Radiator & Cooling System

April 2, 2016

My reading on various RV’ing forums about the ’02 Journey with it’s Freightliner chassis had pointed out a weak part in the Freightliner cooling system that is subject to early failure. The Surge Tank is a pressurized tank that holds the overflow from a hot radiator. It is thick translucent plastic that develops cracks over time, either due to multiple episodes of overheating, from excess sunshine, or from the heat, chemicals, pressure (15 psi) it’s required to hold. No one seems to know for sure. Some owners have noted that it appears their tank crumbled from the inside out.

Generally, most owners have noticed during their pre-travel checks that the tank is weeping radiator fluid and than limp home or to a shop to have the tank replaced. Some have been replaced by individual owners as many as 3 times over the years and +100K miles. And at a tank cost of $108 currently, plus 2-4 hours labor. But the stories indicate that there is seldom a catastrophic failure of the tank. This is a good thing of course. If it’s weeping, you’ll generally find it before you travel when you do your pre-travel checks. But you should always check the tank shortly after traveling…easier to spot a leak if it’s still wet.

I now know the part number is 05-17750-001. Took a while to verify and the various suppliers annoyingly don’t bother to put a picture of the part on their web site.

What many others have done to replace their tanks when the inevitable happens is as follows:

  1. Buy new tank, along with speed nuts, and new hose clamps. Prepare for a 6 hour job. Tools needed are large flat screwdriver to remove hoses, heavy duty needle nose pliers, 9/16″ socket and ratchet, 9/16″ end wrench, and a Sawzall.
  2. Siphon the small amount of coolant from the tank. It’s difficult using a 1/2″ hose because the internal tank structure prevents easy hose insertion to the lower part of the tank. So in that case, drill a large hole in the back of the tank over the deepest area from the bedroom access and siphon from there after getting most of the coolant from the back of the RV.
  3. Using a Sawzall with 12″ blade, carefully cut the tank into 3 pieces, this allows access to the 4 bolts…2 of which are hidden on the passenger’s side, from the backside of the RV. (Or, two people can use a 24″ extension and wobble socket to access those hidden bolts from the top and bottom of the engine).
  4. From the bedroom access, number and remove the hoses from the tank. Mark the hose numbers on the old tank. Also mark the new tank with the hose numbers.
  5. Install tank using the bolts and speed nuts…which avoids having to use regular nuts and makes the job much easier for one person.
  6. Attach numbered hoses to numbered connections with new hose clamps.
  7. Replace coolant and test drive.

Here’s a link to a iRV2 thread about the job: Surge (Coolant) Tank Replacement

And here’s a link to 9 pictures (not my RV): Surge Tank Pictures

I wanted to get a handle on this early since I often spend months in the desert with bright sunshine and occasional hot stretches. I usually head north when it gets too hot, but there have been times where due to necessity, I’ve been caught driving in a heat wave. I wanted to be prepared while simultaneously being proactive about the tank. So I tried to track down the tank p/n and save that, then inspected the tank carefully as soon as I could and found that, yes, there were hundreds of tiny spider cracks in the visible portion of the tank I could access under the cover in the back of the RV. No weeping yet though.

If you look at the next picture carefully, you can see some of the cracks just above the center seam. There are many of them, but they seem to be just in that one section between the seam in the middle of the tank and the upper bend of the tank.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFirst thing I did was clean this side of the tank…and carefully inspect for any evidence of weeping. Finding none, I felt secure covering those cracks with a special waterproofing tape RV’ers usually repair their leaking roofs with. I thought it would help reduce the possibility of a large crack developing. And that product is Eternabond tape.

I had 4″ wide tape on hand, so I used cut pieces of that…a roll of 2″ would have made the job easier though. It stuck solidly to the side and molded nicely to the indentations. I left the ‘telltale’ uncovered on the right of the tank so I can still see how much fluid is inside…there weren’t any cracks in that area anyway. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI’m hoping that that stop gap measure gives me a couple years of use before I have to change the tank out. I also have to find a facility where I can spray my engine off soon. It’s really grungy. One small benefit of all that fine dust on the engine, and on the back of the surge tank, is that I would be able to tell if there is a tank crack back there that starts weeping. As you can see from this pic, no leaks on the backside…for now.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I have an idea of how to cover the still exposed area of the tank to avoid sunshine and I’ll get to that next when I find the material I need. But for now with fingers crossed, and with the EBond over a portion of the tank, I can head off across the desert with a tad less worry.

