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August 14, 2004

Overshooting Your Estimates

I love the way my automotive projects always extend well past the time I expect them to take.

Today I tackled the coolant recovery tank, which has been absolutely horrible (but I didn't realize just how bad) for a while now. It finally finished dying on Thursday, with a gigantic crack from the filler neck to the mount, so I figured I should fix it. Headed over to the dealership and picked up a replacement for $20.

In case anyone else has a 1993 to 1995 Jeep Grand Cherokee kicking around in need of a replacement coolant recovery bottle, the part number is 52005183. I also have the number for the cap you'll need to go with it, but I'll have to get the receipt and add it to this entry later.

I knew actually replacing the tank would only be about a ten minute job -- the radiator line running to the tank is essentially empty when the rad's cold, and nothing else needs be removed to remove the tank. What I completely failed to allot sufficient time for was the process of removing the old coolant from the recovery tank. Thirty minutes was a nice-sounding estimate, but terribly optimistic.

Mr. Turkey Baster and I made very good friends. At least twenty bastersfull (basterfulls?) later, I was done enough to get on with the rest of it. There was still fluid left in the tank, but it was hiding beneath the coolant level sensor, which is just a glorified toilet float with electrical connections. If you plan on undertaking this project, just disconnect the wire harness and worry about getting the sensor out after the tank's out -- it's a bitch, because "mounting" it involves stuffing it through a hole in the tank with as much force as possible. Removal, of course, is the reverse of installation (in other words, yanking the hell out of it).

I opted for a sweet ghetto basting set-up that involved surrounding the recovery tank with paper towels and jamming a plastic Solo cup between the tank, the cruise control thingy (future mechanic am I!) and the A/C canister. Worked beautifully. The paper towels sopped up the little bit that dripped out of the baster on the way to the cup, and filling the cup was much easier than my original plan of trying to fill an empty water jug.

Both the nuts and the screws holding the tank down can be removed with a metric socket set. You'll need a 10mm socket. If all you have is standard, the 7/16 will remove the screw but not the nuts. Wrenches are a bad, bad idea as there's no clearance to use a wrench on the lower mounts. A pair of pliers is necessary to open the hose clamp connecting the overflow hose to the overflow tank. Be gentle -- you just need to squeeze enough that you can slide it up the hose.

The most disturbing part of this project came after getting the tank out and (finally) successfully removing that damnable coolant level sensors. The bottom of my recovery tank was absolutely disgusting. Big chunks of gross crap. The closer you got to the bottom of the tank, the less green and the more black it was. It looked like someone ate asphalt and then excreted it into my coolant tank. Which may explain why my vehicle was having trouble keeping cool -- I'm not entirely sure anything was making regular trips out of the tank past the sedimentary landmass attempting to form. The system was flushed recently, but apparently removing caked-together crud was beyond the effort the shop wanted to go to.

Total time for my "ten minute" repair job: just under two hours. Makes me wish I had invested the $20 in a 1-gallon Shop-Vac. It could have been much, much faster had I been able to suck all the old fluid out in one fell swoop instead of one drippy baster (which they all are) at a time.

Given it would have been an hour of billable time at nearly any shop, I'm not complaining. $20 is a much nicer figure for a cheapo plastic tank than $90 with a professional's time (wasted time, as simple as it is -- especially since they would have used a suction gun to empty the tank) included. Plus they would have billed me for refilling the overflow tank, and I have half a jug of Prestone already.

Hooray for do-it-yourself!

Posted by Colin at August 14, 2004 6:21 PM

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