Bad News Good Timing

Louisville, Kentucky

Bad News Good Timing

For an entire year we tried to get to the bottom of a coolant leak.

Finally the bottom found us.

Our coolant leak saga, which began in Edmonton, Alberta a year ago, is an excellent example of how, at some time, even the most conscientious drivers are beaten by their mysterious, monster machines.

While MacGyver has invested much time and energy learning about Black Beauty’s inner mysteries, he is the first to say he is not a mechanic. And because he is not a mechanic, he never lets problems simmer, consequently we have never had a roadside breakdown in three-and-half-years as owner operators. Any whiff of trouble and he has her checked out as soon as possible, a practice he followed with the coolant leak.

Fast rewind to March 2012. The temperature was below zero. I turned the key at 0500 local time in the Edmonton truck stop. We were due to pick up two hours west. The engine low coolant warning alarm sounded. We’d checked the coolant level the day before and the day before and the day before that. Every day we checked the coolant level and it was consistently normal. There were no signs of leakage except that the level was down a little. We added a 1/2 gallon as insurance.

When the engine warmed up, the coolant level was too high. And this is how it went for the next few months. When the temperature was below freezing, and the tractor was shut down for about 12 hours, the coolant level dropped a little. Turn the key, let the engine warm up and the coolant receptacle returned to full.

Each time the truck went into the shop for routine maintenance we told the Volvo mechanics about the problem. They investigated. We were told there was no problem. We paid. We left.

This stopped when overnight temperatures were consistently more than 50 degrees.

The fall returned and the overnight temperatures were dropping so last November we took the tractor to the Cummins shop in Chehalis, Washington for an overhead, a big truck tune up, and again, we asked that the mechanic check the radiator and coolant. Again, we were told no problem.

A week later we had an oil leak because a gasket was twisted during the overhead. Cummins stepped up and covered the almost $400 bill at Volvo in La Mirada, California to fix the $348 overhead.

We drove the Santa run through December with no issues with the coolant because the truck ran almost continually for a month. We did our restarts every week in Phoenix, Arizona where the temperature bottomed out at plus 40.

Back at work after Christmas we drove from California to Quebec to Louisiana to Alberta to Florida. The Auxilllary Power Unit kept the coolant warm in Canada. The level was normal.

We parked Black Beauty for eight weeks in Florida’s balmy winter weather while we were on vacation. Since she had been sitting for awhile, we topped up the coolant when we started her.

We drove to Louisville to the Mid America Trucking Show, stopping in Nashville, Tennessee at the TA for our 120-day tractor inspection, a Landstar requirement. We passed.

Thirty hours later in Louisville temperatures plunged, a record low of 25 degrees fahrenheit. MacGyver had booked “just in case” rooms months before the truck show. He decided it was too cold for me to ride the Vespa and I wouldn’t be comfortable staying in the tractor at the Papa John’s parking lot at the truck show.

In the morning MacGyver looked out the window, he parked the tractor so he could see Black Beauty from the window, and saw a puddle under her skirt. He ran out of the room and returned five minutes later.

“We have a coolant leak,” he barked.

This was particularly frustrating because we knew there was a problem and we have spent lots of money trying to get it repaired. We were very lucky when the end came. It was a case of, as my mother says, “bad luck, good luck, who’s to say.”

We were less than three miles from a Cummins shop, not in a Rest Area on the Interstate ten miles from the nearest exit and 100 miles from a shop. We had coolant in the sidebox to top it up for the short drive.

Cummins is walking distance from a Hertz rental car agency, where a full-size rental car was $21 a day. The only vehicle they had, a minivan, turned out to be perfect. It allowed us to take our friends Salena and Eddie and Luisa Nims, publisher of the Long Haul Magazine for dinner in Bardstown. We already had hotel reservations for the three nights of the truck show, which MacGyver booked months ago for less than $150 for each night. The going rate during the truck show was $600 because in addition to the truck show, a high school girls basketball championship was hosted in Louisville.

Best of all, we found the problem when we were not under a load, and not on Friday night just before the shops closed for the weekend.

The real problem, we were told, was a leaking O ring seal on the water pump. The mechanic told MacGyver that when the O ring is worn, it shrinks in the cold weather revealing the leak. And we needed a new water pump.

The final bill was $951.


4 thoughts on “Bad News Good Timing

  1. Two or three "positives" concerning Your post, including the "value added" fact that You have gained knowledge regarding the cause and cure of your coolant leak. Glad you didn't lose a great load either ! All in all, your "breakdown" seemed pretty painless.


  2. June, How one's perspective changes in trucking! We were grateful to get away with ONLY an almost $1,000 repair. And $1,000 seems to be the price of entry. I think the Gods gave us a break because we were doing our due diligence.Gary, That's the problem? challenge? aggravation? with big trucks. We can't peer down at the engine and say oh, see that's the problem. The mechanics plug in their diagnostics and if there's no fault code, the first assumption is no problem.You're right, now we know one more thing about the interior mysteries of the Cummins ISX.


  3. We had a great time at the show and seeing you guys. You are at the 600,000 mile plus mark where maintenance becomes a daily activity. I have become best friends with a can of WD-40. But hey! WD-40 is cheaper than a new truck payment. 🙂


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