Monday, January 16, 2017

The Story of the Blown Radiator

It was the summer of 2015, our second season with the van. Our goal, drive to the end of route 138 on the North Shore of Quebec. A 2 000 mile back and forth trip into the unknown above the 50th parallel. No idea if the 35 year old truck would make it but we set forth with tools, duct tape and bail wire. We made it.

2 weeks later I had cleaned, waxed and buffed my truck to go to a car show. We packed the truck the night before planning to camp in the night before the show so we wouldn't wait in line too long the next morning. All that was needed was ice so we stopped for some less than a mile from the house. out we come of the store and the van spews its coolant on the pavement while we walk towards it. Blown radiator. We headed back home and that was pretty much the end of the season for us. Our budget was already tight and parts for the repair would gobble up the rest of it.

Fast forward a month later, I have a radiator, new hoses, clips and fresh coolant. didn't buy a new thermostat, a friend gave me one new in the box (more on that later.). A pretty straight forward job, I proceed to do it. Turns out the truck had its original brass radiator, a disaster waiting to happen. Pulling everything out and putting it back in went almost flawlessly. Almost. While trying to insert the new heater chore hose, one of the heater chore's pipes pops out from behind the firewall. The word that came out of my mouth was loud and foul. Back to the web for more info.

Oh joy, I had to remove the entire dash in order to replace the part. 2 weeks later I managed to get the part and do the install with some help from Youtube. I had to get the truck ready as we had a final event to attend for the upcoming week end. A test drive revealed weird fluctuations on the temperature gauges which is usually rock steady whatever the conditions. Screw it, let's go. I made it to destination but it was about time, the temperature was starting to rise and worry me.

2 days later we headed back home. As we were rolling on the highway, the temperature started to rise steadily and was making a run for the redline. I pulled over immediately, waited for it to cool and proceeded again. I had to do this so many times that a trip that would normally be a 90 minute drive turned into a 7 hour nightmare. I couldn't drive into the city so I parked it at a friend's on the outskirts of town.

I had the truck towed to my trusted garage (American Auto Centre) and they found the problem right away, the thermostat was stuck closed preventing coolant from circulating in the engine. That brand new in the box gifted freebee thermostat was defective. Funny thing is there is a stupid simple way to check these which I had found in my research. Dump the thing in boiling water to see if it opens. Did I do it? Nooooo, it's brand new! So the job ended up costing twice the initial price by adding tow and time for the mechanic.

The lesson here? Check everything and don't take things for granted, ever. I'm not stressed over this, I learned something and the truck is back to it's solid self.

Lastly, if you don't have a temperature gauge, get one retrofitted. When that red overheat light comes on, it's generally too late. Shutting down prior to overheating saved my engine.

Until next time, living the vanlife.


Thursday, January 12, 2017

Owning an Old or Vintage Truck

Choosing to own an old truck requires a few considerations. One does not just buy a vintage vehicle put in the key and go carefree like with a new vehicle. There are pitfalls and of course benefits.

Older trucks are cheaper and easier to maintain, especially ones lacking computers. However, this requires knowledge, the mechanical kind. thankfully in this day and age of the web, most if not all of the information is out there. Vintage vehicle owners are a proud bunch and many love to share their passion on Youtube or blogs like this one. Joining a Facebook group or a forum about your specific ride is also a way to access a treasure chest of information. Some folks will gladly help you out but do take the time to search these groups prior before asking about your specific problem. Chances are someone already did and nothing marks you as a noob like asking a question that was already answered over 25 pages of discussion a few months earlier.

First time doing this. Found most of the info online and managed to put it back together myself more than once.

Although information is easy to find, parts are another matter. Out of production vehicle parts tend to dry up at auto parts store after 20 or more years. Thankfully, the web is there again to help you out. If you happen to find parts that fit your truck but you don't need them right away, buy them. If you get them for cheap it's even better. Hunting for a part when you are in a jam just adds to the problem. Keep some spares. Another great way to keep spares is to keep an old part when doing preventive maintenance. Let's say you replace the distributor cap but the old one is still working, keep it. It might come in handy if you are stuck.

While you travel, keep an eye open for trucks like yours rotting away in fields or scrap yards. I have found a lot of parts for my truck that way on the cheap. It is also a lot of fun, kinda like a treasure hunt.

Sometimes you get lucky. I got this one from my local GM dealer. Found another one some months later for $10, i bought it because these get broken often.

Preventive maintenance is the key. Keep track of what is going to go and make yourself a replacement schedule. Your trusted mechanic should be able to tell you what is about to go. this will give you time to find parts if unavailable and set aside the cash. Do not be cheap on oil, filters (oil, air and gas), spark plugs, fluids and electrical. A word on gas, older vehicles were not made to run on fuel with Ethanol which is present in most gasoline these days. Make sure you add fuel stabilizer in your tank if the truck won't move for more than a month. This will prevent the fuel from separating and the Ethanol to create moisture in your fuel lines and tank. This can create rust in them which will set you up for more expenses.

Owning an old truck is not all that bad, it's pretty cool actually. you just have to keep in mind that they require more care than a modern turn-key econobox. Lastly a word for those with OCD, a vintage ride will never be perfect and it will never be done. You have been warned. :)

Until next time.

Living the Vanlife