Stranded in Vegas Waiting on Car Repairs

For the past four days, I was unexpectedly stranded in Las Vegas. 

Trying to work at the Palms food court

My unwanted “staycation” began early Monday morning. Though I was still wiped out (and truthfully, a little hungover) from the Tecopa Takeover last weekend, I had an appointment with my mechanic in Vegas — so that he could address the suspension issues that were causing my 4Runner to list precariously to one side, and also causing my tires to wear unevenly.

I knew this was going to take awhile, since he was basically re-doing my entire suspension — his hunch was that one of my rear springs had given out, so the plan was to have him take off my old Icon shocks and springs, and replace them with the Bilsteins he had ordered last June.

Shipwrecked in Death Valley last June

(You might remember me kvetching about this earlier this summer — I was stuck in Death Valley for all of June, waiting for the Bilstein kit to come in. One of the springs was on backorder…and it took so long that I ended up just having my Icons rebuilt again, because I didn’t want to wait around all summer for the Bilsteins! But I felt morally obligated to have the Bilsteins installed eventually… since my mechanic said could not return them.)

Let me stop here for a minute to say that I have LESS THAN ZERO INTEREST in suspension, shocks, and car stuff in general — it has been completely against my will that I have been dragged into this mess. I don’t want to think about any of this — I just want to roll around the desert and explore remote, hard-to-reach places, and make videos about them!

Exploring a very remote plane crash site in southern Oregon

But, the reality is, getting up these extremely rough and rocky canyons, and along these bumpy washboard roads, does take a toll on a vehicle. Off-roading is not a poor man’s hobby — unless, that is, you are mechanically inclined and have your own welding/fabrication shop (in which case you are almost certainly not poor).

When I first bought my 4Runner, I had no idea what I was doing. It’s a long, crazy and very interesting story — but back in 2017 a viewer gave me a bunch of money to buy a 4-wheel-drive vehicle. Having never been the recipient of a gift like that, I felt compelled/obligated to go out and buy the biggest, beefiest off road rig I could find — to live up to this viewer’s expectations.

At that time, my sister had already had her 4Runner for several years, and she loved it — so I figured I’d get one of those. But when it came to extras, I had no idea — I just knew that it had to look big and beefy!! The dealership must have seen me coming from a mile away, and they ended up selling me my current ride — which happened to be lifted, with fancy Icon shocks.

At the dealership in 2017 with my brand new 4Runner

Again — I have LESS THAN ZERO INTEREST in suspension, shocks, and car stuff in general!! I just figured what they’d sold me looked big and beefy enough for my purposes — and it was! I’ve driven this 4Runner all over creation (and then some) for the past 6 years, and it’s been great.

The only issue I’ve had has been with the shocks — they start to leak every 30,000 miles or so, which means I have to go into town and get them rebuilt, which usually takes awhile and isn’t cheap. Meanwhile, my sister and my friend Scott (and other viewers who drive Toyotas) have been on my case to get rid of the fancy rebuildable Icon shocks, and just get Bilsteins — another brand which, though not rebuildable, are said to be far more dependable (and come standard on many Toyotas).

My old Icon shocks

So that’s why I had my mechanic order the Bilsteins — peer pressure and confusion. My mechanic himself (Andrew at Trusted Imports in Las Vegas, if you’re interested) advised me that, with the amount and intensity of off-roading that I do, even the Bilsteins are going to leak. But the consensus among the very vocal pro-Bilstein camp is that they will leak much less frequently.

ANYWAY, sorry for the long-winded backstory — but that’s where I was on Monday: taking my rig in to get this weird suspension issue corrected. Andrew was going to put on the new Bilstein kit, and hopefully that would fix everything. Fingers crossed!

Whenever I go into Vegas for anything more involved than a simple oil change, I always pack an overnight bag — just in case! You never know with car repairs, and since I live 85 miles away from my mechanic’s garage, it seems sensible to be prepared. 

Day 1 of working at Starbucks in Vegas

So I dropped off my car bright and early Monday morning, and headed over to the closest Starbucks to edit a video while the work was being done. Halfway through the day, I took a break from editing to go over and shoot another video about the weirdly abandoned-looking Rio hotel/casino — I wasn’t sure if it was still open or what, so I figured I’d do an investigation, since it was within walking distance.

