Sunday, May 19, 2013
Fluidyne Radiator Returned
After much fanfare about installing the Fluidyne radiator I was unfortunately forced to return it and delay the repair due to fitment issues with the stock shroud. I found this particularly annoying because Turner's sales rep and website indicated this radiator would fit the stock shroud. There was no mention that any modifications to the shroud would be necessary.
I found the shroud sat too high on the radiator because the lower “hooks” were welded too high on the core. This prevented the two top mounting holes from lining up properly. I “fixed” this by judiciously sanding away about 1/8 inch of material from the bottom of the two plastic tabs molded into the bottom of the shroud, but decided against removing more material at the risk of compromising tab strength. Even with those modifications I had to push the upper mounts down so the screws would line up. Hardly ideal, but I was willing to live with that.
What I could not fix was the manner in which the shroud fit the width of the core. The core was simply not wide enough to accept the full width of the shroud. I found that I had to bend and otherwise contort the shroud to fit. In addition, the core appeared to be slightly narrower on the bottom than the top (an obvious manufacturing issue), so the bottom fit was worse than the top. Even though I could get the bottom to fit, the top would always pop out and vice versa. This was made worse due to the design of the “hooks”, which should, in my opinion, be redesigned to keep the shroud closer to the core.
I called Turner and explained the problem. Imagine my surprise when the sales rep I spoke to this time informed me that the Fluidyne is in fact a “race” radiator and that I "should have expected to perform some modifications to get it to fit". I couldn't believe my ears when he suggested I "should have bought the $189 direct fit model" which is obviously sourced from China. Imagine that – I buy a $500 US made part that is otherwise very well built only to have them tell me to buy some Chinese junk? Wow. Way to upsell, guys.
I had hoped to keep the Fluidyne and work something out but once I knew the sales rep was completely willing to throw me under the bus I asked for a RMA. I also asked them to send me a shipping label since I knew they would enjoy preferential shipping rates. I shipped the unit out the next day and they credited me the full price of the unit a couple days later.
That same day I called my dealer to order the OE radiator and a bunch of related parts including upper and lower hoses, lower rubber mounts, upper rubber mounts and latches, and temperature switch. Then I gave Fluidyne a courtesy call to let them know what had happened, thinking I'd get to speak with someone in tech support or perhaps manufacturing / QA, but I was told I needed to speak with Gary, who later identified himself as the owner of the company.
We talked for a good 10 minutes about the product, the needs of each target market (track vs street) and what I thought could be done to fix the fitment issues. He admitted he had been discussing some tweaks to the E36 unit with Turner for some time but had been occupied with engineering their new E46 offering and promised to turn his attention to the issues I raised. He apologized for what happened and said that he would buy an OE shroud to serve as a final quality-control check for all future manufacturing, and thanked me for taking the time out to let him know about the issues, especially in light of the fact that I no longer had a dog in the hunt.
I came away from that call believing that Gary would make good on his promises but I may never know what ultimately happens unless someone relays their experiences, as I have a hard time believing I'll put another 100K on this car before I send it to that great big race track in the sky. But stranger things have happened. If you told me 10 years ago I'd still be driving this car today I would have told you to put down the doobie.
Today I finally managed to replace the radiator with OE parts. I'll go into detail in a DIY when I find the time to write that up but I'll make a few observations now.
The new OE Behr radiator is made in South Africa. And as it turned out the failed radiator was also made in South Africa. Coincidence? Talk amongst yourselves.
The “return hose” takes a rather odd path from the expansion tank through the shroud to reach a 4” nipple on the left side of the block. I never considered removing this hose for annual coolant flushes but given the height of the nipple on the block I think it may drain more coolant than pulling the water pump. The only downsides are that the airbox has to be removed to gain access to it and the coolant draining from it has no clear path to the ground so it splashes everywhere. Needless to say I did this on an old concrete floor and had a hose handy to wash away the sticky coolant.
Prior to disconnecting the transmission cooler lines I was concerned about losing a minimum of fluid since I really had no interest in topping it off before I service the transmission. I figured if I waited as long as possible the fluid would drain out of the cooler and back to the sump. That seemed to work, though I did see about 1/4 quart of fluid drain out into the pan. Not enough to worry about. The downside is that the fluid was dark gray or black with a slight reddish tint and a share of fine shimmering particles. As if I needed another nudge to service the transmission, this was it.
Figuring out the best way to assemble all the parts added some time to the process. For example, while figuring out how the hoses connect to the expansion tank through openings in the shroud I decided to attach the expansion tank to the shroud before attaching the shroud to the radiator, but when I tried to attach the shroud to the radiator I quickly realized the tank restricts access to one of the expanding rivets so I had to loosen everything up again. Live and learn.
Total time was about three hours, so at my dealer's labor rate of $128 that's $384 labor saved, which remains fairly conservative given that another local dealer has reportedly raised their rate to $160(!). Parts excluding the Fluidyne came to $525 with a savings of roughly $150, for a total DIY dividend of $534.
Mileage: 235000, Labor Saved: $384, Parts: $525, Parts Saved: $150