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Oh, That’s Not a Good Sign

February 9, 2016

Would you rather be right or safe?

It’s an interesting question. It’s one that every kid who’s afraid of things that go bump in the night thinks about. Children who hide under their covers, because of course, no monster was ever able to get through a comforter and a Sponge Bob blanket. 

When I was about 12 I remember sleeping with the window open on a hot summer night. My bed was directly under the window. I wasn’t normally a nervous kid. So, it was out of character for me, when I felt something come through the window and land on my bed to instantly start screaming. I didn’t know what had come through my window in the dark, but it scared me. I wasn’t about to leave the safety of my bed to try to turn on the lights. 

MOMMMMMMMMM!!

Of course, my parents immeadiately showed up and turned on the lights. I was still too scared to get out of bed. 

It’s under the bed! It went under the bed!

A careful, VERY careful search by my mother turned up no monsters. . .no animals. . .nothing. Had I imagined it? No, 40 years later, I can still feel the sensation of something, something BIG, landing on my bed. 

Would you rather be right or safe? 

I was driving home yesterday when I realized that something was really wrong. The temperature gauge on my car suddenly spiked into the red. That’s never a good sign. A couple of years ago, I would have no idea what the problem might be. I’ve had a very expensive education. I immeadiately turned the heater on full blast. Just cold air was blowing out. 

I pulled my car into a nearby gas station and popped the hood. No smoke or steam. I immeadiately felt better that I hadn’t blown a head gasket. A head gasket is the thin gasket that surrounds your car’s pistons. They are not only expensive, but they are a pain to replace. You have to pretty much pull the engine. So, no head gasket.

There was no steam from anywhere in the engine. Had a cooling hose sprung a leak, I’d be seeing antifreeze being vaporized and making that classic white cloud around the engine. Checking under the car, there was no puddle of radiator fluid. So, no broken hose either. 

The antifreeze in the overflow reservoir was literally boiling. And it was full. And boiling. I’ve never seen antifreeze boil. I’ve heard it, but this was new. 

I now had a couple of decisions to make. I had no thought of having a mechanic work on my car. I might have done that before I got this car, but my neighbor and I did nearly a complete rebuild on the engine last year. We spent $1000 for something that a mechanic shop would have charged me $6000. Whatever the issue was, I was going to fix it. 

As the car cooled down, I considered the symptoms. Any car guys out there probably already know what two things I had narrowed it down to: a water pump or a bad thermostat. Your car has a thermostat that is heat activated. When it gets hot enough it opens and allows coolant to flow to the engine. It’s designed to let your engine warm up as quickly as possible. But, once the engine is hot, you don’t want it to get too hot. So, the thermostate blocks the coolant, or antifreeze until the engine gets to about 200 degrees and then it opens and the coolant circulates and keeps the engine from burning up. 

This is why when you first start your car on a cold morning, it will only blow cold air. You have to let it warm up. What happens after the thermostat opens, is that coolant starts to circulate through the  engine and that coolant gets hot. Then, the coolant flows past the heating system and get it hot and then you can blow warm air. The reason I turned the heater on as soon as I noticed my engine getting hot was to try to pull as much heat out of the coolant as possible. That in turn would allow the coolant to pull more heat out of the engine. The fact that no heat was blowing meant that the coolant wasn’t getting to the heating elements. 

And the fact that the coolant was boiling in the reservoir meant that it wasn’t just a bad temperature gauge. (Never underestimate the simple things.)

So, I was now to decision time. Water pump or thermostat? There were indicators that it might be either one. When your water pump fails, it often will dump excess antifreeze out what is called the “weep hole.” No puddle of antifreeze under the car made me think it might be the thermostat. But, the fact that I didn’t get heat in the car when I was stopped made me think that maybe it was the water pump. And I just replaced the thermostat about a year and a half ago. They are designed to last for ten years or more. 

The other thought I had was cost. A thermostat cost about $10. A water pump I didn’t know, but the one for my Suburban that I replaced two years ago was about $150. I really wanted it to be the thermostat. And yet, I had a hunch it was going to be the water pump. 

Would you rather be right or safe? 

I finally consigned myself to having to replace the water pump, just because, I really would rather be safe than right. After making the emotional decision to replace the more expensive part, I went looking online. To have a water pump replaced on a Lexus ES300 by a mechanic is about $400. Of that cost, about $350 is labor and . . .wait. What? That can’t be right. I called my parts store.  

Well, I have two in stock for that model car.  The one with a one-year warranty is $45 and the one with a lifetime warranty is $65. 

I’ll take the lifetime warranty.

Oh, there’s one more thing. You should probably replace the thermostat while you’re at it.

Of course, I should. Guess what I’m doing today? 

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday at 7:00 AM Mountain Time. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren. 

Follow him on
Twitter (@rodneymbliss
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or email him at rbliss at msn dot com

(c) 2016 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved 

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