Our 14 year old, 253K mile Honda Element finally needed a repair

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Mar 3, 2011
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The Willow Creek District AVA
Ladies and Gentlemen:

The title says it all - after 14 years and 253K miles our beloved Honda Element finally needed some repairs. Aside from one brake job, 4 or 5 sets of tires, respectful treatment, and years of meticulous maintenance, this was literally the first time something went wrong with it. What a loyal and trustworthy servant it has been!

While waiting in line at a fast food place, needing some calories during a busy day, I noticed the temp gauge starting to creep up. Normally the gauge never moves from it's normal position, regardless of whether it's 105 or 30 degrees outside, idling in traffic or speeding along at 80 mph. The gauge plays like it's highly buffered.

I noticed the gauge moving from it's normal position, say, 3/8ths to a 5/8ths. The Element has a single serpentine belt so I checked to see if the power steering was still working, which it was, verifying the belt hadn't broken. I shut it off and "started and stopped" my way to nourishment, not wanting it to get any hotter.

Zooming out of the fast food place I noticed that as soon as I got moving the temp gauge dropped to its normal level. That made me suspect the electric cooling fans, which the Element has two. One is called the "AC fan", the other the "radiator fan".

After arriving home I slammed down my food to correct my increasingly hangry mood, which had nothing to do with the Element's woes.

Freshly fueled, I popped the hood and noticed neither fan was working. I swapped fuses and relays with known good ones, hoping for a quick and easy fix. No go. I checked Youtube University, watching a video that says if you turn on the AC to Max, both fans should run. I did that and neither fan worked, even with the engine at full operating temperature on a pleasant 75 degree California afternoon.

Before I go any further on this, one thing I'd noticed over the last year or two was that at times the AC didn't blow as cold as it used to. It seemed to be more an issue during stop and go driving, but once I got moving again the AC seemed to blow fully cold. Given the age and mileage of the 'ole Element, I chalked it up to needing a recharge, but never got to it because the AC worked well enough overall to not bother. This behavior turned out to be a good clue.

As per the instructions in my factory service manuals, I hot-wired each fan directly to the battery, Neither one worked. With both bad it made me realize the AC fan must have failed sometime earlier, but with the radiator fan still working the vehicle never overheated. The failure of the AC fan explained why the AC blew less cold in stop and go traffic. At any rate, the failure of both fans added a certain degree of confusion during my diagnostic process.

I'm an OEM parts guy, but Honda wanted $450 plus EACH, just for electric motors. That price didn't include the shrouds or fan blades. I had serious doubts that those by now well roasted plastic fans blades blades would come off the motors without them breaking.

I searched further for parts, some online Honda dealers selling the motors for under $300. The local dealer where I originally bought the vehicle wouldn't price match so I tried RockAuto for the first time in my life. They had some Continental/VDO (made in Thailand) fans, fully assembled, including shrouds and blades, 100% ready to bolt in. $383 delivered. My RockAuto package arrived two days later, beautifully packaged. Hearing all the RockAuto horror stories, I was pleasantly surprised.

R&R'ing the fans was a PITA. It wasn't a difficult job, per se, but major portions of the underhood wiring had to be removed from various structural pieces, and to Honda's credit that wiring was attached at 16 or 18 points with hard to reach plastic clips. Getting the wiring detached and out of the way was the most complicated part of the job. At several points I was mumbling some really bad words under my breath.

After getting the fans out I decided to throw the Element a bone. With everything right there I decided to reward its remarkable service with a brand new OEM radiator, even though the old one was in perfect condition because of my every 3 year coolant changes. I got new OEM hoses and clamps, plus OEM coolant from my non-discounting local dealer - to the tune of $700 plus. All in, I was in this job for just under $1,100.

Reassembly was fairly easy, but my inability to refasten some of the hard to reach plastic clips required the use of zips ties instead. No big deal. At any rate, I performed the repairs with all the OCD attention to detail and quality I do with the other cars on our fleet. Just because it was 14 years old with 253K miles on it was no reason to do a less than "perfect" job.

New fans in and fully operational, the AC blows as cold as an industrial meat locker, even while idling the driveway. No recharge required - Yay! - the issue being the failure of the AC fan sometime earlier, before the radiator fan eventually failed.

A few pics for your viewing pleasure. The engine and body pictures were taken after job completion. Yes, I take that good of care of the thing!

