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The Yoghurt that almost destroyed my car’s engine

The Yoghurt that almost destroyed my car’s engine
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What is that yoghurt doing under my car?

“Yoghurt seems to be leaking from your car,” the kind-faced security guard told me as he pointed beneath my car.
I had just dropped my father and uncle at a funeral that was about 30 kilometers from our village.

I turned around and followed the security guard's gaze. Indeed, there was a puddle of yoghurt-like liquid on the wet ground beneath my Subaru Forrester aka The Growler.

I opened the co-driver door and swung open the glove compartment, half expecting to see a dripping packet of Yoghurt even though I was certain that I hadn’t purchased any yoghurt in recent weeks. There was no Yoghurt. Just receipts and a broken mirror.

After swinging open the bonnet, my heart sunk. The same yoghurt beneath my car was also splattered around the engine coolant container area.

“What the hell?!” I muttered then instantly placed a call to my younger brother Jay Mow for him to recommend a local mechanic.

Fifteen hours later, a local hefty mechanic known as Ndombolo, was poking and probing the car’s underside searching for the leak. But there was none to be found.

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This yoghurt was a troubling sight! Photo by DJ Bwakali

Alex the Subaru Doctor

At this point, I did what I should have done in the first place. I called Alex, a mechanic who is a Subaru Forrester specialist. If Alex was attached to a university, he would have completed his mechanical engineering PhD thesis on Subarus. He is that good.

“The radiator has malfunctioned,” Alex explained, “the oil cooler in the radiator is leaking, leading to gearbox oil and water mixing. That’s why you can see that yoghurt liquid.”

“Find a local mechanic who can extract the radiator from the car, then send it to Nairobi so that we can replace the leaking oil cooler.”

A radiator is a critical component of the engine’s cooling system. It disperses a mix of engine coolant and water throughout its fins. This releases some of the engine’s heat while absorbing cool air before returning it to the engine. Next to the radiator are two fans that blow air into the radiator and help lower the temperature of the coolant and water mixture.  

The radiator also has an oil cooler that continuously cools the automatic transmission fluid (ATF) oil often referred to as transmission oil.

If the radiator’s oil cooler starts leaking like mine was doing, the engine coolant mixes with the transmission oil. Consequently, the radiator’s cooling function is compromised which can have adverse effects on the engine and gearbox. In addition, the transmission oil becomes contaminated with water, which undermines its ability to lubricate the gearbox accordingly and sufficiently.

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Bwak and Jay Mow

Getting rid of the Yoghurt

The following day, Ndombolo, the previous day’s mechanic recommended another mechanic who was nearer our home. He was a wiry guy that everyone in our local town called Daddy. He took about two hours to remove the radiator from The Growler. He also drained all the transmission oil from the car because it was contaminated.

He educated us about the radiator fins – zig zag metal strips found between the radiator panels.

“If one of these strips is damaged, the entire radiator will end up malfunctioning.” He said with a menacing glare that passed across the gravity of his message. When my father heard this, the ultra-planner in him swung into action.

My father is a planner. He always engages his planning gear whenever something needs to be done. As such, he didn’t waste time planning the safest way of wrapping and packaging the radiator. This entailed wrapping it around two couch cushions and a blanket, then placing it inside a soft but sturdy carton.

Forty eight hours later on a Monday morning, the repaired radiator arrived back from Nairobi.

I bought seven liters of transmission oil to replace the contaminated oil.

Yoghurt is strictly for human consumption. If you notice that your vehicle’s transmission oil or coolant have taken on a yoghurt-like look, drive to your mechanic and have it checked.

It’s possible that the oil cooler in the radiator will be leaking. If not, something somewhere will be in urgent need of fixing.
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Daddy the mechanic