On Edit: Sept. 2016

Still no leaks from my temporary fix using the Eternabond tape. But I’ve only put a couple thousand miles on it.

On Edit: July 2017

I made a friend in San Felipe, Mexico early this year, and she has a ’04 Journey with FL chassis. Her surge tank was in much worse shape than mine. I could push my thumbnail into the rotten part on hers, it was crumbling. I could see it was also crumbling inside. Spider cracks everywhere, but no evidence of weeping fluid. She should have replaced it there in Mexico, but she wanted to get the job done up in Vermont where her favorite shop is. So I did the EBond treatment to her tank before she left Mexico. I’m happy to report that the tank made it all the way up to Vermont from Baja without issue. She had the tank replaced soon after she got up there to her stomping grounds while they worked on other chassis issues so I’ll never know how long the treatment might have lasted.

I’m probably pushing my luck, but I inspect my tank regularly and I’m still not seeing any weeping from the cracks my tank developed. And my tank isn’t visibly crumbling like my friends. So I’m still putting off the job of replacing it for a bit longer. I am beginning to think that the Ebond tape I put on helps both seal and prevent sun damage, and then the fact that I’m very cautious about not overheating the engine…always downshifting when climbing hills so the temp needle on the gauge doesn’t climb much…helps keep the coolant from overheating and contributing to the cracking or deterioration from the inside. But that’s just speculation on my part.

On Edit: Oct. 2017

After spending the summer months in the warm areas of eastern Oregon, I made my way south to Pahrump, Nevada. There I did another inspection of the tank and found some weeping along the seam. Just one water track from somewhere under the pressure cap. I also found that the EBond tape had been subjected to enough heat, that the short pieces I’d put on the back of the tank (see picture above) weren’t sticking as solidly to the tank as they had been. So I pull them all off…they came off easily. And then I noticed that there was even more cracking of the plastic than when I’d put on the tape. I don’t know if the tape exasperated the cracking by concentrating heat or if it’s just the tape was in the area the tank typically cracks. My friends tank had cracks (a ’04 Journey with Cat engine) that were more extensive than mine and looked very similar to what I am seeing now on my tank, but her tank never had tape on it, until I added it early this year.

I’d put on the tape to give me more time to address the issue…gather info, find a shop, etc. and I’d gotten 18 months out of the tank so far, so I’m happy I put the tape on. I just don’t know if it made much difference.

Here in Pahrump, Nevada, I found a shop with several good reviews, $90/hour rate, and OK with me providing my own parts so I’m heading there to get the work done in a couple weeks.

Here’s what the tank I bought looks like… 05-17750-001 by FREIGHTLINER , cost $109:

I have already labeled the hose connections on the new tank as suggested by DIY’ers. The bag holds 4 U bolts, aka Speednuts depending on where you are in the country, those will replace the difficult to work with nuts, washers, and bolts that the OEM used originally. Makes putting the tank back in much easier. And then, my new idea. That Nashua Waterproof Repair Tape is available at Home Depot and is for use around water. I tested it on the backside of the tank to see how it applied. I think I’ll use it on the front of the tank too. It’s water resistant, and has an aluminum or tin cover that will keep the sun off the tank. Just a bit of preventative maintenance. The companies website doesn’t say anything about it’s temp range and there’s no listed way to contact them to ask questions so I’ll be running my own test with it. Typical of big companies these days…they just want to sell stuff whether it works for your application or not.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

A week later:

I changed my mind about having a shop replace my surge tank, I’m going to head down to Mexico to either have it done, or do it myself, there. My tank doesn’t look much worse than my friends tank when I put EBond on it for her in Mexico earlier this year, and she drove all the way up to Vermont before having it replaced…and it never leaked out. So I’m going to chance it…I’m only an 8 hour (two day) drive from San Felipe from here in Pahrump and the seeping I have along the rear seam of the tank shouldn’t empty the radiator as long as I’m careful, so it’s worth the small risk of driving down there with it’s potential for a blow out type leak. First travel day will be 6 hours and I’ll stop every couple hours to check for leaks. That test day will be confidence building for the second day as that travel day is only 2-4 hours inside Mexico to San Felipe…assuming all goes well.

