Surviving The Wasteland: The Inevitable Cracked Radiator Tank, Part 2
A couple more days and a few more miles and Greta's still running...and not only is she running but she's doing it well within specification. Upon being reminded that most gauges in vehicles these days are dumbed down to the "as long as the needle is in the middle, everything is fine" point - thanks for that, Ryan - I decided to actually take an accurate reading of the coolant temperature at various points in the warm-up/run/idle/cool-down cycle. Normally, this is a pain in the a**, but having a cheap OBDII adapter and the Torque app on my phone made it somewhat easier. I can't take screenshots of the application, but here's the coolant temperature data that I recorded during a morning of driving:
Ambient temperature to 211°F
190°F to 211°F
211°F to 226°F
These numbers correlated very closely to the gauge readout, except for the period where the temperature spikes after the engine is shut down and the coolant continues to absorb heat from the block. I'd guess that if the temp gauge is factory-retarded, the retardation is unfortunately on the hot side of the 210-mark...which is precisely where it needs to be anything but
inaccurate. Regardless, the temps are basically what I expected, which means that a cracked top tank is still essentially functional although certainly not ideal; coolant could still be lost quite easily and that could mean the death of an engine if it gets bad enough. Thus, I'm moving ahead with the plan to attempt a trail-esque patch with nothing more than what I already had in the Jeep that might be useful.
Pictured: The sammich is only for morale, but the ketchup is actually pretty important.
Even though the picture is terrible
- as are the rest, being taken at mid-day with a cell phone - you can see what I've dragged from under the oh-so-photogenic hard deck: some brake cleaner, a jug of water, the first aid kit, a roll of Gorilla tape, a couple of napkins and some J-B Weld. Lunch, naturally, was a separate purchase...but if I could install a sammich dispenser under that deck you can bet that I'd damn sure do it. For now, the order of the day is to get the crack sealed with that J-B Weld, so after a quick drive to get the top tank nice and hot to open the crack, the first step is to prep the surface by washing any newly-dried coolant off of the top of the radiator.
Pictured: Not too bad, though, for about a hundred miles of driving.
There's no point in getting everything sparkling clean just yet - we're still going to do some roughing-up of the plastic - so a napkin and some water are fine for now.
Pictured: A clean radiator is a happy radiator
J-B Weld is a pretty good thing to have just lying around, as it's a great high-strength epoxy with a fantastic temperature rating - 550°F, to be exact - which means that it'll survive under-hood environments. It bonds to most anything but the strength and permanence of that bond is completely dependent on adequate surface prep. Since the plastic is so smooth I used the file on my Leatherman to give the entire area a thorough roughing-up; this will provide the epoxy with a much better surface to grab as it cures.
Pictured: Don't be shy with the abrasion...more is better.
When the abrading is done, soak a napkin with some brake cleaner and start swabbing the entire area. There's no reason to be shy...the brake cleaner will scour the plastic and soften it just a touch on the surface, and it'll get rid of any remaining grease, oil, or newly-arrived coolant.
Pictured: It'll also leave bits of napkin everywhere. We'll get those later.
Let's pause for a second to mention a crucial point: we're patching the radiator while hot because the plastic has expanded a little and the crack is therefore open. I suppose that one could do this repair while cold, but I'd rather the epoxy be worked into the break in order to seal it that much better. Thus, the timing is kind of crucial...you want the plastic to be hot and expanded, but you don't want the coolant to still be bubbling out as it gains heat from the engine; thus, you may have to re-soak the napkin and clean up a bit more weeping coolant over the next few minutes. This is a good time to finish your fries, because the next step is to start mixing up the J-B Weld...
Pictured: ...in a ketchup container. I told you it was important. Ignore the friendly spider.
While any sort of surface or container will work, this is what I had in the glove compartment at the time. To clean out the container I sloshed some water in it to remove the ketchup and then used some alcohol-based hand cleaner (from the Girly Things kit) and more water to get rid of the oily ketchup film that was left over. When it's clean, you can dump a LOT more epoxy in there than you think you need. To mix the epoxy I made a makeshift paddle from the folded-up cardboard of the container.
Pictured: This was barely enough, as it turned out. I repeat: mix more than you think you need.
Once the epoxy was reasonably mixed I gave it a minute or so to "set" while I placed a few strips of Gorilla tape around the cracked area; this ensured that I adequately covered the damage for a good distance in all directions and allowed the mixture to thicken just a touch before it was applied. The thickening really wasn't needed but some sort of physical demarcation was very, very helpful; the last thing you want to do is go through all this trouble and have one portion of the crack marginally covered.
Pictured: The tape also helps to contain the stuff, which WILL get everywhere regardless of how careful you are.
Once the mask was in place and the epoxy was mixed and there was no more coolant seeping out, I used an alcohol prep pad from the first aid kit to give the surface a final cleaning...
Pictured: We don't want to risk it getting an infection.
...and then I basically spooned the epoxy out and spread it across the masked area. Since there were taped edges, I was able to drag some of it back up from the sides and into the middle, where it would do the most good.
Pictured: It's like gray Nutella, only much more useful.
After the mixture was applied I pulled the tape back off and used the still-damp alcohol pad to clean up the few small dribbles that got away from me. Here's the finished patch.
Pictured: Even if it doesn't work, it looks pretty awesome.
Now that the patch is in place, we're going to give this a full twenty-four hour cure and see whether or not it holds up to additional driving. I want to emphasize, here, that this is NOT a real "repair" for a damaged radiator tank...it's just a potential way to minimize coolant losses while on the trail. The real goal of this project isn't to fix Greta's radiator - that'll happen by installing a new unit - but rather to elucidate a thought process and to demonstrate the scrounging-up of materials. The Wasteland may in fact be a wasteland, but that doesn't mean that it's devoid of resources; in this case, everything I needed to take a shot at this was already on-board...and that's an ideal scenario. Self-reliance, after all, is pretty much the only thing you can count on to get you through life.