New year, new job. The Bongo is now being put to use as my daily commute vehicle. Not ideal as it is rather heavy on the petrol, but it is very reliable and, despite being larger than the average run around, it is fantastically manoeuvrable. So I’m not worried about it being up to the task.
Second day of new job. The coolant alarm has gone off, though intermittently. So I top up the reservoir up with water. It’s been at least 18 months since it was previously topped up so I’m not too worried a bit of evaporation etc is to be expected. It takes a fairly small amount of water to top it up to the required level.
Evening of second day of new job, I’m driving across town in heavy traffic, a little stressed out at getting to the childcare setting to pick up the girls before it closes. Nearly there and the alarm goes off again. Not good.
The childcare setting is in a tiny village on the edge of Bath, it is pitch black and freezing cold. I borrow a small bottle of water from the kind people at the setting. I top up the reservoir but with only a low powered torch I can’t see very well if the reservoir is full or not. I drop my keys into the engine bay. Stress levels are rising sharply. A passing practical angel manages to retrieve my keys from the engine bay. I’m all fingers and thumbs. We get in the car and start driving. The lanes between here and home are narrow and dark. The alarm goes off again. Shrill, insistent. My stress levels are hitting the roof. I know I need to stop but it isn’t far home and there is nowhere safe to stop. I keep going. The alarm keeps shrieking. The girls’ chatter is silenced.
We are nearly home and in the light of a street lamp I suddenly realise there is steam coming from the engine. I stop. I know I shouldn’t have driven when the alarm is going off, now there is steam. Although the heat gauge on the dashboard hasn’t moved I’m now feeling certain I must have done serious damage to the engine. The AA come quickly as I’m stopped on a tricky junction. A leaking radiator is diagnosed and he helps me get the van home. I feel sick, if I’ve cooked the engine the cost will be in the thousands. It may not even be worth repairing.
Fast forward a week. There is a message on the answer phone. It’s the garage. I’ve been dreading this call. ‘Your car is ready, come and collect it when you are ready’. That’s it. No damage to the engine block, no hideously expensive repair bill. Just a new radiator, a fairly simple job in a Bongo, and we are back on the road. I whoop!
But please imagine, if we had not had a coolant alarm fitted there would have been no indication of a problem, the temperature gauge barely budged, I could easily have not spotted the steam in the darkness and I wouldn’t have given it that extra top up. The first sign may have been the engine simply blowing up. The cost would have been huge.
If you have a Bongo get a coolant alarm fitted. The Bongo’s temperature gauge is notoriously unreliable and the coolant system is prone to leaks. Ignore this advice at your peril!