OT - Van Diagostic Time. Again! Overheated


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Bob Thomas

Social climber
Canyon Country
Dec 6, 2012 - 12:36pm PT
Happy- Been in your place with both a sick dog and van. Teddy's symptoms could be signs of Cushings Disease. That is a totally treatable problem. It does present as a kidney problem, but that is really a secondary characteristic.
As to your van overheating I think it's been well covered here.

Good Luck
bob thomas
John M

Dec 6, 2012 - 12:42pm PT
Question for those more knowledgeable... Would the difference in elevation between upstate NY (quick search shows high point there at 2300 ft ish) and near Amarillo (elev 3600 ish) really matter that much? Does that elevation explanation make sense in this case? What happens during the rest of the travel if it does? Curious.

This is my understanding. Maybe one of the regular mechanics can verify.

A rise in elevation means less dense air. Less dense air means the carb is getting less air which means the air/fuel mixture gets more fuel. This is called a richer fuel mixture. I don't' know if a richer fuel mixture can cause an engine to run hot. I know a leaner mixture can make it run hot. When you go down in elevation you get more air, which means your air fuel ratio becomes higher in air then fuel. This is called leaning, or a lean fuel mixture. That can cause it to run hot. Don't ask me why.. that part I don't know.. heh heh. This happens to older autos that were tuned for higher elevations like Denver.

Modern autos have sensors that detect this and can change the air fuel mixture to keep it within good operating ranges. I don't know about Terri's van. It could be too old for this technology.

One thing that does happen with higher elevations is that an engine will lose horsepower. EDIT ( this next part is total speculation.. take with major grain of salt ) This might be the cause of the hotter temperature as less horsepower means you have to push it harder to get the same performance. But that is just a guess. Hopefully one of the more experienced mechanics can explain this in simple terms for us noobs. haha..


To me it sounds like it has a slow leak, or it needs the addition of an overflow container. The first place I would start with a slow leak is the radiator cap. I would have that pressure tested. The testing device is simple and many napa auto parts stores have one.


One side note. In the olden days many shops had spark plug testers. Those things were notorious for being wrong. One of my shop teachers had one and he showed us how you could mess with it so that you could get a bad reading. That way the shop sold more spark plugs. So I have always wondered about those pressure testers on radiator caps. I never had the nerve to ask them to, but I wanted them to also test the new cap to show me that the tester worked. I do know that replacing a cap has fixed a loss of coolant for one of my autos. So I do have experience with one of them going bad. The spring gets weak.

Social climber
State of KUMBAYA!!!
Dec 6, 2012 - 12:47pm PT

Probably already been posted...

But can't you head to Pep BOI's or wherever and have a presure test run (for free)???...


Sport climber
Boulder, Colorado!
Dec 6, 2012 - 12:49pm PT
Is 3000' considered elevation though? I could understand if she were at 15,000 feet but 3k?

Social climber
State of KUMBAYA!!!
Dec 6, 2012 - 12:51pm PT
It shouldn't be for a fuel injected vehicle...

At least none of mine have EVER had an issue at that elevation...

Not even here, in Colorado in the Denver area has any of our vehicles had any issues...


At higher altitudes, used to stick a comb in the Butterfly when driving carburetored vehicles...

State of Mine
Dec 6, 2012 - 01:03pm PT
A rise in elevation means less dense air. Less dense air means the carb is getting less air which means the air/fuel mixture gets more fuel.

we are talking a 1,300 foot change in elevation.

if she were worried about winning the grand prix perhaps there might be some adjustments to be made. in a 20 year old van? i dont see how ti can be a factor.

State of Mine
Dec 6, 2012 - 01:11pm PT
so just to satisfy my own curiousity:

Here is the pressure at altitude (ignoring atmoshpheric effects, temperature and humidity)

at Sea Level - 1 atmosphere (atm)
at 2,300 ft - 0.90 atm
at 3,600 ft - 0.85 atm
at 10,000 ft - 0.65 atm.

less pressure = less oxygen for combustion as someone noted above. some car manufactuerers do have adjustments say if you live in a high mountain area (i lived at 7,000 feet and had the mechanic do some adjusting).

so we are talking about a 5% difference here. for what its worth.

Social climber
The internet
Dec 6, 2012 - 01:11pm PT
The mechanic didn't find root cause for the original overheat. The altitude thing is BS. Regardless of the actual problem, I would still replace the thermostat and flush the coolant.

Glad to hear the dog is doing better. Sounds like he'll make it.

Trad climber
Topic Author's Reply - Dec 6, 2012 - 01:18pm PT
First Teddy ;)

The first vet did mention possibility of Cushings Disease, which should be looked into when he is feeling better. I haven't yet looked up Cushings, but am glad to hear that it is treatable.

