O Unhappy Day!
Well, the touring entertainment value of Strolling Amok has not been too good lately, unless of course you find entertainment value in mishaps. I did recently interview a camper with a surprisingly unique converted van setup, and I’ll post that soon. But on the whole, much of my time and attention has been absorbed by an assortment of mechanical conundrums, of which the Mighty Furd has played a significant part. Its role is not central, but is the most notable because of the spectacular expenses involved in servicing a modern vehicle. Modern cars need very little in the way of service when compared to earlier ones, but when they do, the costs of all that complexity frequently cause owner trauma when the invoice comes due.
Manufactured and purchased in the first half of 2007, the 2008 model year F-250 has begun showing its age, (unlike myself). This year’s saga began with a regular servicing last summer in Illinois, which included a coolant change. I had read that the scheduled coolant duration may be too optimistic in practice, which could lead to a kind of ripple effect in related (and expensive) components. It has to do with the effects of
normal diesel contamination on coolant, and the unusually high dependency this Navistar-motored twin-turbo has on its vast and complex cooling system. So I got that done. Nip it in the bud, as Deputy Fife used to urge.
Once I was halfway across the country heading for the Bonneville Salt Flats, I noticed I was losing coolant. Not enough coolant to be alarming, but enough to need to monitor the situation. I figured that the boys back at the ranch had probably failed to properly secure a connection somewhere. The factory trailer brake that controls the trailer’s electric brakes was also complaining now, and I decided to have that serviced when I arrived months later down in Parker, Arizona.
By the time I arrived in Yuma many months later, the coolant loss rate had picked up alarmingly, and a failed upper radiator hose was found to be the culprit. While that work was being done, it was discovered that the coolant was off-color, indicating that the wrong coolant had been installed six months before. That’s a big deal because the diesel’s cooling system will corrode without just the right coolant type. A call to Illinois produced an offer to investigate the situation and replace the coolant in any case, free of charge. (That’s no small thing, since the Ford’s twin-turbo cooling system is huge, and a change costs some $150.)
The hose replacement ($108 for the unique hose for a $311 total) included the usual multipoint inspection, which showed that the air filter was clogged as well. Its housing has a kind of vacuum indicator that signals excessive restriction. I looked at it myself after I returned to camp. If it reaches a crisis point, the dashboard throws a signal and engine power is deliberately chopped to save the engine. The dealership in Yuma saved the coolant for re-use to avoid the additional expense of a total change, and now I mulled over gimping it back to Illinois after another six months to cash in on the free coolant change and having the air filter replaced, along with what would become an overdue oil change and fuel filter replacement.
Then I realized that the two gallons of auto parts store premium coolant that I’d been adding along the way had clouded the issue at best, and in any case should not be there. The Ford was due for its regular oil change and fuel filter change before I left Yuma anyway, so I bit the bullet and took it in again for the proper coolant with a system flush, oil and filter, fuel filters, and drivetrain lube. That hurt, at $582. And slight engine oil seepage around the oil pan was found and mentioned to be of no particular concern at this point.
Trouble is, when I got in the truck to leave, the engine light came on and stayed on. And it didn’t go away when I shut down and restarted twice. Not a glitch. Uh-oh. I popped the hood and made sure the oil level was up. No oil pressure light had come on, but I wasn’t taking any chances. It was fine, though the new, clean oil was much harder to see on the stick! I began to walk back in, and the dealer’s service writer concierge noticed and galloped out to meet me halfway. They’d check it out, and he was a bit concerned that I was the first person to see it. He disappeared with the truck, and I resumed my station in the customer lounge. The Ford 6.4 motor, fuel and exhaust system is festooned with enough self-protective sensors to fill a bucket, so I couldn’t begin to guess which repair had possibly gone awry.
Two hours later, the sobered service writer appeared with the news that the engine light was tracked to a jammed EGR (exhaust gas recirculation) valve – part of the emissions system. Engine coolant passes through it, and corrosion particles freed during the flush had wedged in it, rendering it unworkable. They had freed and cleared it back into service, which was the good news, no charge of course. The bad news was not just that there had been enough corrosion to clog it, but that the subsequent final pressure test to make sure that everything was well buttoned up showed that the eight-year-old radiator itself, now partially cleared by the flush, was leaking, and at a rate that would not be smart to limp on with. In my own experience, having owned many, many used cars, this is the kind of thing that gets worse rapidly. It was apparent to me that the minute particles of crap in the system had been plugging the leak up until now, at least choking it an evaporative seepage so that it wasn’t dripping on the ground, and that I had been running on borrowed time. But time had run out weeks or months ago.
