53 Days of Van Trouble

Posted January 29, 2022

We had a great Thanksgiving and Christmas with friends. The holidays would have been much better, however, without the van trouble that lasted clean through the season.

On Thanksgiving Day, I drove from Janesville to Fort Atkinson, 23 miles, to pick up our friends who would be spending the day with us. Just before I got home, the temperature gauge rose almost to the top; the enging was overheating! Later, after it had cooled down, I tried adding coolant, but it ran right out onto the driveway. We had to call a friend from our church to take our friends back home.

Our trusted mechanic, who does all the work on our van, couldn’t work on it until December 8. When that day came, he found a loose upper radiator hose on the driver’s side which was causing the major leak. I had been experiencing trouble with the automatic transmission not shifting well in cold weather; an additive in the transmission fluid fixed that. In addition, the heater blower was only working on the two higher settings; he ordered a new switch for that. On top of that, the heater seemed to be turning on and off almost at random; he ordered a new thermostat as well.

The next work session was December 21–22. Our mechanic messed with the heater and ran diagnostics, finally concluding that the cylinder head gasket was failing; some of the combustion fuel was mixing with the coolant. The van should be driveable for shorter distances only; repair was set for January 5–6.

The same day I got the van back, it leaked coolant all over a parking lot and overheated again.

I rented a car over Christmas weekend so we could bring our friends down from Fort Atkinson again. The rental cost me $322.98. For the rest of the time, we stayed home except for occasional very short trips.

The head gasket repair was completed January 5–6 at a cost of $1,712.63—actually a bargain considering that our pastor had the same thing done a while back for about $2,500. I noticed right away that the heat was now working great, better than I remembered it for a long time! All was well until January 8, when…

…as I was driving from Woodman’s Food Market to Walmart, rounding the corner from Humes Road onto Deerfield Drive, I heard a loud grinding sound for about three seconds. “What on earth is happening to my van?” I exclaimed out loud… then the sound stopped. When I arrived at Walmart, I checked all four tires and wheel wells… everything looked fine, so I assumed that I had snagged something on the road and dragged it a short distance.

On the drive home from Walmart, I noticed that the left turn signal was blinking rapidly; this normally indicates a burned-out light. It was cloudy outside, so I tried the headlights… and the light indicator appeared on the dash, and there was an audible alert, so I turned them back off. When I arrived home, I looked at the front of the van. To my horror, the entire left front headlight assembly was gone! The connectors were intact, but there were no lights or anything else except a gaping hole.

Our mechanic replaced the headlight on January 17; he also checked the other headlight to make sure it was okay and even cleaned it. Cost was $152.98. Since then (up to this writing), everything has been fine.