Mishap of the Month : Our Toyota Chinook Chinooked!

Our beloved home in front of The Tetons. 

When your home is your vehicle and your vehicle is your home, your worst nightmare is a break down! Well kid’s, hate to tell you this but nightmares do come true. This last week I noticed our 1978 Toyota Chinook was starting to act up on a daily basis. Of course it’s normal to have a quirk here or there in these old whips but this was different. Our Chinook was having troubles idling at low RPM’s, the battery was dying, and we had a good coolant leak going. To top it off, the smell of gas was so overpowering after we drove that we bought gas masks. Okay… just kidding about the gas masks but it was pretty bad. Eventually the Chinook (aka the Millennium Falcon) stops running altogether and required a jump to drive anywhere.

Paradise found in Montana.

With my amateur mechanical skills, I figured the problem would be fixable with a new lower radiator hose and a new alternator. The lower hose leaked onto the alternator so it only made sense that the leak fried the alternator and if I replaced both I would be good to go. While all this is going down, Becca is in Colorado visiting family and I am in Jackson, WY.  Resources are spread thin. The dream team is split and I need my better half to hold down the puppy and fort while I go chase down parts and information. As it turned out, there was not an alternator to be found in Jackson that would fit our old beast. Luckily, Becca picked one up in Colorado and flew it back to save the day.

It’s an old & simple engine, we can fix anything!

I limp the Chinook into the visitor center parking lot and get down to work! For those of you who don’t know, a radiator holds about 2 gallons of coolant. Somehow I missed this memo and thought mine only held about 1…perhaps 1 1/2 max. As life goes mine held a full 2 gallons. So here I am under my van in the middle of the busy parking lot surrounded by tour buses and gawkers. Most of them are Asian folks who are pointing and taking pictures of my sweet travel rig. I get all set up under the chinook with my coolant jug which has been fashioned out of a gallon water jug… Yep, I was that guy. And I go for it.

Things go from bad to worse in less than 5 seconds. I pull the hose and coolant just starts gushing. I mean torrentially pouring EVERYWHERE!! In the jug , out of the jug, all over me, and of course all over the ground. I jump up thinking “$#*! this is really bad, what happened?! Someone’s forsure going to call the cops.Thick green liquid as now spilled all over the place and looks like some nuclear meltdown out of a horror film. At this point I have pretty much created a toxic chemical spill all over the parking lot and I’m freaking out. People are still watching and of course taking pics. I make a split decision and grab our biggest blanket and throw it over the coolant and start dumping water on the rest of it to dilute it so some poor dog doesn’t go try and commit suicide. After about 30minutes of paparazzi, mopping, and running around with sopping paper towels I finally get things contained.

Taking a break just outside Glacier National Park.

And wouldn’t you know it after all that craziness the old beast still wouldn’t work for me. We have replaced the spark plugs and let the engine air out but it still will not idle so it’s time to tow it to the shop tomorrow. Welcome to van life.

Lesson learned – For the love of all things good have a huge pan when you pull your lower radiator hose. Know exactly how many gallons you are dealing with and try not to do it in a crowded parking lot. Actually, never do it in a crowded parking lot unless you have to. I kind of had to because it died there but I really should have pushed it to a safer place. Hindsight is always 20/20 right?


We’re currently on a 8 month roadtrip across the American West! Never miss out on a new post and “like” us on Facebook! For more photos and stories from our nomad lifestyle, follow us on Instagram!


69 thoughts on “Mishap of the Month : Our Toyota Chinook Chinooked!

  1. I really enjoyed reading your post! Very well written.. And fun to read! Thank ou for sharing! I laughed even harder at your home being called the Milineum Falcon!
    We are in the beginning stages of moving into our van and hitting the road full time! We are just starting to outfit, and haven’t given our new home a proper name, as yet. However, I was thinking of the same name for ours….
    Thanks for sharing… And maybe we shall meet on the road one day!


  2. Keep on keeping on you two. Can relate to the vehicle story. We are in our 2002 Toyota camry with 245k on the odometer. We nicknamed her “Gladys” and even though old she keeps moving forward with a comforting reliability. We are laughing about the coolant story cause we realized a need to focus on Gladys’s idiot lights when they sparkle with “check oil”.

    Liked by 1 person

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