Scott

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Nice repair.

Man that thing looks good. Versatile vehicle. At the beach, at the golf course or out for a fancy dinner date it is always in its Element.
Yes! Exactly! If ever there was ever a vehicle that could do it all, it's the Element. And it's a vehicle for all demographics. I admit to having an emotional attachment to the thing.

Scott
 
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... After getting the fans out I decided to throw the Element a bone. With everything right there I decided to reward its remarkable service with a brand new OEM radiator, even though the old one was in perfect condition because of my every 3 year coolant changes. ...
Great story, but why this?
 
Very nice write up and great job (y)
Elements are one of my favorite Hondas.
I had a similar issue this weekend with my mom's 2014 Honda Civic with just over 100k on it.
The condenser fan went out (passenger side fan) and she was overheating in traffic.
I had to pull the radiator support off to get the fan out.
 
Great story, but why this?
Although the original radiator appeared to be in great shape (zero deposits on the inside), it has an aluminum core with a plastic top and bottom that's crimped on. The plastics on any radiator with that type of construction have been known to fail.

With everything being apart and the radiator being right there it took 10 additional minutes to replace it. Replacing those fans was not the type of mechanical work I enjoy doing. I much prefer working on things like brakes and suspension.

See the attached. Cramming my big hands into tight confines to release a dozen little plastic clips is not my idea of fun. I'll take spring compressors any day.

Scott

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Looking good!

The one I bought my ex wife wansn't so lucky, It lost the wiper motor 3 times and went through about 4 windshields in 5 years.

It was good for the dogs, and way more reliable than the X3 she traded it for.
 
Although the original radiator appeared to be in great shape (zero deposits on the inside), it has an aluminum core with a plastic top and bottom that's crimped on. The plastics on any radiator with that type of construction have been known to fail.

With everything being apart and the radiator being right there it took 10 additional minutes to replace it. Replacing those fans was not the type of mechanical work I enjoy doing. I much prefer working on things like brakes and suspension.

See the attached. Cramming my big hands into tight confines to release a dozen little plastic clips is not my idea of fun. I'll take spring compressors any day.

Scott

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I have a permanent scar on my left arm from sawing it against a heat shield, on some vehicle when I was younger.
 
Looking good!

The one I bought my ex wife wansn't so lucky, It lost the wiper motor 3 times and went through about 4 windshields in 5 years.

It was good for the dogs, and way more reliable than the X3 she traded it for.
We've been fortunate - just one windshield. Their upright position makes them vulnerable.

Scott
 
I can relate to your latest maintenance efforts on your Honda Element, Scott! I replaced both fans on our 2003 Element in August 2018 for the same reason. I went with the ~$55 TYC fans from Amazon because they would arrive the next day and I don't regret using these Chinese made parts at all. They fit and work identical to the OEM Honda parts and I have no indication they will not last 15 years like the original fans. I also replaced the radiator while it was out but I went with a DENSO rad. that also fit like OEM.
 
I can relate to your latest maintenance efforts on your Honda Element, Scott! I replaced both fans on our 2003 Element in August 2018 for the same reason. I went with the ~$55 TYC fans from Amazon because they would arrive the next day and I don't regret using these Chinese made parts at all. They fit and work identical to the OEM Honda parts and I have no indication they will not last 15 years like the original fans. I also replaced the radiator while it was out but I went with a DENSO rad. that also fit like OEM.
The original radiator and the OEM one I bought from the Honda dealer were both Denso.

Replacing those fans was a PITA, wasn't it!

Scott
 
The original radiator and the OEM one I bought from the Honda dealer were both Denso.

Replacing those fans was a PITA, wasn't it!

Scott
Honestly, I didn't struggle as much as you did...and certainly did not shed any blood!

It was nowhere near as bad as helping my son change the clutch on his BMW 328i...where the factory manual says step one is to pull the engine. 🤯 LOL
 
Although the original radiator appeared to be in great shape (zero deposits on the inside), it has an aluminum core with a plastic top and bottom that's crimped on. The plastics on any radiator with that type of construction have been known to fail.

With everything being apart and the radiator being right there it took 10 additional minutes to replace it. Replacing those fans was not the type of mechanical work I enjoy doing. I much prefer working on things like brakes and suspension.
At that age, it would be foolish to reassemble with the original radiator.
Good call with replacing it all in one shot.
(y)
 
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