I’ll monitor it carefully on the way with my rear camera. While making plans to just go ahead and travel to Mexico, I thought, why not just tape that seam where it’s weeping? So that’s what I’ve done.

First I cleaned everything with soapy water, rinsed, let it all dry. I decided NOT to clean the plastics using any solvents, to prevent misfortune. Removed the breather that’s screwed into the hydraulic reservoir just below the tank after cleaning, to get it out of my way while I worked at installing the tape. Covered the hole with a clean rag. Pre-cut the waterproofing repair tape to length with enough extra to extend around the sides a couple inches on each end.

Starting at the left side, peeled off 4 or so inches of protective tape and than applied the tape around the corner. Pressing lightly as I went, so that I could remove and re-position if necessary. Tape went on without problems. Seems to stick very well.As I went along, I used a plastic putty knife to push the tape into the grooves of the tank. And when it was all applied, went over the tape with the rubber roller tool I have. It looks and feels solidly attached. I’m hoping it will last until I get down to San Felipe and can hire someone to replace the tank for me at 1/3rd the cost of what it would be up here. At the shop here in town they estimated 2-4 hours. At $90/hour. Here’s a shot of the tank all taped up and the vent device reattached just below. I’m hoping this tape will seal it well enough to at least get me to San Felipe. I do have high expectations for this temporary patch job. I’ll let you all know how it goes. If I wasn’t saving money for a trip to Europe next year, yeah, I would have had the shop here in town replace the tank.

Update: Dec. 26, ’17

The ‘Waterproof’ tape turned out to be merely ‘OK’, not the panacea I thought it might be. When I installed it, it went on so nicely and fit so snugly, that I figured if it was truly waterproof I could get several thousand miles out of it. This would give me breathing room if I had trouble finding someone in Mexico to work on it for me. Well today I went back and checked and I see several water tracks on the bracket around and over the K51635 painted on there (above & below pictures). Obvious water has been leaking from the tank, not just the tank pressure cap. Then I picked at the tape a little and see that much of it is unstuck from the tank along the tape edges. So it’s worthless crap as it didn’t even give me 500 miles before failing. The Eternabond lasted much much longer. The water tracks point out that I must find someone here in Mexico to change the tank out for me.

Here’s a shot of the tank after 500 miles. Note the numerous tracks water made on the bracket. BTW, the engine temp never got above midpoint on the dash gauge during my trip down here to Mexico. I checked often. And I’d call the travel weather ‘mild’ during the trip. Never had any long delays in traffic either, which can sometimes cause overheating in cars…probably not in big RVs though.

Well with that evidence, I feel I kind of need to double my efforts to find someone to work on the tank job down here before I head back to the US because it’s usually bumper to bumper at the border and I will have to sit waiting in slow moving traffic for a couple hours. Not a good time to have a tank burst open.

Update: Jan. 6th, 2018 – San Felipe, Baja

A couple days ago, I removed the engine compartment cover that’s under my bed, scrubbed everything inside the compartment that I could reach with my scrub brush using Simple Green ‘Purple’, then rinsed it. I used the Purple because it’s formulated specifically for engines and aluminum radiators.

After that was done, let it dry, than removed the radiator cap for access to the antifreeze in the tank, snaked the 1/2″ plastic siphon hose in as far as I could, and siphoned out as much antifreeze as I could manage to find with the hose. Saving it in clean jugs. I had bought a gallon of the antifreeze before I came down here but I want to be prepared for anything so also saving the siphoned out stuff.

Not sure I got it all because the hose only went inside around 6″ and I couldn’t wiggle it around like I wanted. Probably because of internal baffles that prevent sloshing. What some have done in this case is remove as much as they can from the fill hole, than drill a hole over the deepest part of the tank in the back of the tank (under the bed) and siphon from there too. So, I’m going to do that. Here’s a shot of the back of the tank after I’d cleaned the engine compartment. Got all that dust out of there so it’s not so bad to work around there. So to remove the last bit of antifreeze in the tank, I’ll drill a hole to the left of that blue connector and on top of the tank.

And here’s how the  area looked after cleaning. Not too bad.

