested, ready for installation on the car. The tech jacked up our car, removed the spare and installed the repaired tire (fancy wheel) back on the car.

O.K., here's your chance. Service that required "drop everything because the gringo wants something done "right now". Take a blown tire, repair it, test it for leaks in the tank, take the spare off of the "victim's" car and install the repaired tire/wheel, put the spare back into the customer's car.

How much?

Oh. $3

Pura Vida, y'all. (I. Am. Amazed.)


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