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.