I Did It… Overheating Problems Fixed Roadside

What do you do when your car overheats? With temperatures reaching the 80s this past week in LA, my 1955 Studebaker got hot in protest.

Thursday was my first problem. After 30 minutes of freeway driving and 30 minutes of stoplight-and-street traffic, I lost power and came to a stop. After letting Stude cool down, the only thing I noticed upon inspection was that my fluid was a little low. I filled up the radiator with a coolant/distilled water mix and was back on my way, hoping maybe this was all I needed. I got home fine that evening and through the 25 mile drive to work the next day without a glitch. This made me feel better, but I was very worried…Studebaker had a date as a wedding getaway car for some close friends of mine on Saturday. I didn’t want her to miss out on the excitement!

As I pondered what was going on with my overheating, I knew the most likely candidates were the radiator, water pump, or thermostat. I’ve dealt with my radiator and water pump already, so I was pretty sure it wasn’t either one of those. But the thermostat, I didn’t know anything about. Having recently helped my car club buddy change the thermostat in her 1965 Falcon – I knew it was an easy job.

So when I hit Friday afternoon traffic and my car lost power again, I knew what I needed to try first. Replace the thermostat. Luckily, there was an auto parts near to where I’d broken down.  After letting Stude cool off, I started her up again and got safely to the parts store. There I purchased a thermostat (about $7) and a thermostat housing gasket ($1). While I let Stude cool down again, I used the time to do a little interior adjustments on my wind-lacing.

Pulling out my trunk kit o’tools (always carry tools with you!) I eventually set off to work to change the thermostat.

Before I began unbolting the housing that the thermostat sits under, I just wanted to be certain the car wasn’t too hot. Un-capping the radiator proved that the temperature was sufficiently cooled down so I proceeded to unbolt the housing. It was a very simple 2-bolt job and the housing was off. What I found at that point was that I didn’t have a thermostat at all! I’d heard of cars running without them – a thermostat really just regulates water through the cooling system.

I knew the tricky thing would be to get the new gasket to create a water tight seal. I have trouble remembering what gasket sealer to use for which gasket (if it’s in contact with water or oil for example) so I decided to try it without using any. What I did do was use a screwdriver to clean off the metal surfaces that come in contact with the gasket – leaving as close to a smooth surface as possible…which is a good idea for any place a gasket is used.

I tightened down the bolts snug, but not too tight (I know that on some parts too much torque on a bolt head can cause damage) and started up the engine. Right away a bunch of water was spraying from my thermostat housing. Turning the car off and inspecting led me to quickly realize I had a crack in the thermostat housing!

That crack wasn’t there before… I would’ve seen fluid sprayed all over the engine compartment. It’s possible that my taking the housing off and tightening it back on again agitated a crack already there. Good thing I was at the parts store still!  (I must interject here, I had very good luck with my parts guy today at O’Reilly – good job for knowing that small block Chevy’s come in a wide range of makes and models!) I just walked inside with the old part and had them find me a new one ($8.)  Situations like this are a good example of why I chose to put a common engine, like my small block Chevy, in my daily driver classic instead of rebuilding the original Studebaker one!

As I waited yet again for my car to cool down before putting the new thermostat housing on, I was glad to have a little entertainment with me in the car. My laptop and a Mad Men DVD to watch made the time fly-by…brake downs don’t have to be miserable experiences!

After replacing the housing and doing a little adjustment to stop water leaking – I was finally back on the road!

Within five minutes my temperature gauge was reading at a possibly dangerous level…but this was only guesswork. My temp gauge is the original one with only “marks” and no actual numbers. I’m used to the gauge being at almost the very bottom. When it hits the middle (as it did when I was in 100+ degree weather this summer in Las Vegas,) my car shuts down. So when it was at this mid-level within five minutes I was on the ready for another car breakdown.

There are certain sink-or-swim moments when living with an old car, and this was one of them. I wouldn’t know if my car was overheating still unless I kept going. So I kept going… and going… and going. It seems that my overheating problem is fixed! Stude has been fine, even when sitting in traffic!

On Saturday Studie was cool as a cucumber and looking better then ever for her first wedding appearance. She was a big hit at the wedding!

As for the gauge, I’m guessing that adding a thermostat is making my temperature read at a different level. After all…it seems like the middle is a better place for it to rest at normal operating conditions then all the way at the bottom!?! I should add a more accurate gauge that will show me the actual temperature so I can more accurately assess what’s going on with my engine.