It seems Teddy had an infection, affecting a lot of his blood levels, and combined with the massive throwing ups he was doing, his potassium level tanked.

The vet gave copies of all the work, levels and secondary test levels, so I have that for a vet to look at later.

We are now at a rest stop and he ate a little more food. Weak, not getting up, but he did exert himself with his earlier pee walk, and also did a little when we were waiting on the van.

Re: Van

The mechanic didn't mean the overheat itself was caused by the elevation, but that might be why the temp gauge reads higher than I am used to back home. I know in my old van it ran hotter on the gauge in JT. The elevation of New Paltz is a whopping 240 feet, according to Google. That high point is probably one of the peaks in the Daks?

I might be remembering the number wrong, but when he came back from driving it, he said the temp was 178. He had a digital car thermometer thing. He said he would have thought it would have been closer to 190. But if that thing was a "break it so we can sell them stuff" the guy did it wrong, because there was no charge for this. I think the owner of the shop must have a had very sick dog himself that the doctor helped, or something.

Gauge has been steady at halfway point, but I have only driven little over 50 miles(highway).


Social climber
State of KUMBAYA!!!
Dec 6, 2012 - 01:22pm PT

Can you maybe get more calories into the little pooch by adding something to his water or food???...

Protein powder mix???...

Eggwhite powder???...


Social climber
The internet
Dec 6, 2012 - 01:40pm PT
... that might be why the temp gauge reads higher than I am used to back home
No. What happens is that the paraffin wax that expands and pushes a piston to open your thermostat gets too hot and expands past the piston. Now your thermostat doesn't open as much as it used to - if at all in some cases. This is why you replace that thing when you overheat.

This absolutely WILL come back to you in the form of far more damaging and expensive problems - probably sooner than later. Get that thing replaced!

EDIT: Would not recommend changing the dog's diet, certainly not with human supplements...

Trad climber
Dec 6, 2012 - 01:43pm PT
Glad Teddy is improving!

Bump for your great chalkbags.


Elvis Paisley sighting the other day.


Social climber
Dec 6, 2012 - 02:04pm PT
hey there say, terrie! whewwww... hope the hard parts are over now, both van and teddy...

so very happy to hear teddy is getting better...
big bless-you's to kate and sonya...

friends just know they are equal terms of 'giving all they can'
and even when you can't, they know you would save their dogs/etc, as well, if you could... that knowing and deep connection is always there...

my friend in england paid patty ann's vet bill--i kept doing all i
could and now, after looking back to the picture of how she was--it is a wonder that i could even stand to look at her then, :O
or allow it, but: our vet's will not take you in unless you PREpay, :O
and that is usually in the hundreds, :O she saved us, out of desperate,and a few taco-folks here, helped with fleas pills, etc...

*wish the old days were here, where you'd get a bill, instead, :)

thank you kate and sonya!!! for all you did for happiegrrl...

Juan Maderita

Trad climber
"OBcean" San Diego, CA
Dec 7, 2012 - 02:14am PT
I got the green light to proceed. They listened to the story, checked the level, checked the temp gauge and drove it, and said they see no reason it isn't good to go.

Did I get this right - the mechanic did not pressure test your cooling system? WTF? If he didn't find a leak by visual inspection, or pressure test to rule out a leak, then he is putting you on the road at the risk of overheating and a ruined engine.

Ignore the posts on altitude, carburetors, air density, etc. Fairly sure that by 1990 all Econolines had EFI (electronic fuel injection). The sensors and computer maintain the optimal air:fuel ratio.

JLP is trying to give you sound advice. You are distracted by your pet's health, and that is completely understandable. But, if you don't start paying close attention, your van will die. It will cost more to fix the van than you paid for it.

The incident and symptoms you described indicate the probability of a leak. Find it ASAP and fix it. There is a very good chance that it's a simple leak. Most leaks can be fixed yourself with a screwdriver and $0 to $20 in parts.

1. Get your cooling system pressure tested. (In addition to testing the radiator cap). A special tool/radiator cap allows air to be pumped into the radiator. If it drops in pressure, a leak is indicated, and coolant will start dripping from somewhere it shouldn't.
Some parts stores might have a pressure tester for loan or rent. You could do it yourself.

2. Replace the thermostat with a quality/premium part. Make sure there is a small hole in the new thermostat for air to evacuate from the engine block. Some already have a notch manufactured into it for that purpose. A top-quality thermostat should still be under $15.