This shot shows how clean the compartment it now compared to that earlier photo. Not perfect of course, but much better than it was. The red tinge on the top of the surge tank in the above shot is inside staining I guess. Picture is after I removed the reddish colored antifreeze called for by Cat.

This might be a good place to mention that after cleaning, you can still see crud on my radiator fins in the above picture. If you climb mountains it’s best if the radiator is cleaned about once per year in this model RV. But you can delay that by reducing the amount of oil put into the crankcase when you do an oil change. Mine has a “22 qts” written on a chassis piece near the oil filler…but I only put in 20 qts. This prevents oil being blown out of the engine from the ‘slobber tube’ which this old of an engine has (newer diesels, 2006 and on, eliminated that tube). That oil ends up on the radiator, and soon dirt clogs it.

I can tell 20 qts is about right for my engine because I’ve never had any oily residue end up on the front of my toad. If that source of oil is reduced, there’s less need to clean the radiator as often. It was clear from the beginning that the PO knew about the slobber tube and had already reduced the amount of oil in the crankcase, AND remarked the dip stick fill mark to 20 qts. which was the tip off that he was aware of the problem. Anyway, mine hasn’t been cleaned for years and looks like I’ll need to clean it more carefully again, after the surge tank is replaced, and I’ll follow the excellent instructions I found on the forum RV dot net written by SMLRanger,

“I had a 2002 Journey and cleaned the rad annually. I can only tell you what seemed to work for me.
I mixed aluminum-friendly Simple Green and Dawn dish soap in a garden sprayer. I would go under the bed thru the engine access hatch and spray the CAC with the engine running. Basically I would aim the spray at the fan. The fan would push the solution onto the CAC.
I would shut down the engine and then go outside and soak the radiator as best I could. Let solution sit for 10 minutes or so, then go back inside with garden hose (pulled up thru engine area) and spray CAC with engine running. I would hook the hose to my outside connection in wet bay and use hot water from the on board water tank with water heater on.
Shut down engine and go outside and rinse. Start engine and let it blow out thru the back.
The first time I did this, I had to repeat to get it clean. After that, I was able to get it clean with only one cleaning as described. I also extended the slobber tube so it exited well below the coach frame.
I’ve read where folks have not been able to clean the cooling pack and had to remove it, finding leaves, plastic bags, etc. between the CAC and radiator. If that is the case, you may have to get it done at a shop who can do this. I had the CAT 3126E (C6) and my local CAT shop said they cleaned them often. I believe they steam cleaned them from the back and from under the coach.
I had the coach 8 years and made two cross country trips thru the Rockies and it never ran hot using my method. I did replace my thermostats at some point just to make sure they were OK.
We liked that coach and it served us well. However, after having to go thru that process annually, a side radiator was a must have for me when we traded up in 2013. Just spray the radiator with a garden hose from the outside with the motor running and you are done.”

Jan. 12, 2017, San Felipe, Baja, Mexico

Have a mechanic lined up for the job here in San Felipe, so I’ve pulled the mattress and the platform off from over the engine compartment. And then removed the engine cover. First I marked the left and right edges of the bedboard on the headboard so I’d be able to put it back in exactly and the screw holes will line up. There’s only 4 screws holding the wooden platform that subs for a box spring along with a couple nuts to remove so the gas struts can be lowered and set out of the way. When the slide’s extended there’s plenty of room to just lean the mattress and bed board next to the closets. I left the hardware on the bottom of the bedboard so I had to be careful removing and replacing it so as not to damage the bed frame or the mattress. [That white wooden piece leaning up against the mattress is what I’m calling the ‘bedboard’].

And here it’s all ready to work inside the engine compartment. Removing the bedboard and mattress gives a little more work space.The mechanic hadn’t shown up by noon, so I just started the job myself. And all I did was remove the first hose, label it with a marker tab, and than removed the other two hoses inside the compartment and one on the rear of the surge tank accessible from the back of the RV. Turned out that it’s so obvious which hose goes where after marking #1, that I didn’t bother to mark any others. After two hours, I’d gotten as far as I could with the tools I have so I stopped, replaced the bedboard and mattress. Next morning, I went out the the local Swap Meet and found myself a used reciprocating saw. Vendor sold it to me for $500 pesos ($26 USD) and I bought a blade for $105 pesos ($5.44 USD) on  my way home at the local lumber yard. So for $32 bucks, I’m ready to tackle the job myself instead of waiting for a Mexican mechanic who will probably never show. We think of missing an appointment as rude, the Mexican’s think it’s rude to say no, and would rather just never show up if they don’t want the job. Even if they’ve quoted it and agreed to do it.

