off the Road FRANCOIS’ DIARY
Take good care of your radiator, says Francois Rossouw. If you don’t, you might just be forced to leave your 4×4 in the middle of nowhere. This almost happened to a driver on one of Francois’ recent trips, but luckily they came across some magical blue powder
One of the most fragile parts of a vehicle is the radiator. Its purpose is to dispense heat, which means that it has to be big and relatively exposed. Of course, this means that it can get damaged very easily.
The radiator can easily be blocked from both the inside and outside, so I cannot emphasise its vulnerability enough. And if water leaks from it, the vehicle will overheat, causing damage to the engine. Most engines that expire do so because of radiator trouble.
On one of our desert trips, there were a large number of different vehicles in the convoy. Obviously, every driver wanted to prove that his vehicle could keep up with the rest, so everyone charged the dunes with gusto.
Now, the big dunes can be intimidating, but these aren’t really the ones that tend to cause trouble. No, it is the small ones that you often don’t even notice that outfox you. This is why they are often referred to as jakkalsies.
When Wessie van der Westhuizen was forced to try to charge up a dune twice before making it to the top, he fell a bit behind. Hoping to catch up, he drove a bit too fast – and smacked into a jakkalsie.
His Ford jumped into the air and did a nose dive. It hit the ground so hard that the engine moved on its mountings and the fan hit the radiator. The plastic front bumper was very forgiving and returned back to its original shape almost immediately. But it hid the real damage from view.
Nobody could see any damage, and Wessie carried on. However, he soon noticed that the reading on his heat gauge was climbing steadily, so he stopped. Water, he discovered, was streaming out of the radiator.
We noticed that the fan had made a round circle in the radiator and that small water fountains had formed at the three spots where the radiator core had been damaged by the fan. Schalk van der Walt arrived with a five-litre can of water to fill the radiator. However, water leaked out as fast as he poured it in.
This was a big problem. If a vehicle breaks down in the Namib, you have no option but to leave it. Getting parts is not easy and towing an SUV out of the desert is simply impossible.
Predictably, anxious advice came from all sides. Everyone had a surefire remedy for the situation. Some suggested curry powder or mealie meal to plug the leak, but the catering vehicle would only meet up with us that evening, so there was no way to even try such remedies.
The only option was to remove the radiator and try to fix it. If it was beyond repair, the Ford would have to be left there until a guide could return with a new radiator on the following trip. This wasn’t a pleasant prospect, since the vehicle could be stranded there for more than a month. Moreover, Wessie, his wife and all their gear would have to be accommodated in another vehicle.
I suddenly realised that I had a small bottle in my emergency kit that I had never used before. Its label read: “radiator sealant powder”. And this was the perfect opportunity to give it a try.
I had inspected the blue powder on a previous occasion, but doubted that it would actually be able to plug a sizable hole in a radiator. Since we had no other options, we gave it a try.
We kept the motor running while adding the powder with water to the radiator. Everyone held thumbs.
To our surprise, the leak started to disappear within seconds. In virtually no time at all, it was gone! We couldn’t believe our luck.
With the radiator now filled with water, the Ford was ready to proceed. The radiator cap was fastened lightly to prevent the buildup of too much pressure in the cripple radiator. Every ten minutes, we stopped to check the repairs, but the blue powder thankfully continued to do its work. For the next two days, we checked Wessie’s car every hour, but the leaks never returned.
And when we eventually arrived in Walvis Bay, the local auto store’s stock of blue powder was bought up instantly. We all promised that we would never venture off road without it!