I was very proud to be able to do a roadside fix all by myself and be successful! It made me remember my earliest days of trying to learn about cars… I had a couple of very unsuccessful tire changes. Back then I felt I’d never be able to do car work by myself. This experience reminded me how far I’ve come. I’m confident that with a little courage, guts, and thinking I can fix whatever comes my way!!

Until next time,

Happy Trails!

9 Responses

  1. Nick Venice Devils

    Very Cool !! Buy yourself a set of auxillary gages, Oil , Temp and amps. Does your Stude have a fan shroad ?

  2. JP Kalishek

    Hey Milady!
    Sounds like you had the missing ‘stat causing two issues.
    No thermostat can cause the water to move in the engine too fast. This would be fine except to cause it to run too cold (if the design is just right) but in SBchevys it can cause the water to eddy and get too hot in a few spots. If you have no catch can/reservoir connected to the radiator this can cause the engine to push out a bit of water due to the steam in those spots, and it gets a bit too low, which lets more bubbles get in the system, which causes even more hot spots etc.etc.etc.
    When I raced, we didn’t use a stat at all in our car, but we had the water pump slowed down. This stopped pump cavitation (the pump makes steam bubbles by moving too fast) and we had enough restriction at the ‘stat housing to get by and not cause cavitation and eddies in the block and heads. In a buddies car we ran a washer with an opening about the size of a ‘stat with no guts. This causes enough restriction the water in the block is a bit higher pressure than in the radiator. That too helps prevent those hot spot bubbles of heat and despair. So, by the water being restricted just enough, you are not getting those odd hot spots but the water itself is carrying more heat with it so your temp is a bit higher looking to you. But it is really just doing it’s job better now. Also the stat is closed until it gets to temp, so the engine warms up faster.

    A tip on gaskets. The trick for a ‘stat housing is to use a bit of grease or oil on the manifold (or block depending on the engine) and then silicone RTV very thinly smeared on the gasket (both sides) then assemble things. Next time you need to take it apart, the silicone has stuck the gasket to the housing, the grease lets it come off the manifold, and that RTV holding it on the housing is easily cleaned, and you can clean it away from the engine compartment. On a water pump, you glue the gaskets to the pump, and do the silicone/grease trick to the block. You need very little grease (I’ve taken a dab of oil from the dipstick or oil cap but grease or gear oil work a bit better) and just make sure the gasket is completely coated by just the thinnest layer of RTV. I’ve also seen anti-seize used instead of grease.

    Saturday was a wedding attending day here for me as well. My step niece married a Corporal in the Marines and will soon relocate to Hawaii! He wants to re up in a year, and a few years down the road transfer to one of the bases In Cali (but not 29 Palms! that leaves the other two).
    Sadly I have no Stude to style in. Or four wheels even. Everyone thought I was nutty for riding my motorcycle in 45 degree drizzle.

      • JP Kalishek

        Picked a lot up during my time as an auto parts sales guy. Hated sales, and think rather lowly of salesmen myself, but was more friends with most of my customers and they knew I refused to sell stuff that didn’t work. Picked up others from two ladies who were some of the best Parts people out there. Both worked for AutoShack (later changed the name to the Autozone we all learned to love…and hate…or as I now call them.. Twilight Zone) and the older lady knew the most of almost any other parts person I dealt with, (except that one old guy who identified parts from across the room) and the younger one (about my age at the time of 21 or so) was not only knowledgeable, but let me look stuff up myself saving both of us time, and allowing me to really learn how to look things up and cross reference so I could buy something not listed as fitting, but was actually usable. It’s harder and harder today to find people and places one can do that.

        I shall endeavor to supply you with my tips (hopefully useful), and I’m full of them, I’m told. . . or was that full of IT?
        Anyhow, I’ve a ton of useless info up there and hope to get some out so other things can take up residence.

  3. Phil Luyer

    Good work… 🙂

    We found the Caddy’s cooling system to be in pretty good shape (for a 40 year old car) when we put a heap of mile on her back in August / September… However, she did get pretty hot on the climb into LA on the I5 and also on the climb out of Death Valley…

    The rest of the 5000 miles through Arizona, Nevada, Utah and California were all good, she didn’t even get warm running Ebbett’s Pass between Tahoe and Yosemite…

  4. Jos

    Hey Kristin

    Great job, especially along the road side. You’re getting experienced !!
    as mentioned by someone before; a set of extra gauges would be a good investement. You can buy great gauges wich also suit Stude great and provide accurate reading.

    Grz. Jos.


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