First thing I did was to siphon all the antifreeze out of the tank I could reach from the fill tube. Than I drilled a 1/2″ hole for the siphon hose over the deepest part of the tank in the back.

Than back outside, I cut the left mounting tab on the left side of the tank…and I played around cutting other areas too. You can be sure I spent quite a bit of time verifying that there wasn’t anything behind the tank I might ruin with the blade while blindly cutting inside that cramped space. First cut was the bracket on the tank’s right side. That was actually the easiest cut. Hold the blade horizontal, and zip, bracket is cut. Than moved over the the left side. This side was a bit more difficult but still didn’t take long.

I bought a transfer pump ($5.75 USD here in Mexico) to help remove the antifreeze and the hole in the tank in the below picture in the upper middle of the tank is where I inserted the hose. If you’re doing the job, note that there will be quite a lot left over after you’ve pumped out all you can from the radiator fill (on the back side of the tank). You get around 32 oz. from either place. And even than, there will be some that spills onto the ground when you remove hoses so be prepared for that. And as I removed the tank from inside, I dribbled some on  the carpet on my way to the shower, where I let it drain before taking it outside. If you read on, you’ll learn that it can be taken out the rear of the RV so no getting AF on the carpet.There is an easily reached nut and bolt on the right rear of the tank, removed that, and than cut the lower left rear tank bracket off as shown here. I was as careful as I could be, but did nick some metal and part of the bolt with the blade. Also ripped up a bit of the duct covering. Didn’t pierce it or anything though. Messing around in there with a saw blade didn’t seem to harm the blade any and the bolt was still usable too. And eventually, the tank was loose. This last lower bracket on the left rear passenger side wall was the hardest to remove. Even after the tank was gone it’s still difficult to get the bolt and nut off. And below is a picture after the tank is finally removed…I had previously noticed that that thin steel plate there covering much of the access to the tank would move when pushed, and that there were two bolts holding it on the radiator, and than I found another bolt holding it over on the far right side…the same bolt holding the tank’s right side rear brace. That entire plate, along with the foam seal on the top, are there to force air through the radiator, so it’s just an air dam. Once I had access to that bolt on the right, I removed it so I could get that plate out of the way. There is a foam seal that is friction fit all along the top of the plate.

If I’d gotten that air dam plate out of the way at the start of the job, the entire job would have been easier and gone much faster. There’s only one bolt that can’t be reached from the rear of the RV, and that’s where you’d use the reciprocating saw.

And here’s a shot after I got that plate out, and after I’ve cut the slotted hole with tin snips so I can just slip it over and onto it’s attachment bolt from now on. Before I got the tank out, I considered just cutting that steel piece well above the bolt hole so I could get that cover off, turned out I didn’t need to. And that was because once you start cutting out the tank, it’s fairly simple to get to those areas you need to cut because as you progress, you can pull the tank around where you need it and to give better access. And with the right cutting blade, the tank cuts like butter. Now that I know how to do this job, if I ever do it again, the first thing I’ll do is remove this plate for more access at the beginning of the job. Wish someone had mentioned it in all the DIY advice I’d read about the surge tank replacement job.  Once that plate is out (just 3 bolts!) that makes it easier to get to three of the four bolts and nuts that hold the tank in place. When replacing the tank I started out using speed nuts but it would have been simple to use the hardware that came with the original tank…at least on the two mounting points on the left side of the tank. Lookie there, the top of the engine.

Around an hour later, the bolts are back in, I don’t really think that the speed nuts are really needed (aka: U bolts). They were recommended in a couple DIY reports I read. The one on the right front really helped though. The others I couldn’t get them in the right place to install the bolts so I just used the original hardware. Except on the inside rear, I didn’t bother with a bolt there. Three places is fine, IMO.

And here the surge tank is, installed and ready to be filled.