Right around then, Andrew called me to say that the repairs were going to take longer than expected — he suspected the weird listing/leaning of my car wasn’t actually due to the springs at all, but rather the KDSS (Toyota Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System). I don’t fully understand what this is, but if you’re interested enough to have read this far, then you probably know anyway. Either way, this meant he had to order a spacer kit to level out the KDSS, and this would mean leaving my car in the shop overnight — and that I might have to stay a second night, too.

No problem! I was already at the Rio, ass-deep in my exploration of what the hell was going on over there, so I figured I’d just book a room for the night and make that part of the video. Because of the weird state of the property, rates were super cheap — only about $68 including taxes and fees. Why not?

Snooping around the dilapidated-looking Rio hotel-casino

So I hiked back over to Andrew’s garage, about a mile away, got my overnight bag, and then hiked back down Flamingo Road to check in at the Rio — with a pit stop for a to-go order at Wahoo’s Tacos across the street (and side trip to Walgreen’s next door for some wine.) 

The nice thing was, when I checked in at the Rio, the desk agent recognized me from YouTube (he said he was a fan, haha) — and upgraded me to a better room. Come to find out, the reason the Rio looks so weird and abandoned is that they are in the middle of a huge remodeling project — a new company bought the property from Caesars, and they are in the process of juicing it up. So this awesome front desk clerk upgraded me to one of the newly remodeled rooms, which turned out to be really nice!

I should note that I usually stay in real fleabag motels when I’m traveling — I’m on a budget, so as long as there aren’t any bedbugs, I’ll stay just about anywhere. And this room at the Rio was like the Ritz, by my piss-poor standards!

It was like the Ritz!

Anyway, I spent a very comfortable night editing videos and washing my hair with the nice, filtered city water (the water out here in Death Valley comes from a well, and is so full of minerals that my hair never seems to feel clean). And in the morning, I called the front desk to see if my buddy was working, in the hopes that he could extend my stay a second night without my having to change rooms. Alas, he wasn’t — so I had to gather all my things and schlep them down to Starbucks, and wait to check into a new room at 3pm.

(Yes, I could have paid to stay a second night in the upgraded room — but I’m on a budget! I already knew I was facing major car repair bills, so I figured I’d better just book another cheapo room on Orbitz. Which I did, and when 3pm finally rolled around I was able to check back in and finish working.)

Meanwhile, I should note that I was trying to edit videos — and I like to add background music to my videos, which is hard to do unless you can work in total silence. You want the background music to be very subtle, but it’s hard to gauge the audio levels when there’s crappy pop music blaring from speakers all around you! This is why I don’t like working at Starbucks — it’s OK for simple rough cuts, and answering email and writing blog posts and stuff like that where you can just blast white noise through your headphones. But if you’re trying to score background music, Starbucks is very frustrating, because of the music they play. Even though it’s usually low-key schlock like Norah Jones and lite jazz…it’s still very distracting!

Why is Beyoncé shrieking everywhere???

But the casino was even worse! After struggling to edit at Starbucks for a few hours, I headed back to the Rio, thinking I could find a quiet nook somewhere — WRONG!!! The insufferable, hysterical shrieking of Beyoncé blasted throughout the resort, everywhere. I ended up going all the way back into the convention area, where it was blissfully, mercifully quiet — and found a spot where I could sit on the floor and work in peace…until a security guard came along and rousted me out. Apparently I wasn’t allowed to sit on the floor in the convention area, working — not sure why, but I guess trying to hear your own thoughts is prohibited in Vegas. (They prefer to keep you in a state of confusion, so you don’t think about stuff like “house advantage” or “Why does this Bud Light cost $12?”)

By then, it was almost 3pm, so I was able to check into my new room — which, since my front desk buddy wasn’t helping me out, was one of the old un-remodeled rooms. Whatever! It was still nicer than 99% of the fleabags I’ve stayed in — and it was QUIET! No Beyoncé screeching! 

So that was Tuesday night. Again, I spend the night editing — even having to go across the the street to Walgreens again, to buy a cable to connect my phone to my laptop (I hadn’t expected to be gone 2 nights, so hadn’t brought everything I’d need to edit a second video). It was definitely the most boring night anyone EVER spent in Vegas!

