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I Should Fix That Before I Leave

May 2, 2016

The morning of your trip is always such a hectic time: finish packing, make sure you have your boarding pass, fix the upper radiator hose on your car. . .No? Just me?

Yesterday I had to fly to Shreveport, LA. We are getting ready to open our call center. I’ll be there for a few days. Since I was leaving on a Sunday, I didn’t have the opportunity to take the train. I live in Utah. We built our streets big enough to pull a U-turn with a wagon pulled by six horses. We ditched the horses and now drive cars, and we like them. . .a lot. But, I’ve found that the train can get me to the airport faster and cheaper than driving. Unfortunately, the trains don’t run on Sunday. 

My car has been broken for a few weeks. It might have a blown head gasket. Or, it might be something else. Something cheaper and easier to fix than a blown head gasket. I’ve been chasing the issue for a couple months. I’ve replaced the water pump. I’ve replaced the thermostat. I’ve replaced the radiator cap. . .twice. 

A blown head gasket will make your car overheat. The antifreeze you add to your radiator is designed to cool the engine by flowing around the cylinders where they get really hot and then flowing to the radiator, where it cools off. The head gasket keeps the antifreeze from mixing with the oil and gases in the compression chamber. If it’s blown, the heat and gases from the exploding gas goes directly into their coolant and makes it boil. And the coolant leaks into the cycling ers and flours the spark plugs and lots of other bad stuff.

 The thermostat is a device that opens and closes to allow antifreeze to flow just around the cylinders (closed) or through the entire system (open.) If the thermostat fails, it will typically fail closed. That means that once the antifreeze in the engine heats up, it has nowhere to go. And it just gets hotter and hotter. 

If you have a bad thermostat, you will also typically not feel heat inside the car when you turn on the heater. The thermostat controls coolant flowing to the heating coil. That’s why when you turn the heater on as soon as you get in the car, it blows cold air. The thermostat hasn’t opened. The antifreeze in the engine is not yet hot enough to open the thermostat. Car manufactures design the cooling system like this so that your engine can get up to operating temperature quicker. 

And that’s what my car seemed to be doing. When it would overheat, it would stop blowing warm air through the heating vents. A new thermostat is about $15. But, most importantly, it only takes a couple of hours to replace it. And I can do it myself. A head gasket is much more expensive and I have pay a mechanic to fix it. 

Yeah, it was probably the thermostat. So, last week, I decided to test my theory. I removed the thermostat. If you take the thermostat out, it’s like the thermostat is open all the time. That means that heat comes through the vents right away and that the coolant circulates all the time. 

I removed it on Friday and drove it around town for awhile. It seemed to be working. The temperature stayed down. This was it. After months I finally had tracked it down. 

All that was left was to test it on the freeway. Since I wasn’t taking the train, I needed to leave my car at the airport for my trip. I’ve been driving my lovely wife’s car for the past few weeks while she drove our van. (With this many kids, of course we have a van.) The question was, how much do I trust that I really fixed it? If I break down on the way to the airport on a Sunday, who can I call to come get me and take me to the airport in time for my flight? 

Those thoughts were on my mind yesterday morning. We typically take a couple of cars to get to church at 9:00am Sunday morning. My wife took the early crew and I offered to take the stragglers as I was getting ready to leave. As I pulled back into my driveway after dropping off the kids, I popped the hood to check on my repair. 

It was just a pinhole. Hardly big enough to even notice, unless your system is under pressure and it’s shooting out antifreeze into the engine compartment. What to do? Leave my car and take my lovely wife’s? See if I can get a shuttle? (Probably impossible at this late date.) Or fix it? 

Fix it? Auto repairs are not part of the pre-flight checklist. Auto repairs are what you do on a Saturday when you have lots of time and you can afford to make  couple of extra trips to the auto repair store. You don’t do car repairs on a deadline. 

The clock said, 9:18am. My flight was at 2:00pm and the trip to the airport would take about an hour. Oh, and I still had to take a shower and finish packing. It was worth a shot. They know me pretty well atO’Reilly’s auto parts store in Pleasant Grove. They know I drive a 1996 Lexus Es300. They are used to seeing me. No necessarily on a Sunday morning.

I need a radiator hose for my Lexus. 

Is it the upper or the lower?


The problem was that the hose they showed me didn’t look like my hose. It had a extra bend in it. Now, normally, I enjoy talking to the guys in the auto parts store. But, this time, I heard a clock ticking in the back of my head. (Tick tock, tick tock. Gotta go, gotta go, gotta go.) 

Well, I’ve got two different versions of the upper hose . But there’s also a lower hose. Maybe that’s the one you need?

Can I see it?

I don’t have one, but the south Orem Store does. 

(Tick tock, tick tock. Gotta go, gotta go, gotta go.) 

Why don’t you show me the second version of the upper hose.

Well, it’s quite a bit shorter. I think the first one is designed for a couple different vehicles. You have to cut it to fit. 

I’ll take it.

Worst case, I’m out $12 and I’m no worse off than I was to start with.  When I got home, it lined up perfectly with the existing hose.. Now, how long to replace it? ((Tick tock, tick tock. Gotta go, gotta go, gotta go.) 

I decided that if I couldn’t get everything done by 10:30, I’d admit defeat and leave my lovely wife a very nice voicemail explaining why she couldn’t have her car for a week. I can count on one hand the number of times a car repair has taken less time than I expected. In fact, after yesterday, I can count the number of times on one finger.  The existing hose came off like removing a the last slice of bread from a bag. (The metaphor works, just go with it.) I sliced the new one to length and it went on like putting the last slice of bread back into the bag. I refilled the antifreeze, started the car and hurried in to take a shower while it got up to temperature. 

Fifteen minutes later, it was still showing a good temperature and no leaks. I turned it off, finished packing and was on the road to airport at 10:30. 

I even had time to stop by the church and kiss my lovely wife goodbye. My luck was looking up. . .if it really was just a bad thermostat. Would it get me to the airport without overheating? 

Tomorrow: A Watched Pot Never Boils. . .I Hope

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. 

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One Comment
  1. Eric Murphy permalink

    If you end up with a head gasket leak, I would suggest BlueDevil head gasket sealer. I had a similar problem a few months ago and used it and it worked really well. Here a link to the site i got it from.

    Good luck!

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