Oh sure…. you are reading the headline, and are ready to call my bluff…. what can you get for 8 cents?
This past July while on our Colorado Expedition with the Trail Team, I developed a small problem. It all started while making the trek to the top of Mosquito Pass. My 2010 4Runner, which has performed flawlessly across any obstacle I ever asked of it for the past 4 years, decided to get a little hot.
Nearly ¾ of the way up the trail to the 13,185 foot pass…. I got a whiff of something hot. Thank God I smelled it, because when I looked down at my dash I could see that my engine temp was a good 80% towards the top reading. I quickly cranked up the heat on the truck and rolled down the windows. Within a minute, the temp started falling as I sat and idled.
This was a big shock to me…. The day before, I had been in gridlock traffic in Denver, and the temp was nearly 100 degrees. Even with the AC blasting… I don’t recall seeing or smelling anything unusual. Before that, I had driven over 500 miles from central Illinois.
With the heat on and the windows open, I was able to creep up to the top of the Pass. We took pictures of the trucks in the caravan and I popped the hood. I was dreading a low coolant level, as I was not sure if this probably had been going on without me noticing. The coolant was completely full in the overflow. That was a great sign. I kept the heat rolling for the trip back down…. by the time we hit the halfway down mark…. I was in the clear.
The mechanics and educated drivers out there probably know what happened. After some inspection later when the engine cooled off…. Our “Trail Tech”, Dustin, found that the cooling fan was spinning freely at the end of the crank. Unlike cars, thr 4Runner does not have electric fans at the radiator. The viscous fan clutch fully engages when the temperature in the engine increases. From what we could tell…. This fan was idling at a lower speed even when hot, thus. not removing heat from engine as quickly as designed. Low 4 climbing with its higher RPMs and the the higher altitude had created a bad mixture that led to my hot temps on the Pass.
Now…. what to do about it? The nearest Toyota dealer on our route was in Montrose. We gave them a call and found they did not have a part on hand. But, they were willing to expedite one that could be in sometime the next day. That sounded pretty good, but a call to Autozone gave us better news…. They could have it by noon, guaranteed. We ordered the autozone part and prepared for a repair the next day. We could get into why I didn’t get the manufacturer part… But as a dealer, I know that the possibility of not getting a part exists in this neck of the woods. We have the luxury of getting parts nearly within hours in Central Illinois… Whereas these dealers in the western states have to have parts dispatched out of Dallas Tx and rely on FedEx.
Ah-hah! We busted you Eric, this repair was more than 8 cents! Yes, but you have to read on… This is not the repair in question.
The part arrived on time to Montrose. We grabbed the box and headed to our campsite in Ouray looking over the town. For the next 90 minutes we proceeded to make repairs. In order to make this happen, we decided that pulling the shroud and taking off a radiator hose would make it easier. This called for some improvisation. Coolant is not something we take lightly to spilling, so we ended up making a funnel out of camp tin-foil in order to direct the flow into a catch bucket.
From past experience, I have been witness to aftermarket parts that do not look the same as their factory counterparts. This visual helps me understand why I am paying more for OEM. This fan clutch is no exception. The ribbed heat diffusers on the Autozone part are a much smaller surface area than the factory part. You have to wonder if it can do the same job. When we made a turn on the shaft by hand to feel the tension in this new part versus the factory part… It was obvious that this new part was working correctly. The old part was nearly “free-wheeling”. We were feeling much better about the diagnosis.
We had the new part secured and installed pretty quickly. After that, we reinstalled the shroud and topped off the coolant with the fluid we removed. It all looked great. It sounded great as well. If you have heard the difference in an engaged fan clutch versus one not working…It becomes audibly obvious. Unfortunately, its a sound you become tone deaf too as it slowly fails. After idling… We took another look. Hmmm… Something didn’t look right. The fan blades appeared to be a little closer to the engine than we remember. So much so that they were eerily close to the black rubber hoses coming off the front of the engine. Coolant hoses. We had spun the fan blade and inspected the clearance. It was not much. 1 to 2mm?
1 to 2mm might be spec? Hard to say looking at it while making a repair at 9000 feet where we were camped. We fired up the truck… It looked fine. I drove around the campground and we made more inspections. All clear.