All I ever do is stare at my laptop, editing!!

But I woke up feeling pretty good on Wednesday — surely, today my car would be ready, and I could head back out to the blessed desert. Again, I packed up all my gear and schlepped it over to Starbucks, to sit and edit and wait for word from Andrew — but then the bad news came: the work was done, but it needed to be aligned…and the alignment shop was way behind schedule.

Now, I usually just go to Pep Boys for my alignment…but according to Andrew (and to my friend Scott), they aren’t very good. There’s a place in Vegas called Arrow that’s supposedly much better — but they’re always booked up for weeks in advance! Because of this, I always just go to Pep Boys…which might be the cause of some of my woes, if the menfolk are to be believed. Either way, there was no way Andrew was sending my car anywhere other than Arrow!

And…because they’re always so busy, I had to spend a third night in Vegas. Arrrgh!!!!

By this point I was running out of everything — supplies, patience, clean underwear! Remember, I had brought an overnight bag — but only with enough stuff to get me by one night! Thankfully I’m not too snooty, and was able to wash my chonies in the sink. And even more thankfully — the room rates at the Rio were still sub-$70. Keep in mind, the big Formula One race was starting in a couple days, and room rates were set to skyrocket — if I didn’t get out of here by Thursday, I’d be in a real bind!

My second (un-renovated) room at the Rio

Even more awkwardly, by this time I’d already posted my video about staying at the weird-ass semi-abandoned-looking Rio…so when I went to check in, I took my hat and sunglasses off, just in case anyone recognized me this time! But no one did, and I spent a third uneventful (but lonely and frustrated) night in Vegas. WAY longer than I had planned on being there!

When I woke up on Thursday morning, I half expected Andrew to call me with more bad news — I had sort of prepared myself mentally for the prospect of having to spend a fourth night. If room rates were too high, I had already decided to beg my friend Scott to take pity on me, and let me sleep on his couch. I wasn’t looking forward to it, but at least I had a plan. So, I schlepped all my gear back to Starbucks again, and sat down to wait.

Working at a Starbucks in Fresno in 2021

Here I must stop and say a few words of gratitude to the viewers who have sent me Starbucks gift cards in the past — though I don’t drink caffeine myself, and try to stay away from the sugary stuff, I do end up working at Starbucks a lot while traveling, and I have to at least buy a decaf or something to justify my stay. Having a gift card was a huge blessing to me in all of this — I already knew I’d be paying out the you-know-what for the car repairs, and now I had three nights in a hotel, on top of it! So at least I got free coffee, and I appreciated that immensely.

Anyway, thankfully I didn’t end up having to stay a fourth night — Andrew called me before noon, and I was able to go over and pick up my newly repaired, newly leveled out rig — with the brand new Bilsteins shining in the wheel wells. HOORAY! After all these years of people yelling at me to “Just get Bilsteins!!!”, I finally have them. 

YES, the total bill ended up coming out to $3018.18….but I felt that was fair, considering the amount of diagnosing and problem-solving Andrew had to do. In the end, he didn’t end up having to level out the KDSS — just putting on the new Bilstein springs seemed to solve the problem. My front lower control arms also needed replacing, and there were some bent and broken bolts in the shock mounts that needed fixing/replacing. When I went to go get my overnight bag on Monday evening, I saw my rig up on the lift, and got to walk underneath it and see for myself how thrashed it is — you can definitely tell I’ve done a LOT of off-roading the past 6 years! So, I’m not really surprised it cost $3k to get everything taken care of.

Looking at my undercarriage

And the reality is….this is a car I’ve been driving for over 6 years now, with over 180k miles on it — and a lot of very rough miles! So, these kinds of repairs and expenses are going to become more and more frequent, I’m afraid. 

I don’t want to stop exploring remote, hard-to-access places — that’s like my main raison d’être! But as a non-mechanically-inclined person, with no mechanic boyfriend riding shotgun (in fact, usually with NO ONE riding shotgun at all)…I sort of feel like I’m riding on borrowed time. Eventually, I’m going to suffer some kind of catastrophic breakdown in the middle of nowhere…and it’s not going to be pretty!

