Car Court

From F1 to Nascar to grandma's's Car Talk.

Return to Car Court

Message Sort: Post Order or Asylum Reverse Threaded

Bad day for me, a heads-up for you (long)

Posted on June 14, 2005 at 20:06:13
Did y'all know that radiators with plastic tanks have a limited life-cycle? Dig this tale:

This morning I pulled a trailer-load of creosote soaked railroad ties about 25 miles to the only dump, er, "Sanitary Landfill", that would accept them. It rained last night so the ground was good and wet, and I knew from previous excursions that I would have a tough time of it, my truck being of the 2WD variety. Anyway, I got there, filled out the manifest, got the load weighed-in, and climbed the (quite steep!) hill to the top of the mountain, er, pile.

To keep down the dust, and for some other odd reason, the landfill operators mix the fill with a good supply of sand and dirt, and due to the rain the previous evening this made for about 10 inches of gooey, gummy, spongy muck that my truck did not want to go through very easily. I found that keeping the revs up and the tires spinnning was the best way to travel, and even though I never got completely stuck I came damn close a few times. There was alot of Drive, Reverse, Drive, Reverse on my part- kinda like when you get stuck in snow.

As I was backing the trailer to the drop point for the final positioning all of a sudden something under the hood blew out and all I could see was a large white cloud. Shit. I opened the hood, heard alot of hissing and steaming, and figured I blew a hose. No big deal, right? I unloaded the RR ties while the engine cooled (and the steam cleared), and when I got a good look at the damage I noticed that almost the entire tank on the drivers side of the radiator was blown-off! (Truthfully, I had no warning- the temp gauge showed normal, the truck has never overheated on me, and I take pretty good care of it.) The bulldozer operator on top of the pile was watching me the whole time, and when he saw me NOT get out of his way he got down out of his cab and came over to see what was what. Both of us agreed that, 1) I was screwed, and 2) we had never seen anything like this before.

I knew the truck couldn't stay where it was so I figured, "Let's go for it!" The bulldozer guy called on his CB to make sure the road was clear, I started the truck, and I drove down the mountain/pile as fast as I could so I didn't heat the cylinders too badly. At the bottom I found the out-going scale was clear so I quickly drove through that and shut her down on the other side. I called my wife, got a radiator, yadda, yadda, yadda. (Fast-forward: My "three hour tour" took all day but the truck is home, in fine condition, with no damage done.)

Now, I work for NAPA P/T when they need me (on-call), and I have worked for them on and off for almost 20 years, so I'm no idiot when it comes to vehicles. When I told the Store Manager what happened he mentioned I should contact the Modine rep here in town to see what he thought (and here's where it gets interesting). According the Modine rep, plastic radiators have a finite life and should be replaced as a matter of course about every ten years. He told me scale and abuse can shorten that life, yes, but the major factor governing life is the thermal cycles causing the (something) to break-down the (something else), and thus the plastic loses it's strength. In the end, he said, it usually lets go catastrophically. The remaining pieces of my old radiator were almost like dried desert mud where layer upon layer could be peeled off.

My truck is a '92, and I just replaced the OEM radiator today. How old is yours?

Good Luck!

Audio Apprentice


Hide full thread outline!
Bummer, posted on June 15, 2005 at 03:20:02

Posts: 4143
Location: Western Pennsylvania
Joined: March 31, 2000
June 16, 2000
Ten years ago I bought wrecked Jeep Wrangler from an insurance company and rebuilt it. One of the things I had to replace was the (plastic) radiator. I had never seen one before and always wondered if they were a good thing. Thanks for answering that question!

After a day like that, I appreciate your taking the time to answer my question last night.


Bill's Audio Cave


Re: plastic radiators [who's bright idea was this??], posted on August 8, 2005 at 14:22:11

Posts: 938
Joined: April 5, 2000
I had a sim. failure w/ a Ford Taurus. Luckly it was VERY close to local radiator shop [big fleet service type] They had it out & fixed in less than 2 hours! Tech said that he'd seen tons of them fail, all from blown out glued seams. This outfit even took the precaution of adding an outer glued seam seal. Dunno if it helped, I sold the car a year later. Tech also told me that they saw many repairs come in from inadvertant punctures [screwdrivers I guess]. I was told mfgs switched to plastic cos of "environmental" factors.... more likely its cos its way cheaper to make. Besides how environmentally friendly is non-recycleable plastic vs. good old metal???

Pete [A cloud of steam, a firey exhaust, and a HI-HO oh Shit!!]
Disturbed is a life with it.


Re: plastic radiators [who's bright idea was this??], posted on August 14, 2005 at 19:36:41

Posts: 3180
Location: San Diego County, California
Joined: October 25, 2000
I've heard this story SO many times, that I'm worried about my high-mileage 1984 Volkswagen Westfalia. So far, so good, but perhaps I'm pushing my luck :(
Tubes forever


Page processed in 0.024 seconds.