“Well,” I told him with some dread, “I’ll obviously need to come back for that. Can you give me a guess as to how much a radiator replacement will be?” I braced myself, knowing that there are several coolers jammed under that hood, and that the primary three are wedged tightly together in a bundle in front. This is not your 1965 F-100, where you can drop watermelons under the hood and expect them to hit the ground.
He glanced down at his sheet. “$1,300,” he said, knowing the import to a fragile, elderly retiree living in an RV who probably picks pennies up off the ground as a real find. “$800 of that is for the radiator itself, and it will take five hours to do. They will save the coolant, so that will help the cost a little.”
Ack. Get the paddles ready! Lessee, that would be about $230 in 1972 dollars, which sounds about right actually, given the poor access to the parts. Whether the improper coolant had been used became a moot point. Eight years for a radiator is not too bad, especially for an aluminum composite, and the effect of six months of bogus coolant became a pretty minor point. I had actually waited too long to get that initial coolant change back in Illinois. My new rotation is three years now, rather than the scheduled five. That doesn’t help me now, but may in the future.
So I again braced myself to come back a few days later. In at 7:45 AM, and I also asked them to try to diagnose the source of the engine oil seepage for the future. They added dye to the engine oil and found that it was leaking from the “engine cam sensor”. In dealerspeak, that is a magnetic engine camshaft position sensor located on the left front of the engine block to let the main computer know enough to properly sequence nearly a dozen other electronically-controlled devices. In layman’s terms, it translates as “230 dollars”. That little beauty will, with periodic checking of the engine oil level, have to wait until the next scheduled oil change. By 1 PM, I was out and about, ready to resume my carefree and happy life as a perpetual tourist.
And I was resuming it, until I went out today to get an exciting and emotionally insightful photo of the gleaming new radiator for this post. The hood is locked shut and the second “safety” cable release under the grill is binding and unable to pop the catch. That’s a new one! I figure that being able to open the hood might come in handy later sometime, so back it goes tomorrow at 7 AM. Besides, each time they work on it, they give it a free hand wash when they’re done. It hasn’t been or stayed this clean in years!
[UPDATE: The primary catch released while rolling down the dirt road to begin the trip to the dealership. The secondary held, as it should. I then closed and opened the hood maybe a dozen times, and it was okay but not great. Dragging at the steel loop under the hood itself. Back at camp, a small shot of lube on the latch assembly made it great. Issue resolved. More importantly, due to recent rains, the trip down the dirt road did not make the truck dusty, so it is still clean. A big win all around.]
Nope, I won’t be getting rid of the Mighty Furd. It’s been slightly less troublesome than all other long-term vehicles I’ve owned. Surprisingly, as of 2015, the lowly F-150 is actually able to match my 2008 F-250 in both trailer tongue weight and overall bumper-pull trailer weight, thanks to its new aluminum body. But the ol’ F-250 is designed for much heavier fifth wheel and gooseneck trailers, which do not load the rear bumper hitch, so the frame, drivetrain and brakes are much less stressed while pulling the nose-heavy Defiant than an F-150 would be. It’s a less expensive option though, if disaster should strike. Buying used is fine, with the understanding that I’d be buying an unknown history that is somewhere along its own scheduled maintenance and repair cycle, like the Mighty Furd is now. The least expensive option generally is to buy very used, as long as its emissions gear complexity is limited or non-existent – and simply keep feeding it parts on demand.
My policy is to run my vehicles, new or used, into the ground, assuming that they don’t aggressively run my savings account into same first. This little misunderstanding at the eight year point does not qualify, since it is not a big, unpredictable surprise. I still hold to the old maxim that it only makes financial sense to replace a vehicle when the electrical system begins having mystery problems or, in the case of a diesel engine, if that gives out. Until then, the cost of ongoing repairs will generally be less than vehicle replacement once all operating costs are included. If you’re one to record the ongoing costs of each vehicle you own over time, that habit of swapping vehicles every time a major repair looms usually proves to be the costlier option no matter what a bargain its replacement seems to be.
So, look forward to a lot more of these sad tales in the future! I hate to think how many stories you readers have each accumulated!