OF course, I do travel with a Garmin InReach satellite device — so if I ever find myself in a jam, I plan to text my sister with my GPS coordinates, and then have her post something on my Facebook page asking for help (I made her an admin on my personal page). But it would be a huge pain the ass, and a huge inconvenience for all involved — I really don’t want to have to ask for help like that!

Never leave home without it!

So….when all is said and done, I think it just may be time to start thinking about buying a new 4Runner.

I know, I can hear you now — “But Toyotas run forever! You should be able to get at least 300,000 miles on that engine!” But that’s the engine.

The rest of the car is a different story!

I just want to travel around forever, without worrying

Truthfully, I’ve already noticed a reluctance on my part to go deep into the backcountry like I used to, these past couple of summers — because I’m worried about the reliability of my rig, and my total incompetence regarding field repairs. And I hate being held back by these worries! As odious as I find the prospect of buying a new car….I think that may be the most practical route, for someone like me, in the position I now find myself.

Of course, I like the idea of learning to fix my rig myself — but that’s unrealistic. It already takes all my mental capacity to research these locations, read up on the history, figure out the route, travel to the sites and shoot and edit the videos, on top of everything else I have to do — I simply don’t have the time or bandwidth to learn to be a mechanic, on top of it all. I need a car I won’t have to worry about…you know?

Me and my new Bilstein shocks

Anyway…I’ve just bought myself some time with these new Bilsteins. But eventually, I have to figure out the smartest plan of action — and these were the thoughts I’ve been having the past few days, as I was trapped in Vegas. 

What do you think?




42 responses to “Stranded in Vegas Waiting on Car Repairs”

  1. Roger from Oklahoma Avatar
    Roger from Oklahoma

    New 4Runners are about 46 to 49 thousand dollars list price. Cheaper to keep her as the saying goes. That monthly payment, tag and insurance would be like wow! If all of that was $1000 a month, your repairs cost 3 months of payments and you have a paid off 4Runner. I will say this. The new ones have the slide out cargo deck.

    1. wonderhussy Avatar

      Good points! I’m still mulling it over

      1. LARRY HARP Avatar
        LARRY HARP

        Once everything is up to snuff you know what you have. Over the 23 years I had my 1991 Suburban, everything but the engine and transmission had been replaced or repaired at some point. I will say it never left me stranded, and it went all over the western U.S. Cheapest hotel I ever lived in..When you have a vehicle you’ve spent a lot of time in you discover they do usually give you a warning something is up, little new sounds,etc, so you take it in and have it checked out provided you know a good shop. You take care of your rig, and it will take care of you!

  2. Kathy Root Avatar

    I think you “should” bite the bullet and get a new 4Runner. Your fans would chip in…😁

  3. Roger Kidd Avatar
    Roger Kidd

    Sarah, check out the all new “Land Cruiser” on the Toyota web site. It has the latest technology and is smaller and more nimble than the previous cruiser. It has also moved down market in price compared to the previous cruiser.
    The mechanicals are similar to the new Tocoma so should get better gas mileage.

    1. Cat Avatar

      She needs to be able to sleep in it as well. It’s not just her off-road vehicle, it’s her motel room on wheels.

    2. John Rush Avatar
      John Rush

      The new Land Cruiser has a turbocharged 4-cylinder hybrid engine. The hybrid will return better mileage, but the turbocharger will take it away, and might also wear down the engine sooner.

      Unfortunately, the new 4Runner also has a 4-cylinder engine. The similar Lexus LX has a V6, but a base price of over $90K. As others have recommended, a lightly-used 2023 model 4Runner in excellent condition might be a better buy for your purposes.

      1. wonderhussy Avatar

        Yeah… That’s why I sort of feel like I need to get a new car ASAP! I don’t want that new engine

  4. JP Avatar

    I vote for you stashing away some nickels and dimes,sprinked with quarters ,for a new 4 Runner. This time have your mech or Scott tag along for input on the extras you’ll need to get from the factory. A great read and I saw your videos on YT.Have a great Turkey Day Sarah Jane. JP

  5. Don Denis Avatar
    Don Denis

    Considering this costed $3000, it was really the only big repair you had on this Toyota and for a car that has 180k that is really good. Just keep the speed slow on washboard roads and you have many miles and years left in your 4Runner. I would spend some money on the body to bring it back to new.

