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Mystery Forward Center Leak on 87 Vanagon
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djacksonsf
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PostPosted: Tue Jul 24, 2018 7:30 pm    Post subject: Mystery Forward Center Leak on 87 Vanagon Reply with quote

Hi, I'm wondering if I can get some quick input on something that looks ominous. I just finished a 2K mile trip from northern CA to northern WA and back without any problems. I'm about to go to the sierras, but noticed an oily fluid under the front center of my camper, an '87 Westy. I'll take it to a mechanic this week, but I'm unfamiliar with where things are located on the underside of the van and was wondering if this drip pattern is something anyone recognizes. I don't think it's the cooling system, but the temperature gauge is running a bit warm and the fan is coming on more frequently than usual. It could be my imagination, but it feels warm in the cab around the driver/passenger seat and something smells as though it's burning. Anyone have any thoughts? And, if everything runs ok, is this a drive 10 miles to the mechanic or a flatbed tow it to the garage to avoid a bigger problem?

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Paulbeard
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PostPosted: Tue Jul 24, 2018 8:00 pm    Post subject: Re: Mystery Forward Center Leak on 87 Vanagon Reply with quote

Oily? seems…odd, since there are no oily things up there. They're in the back.

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I don't think it's the cooling system, but the temperature gauge is running a bit warm and the fan is coming on more frequently than usual. It could be my imagination, but it feels warm in the cab around the driver/passenger seat and something smells as though it's burning.


Why wouldn't you think it's the cooling system if the gauge is high and the fan is working harder than usual? You might just have the old hot foot syndrome, where the heater valve is stuck open: that would heat the cab and possible make for some hot smells.

How is the cooling system? Have you checked the tanks to see their levels? When was you last oil change? When did you last check the oil and how did it look?
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Tobias Duncan
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PostPosted: Tue Jul 24, 2018 8:04 pm    Post subject: Re: Mystery Forward Center Leak on 87 Vanagon Reply with quote

Power steering fluid?
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Tobias Duncan
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PostPosted: Tue Jul 24, 2018 8:04 pm    Post subject: Re: Mystery Forward Center Leak on 87 Vanagon Reply with quote

Power steering fluid?
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djacksonsf
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PostPosted: Tue Jul 24, 2018 8:19 pm    Post subject: Re: Mystery Forward Center Leak on 87 Vanagon Reply with quote

Hey thanks for the replies. I checked both the oil and cooling levels and they're fine. Coolant hasn't shown any appreciable drop - it's smack dab in the middle of max and min after 2,000 miles. That's why I didn't think it was the problem, but I could be wrong.

For oily things, I thought they were all in back, too - which is why I posted. It seemed counterintuitive to have an oily discharge up front.

The only recent work in that area was a steering boot that my mechanic said was cracked, so he replaced it.

My thought was that perhaps it's related to the automatic shifter or power steering, since they (I'm guessing) don't share the same fluids as what I can check in back (oil level, coolant level).
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Tobias Duncan
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PostPosted: Tue Jul 24, 2018 9:05 pm    Post subject: Re: Mystery Forward Center Leak on 87 Vanagon Reply with quote

You check the power steering fluid in the little reservoir in the back.
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djacksonsf
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PostPosted: Tue Jul 24, 2018 10:22 pm    Post subject: Re: Mystery Forward Center Leak on 87 Vanagon Reply with quote

Thank you, Tobias I checked the power steering reservoir in back (cylindrical reservoir with black cap and orange cap on top of that), and it's full.

There's no additional spotting since I parked the van, so unless there's something located midway between the front wheels that can leak, it's probably a radiator hose. The fluid wasn't as thick as oil, but still had a stickiness to it.

It's just hard to tell what that is after it dries on the body. I'll take it to the mechanic tomorrow and see what he says.

Appreciate the responses. As a new owner, I'm so grateful for this forum.
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RoryGirl
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PostPosted: Wed Jul 25, 2018 12:13 am    Post subject: Re: Mystery Forward Center Leak on 87 Vanagon Reply with quote

If your van was ever treated with rust prevention, certain types will drip in warmer weather
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Mellow Yellow 74
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PostPosted: Wed Jul 25, 2018 1:01 am    Post subject: Re: Mystery Forward Center Leak on 87 Vanagon Reply with quote

It would be worth checking your brake fluid level too
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Gizmoman
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PostPosted: Wed Jul 25, 2018 3:51 am    Post subject: Re: Mystery Forward Center Leak on 87 Vanagon Reply with quote

Coolant can feel oily. I'd check the rear heater
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DanHoug
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PostPosted: Wed Jul 25, 2018 5:37 am    Post subject: Re: Mystery Forward Center Leak on 87 Vanagon Reply with quote

RoryGirl has it... looks like rust treatment to me also. feel it and smell it. is it waxy? smell like a petroleum? it looks white-ish on the rad hose line, another clue.
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elizer Premium Member
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PostPosted: Wed Jul 25, 2018 5:38 am    Post subject: Re: Mystery Forward Center Leak on 87 Vanagon Reply with quote