The next day, we headed up to another trailhead to make a new campsite. After we had that done, I took another quick look at the fan. Better safe than sorry right? My worst fear had started showing itself. The hoses had probably expanded a bit when we moved the new campsite that morning. In doing so, they had started making contact with the fan blade. You could see the smallest trace of black debri and dust on the fan.
This is where the OEM part would have been far superior. This Autozone part was probably made to Toyota SPEC… But it was shorter than the factory part.
Our options included:
Gambling and hoping that it will be ok? (Never the best option)
Cut off parts of the fan blades that are rubbing? (That plastic is hard!)
Remove the inner hose and chop it down about a quarter inch? (Would require a lot more coolant being handled)
Shim the part from autozone? (Might create a balance issue for the fan)
Our “Trail Tech”, Dustin, came up with a better idea. The fan can be removed from the new clutch… We could attempt to shim it at the front. While that sounded great… We were pretty far removed from town. We started looking for washers or some way to space out these bolts. It couldn’t be anything too big, as we had limited threads to work with. We were at the point of removing bolts from the expedition trailer when Dustin started asking for loose change. Coins? There was not a vending machine for miles, what was he up too?
He started with 4 pennies. 4 pennies stacked in a vice grip and drilled with a small bit turned into 4 perfectly matched washers. After taking a look at the end results.. We decided that another 4 cents would probably give us a bit of insurance. Everyone dug through their cupholders. (For folks worried about defamation of currency, see link at end of the article)
We figured out that draining the coolant was not completely necessary to make the repair a second time… We loosened up the fan shroud and installed 2 pennies on each bolt holding the fan to the clutch. The end result pulled the fan away from the hoses that were risking being ruptured.
Upon firing up the truck… We could see that we were free and clear. Disaster averted!
For just 8 cents we had improved the Autozone part, and it would handle the rest of our trip without incident.
This is the third time we have seen a fan clutch fail on the trail. One time we witnessed it on the trails at Southern Cruiser Crawl. Altitude was not an issue… But a mud soaked radiator and low speeds with a high idle are just as potent of a mix. A second time, while only 4 miles into the Mojave Road. Both of those previous times, we had to grab an aftermarket part.
I would like to tell you that there is an interval that you should start paying attention to the replacement on this item… But we have seen it on new and old trucks alike. I would recommend at 100,000 miles that you pay attention to the sound of the fan and keep an eye on the coolant temp whenever you are in a high engine temp situation. I would also recommend cleaning your radiator out vigorously after any wheeling trip… A dirty radiator can enhance this problem.
Unfortunately, since we don’t use L4 until we are at the trailhead, you may not know till you have a problem until that moment you are looking to have a little fun with your truck.
I had taken some pictures of the repair in action… And a few people quickly became concerned that posting the pictures may put us in a position of an illegal operation. Currency mutilation. It was a fair question as none of us are experts in currency laws!
I did some research and found various statutes and legal speak. The most common concern was regarding the machines at tourist attractions that smash a penny into a souvenir.
What we can take from the law is this. If you deface these coins and then attempt to parlay them into a transaction… You are breaking the law. You should not mutilate currency and then try to spend it. That would be illegal.
Working in a car dealership with a bunch of car and truck loving guys and gals means that we routinely tell tall tales of triumphs and failures of our auto exploits.
We can tell you stories of a Sales Manager going off the pavement and spinning out in our brand new SCCA FRS… We can also tell you all about the trip where our 2010 4runner that we call “Treehugger” got its name. But one of our favorite stories to tell is of our technician, Dustin Harper and his adventure on “the Wall” with our “shop” truck called “300”. The telling of Harper’s failure at the “Wall” on Poughkeepsie Gulch, Colorado usually results in raised voices and accusations of poor driving or poor spotting. All we know is that watching Harper’s blood pressure rise during conversation ensures that this story will be around for many years to come.
It’s been four years since our initial foray into off-roading and overlanding in the great state of Colorado. We started off with a few “stock” trucks and made our way to FJ Summit 8 for a crash course in mountain passes and some of the most scenic views in the United States. One trip to the mountains and you are hooked. Prepare for many more visits in your future.
Since that first expedition… Our little group of three trucks has grown. We have had as many as 8 trucks with us at TLCA events near and far from our home base in Pekin Illinois. Inevitably, when we are around a campfire with friends or strangers, this story about 300 at the “Wall” comes up.
