CarTalk.com Blogs Car Info Our Show Deals Mechanics Files Vehicle Donation

Cooling Fan on a Jeep Libertry

A long story short…I left on a 500 mile trip across a desert in my Jeep liberty despite the fact that the check engine light had been on for a couple of days prior to my leaving. I had been too busy to have it checked but had done plenty of driving around town those couple of days and had had no problems. I stopped about 150 miles out of town to use the restroom, check the map and grab a sandwich out of the cooler in back but left the car idling. After about 15 minutes of sitting at idle I heard a “ding, ding, ding” out of the dash and discovered that the car was approaching the top of the temperature scale. I decided to drive back about 2 miles to a middle of nowhere gas station/cafe that I had passed to further check out the situation. On my way back I noticed the temperature quickly dropped back to normal. The station attendant suggested that it appeared that the thermostat must be broken (or possibly the fan). Not wanting to be delayed and confident with the fact that I had been driving the car for a few days with no problems (and the fact that the temperature outside wouldn’t get above 60 for most of my trip) I decided to complete the remaining 350 miles of my trip without stopping to have it fixed. I kept a close eye on the temperature gauge, which didn’t move (except when I sat at idle for a few minutes on the side of the road while calling my wife to let her know everything was going fine).

Question: Do you think I did permanent damage to the vehicle by driving it in such a condition? If not, and if it’s still running fine, do you think I could delay fixing the problem for a couple of weeks?

The permanent damage, if any was done by idling the car for fifteen minutes when you knew the check engine light had been on. If the engine fan isn’t working, you cannot let the car sit idling for more then about thirty seconds without getting the engine hot. Good thing it didn’t happen in hot weather. Your fan should be driven by the engine in that model so maybe you have a different problem. The check engine light is telling you to get the problem fixed. The first step is to check for codes which have been set by the computer. If you stop, shut it off.

Whether your car has electric fans which are activated whenever a high temp condition happens, or the older type of mechanical clutch fan (still common on some trucks), the bottom line is that you should really get it fixed. It shouldn’t be too expensive (ex: new relay for electric cooling fans, new clutch for mechanical), and will prevent you from destroying your engine while idling.