  6. David F Hepner Avatar

    I kept a VW Vanagon for close to 300k miles. The only reason that I got a new car was that I couldn’t get parts for it any more. I did have the diesel engine rebuilt and cooling system replaced because it was cheaper that buying a new car at the time. I had it for 25 years.
    I vote for keeping it and fixing it. You know how it runs. The next one could be a lemon.

    1. Tim and Anna wilde in Stewart Valley Avatar
      Tim and Anna wilde in Stewart Valley

      I agree. 🙂

  7. Richard H Palmquist Avatar

    All I know is that you share honestly in an amazing display of intelligence and creative gift.. Didn’t you get comped in Vegas?

    I can stay there nights then move to another three and a couple two night maybe a half month of comps.
    Am I special?

    Just teasing. Your friend who cautioned you is wise.

    Suggestion. Look for one that is three months old and save ,$20k contrasted with horrid new price.

  8. Robert Lee Avatar
    Robert Lee

    Great, now go and find the mysterious M cave.

    1. wonderhussy Avatar

      Problem with that is, I don’t think there is any such cave. I think he just wandered off because he was depressed

  9. Paul Joseph Molnar Avatar
    Paul Joseph Molnar

    Hi Sarah, have you researched Toyota loaning / giving you a new Forerunner in exchange for you endorsing the vehicle? Several hundred thousand eyeballs regularly watching your videos that prominently feature a Toyota product is worth a lot of marketing money. Who knows how many Forerunners you’ve already sold? On the other hand, Toyota might put all kinds of unacceptable restrictions on agreement, eg – Toyota logos in every conceivable location on the vehicle or a “no parking in brothel parking lots” requirement, to name a few. LOL!!! Ain’t nobody gonna tell Wonderhussy where to park!!!! For me, I’d probably keep servicing the current vehicle, not having a car payment is priceless. Speaking of logos and marketing, I just put a Wonderhussy sticker on my Toyota Tacoma that I bought off your new website merch area. I also really like your Delta 9 gummies. Paul

    1. wonderhussy Avatar

      I know I have sold at least a few 4Runners based on people watching my videos! It’s a good idea to reach out to Toyota.. thanks for reminding me

      1. Paul Joseph Molnar Avatar
        Paul Joseph Molnar

        HI Sarah, you’re welcome. Good Luck!!! 😊

      2. Dennis Graeber Avatar

        I have one because of you !
        It’s a 96 sr5 with 256 k no problems drove it home ( Michigan) from Visialia Ca. Came thru your neck of the woods on the way.
        Thanks for sharing your adventures !! Big Fan !!

        1. wonderhussy Avatar

          Awesome! I’m glad it worked out for you!

  10. Patricia Eich Avatar
    Patricia Eich

    Unless prices have gone down, a new 4RNR can cost more than that. I’ve had my 2023 for almost a year and I paid $52,000. I did consider the TRD off road pro, but it was at least $5000 more. Keep your 2017 for now to get your repair cost back a little. Get a new one in a year or so. Can’t put a price tag on peace of mind when traveling, especially the places you like to go. BTW, with all you had done I don’t think that repair bill was too bad.

  11. terry Avatar

    thought- see if a dealer might be interested in a sponsorship or partial sponsorship. picture of it in a rugged loacation and the old phrase ‘ my trusty steed’ in the video. you’re good about not flooding us with ads but it may have to happen depending on your bank account. better to have an ad than lose a hussy, good hussys are hard to find now days.

  12. James Gill Avatar
    James Gill

    I enjoyed reading about your Vegas adventure I have followed you for several years enjoying your post. Hope you’re able to continue and please be careful on your travels. Thank you.

    1. wonderhussy Avatar

      Thank you for your kindness!

  13. AUSDAVIDZ Avatar

    I had a HiLux, totally destroyed it, no where near strong enough for heavy-duty hard core off road, same as a 4Runner [no longer sold here]

    In Australia is but 2x Heavy Duty proven 4×4’s either a Toyota L/C [You guys dont get the 70 series or the 300 series] so really leaves the Nissan.

