OT - Van Diagostic Time. Again! Overheated


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Mountain climber
Anchorage AK, Reno NV
Dec 2, 2012 - 09:32pm PT
Good points by JLP. Indeed I was incorrect to say that thermostats do not cause leaks.


Trad climber
Portland, Or
Dec 2, 2012 - 09:36pm PT
I think I'm buying some Climb Addict chalkbags tomorrow...

Trad climber
Topic Author's Reply - Dec 2, 2012 - 10:09pm PT
I am looking at a thermostat video and though it doesn't look hard to do - it does look like something I don't think I can do alone. I just haven't got any experience with this stuff. I have been happy that I can change the headlights and tail light bulbs that have gone out. I just worry when it comes to the engine that I will do something wrong.

If I take the van out tomorrow and top it up with coolant, and drive in the local area - how long before a failed thermostat shows it's likely the problem?

I am not wanting to go too far from the town just filling up and having spare coolant because there is nothing between here and Amarillo - 90 plus miles away.

The radiator cap itself looks fine. Clean, no rust, seats evenly and seems to "clamp down" when turning past the point of the radiator spout.

Re: Overflow - Correct, the van doesn't have one.

Dec 2, 2012 - 10:13pm PT
Screw all these lightweights here.

When in doubt run it out ......


Social climber
So Cal
Dec 2, 2012 - 10:23pm PT
Filling with coolant won't fix a stuck thermostat.

You can even just temporarily remove the thermostat and run without it for a while.

The other more unlikely and a lot more serious problem is if the impeller on the water pump has failed. That's almost always accompanied by horrible noises and water leaking from the water pump shaft though.

Trad climber
Topic Author's Reply - Dec 2, 2012 - 10:28pm PT
There have been no horrible noises. Man - last year when the alternator went in the old van, now THAT was some horrible noise! I had no idea - thought the battery just got discharged with a bad alternator. Never ever want to experience that one again...


Big Wall climber
san jose, ca
Dec 2, 2012 - 10:31pm PT
Filling with coolant won't fix a stuck thermostat.

But, filling it and running it to see what happens to the temperature will show us something. If it its stuck, it will get hot, you turn off your car, you fix it. If you fill it up and it runs fine...BOOM back on the road!

Trad climber
greater Boss Angeles area
Dec 2, 2012 - 10:35pm PT
When my thermostat went, one of the symptoms was that the engine wasn't getting hot, at least according to the guage in the dash it wasn't.
Juan Maderita

Trad climber
"OBcean" San Diego, CA
Dec 2, 2012 - 10:42pm PT
how long before a failed thermostat shows it's likely the problem?
When you start driving, the temp gauge will come up to operating temperature and just keep getting hotter, assuming the thermostat is stuck closed. The problem with diagnosing that way is that thermostats often fail either intermittently or only partially open. So, it could work fine for a day or a week and then fail to work properly. That's why if there is the slightest question about its condition, it should be replaced.
+1 for purchasing the best quality part available.

Chaz, yes a thermostat can get stuck in the fully open position. The engine does not get up to normal operating temperature in cold weather.

Social climber
So Cal
Dec 2, 2012 - 10:45pm PT

Fill it up and let it idle for a good 15 min or so.

If the temp keeps climbing, or doesn't climb at all, you got a stuck thermostat.

Pick up a 5 gal container, fill it with water and bring it along just in case.

If you do find yourself in BFE with a leak that isn't just massive, (like a blown hose) loosen the radiator cap so the system is NOT pressurized and just keep adding water every 20 mi or so till you reach civilization.

If the system isn't pressurized even duck tape on a bad hose might get you to town.

For what a thermostat costs and the peace of mind involved with an older van, I'd just go ahead and replace it.

You should really have a spare set of radiator hoses, a couple of extra clamps and a roll of duck tape in the back somewhere.

What I used to do was replace the hoses every couple of years and then throw the old ones under the back seat for emergency replacements along with a couple of screw type hose clamps. (not the OEM spring or bolt clamp types)

Sportbikeville & Yucca brevifolia
Dec 2, 2012 - 10:47pm PT
Go to the nearest internet climbing forum. Get a lot of advice on possible causes, remedies and cures.

Search youtube and get really distracted watching 'fail' videos for a few hours, then take it to the nearest garage and have them fix it.

Good luck!
The Warbler

the edge of America
Dec 2, 2012 - 10:49pm PT
keep in mind you can diagnose the thermostat fairly easily, depending on where it's located in the cooling system. Usually they're fairly accessible, with a simple gasket for a seal, and 2 or 3, maybe 4 bolts to remove.

