Surviving The Wasteland: The Inevitable Cracked Radiator Tank, Part 1
I'll always be the first one to say that when life gives you lemons you're best served by making trail rigs out of them. I'll also be the first one to say that Greta is far
from lemony, but she does have 112,000 miles on the clock and with that kind of mileage something is going to go wrong, periodically. With that said...
Identify the problem in the following picture.
Pictured: Hmm...something's not right, here.
After leaving the hood up all night, an early season frost came to visit.
Beasley got crazy with the margarita salt.
Coolant hit the fan blades and was thrown all over the f****** place, whereupon it dried in terribly nonfascinating patterns.
Very Sincerely Yours is a lazy b**** and didn't clean up after the last beach trip.
because Beasley is very, very sneaky, but in this case it's C
...which is why I've been in a foul mood all day. If it was B
I'd have probably been in a relatively good
mood, because I truly hate
a salted margarita. Come to think of it, I hate all
margaritas...but not as much as I hate things breaking unexpectedly. Here's a better shot of the injury itself:
Pictured: Injection-molding fail.
That, My Pretties, is a textbook upper radiator tank crack...and if you drive a TJ with a stock cooling system it will happen to you someday. It is not a question of "if"...it is only a question of "when" and of what you will do as you are being faced with said eventuality. If you're me, you'll look dejectedly at your Jeep and say "I buy you so many
pretty things, and this
is how you show your appreciation?!?!" Then you'll start wondering how much a replacement radiator will cost...and then you'll start wondering if the crack can temporarily be patched up. Then you'll have a moment of inspiration where you say "Hey...this is the perfect time to test out a trail repair and see how long it can hold!"
So that's exactly what we're going to do. I can sort of
afford to replace the radiator, but since I'm not planning on driving much in the next several days, why not try to seal up the crack in a manner that would reflect a trail repair? Since we've already admitted that this kind of breakage will occur at some point in everyone's off-roading career, I can see no reason to avoid partaking of some real-world testing with an "I had it in my handy-dandy TJ Toolkit" solution and then posting it for everyone's viewing pleasure. Before that's done, though, I want to take a minute to explain my problem-solving process.
Valuable Information: Fixing any given problem in the Wasteland is usually no more than going through three simple steps. Step 1 - Ascertain the problem. Step 2 - Take stock of the problem's impact on your current situation. Step 3 - Effect a workable resolution. If you can do that, you'll probably live through damn near anything. Be prepared in terms of gear, supplies, and - most importantly - mentality.
In our present scenario, the problem is obvious: there's a crack in the top tank of the radiator and the system has a lack of coolant...so that's Step 1 taken care of. If you're one of the slower kids in the class and skipped Step 2, read it again...especially the part that says "Take stock of the problem's impact on your current situation," which is pretty much the entirety of that particular step. So, what does this breakage mean for us at current? How does this cracked radiator impact us at this moment in time? Consider another picture of the damage, taken after 30 minutes of low-coolant-and-no-airflow idling.
Pictured: Looks the same as the first one, doesn't it?
That's right...nothing has gotten worse
. There's no additional coolant shooting everywhere and that there's nothing exceptionally bad going on; she wasn't overheating and was otherwise acting perfectly normal, and this was after being driven for six or seven miles
and then left running while parked. With these facts in mind our answer to the question posed by Step 2 - "What impact does the radiator breakage have at present?" - is this: the breakage has no immediate impact...the rig is still drivable, and if you can drive six miles and then let your rig idle without overheating, she'll likely get you home.
Now, will this be the case in every radiator failure? Certainly not...but if I was stuck somewhere far from civilization and didn't stop for a moment to say, "Okay, what's actually going on, here?" I would likely panic, and that would do nothing but cause a great wailing and gnashing of teeth throughout the land. Panicking - or otherwise not addressing a breakdown's impact - doesn't get me any closer to fixing the breakage, or in this case simply driving myself out of trouble...and "driving myself out of trouble" is a very viable Step 3, which is the part where we effect a solution. To that end, I decided to get all of the dried coolant off of her and get a clearer look at what had happened. To do this, I did something that most people consider to be a sure-fire solution to hydrolocking/melting your engine: I sprayed it down with a hose while it was running.
Pictured: It's not the Wicked Witch, guys...she can stand some water hitting her. Now go wash your damned engine!
Once all of the white cruddiness was cleaned off, I let the engine continue to run and dry itself off, and once dry I checked the temperature - it was stable - and decided to push my luck by taking her out for another quick drive. Now when I say "another quick drive" I want you to understand that I didn't just mosey around the block; rather, I took the opportunity to scuff the glazing off of my brake pads. For anyone that's not familiar with that process, it essentially means that you drive the Jeep like you stole it and then took it to a f****** rally course. If you don't smell coolant, clutch, brake pad, hot oil and melted rubber you didn't do it correctly. The results?
Pictured: A slight bit of bubbling once the system pressurized on shutdown...
Pictured: ...and a perfectly normal temp gauge.
So, where does this leave us? Well, after having suffered a reasonably large coolant loss I drove about seven miles and then let the Jeep idle for the better part of an hour while still hot. I then took her out for another five-mile thrashing and at the end of it the radiator was still holding up and was still cooling the engine effectively. This tells me that the oh-so-common cracked upper tank is not the immediate I'm-going-to-die-alone-and-unloved-in-the-desert catastrophe that some suspect it to be; if the damage is not severe you may very well be able to drive yourself a significant distance with the wound still unrepaired
...and being able to comfortably sit down and drive yourself out of trouble is a hell of a good solution, fellas. That's Step 3...game, set, match.
As I said, though, not all breaks are as benign as this one...so - since this radiator is dead, anyway - I'm next going to go through all the stuff I have on hand and see what I can do to make a repair, under the pretenses of not being able to drive away from the breakage. After I get the repair in place we're going to see just how much driving it can take before the radiator fails entirely...and after that
we're probably going to rip the lower tank off of said extracted radiator and take a look at the transmission circuit to see whether or not it can be used for an on-board shower.
Should be fun.
Stay tuned for the next installment, in which we attack the radiator with a Leatherman and we also see how long it takes people to realize that when you have an engine swap on the horizon, you don't need to invest in anything more than a stock-replacement radiator. Long live Muppet Labs.