RoryGirl wrote:
If your van was ever treated with rust prevention, certain types will drip in warmer weather


I was thinking that maybe someone shot some fluid film into the cavities.
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djacksonsf
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PostPosted: Wed Jul 25, 2018 2:12 pm    Post subject: Re: Mystery Forward Center Leak on 87 Vanagon Reply with quote

Well, in the end it was a couple of things. Cracked coolant hoses that hadn't been replaced yet with steel pipes...a $16 engine seal in an inconvenient location that had just started to drip...and a minor leak from the power steering pump. I'm just happy I caught it and didn't have a bigger problem out on the road in the heat with 3 people, an excitable terrier and a camper full of food and camping equipment.

Thanks again for all the feedback!
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djacksonsf
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PostPosted: Tue Jul 31, 2018 11:40 am    Post subject: Re: Mystery Forward Center Leak on 87 Vanagon Reply with quote

Hi,

Adding a final question to this thread: After upgrading the coolant pipes from the original plastic (which was cracking) to steel, the engine seems to be running warmer than it had in the past. I had to take it back to the place that did this work because I noticed that there wasn't any coolant in the overflow tank (but the expansion tank was full). The shop added coolant so that the level now falls between the min and max marks on the overflow tank.

From what I've read about swapping plastic pipes out for metal, the engine temp should actually register lower with metal, because it dissipates heat more effectively than plastic.

Is there any reason someone can think of that the engine would come out of this upgrade running hotter? I'm far from knowledgeable about the cooling system and I'm a bit concerned about the quality of the work performed. Are there steps that the shop I took it to may have missed that could result in this kind of outcome?

Thanks,

-Doug
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DanHoug
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PostPosted: Tue Jul 31, 2018 12:05 pm    Post subject: Re: Mystery Forward Center Leak on 87 Vanagon Reply with quote

the material of coolant pipes will have no effect on your temperature unless your cooling system is so compromised it is running at the very ragged edge of overheating. in good shape, the cooling system has great excess capacity and the temperature is soley regulated by the thermostat.

so, assuming that is NOT the case, you likely have air in your radiator. there's entire, long threads dedicating to bleeding the air out, search Libby Bong for a good start. read a whole bunch, try a few things, and get back to us and ask.

it COULD be as simple for you as opening the radiator bleed screw and letting air out until coolant flows bubble free. if done while the engine is warm but turned off, the residual pressure should push quite a bit of air out.
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djacksonsf
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PostPosted: Tue Jul 31, 2018 12:23 pm    Post subject: Re: Mystery Forward Center Leak on 87 Vanagon Reply with quote

Thanks, Dan! Is bleeding air out of the cooling system a common practice when you are doing work on the pipes or replacing the entire coolant supply (which was required for this job)? Just trying to get a sense of whether this should have been included as part of the job of replacing the pipes.

-Doug
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zuhandenheit
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PostPosted: Tue Jul 31, 2018 12:30 pm    Post subject: Re: Mystery Forward Center Leak on 87 Vanagon Reply with quote

Definitely.
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DanHoug
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PostPosted: Tue Jul 31, 2018 12:32 pm    Post subject: Re: Mystery Forward Center Leak on 87 Vanagon Reply with quote

it is essential, not common!! to remove the lower pipes drains the entire coolant system. however, very few shops will know how to properly bleed the system. it is something you need to learn and not have a shop do as these are antique vehicles and it is going to be very rare that a general shop will have the knowledge.

i know you want the shop to have done it properly. unless it is a shop familiar with vanagons and advertises as so, you really are the best person to read and do it correct yourself. welcome to ownership of a 31 year old vehicle! you'll learn lots and save money. it's not hard, just a process.
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djacksonsf
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PostPosted: Tue Jul 31, 2018 12:37 pm    Post subject: Re: Mystery Forward Center Leak on 87 Vanagon Reply with quote

Understand, and I've already learned a lot - and am continuing to learn as I go. I really enjoy working on things that don't require deep mechanical knowledge.

The place I took it to in San Francisco assured me they were expert and could do the work, so I'm just trying to figure out whether the $700 spent on replacing the pipes should have included bleeding the system to ensure there was no air in it.

I'd like to understand how to bleed the system myself so I know the process, but I also want to get my money's worth on the recent upgrade.
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DanHoug
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PostPosted: Tue Jul 31, 2018 12:43 pm    Post subject: Re: Mystery Forward Center Leak on 87 Vanagon Reply with quote

were it me, the frustration and time it would take me to deal with the shop, drive over there, try to get them to do it right, and not have my blood pressure skyrocket is not worth the 15 minutes it'd take me to do it myself. i'll bet they didn't charge you much for 'proper bleeding' because they didn't know that it is an un-ordinary process.
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