We knew my $800 Jeep Grand Wagoneer project was going to have a hard time driving 1,700 miles from Michigan to Utah, especially over the Rocky Mountains. But we weren’t expecting the Jeep to burst a hose and vaporize its coolant after the mountains, on the flat home stretch.
In part two of our three part video series (see part one here) about the awesome off-road trip that my coworker Andrew and I did back in March, you’ll see me get spooked by one of my junky Grand Wagoneer’s dash warning lights—in particular, the brake light, which often indicates a leak in the system.
Since I’d been having brake leak issues a few days prior, I was concerned. But the problem just ended up being my park brake itself, since I’d cut my seized rear driver’s side park brake cable a few days prior, and the pedal had become a bit droopy.
The climax of this video is my Jeep overheating, and me—clearly—having a bit of a meltdown myself. A thousand things ran through my mind after I opened the hood to see steam coming from the heater core hose.
I hadn’t seen any drips or steam coming from the Jeep, so I didn’t think it had expelled all of its coolant. Why had the hose burst in the first place? Did I have a stuck thermostat causing it to overheat? It was a brand new thermostat, which I’d tested, so surely not.
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There are some situations in which keeping the Jeep idling, and blasting the heater is a smarter bet than cutting the motor off and letting it heat soak; but alas, I shut the motor off. My attempts to restart it—attempts that, especially now knowing that there was no coolant left in the vehicle—were fruitless and frankly silly.
In any case, as you can see, I cut the broken part of the heater core hose, plumbed it back together, and filled that radiator up. Did I know the engine was hot? Oh yeah. Did a giant geyser of steam come from the radiator? Yes. Yes it did. But we needed to get off the highway, and frankly, I wasn’t too concerned about causing any sort of damage by slowly pouring in some coolant.
Five thousand miles of daily driving later proves I was right, though I’d still never recommend pouring coolant into a hot motor.
In any case, the issue ended up being just that small section of old heater core hose cracking, which ended up allowing most of my coolant to escape (not all of it, as I say in the video, as you’ll recall that some of the 3.5 gallons that I poured in turned into vapor). After filling the system up and driving the Jeep around the town of Parachute, Colorado to test the system, Andrew and I were ready to finish up the final stretch to Moab. If you followed our series, you know how that ended up.