Cooling System Overhaul: A $3 Hose Takes Out a Fresh GoWesty 2.3l Engine!

We get the phone call just about daily, “How much for a fresh GoWesty engine installed?” And I have to say, “Well... that’s a trick question!”

The common misconception is that if you stick a rebuilt engine and transaxle in an old Vanagon, you somehow end up with a rebuilt Vanagon. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, if it is reliability you seek—and the engine in your Vanagon is running strong and is not leaking oil or coolant—you are better off spending money on the systems that keep the engine alive: fuel delivery, fuel injection, ignition, exhaust and, most importantly, the COOLING SYSTEM.

I see it all the time. We buy a Vanagon for re-sale from folks who have just HAD IT! They have been let down numerous times, right in the middle of their vacation, and are convinced their Vanagon will never be reliable. Even after spending thousands (sometimes tens of thousands) of dollars, it just lets them down. And when I go through their stacks of invoices, I begin to understand their point of view. It goes something like this:

1996: Fresh engine, one hose

1999: Fresh engine, two hoses

2004: Fresh engine, one hose

Wow, I guess these VW engines just don’t last… WRONG. I have always said, “If you can keep oil and coolant in your waterboxer, you can’t kill it!” The typical life expectancy from a waterboxer, barring any trauma due to loss of coolant or oil, is around 200k miles. By that time, they are just plumb worn out.  The problem with Vanagons is this: The newest one was built back in 1991! Even a low mileage Vanagon is OLD. And every cooling system part, every hose, every plastic junction is, well, OLD.

This fact bit us in the behind in the summer of 2007. We installed a fresh 2.3 liter engine in a customer’s Westy, Mike’s ‘89. We did our absolute best to ensure that everything needing replacement was replaced. We know from experience which cooling hoses and plastic parts get worked the hardest, and we had always replaced them. But in this case, one hose we had NEVER seen fail did just that. See photos.

This is a $3 piece of hose and is not, technically, even part of the COOLING system; it is a heater hose. You see, the heater system on water-cooled vehicles uses the coolant as a heat source. The coolant is plumbed to a small radiator located in the dash board, called a heater core. Most Vanagons have a second heater core under the back seat.

So, not only are all the cooling system hoses exposed to heat and pressure every time the engine warms up, so are all the heater hoses and both front and rear heater cores. Every time the engine is started cold, warms up, and cools back down, every single part of the cooling and heater systems gets hot, pressurizes and expands, then cools off and contracts. Just think about how many times this occurs in 19-25 years!

So, this hose—which looked fine from the outside—was rotten on the INSIDE. It burst, all the coolant ran out, and Mike did not realize it had happened—in fact, he kept driving until his fresh GoWesty 2.3 liter engine MELTED. It only took about five minutes. There were only about 2500 miles on the engine....

Mike came back to us, and said, “Hey, you guys are the experts. If you told me I needed to replace the entire cooling and heater system, I would have!”

Mike had a good point.

So, we gave Mike another fresh GoWesty 2.3 FOR FREE, installed it FOR FREE, and sold him a completely new cooling and heater system. And, ever since that day, whenever we install a fresh GoWesty engine, we ALWAYS recommend a completely fresh cooling and heater system. No exceptions! And now you know why. It may seem like we are just trying to “up sell” the job. But that is simply not the case. The truth is that we only want to sell you ONE engine.

Back to the original question, “How much for a fresh GoWesty engine, installed?” Well, with or without a new cooling system? And, how many engines do you want to buy?


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