    Weird its called Patrol here but Armada there, as long as you can afford the fuel for it, they are tough, long lasting, proven and go really good too thanks to the stonking V8

    Not sure what your budget is, but should be able to buy a 2nd hand one only used as a car, mint and a off road virgin condition for thousands less.

    Or buy a Wrangler by Jeep be ideal in USA

    I drive a GM with 345,000km, dont like to venture far either, lots of deferred repairs looming…..

    1. wonderhussy Avatar

      Thanks for the tips! Still pondering my options… I’ll figure it out!

  14. Bruce Avatar

    Are you selling your old shocks?

    1. wonderhussy Avatar

      Yes, my friend Scott agreed to sell them for me out of Las Vegas! Once he has them cleaned and sort it out and photographed, I’ll post about it on my Facebook page

  15. John Mathias Avatar
    John Mathias

    I was thinking about trading in my RAV4 when it hit 200,000, even though it still runs great. My mechanic says I’m better off maintaining the old car rather getting a new one (costs less to maintain, more reliable, etc.).

  16. Tim and Anna wilde in Stewart Valley Avatar
    Tim and Anna wilde in Stewart Valley

    Sarah, a good mechanic should be able to keep any breakdowns pretty much on par with a new vehicle with good maintenance practices. Having your satellite phone is a great piece of mind and I’m sure you would get great help if needed. 🙂

  17. RC Morton Avatar

    I almost always hang onto cars longer than practical and purchase used cars when I do act on it. Two years ago, mostly because of my age, I thought I deserve a brand new off the assembly line vehicle and bought a Subaru Forester Touring model with all the bells and whistles. Turns out it is by far the best and safest car I’ve ever owned (has lots of automatic safety features like lane control, adaptive cruise control, blind spot emergency braking, emergency braking, back up warning sensors etc). It makes me wish I’d done this sooner. It’s not my off road driver (I have a 2001 Jeep TJ rock crawler) but my point is if you purchase a new Four-Runner you will probably find lots of the new technology that makes for a more pleasant and safe trip.

    As one of your fans commented, with as many followers that you have, I’m sure some or many would send you a buck or two to keep you safe and out in the bush.

    I can’t remember your subscriber count right now but I think it’s over 200,000. Just think how many bells and whistles you could have on your new Four-Runner if we just sent you a dollar each.

    Go for it!

    1. wonderhussy Avatar

      Thank you! I’m usually very frugal, so making a big purchase like this is tough for me, but you are right!

    2. Mike Kiester Avatar
      Mike Kiester

      Each of the new technologies is a point of failure. Keep It Simple. Newer vehicles are weighted down with government regulations.

      In past 18 years, I have worn out a Ford Exploder and put 385K on a 2010 I bought used, much of the miles back roads in West.


  18. Eme Avatar

    We know you’re ready for a new rig. How about this: Put away as much money as you can a month in a “truck fund account” for a year. When you’re ready to buy, you’ll have a good down payment, and a good trade-in which will lower the monthly payments of a new truck. If you decide not to buy a new rig, you’ll have a good fund to pay for anything your current rig needs. You are the best! 😊💕

    1. wonderhussy Avatar

      That’s what I’m planning to do! 😀

  19. Paul Joseph Molnar Avatar
    Paul Joseph Molnar

    HI Sarah, you’re welcome. Good Luck!!! 😊

  20. John Crowe Avatar
    John Crowe

    I’ve had the scenario where something major goes wrong and suddenly the vehicle is worth almost nothing and may not be worth the cost of repair. Toyota’s have good resale/trade in value so you need to weigh that into your calculations.

    1. wonderhussy Avatar

      Good point!

  21. steve Avatar

    How about keeping your Toyota and getting a new small dirt bike to get you back to civilization if ever the Toyota craps out?

    1. wonderhussy Avatar

      Now that’s an interesting idea!

  22. Mike Kiester Avatar
    Mike Kiester

    Each of the new technologies is a point of failure. Keep It Simple. Newer vehicles are weighted down with government regulations.

    In past 18 years, I have worn out a Ford Exploder and put 385K on a 2010 I bought used, much of the miles back roads in West as you.


    1. wonderhussy Avatar

      I agree! I drove my old Ford Ranger pickup all over the place, and never really had an issue. If I get another 4Runner, I’m leaving it stock!!

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