Here’s a couple close up pictures of where that bolt on the right rear of the tank is that if you loosen with an end wrench, and remove the two other bolts holding the air dam, you can rotate it down to give easy access to the other two surge tank bolts on the left side of the tank. The bolt is in there somewhere.  And in the next shot is the new tank taken inside the engine compartment. That bracket on the tank on the lower left is the one I left unbolted. Too hard to get to with any sort of tool. Speed nut didn’t help because I couldn’t get it centered. With the engine running, the tank was nice and solid with it filled with antifreeze and just the 3 bolts holding it. The saw did chew up the insulation material a bit and I was going to put that silver tape over it, but I forgot. I’ll do that next time I’m in the engine compartment. BTW, got the hoses attached before I slipped it into place and bolted down. If I had to do it over, I’d do it like this, from the rear of the RV:

  1.  Loosen the bolt on the far right that holds the tank or take it out entirely if possible. Removing that nut/bolt can be difficult as it’s nearly impossible to get a tool on the nut – no room. However, the bolt head is easy to access with an end wrench or a ratcheting end wrench so at least it can be loosened.
  2. Remove the other two bolts holding the air dam to the radiator. Rotate the air dam out of the way or remove it if that right side bolt is out.
  3. Siphon and/or drain the front and rear of the tank into a clean jug. Save.
  4. From the rear of the RV with the air dam removed, it’s now easy to remove the nuts and bolts on the left side of the tank.
  5. Inside the engine compartment, remove and mark the hoses and electrical connector. Anticipate some antifreeze leaking out onto the ground.
  6. Also inside the engine compartment, use a reciprocating saw to cut the lower left bracket off the tank. This can be tricky as it’s hard to get the blade in the right place.
  7. Back outside at the rear of the RV, hold the saw blade horizontal and cut the bracket on the right side off the tank so it’s easier to get to that last bolt once the tank is removed if the nut is not already off. Tank will come out at this point.
  8. Reverse the procedure to reinstall the tank only don’t bother to install a bolt to the lower left bracket (inside the engine compartment) as it’s just not worth the trouble. The tank is very stable without it.
  9. Reinstall all hoses and the temp sensor making sure it’s tight, install the electrical connector.
  10. Fill tank with the saved antifreeze if it’s in good condition.

Start and run engine checking for leaks as it heats up. In 70F weather, took mine almost 45 minutes to come up to temp. Ran it for an hour checking for leaks. Although it’s recommended to change the hose clamps, I have the squeeze type and they were still in excellent condition so I reused them. Inspected the hoses and they are good too.

You may be wondering how long this job took. Well, I didn’t know about the trick of removing the air dam plate for access and I just followed the recommendations that other DIY’ers give in their reports about this job so it took me at least 6, maybe 7 hours. Longer if you count the research time on the computer. But I work slowly and spread the job out over 3 days. I’d put the bed back together at night.

IF I’d known about removing the air dam, I think 3 hours tops, even at my leisurely pace. Yes, I should have thought of it myself.

2 Responses to Radiator & Cooling System

  1. George Parada says:

    Just wondering that since this is a known problem, why is there not a metal tank replacement.

    There is…but it’s $360 or something close. More than 3X what the plastic tank costs. Also, the plastic tanks do last quite a while. My new tank should last another 15 years or another 77,000 miles and by then I would have sold this RV.

    • George Parada says:

      Thanks for your reply. I guess the speed nuts makes future replacement much easier then. Guess I will go with the plastic version. Since you have already done all the research, is there a company whose product is better than another? I guess plastic is plastic.


      Sorry I missed your follow up comment. My blog doesn’t let me know when pre-approved comments are posted.

      In answer to your question, I could not find any authoritative info on which of the two economical plastic tanks I found was the best. The economical tanks were the Sterling or Freightliner. Yes, there are $300 plastic tanks out there, but no specs suggesting they are better than the FL. I could have called FL or contacted Sterling for info I suppose but I began to run out of time and wanted to get the tank shipped while I was at a good RV park to receive shipments. I settled on the FL tank because someone reminded me that the original Freightliner tank had lasted 15 years and 77,000 miles so why sweat it? And it was $10 bucks less than the Sterling. Both tanks are available (as of Dec. ’17) with free shipping at the link above. I found the web site that sold the AL tank, so knew that it was minimum $360 plus shipping but I wasn’t going that route, so no link on my blog. I’ve since lost that link info.

      Good luck on your search…


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