The Battle of Poughkeepsie
It all started on our second venture to FJ Summit 9 in 2015. Our group of travelers had grown to 5 trucks and now included a few technicians along with an advisor and the Service Manager. Dustin, one of the techs, had worked countless hours on our shop truck, “300” it get it prepared for the long journey to Ouray. This young tech had taken a broken down 2000 Toyota Tacoma, with the help of other techs in the shop, created a formidable 4×4 trail rig. We dubbed the 300,000 truck with the name of “300”. We even duplicated the movie logo for the fenders of the truck.
300 made its way to Ouray Colorado and proceeded to chew up trails all over Summit 9. It would appear that the Wheeling Gods had blessed this little truck conquer every obstacle in its path.
Until a fateful day at Poughkeepsie Gulch that would go down in infamy for Dustin and 300.
Our small troop of trucks made an unscheduled run to the top of a trail called Poughkeepsie Gulch. PG is known as one of the toughest trails in the Ouray area. Not because of the trail itself, but because of its famous final barrier, ominously known as “The Wall”. The wall is a two jagged slabs of rock faces that are divided by a large fissure that can gobble up wheels and make “The Wall” nearly unbeatable. On this day in 2015, we watched a 3rd gen 4Runner roll down on its side and brake all of its windows. This is not a walk in the park by any means! (Also of note, in 2015 the “go around” was not available as it is now)
Our small group of 4Runners and FJ Cruisers had made it past the obstacle. Some easier than others… Style point matter little on this hill. All that was left was for 300 to run up to the top like it had all week everywhere else.
What happened next is a story that might be best told by the “Spotter” or the “Spotted”. “Woody” from Ih8mud.com had donated his time that day to help out all the trail runs from FJ Summit on their spotting needs while trying to run the Wall. Spotting an obstacle like this is a thankless job and anyone who takes it probably doesn’t do it two years in a row. It takes at least a year to forget all the grumpy drivers who can’t handle being told that they are holding up the line and cannot make it up without being “winched”.
Harper setup “300” on a line that Woody pointed him too. Once set, Harper floored it. The truck didn’t make it up a ¼ of the way. It wasn’t a spectacular looking attempt, infact, you might call it underwhelming Woody called out and asked Harper if his “locker” was on. Harper said that it was… He retreated backward to make another attempt.
Getting up the Wall at Poughkeepsie is also a great opportunity to do some mathematics about altitude and horsepower. At sea level when it was brand new the 2000 Tacoma made 190 hp. 300’s stock 3.4liter engine with 320,000 miles (Never overhauled) was probably a few ponies down from age. Use the factor of 3% loss for every 1000 feet above sea level and you have a 36% loss of engine power. Even when new… That means the truck would have been sitting at 121 hp. Add some oversized tires that have been deflated to 15 psi… And you have the recipe for a “dog”.
But that’s Ok… In the game of mountain driving and wheeling… Slow and steady will win the race. FJ40’s are some of the biggest dogs on the trail and are known for their trail prowess. Rarely do we need to have raw power at the top of a mountain. This spot is the exception. The Wall demands you get a little momentum on the rock face.
Attempt number two did not end much differently than the first one. Harper had followed Woody’s line, but he was still not making it up the rock face. Harper started to ask for a different line but Woody refused and told him that 300 was going to need to be winched.
It didn’t take long before you could feel the the seething and hatred pouring out of the cab of 300. Too the defense of both individuals… A lot more was going on beyond the Spotter and the Spotted.
Harper was an experienced driver with a truck that didn’t look like much on the outside. Even to the studied eye of Woody, “300” looked unprepared for the Wall. Harper had the knowledge and experience that he probably should have been given another shot on the line he wanted. But that wasn’t going to happen.
Harper could not see what Woody saw behind “300”… a growing lineup of trucks waiting their turn. To complicate the situation, the overcast sky started spitting rain. A little bit of moisture on these rocks can make this hazard flat dangerous and far more time consuming if everyone needs to be winched up. Woody was making a call that took every driver into consideration. It’s the kind of call that loses popularity contests!
