Car Trouble in Panama

A little bad luck, a lot of good luck and good people, and an interesting day.

I have a 97 Mazda, not fancy but a sturdy little car. I have had a number of people beg me to sell it to them so I have the feeling I’d better hang on to it. It also holds the bicycle rack, and today my bike needed to go to the shop for a couple repairs.

After we dropped off the bike, I called my friend Cedo who was on the bus coming back from her farm. It was starting to rain, and I thought it would be nice to pick her up so she didn’t have to wait for the local bus to take her back to our neighborhood.

The bus terminal was crazy! It was full of people, buses, taxis, and tons of noise and activity. We finally found each other, got back to the car, made our way out of the area, and headed up the street towards home. Then suddenly, kaput! The clutch went out and we were dead in the street.  But, thankfully we were in front of some stores and there was an open parking space right in front of us. Joel only needed to turn the steering wheel and push it a few feet into the space.

I called the mechanic. Side story – when I arrived in Panama my friends knew I needed a car so they put their mechanic on the job. He couldn’t find anything suitable in my price range so he sold me his wife’s car.

The mechanic tells me to call my insurance company. Here in Panama, towing is covered by your car insurance policy and if you have a problem,  your insurance people arrange for a tow truck. This involved a number of phone calls back and forth, and Spanish is more difficult on the phone and we are on a noisy street. But Cedo is with us and I was able to just hand her the phone. What a great help!

Everything is arranged and we are told the tow truck will arrive in 30 minutes, so we sit on the curb to wait. In 20 minutes, here comes the truck! He has to go around the block to get to the correct side of the street. As he is coming back the insurance company is ringing my phone to see if the truck has arrived, and the mechanic shows up! I just wanted to give him the heads up that our car was coming to his shop. I never expected him to come to us. But, he checked that it indeed was nothing he could fix on the spot, and he was also able to help load the car on the truck and explain to the driver where it needed to go.

By now, the rain is barely a sprinkle, the car is loaded up, and a taxi sees what is going on and beeps to see if we need a ride. We gather our things and pile in, and finally all make it home.

The bad luck – a car problem, and I never thought about taking a photo of anything. Sometimes you are busy living life rather than documenting it.

The good luck – we didn’t get stuck in the bus terminal or on a hill or in heavy traffic or some other totally inconvenient place, but rather on a flat and main street right in front of an open parking space. Cedo was with us to help me with the phone calls. Our mechanic went above and beyond for us. Our insurance company took very good care of us, and the tow truck guy was very professional. We are in Panama where it was only sprinkling, not snowing or cold, I am not on a schedule, and everyone was so helpful and things were taken care of faster than expected. All in all, it’s been a very good day.

Here is the offending little car, a photo taken just before I bought it.

Here is the offending little car, a photo taken just before I bought it.


About Kris Cunningham

We live in David, Chiriqui Provence, Republic of Panama! This blog is about some of our experiences in our new country.
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19 Responses to Car Trouble in Panama

  1. oldsalt1942 says:

    I know you saw my recent blog post about customer service here in Panama. I think that those who gripe and moan about it the most are those who live up the hill from David and bitched, griped and moaned where they came from. They are also the least likely to speak Spanish, or at least attempt to speak it, and as we both know, even making a mess of the language gets you more respect and assistance than does, “Habla Ingles?”


  2. I think your positive attitude helped! 🙂 Your day was full of synchronicity…just ask and the universe opens to your needs. I hope your car is fixed soon and it’s not too expensive.


    • Maybe so. Sometimes things just come together like that, and it seems to happen most of the time like that here. Another reason we are meant to live in Latin America. This is our second car so we are fine without it. I keep thinking of selling it and then realize we couldn’t get another if we change our minds, and it’s paid for, and inexpensive to insure. This guy fixed a leaking head gasket not long after we got it for a fraction of what it would have been in the US, so I’m not too worried that a clutch will break our bank account.


  3. Anonymous says:

    So glad every thing worked out for you. Was it the clutch or the clutch cable?


    • I don’t know, will have to wait for the mechanic’s report. I asked about the cable and he said something about hidrolico. Every new experience is new vocabulary, and this mechanic has one speed of talking – super fast. But when we see him he will show us the parts he replaced and that will help.


  4. 4sarge says:

    If it is a Manual, Clutches wear out, some faster than others, if one is a Clutch rider, just learning or stopped on many hills. We just had replaced the wife’s clutch on her 97 Suzuki. I’d say if that was the Original it had served well. A reasonable cost for repair here and it was about 350+. Your tow truck came faster than I can get AAA here in the States. Good Luck


    • Something must have broken because it was fine one minute, and totally not working the next. I’m trying to remember – I think it was around $300 for the head gasket so I doubt the clutch will be that much. He’s going to check the brakes too and probably replace a couple brake cylinders while he has it. Manual cars here are the thing. It’s hard to find automatics.


  5. bodhipearl says:

    Wow! That service is impressive on all levels. Thanks for sharing!


  6. Steve Muse says:

    I am glad that something that normally is a real pain in the neck, really did not end up being all that bad of a day.. However, your attitude towards the situation really does make all the difference.
    It really was great that Cedo was with you to help with the phone calls. Thank You for writing this Kris.


    • It could have been worse. And, my mechanic even had the car ready to go around noon on Saturday! $232 in parts in labor to replace a hydraulic pump in the clutch, all the brake pads and shoes, and two brake cylinders. So it is back in order and the brakes are also working much better. And, that’s not all. We picked up the bike on the way back and it’s like a new bike – all cleaned up, everything lubed and oiled and no more clicking noises, and the problem with the gear shifter straightened out – $8.


  7. John & Susan says:

    This is great Kris. You lucked out on several fronts. Your attitude is wonderful. Good for you!
    So who is your insurance company and what was the end result of the repair?



    • John & Susan says:

      Oops…somehow I did not see your last reply.
      What great service and price on the car and bike.


      • The bike has been in a number of times for various little things and they always take good care of me. The car thankfully hasn’t needed very much but my mechanic too has always been very good to me. We have an insurance broker so we have two different companies for our two cars since they shopped around for the best deal for our particular circumstances. Let me know if you need insurance here and I’ll get you connected.


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