3. Install a coolant overflow bottle/expansion tank. For example:

4. Check your coolant:water ratio with a hydrometer. Every shop should have one. Better accuracy is with a refractometer, but not every shop will have one. A parts store might have a hydrometer for loan, or purchase one for $5. Your ratio is by now likely way off the ideal ratio. A 50/50 mix of ethylene glycol antifreeze is recommended for maximum boiling point and antifreeze protection. Exceeding 50% antifreeze will decrease cooling efficiency (poor heat transfer), making the vehicle run hot. Many people don't know that and think "more is better" until they learn the hard way.

Do all of this soon. You might get away with driving if you check the coolant level every day, watch the temp gauge diligently, and carry extra coolant/water. It's still a moderate risk. A pinhole leak in a hose could be a sign that the hose will split open at any time. I carry tools, know how to fix or limp home in a Ford van with many broken parts, and I wouldn't leave town without fixing a leak or ruling out the possibility of a leak. It simply isn't worth the risk of ruining the engine, and in your case, total loss of the van and becoming stranded in BFE.

The suspected leak may be any number of things, most of them simple: Loose hose clamp, bad radiator cap, pinhole in a radiator or heater core, hole in a radiator hose, bypass hose, or heater hose, leaking water pump, bad gasket at thermostat housing or water pump, freeze plug leaking or rusting out, etc.

If no external leaks are detected, and you are still losing coolant, then there is the possibility of coolant being "burned" through the combustion cycle, due to a cracked block or head or a blown head gasket. If coolant leaks from a water jacket into the cylinders, it will exit the tailpipe as steam. There is a chemical test which will show carbon monoxide gas in the coolant. A smog/emissions "sniffer" will accomplish the same thing. The presence of CO indicates one of these major engine problems.

Finding an external leak is a good thing. You can find the problem and fix it. Not finding a leak sucks. The anxiety is still there - waiting for something to fail, watching the temp gauge, sniffing the air for the distinctive odor of antifreeze.

Should you discover a pinhole leak in the radiator or freeze plug, I've had good success with a product called AlumaSeal. The small tube of aluminum powder is under $5. I keep one in the repair kit on each of my 4x4's. Unlike some stop leak products in a bottle, it doesn't gunk up your system. Of course, I've used instant oatmeal in a pinch. I'm not a mechanic, but one learns these things if you travel Baja long enough and work on your own collection of vehicles. A pinhole leak in the radiator is likely indicative of a bigger failure down the road, but AlumaSeal might get you by for a few weeks or months while you raise the cash for a new radiator.

Oh, another thought: Do you have a rear heater? My 4x4 E350 Super Van (extended model) has a rear heater. There are hoses running the full length of the frame rail to the rear heater core. Inspect for leaks if so equipped.

Trad climber
Topic Author's Reply - Dec 7, 2012 - 07:26am PT
Okay - I will do that today. I am in Santa Rosa, NM and there are several mechanics listed on Google map. Should be easy to find one who can do it.

Yes, it has a rear heater.

Dec 7, 2012 - 07:51am PT
Juan Maderita

Excellent job with your analysis .......

Sport climber
Boulder, Colorado!
Dec 7, 2012 - 07:52am PT
Nice post Juan. The altitude advice given by the mechanic was gibberish as I thought. And agreed, as stated upthread, that ignoring the problem will lead to greater and more expensive issues down the road. Glad Happie is going to get the test!

Trad climber
BackInTheDitch BackInTheDirt BackInTheDay
Dec 7, 2012 - 08:07am PT
Juan Maderita

Excellent job with your analysis .......

AGREED, indeed!

Thanks Juan. . . your posts are always well thought out and much appreciated.


Social climber
The internet
Dec 7, 2012 - 08:10am PT
Insist they clearly explain to you why the van overheated a few days ago. Where did the coolant go, why? They need to show you a worn or damaged part or test the specific gravity of the coolant - period. No voodoo BS soft science explainations basically meant for them to be lazy and clueless and blow you off. You're the one who will be suffering on the side of the road, not them. Good luck. Finding good mechanics is hard. Try to get a referral. Maybe randomly call a few restaurants or hotels and ask for a good mechanic. You need some first level filter.

Mountain climber
The Other Monrovia- CA
Dec 7, 2012 - 08:29am PT
This ain't rocket science! The mechanic who spewed about the elevation was
on crack*. Here's the link to the CarTalk Mechanics' Files which are
recommendations from CarTalk listeners, which might only mean they are cute
or talk a good line, but at least they are recommendations:

CarTalk Mechanics Files

* You lose +/- 3% of your normally aspirated horsepower per 1000' so at
3600' you were running about 10% less than at home - NBD.
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