After our trip to South America, we spent a couple weeks back home regrouping and catching up with family and friends. We got to see a lot of friendly faces and I even squeezed in a (not quite half) day at work (I’m still “on-call” and figured I should make sure they know I’m still on the books). Toward the end of our two weeks we had to focus on getting the Nanavan (our minivan turned camper) ready for her upcoming road trip adventure to several National Parks in the southwest. We had a couple simple modifications we wanted to make to the inside, and also needed to pack and do a basic oil change and check-up.
The day before our scheduled departure we got an oil change which was quick and easy; no big deal. The steady drip and subsequent puddle of coolant leaking out of the van when we got home, however, appeared to be somewhat of a big deal. We were both already stressed over our seemingly endless to-do list and having a potentially major problem with the van felt downright defeating. We had my dad (and his friend/prior work colleague who happened to be at the house) take a look to assist with the diagnosis, then I drove the van back to the shop where it had been worked on just an hour before. The guys at the shop took a look and confirmed what we thought.
It appeared the coolant reservoir had hairline cracks along the top half of it which caused coolant to leak when the engine warmed up and the coolant level increased. This also means pressure wasn’t building up in the system like it typically would because air could just push its way through the cracks. We’re pretty sure this was never a noticeable issue before now because the coolant level was likely always a bit low. When the car shop topped off the coolant, it brought the level above the location of the cracks which brought the leaking issue to light. So, what to do?
Let it be. Pretty much everything under the Nanavan’s hood is original. If we replace the reservoir then it will be able to build up the intended amount of pressure. However, it will also put more pressure on the hoses which are old and may not be able to handle the pressure. So, we’d end up needing to replace everything associated with the coolant system. Aside from the fact that no shop could get us in for at least several days, it would also be quite expensive (at least when compared to the van’s market value). In the end we decided to go on the road anyway. This didn’t appear to be a new issue and we hadn’t had issues in the past, but we still made sure to find a place in the van to store a couple jugs of coolant just in case.
The next day (4/4) we finished up all of our last minute packing and had the Nanavan headed south on I-5 by mid-morning. We kept a watchful eye on the temperature gauge, checked the coolant level a few times throughout the day, and looked for more drips every time we stopped. Things were running as per usual and relatively smooth traffic allowed us to log 450 miles for our first day. This landed us at Lower Rush Creek Campground for the night, located halfway between Canby and Adin in California. We both underestimated the elevation of this area and the drop in temperature the evening would bring. Our first night on the road was a cold one and I found myself scrambling for more layers to keep warm when I woke up during the night with icy toes. Other than that, this place worked well for a quick overnight and was really quiet due to most sites being unoccupied.
After our chilly night, we got up early and were on the road before sunrise as day two (4/5) would involve several hundred more miles. The goal for our day’s end destination was Death Valley (because why wouldn’t you drive to Death Valley in a vehicle with a sketchy coolant system?), specifically the Stovepipe Wells campground which was conveniently located across the highway from the trailhead for a hike to Mosaic Canyon that we had our eyes on. We managed to log about 490 miles without issue, passing through only a couple major cities including Reno and Carson City, as well as several small towns with clean and quaint main drags. The other sections of the route (following the 395 for much of the day) included a variety of scenery including the snowy Sierras, beautiful lakes, and several valleys with colorful rocky hillsides. We even got a fly-by from military jets as they sliced through the valleys with amazing speed at crazy low altitudes.
The Nanavan held it together all day, even during several extended inclines while climbing out of deep valleys. At the end of the day we were pleased to find about 80% of the campsites unoccupied at the Stovepipe Wells campground. We had a low-key evening at camp with nice mountain views and a pretty sunset, followed by a restful night’s sleep. Our first two days were successful and we were well on our way!