Thermometer Driving

I like old vehicles without electronics and fancy gadgets. Less parts means less things to go wrong. I can fix mechanical problems. Electronics? Forget it!

I drive an old Suburban with a 6.2 liter diesel engine. After noticing that it tends to get too hot at freeway speeds, I looked it up on the internet to see if this is normal. Apparently, this engine requires a top-notch cooling system. I’m surprised that my radiator still holds water, so it’s a miracle that it has lasted thousands of miles on the interstate over the past 2 years. When I got it, I actually pulled the radiator out of the truck to try cleaning it, because it was so crusted up and dirty inside. I ran several batches of “radiator cleaner” through it, and when that didn’t seem to work, I got the heavy duty stuff, and that still didn’t work. In reading about this, I found people recommending everything from vinegar to Coke-a-Cola to break up and remove the calcium. So, with the radiator removed after all the chemical cleaners failed, I filled it with a strong dilution of vinegar. That seemed to help a bit. So I did it again, a few times. Then I actually tried the Coke thing, and filled the radiator with Coke and let it sit. And then did it again. Then rinsed with lots of water. Seemed to be better. After installing it in the Suburban, I noticed a couple of leaks had revealed themselves. So, out it came again, and off I went to the radiator shop to get it welded. They fixed the leaks, but told me it needed “re-cored” (whatever that means… besides lots of money…). Forget it. I’m cheap. Back it went into the Suburban. A little while later I noticed another leak, but this was from the hose connection thingy, which I apparently broke while attaching one of the heater hoses. I happened to have a can of propane and a torch end for it, and a bit of solder, so I took a stab at soldering it myself. That seemed to work pretty good. Still holding. Anyway, all this to say that I still can’t get it to stay full to the top, the water level is always 1 or 2 inches low, and it holds there no matter what I do. The key here is that it holds there, no matter what I do… in other words, it doesn’t leak beyond that point, even after driving 20 straight hours on the interstate. “Not leaking” is good enough for me!

What was I saying about “top-notch” cooling systems? Oh yeah. Mine DOES NOT have one of those… lol.

Well, the good news is that it doesn’t overheat and leave me stranded. But it does get really close, and it will overheat if I don’t pay attention. And this is a huge problem because this particular engine is prone to blowing out the head gasket, especially if it overheats. So I have to watch it very closely.

It turns out that when the temperature gauge gets close to the red-zone, all I have to do is slow down. I’m towing a car on this current trip out of Denver, so there are LOTS of hills and mountain passes and generally the poor machine is under a huge load, so it tends to get too hot way to easily. I have learned to “drive by the thermometer” on this trip, constantly watching the temperature gauge and the speedometer.

When the gauge is below 200 degrees, I feel that I am “wasting time” because I could be going much faster. When it gets to 220 degrees (usually when going up hill), I have to start slowing down until the gauge begins to drop. Then the balancing act begins, and I go faster until it heats up, and slow down just enough to keep it at 210-220 degrees. On the big long hills, this means dropping to as low as 40 MPH.

On our first day of this latest trip, what should have been a 5 hour drive turned out to be a 9 hour drive, and we didn’t get to our first stopping point until almost 10pm! The wastelands of southern Wyoming, complete with the ridiculous constant wind, was more of a struggle than anticipated. Today, on day 2, we were on the road for 14 hours before arriving at the next stop. The whole trip was only supposed to be 16-18 hours, and we still have 6 hours to go, according to Google maps… But this old truck keeps going, and with it completely full of “stuff” and 2 adults and towing a car, it still gets 14 miles per gallon, so I can’t complain too much. I only paid $700 for it, and other than manually regulating the temperature by way of the throttle, it keeps on going and I have complete confidence in it’s ability to get us safely across thousands of miles of vacant empty land that defines the mid-western part of America.


By the way, whoever said the planet is over populated needs to drive across Wyoming and Montana… oh well, that’s a discussion for another day.

We’ve safely completed day two, and will arrive at our destination tomorrow before dinner time, and that’s good enough for me. It’s nice to not be in a hurry, and to stop and enjoy the scenery when we feel like it. There’s a lot less stress when you are okay with going 40MPH on the interstate. The journey IS the goal, and this whole month has been very enjoyable. But I admit, it will be nice to settle into this next stage knowing we will have at least of couple months of stability.

—  “Jack”


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