This is where the story sat for the past two years. Harper and 300 had to be pulled up “The Wall”. Constant ribbing and laughs have been pointed at Harper from every driver that has made “The Wall”. Even folks who had never seen the rockface knew that this was one of Harper’s biggest regrets from our trips out west. Bringing this story up with Harper induces flashbacks and repressed memories that will start a flood of obscenities and excuses of what happened that day.
Since then, Harper has taken 300 to countless off road events and parks. In 2017 he traveled all the way to the Mojave Desert in the little truck that will not quit… He has also run about every obstacle in Moab (Including a hot tub or two). He knows this truck.
This past summer the Fort’s Trail Team once again made its way out to Colorado with several trucks. At this point, we now bring customers with us as well. The planned run to Poughkeepsie Gulch was obviously the most anticipated stop of the trip. On July 18th we made our way back to the scene of the past failure. There was an audience in tow with 300 that were looking for a front row seat to a redemption… Or a serious personal meltdown. Either way… Everyone was sure that they would be entertained.
A couple trucks in our caravan this time around were sporting V8 engines and led the way… Even at 12,000 feet, those high powered trucks made “The Wall” look more like a traffic hump. A couple V6 Gen 5 4runners were next… It was a little more struggle, but ATRAC proved its worth and they were up and over with little drama. Now came the defining moment of Harpers off-road reputation. Was Woody right? Was this obstacle too much for 300? Would Harper make it on his own line?
Golfers lining up their puts take take less time than Harper when he finally got his chance to set up. He was out of the truck several times making sure he liked the “line”. Nobody but Dustin was going to make the call on what approach to take.
In and out of the cab…. Setting it up just perfect… And then…. Just a few seconds later, a momentous roar came up from the peanut gallery. 300 loped and flexed its way up and had bested the rockface. The audience cheered a hero’s welcome. Harper pulled the truck to a clearing and hopped out.
The glow that exuded from Dustin was nearly blinding! For years he had waited for this moment. While he had the confidence in his truck and his ability to get the job done, sometimes gravity and physics have their own barriers that faith just cannot break through.
Dustin’s grin was nearly contagious. Everyone, and mean everyone, adults, kids, friends and complete strangers felt the electricity of the moment. It was high fives and reviews from everyone about how well he and the little truck had done. This was worth the drive from Illinois by itself!
It would a slight fib to say that we dont enjoy giving grief to Dustin anymore about the past failure. Even a couple months later its still exciting to see him grin and talk about this moment of personal accomplishment. We can consider this story now closed with an appended, happy ending.
Last month the Fort’s Trail Team headed out west for a Colorado “Family” adventure. We say “family” because in the fleet of seven trucks on the trip we brought out a total of 6 kids and one drivers “Dad”. We started our trip in the northern part of the state… Making our way from Leadville to Aspen to our final destination in Ouray. Everyday was high elevation trails and scenic mountain towns… Evenings were filled with kids and adults laughing and telling stories about sites that had been seen over the day.
We did find ourselves doing more primitive camping on this trip. Matt Wagner located a great little campsite south Ouray that sat at a cool and comfortable 10,000 feet! With clear skies and unusually warm weather for our visit, this was some of the best camping we have ever experienced.
The kids really added to the adventure on this trip. We stopped and had ice cream in Ouray and Silverton… A Trail Team first. We can also tell you from newly acquired experience, that peanut butter sandwiches taste delicious at 14,000 feet!
If you are interested in taking your Toyota on an adventure… The Fort’s staff have compiled several years of exploring and can help you plan your trip. Also, everyone is welcome to join us as we plan for future events and outings. See Eric Stahl or Matt Wagner in service.
We kept our trip to Mojave Road under the radar last year with the goal of putting together a video… That is still the goal! Sorry for the delay. In the meantime… Here are some pictures from that trip in our google drive.
We kicked off 2018 by hitting the snowy slopes of The Cliff’s Insane Terrain on New Years. 5 brave Trail Team members and a few passengers made the trek. It was a VERY cold morning and it didn’t get much better throughout the whole day… -15 was the wakeup temp.
The Cliffs had a scavenger hunt that day. Laid out in the snowy trails were 6 hidden markers that could be found by using clues provided at the office. It should come as not surprise that “Super Taco” blazed all the trails and beat everyone to the grand prize. A free years membership to the park. Super Taco fended off competitors of all sizes and styles… And he has never been to this park before! Amazing!