You can remove the thermostat, note which side goes which way, as there are usually two different possibilities, 180 degrees different, and reconnect the system without thermostat, sometimes with the same gasket or some blue silicon sealant, and drive the car. If you don't overheat like before - get a new thermostat, install it in the correct orientation, and it should fix the problem. There might be a problem with this simple method in later model vehicles.

The thermostat is there to help the motor warm up faster, especially in cold weather. It opens and allows water to circulate at around 180 degrees, which is optimum temp for engine performance. If it sticks - no water circulation, no water circulation - no cooling.


Trad climber
Topic Author's Reply - Dec 2, 2012 - 10:49pm PT
hahah Pud, calls it.

Social climber
The internet
Dec 2, 2012 - 11:10pm PT
To actually answer your latest question - you could safely drive across the country with your stuck thermostat - possibly in 100 yard chunks.

Drive slow, stay off the highway, watch the temp, pull over when it's even the slightest above normal, allow to cool, repeat. The temp gage will be a little "late", so watch the rate of rise closely.

Overheating the engine will absolutely effect every part in your motor, to some degree. You have no doubt already caused some damage. Too much and every gasket in the motor starts to leak, every piece of metal warps, oil becomes charcoal and clogs every passage, etc, etc - the engine becomes scrap - keep that in mind as you ponder how hot to push things. If you are close to normal on the temp gage with the coolant full, you should be reasonably safe.
Jon Beck

Trad climber
Dec 3, 2012 - 01:15am PT
A slow loss of coolant which is not appearing externally on the engine, in the oil, or as white smoke billowing out the tail pipe could be a small head gasket leak. Warm up the engine and let it idle and watch the tailpipe to see if it spits moisture. All cars will spit as they warm up because water condenses in the exhaust system when it cools, that is why mufflers rust out.

If you have an internall leak such as a head gasket, you could try a stop leak product, like Bars Leak, you might want to do that before you head off to BFE

Trad climber
Topic Author's Reply - Dec 3, 2012 - 04:09am PT
Thanks for the information.

The head gasket issue - I am wondering if some of you don't realize this van is not the same one I had before. Are head gasket leaks that common, from a car overheating?

The old van was amazing that it had kept running as smoothly as it did right up to the day it was hauled away for scrap, but this van, though a 1990, had only 65K miles on it when I bought it.

The first people who owned it seemed ti have done all the careful maintenance, and they drove it only for vacations travel. They were the first owner, and sold it about 3 years ago to the people I bought it from. Those people didn't do anything, but also didn't put much mileage on it. Only 3L in the time they had it and again, vacation travel.

Juan Maderita

Trad climber
"OBcean" San Diego, CA
Dec 3, 2012 - 05:46am PT
It took a while to figure out that it is a new (to you) van. Searched some of your old posts to refresh my memory on your old mechanical problems and saw a photo of the current replacement van.
Are head gasket leaks that common, from a car overheating?
Cast iron blocks and heads are not particularly susceptible to blown head gaskets. Your Ford has a cast iron truck engine (either a 300 cid straight 6 cyl, small-block V8 302 or 351 cid, or a gas guzzling big-block 460 cid). I've owned all of them, and to my knowledge, none are prone to heads warping or cracking. Cast iron engines will often/usually withstand a boilover if shut down immediately. That's one advantage to good old American heavy metal.

If you had a more modern vehicle or an import, the chances are very high that the aluminum head(s) will warp during an overheat. That creates gaps between the the block and head (where the head gasket sits). Combustion gasses, oil, and coolant flow and mix where they shouldn't. Always an expensive and labor intensive fix. The computer on some newer vehicles will shut the engine down or go into a low rpm "limp to the side of the road" mode when the coolant overheats.

We are all hoping that your van has a minor leak, like a loose hose clamp, and no head gasket failure. Best of luck to you.

Social climber
Dec 3, 2012 - 07:07am PT
No advice to add; but I thought a quick review of the thread was in order.
I vote juan m & pud to be named as the official taco "Click and Clack, Tappet Brothers and masters of Car Talk.

juan is awarded for his advice, especially checking the weep hole on the water pump (pump problems are sometimes unheard due to the rest of the engine noise) and pud for his wit and also correct assessment of the other problem at hand.
Credit: ęCarTalk

Social climber
The internet
Dec 3, 2012 - 12:06pm PT
Cast iron blocks and heads are not particularly susceptible to blown head gaskets.
They still warp, for sure, at some point, it's all a matter of degree. Having something more than a dummy light (esp a broken one) to monitor things certainly helps the situation. A "bad" overheat would be when the engine stalls - damage for sure to some degree no matter how large and heavy and old your engine is. Yes, the newer Al heads, especially with cams in the head, don't fare as well.

Social climber
D#@&%ebag Central
Dec 3, 2012 - 12:17pm PT

Not to worry Happie!!!...

Your Van's being repaired as I write this...


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