I'm no mechanic, but after having three kids I do know horrible smells. Burning coolant isn't a good one.
My car had been doing a weird and scary thing a few weeks ago, where I'd be driving along, la-la-la, and then I'd look down and oh my holy shit poop I'm gonna die the thermostat would build from the midline to the redline over the course of six seconds and hover there for a second. Then, like a bubble bursting, the indicator would jump back down below the midline, and bob back up and down for a second before resetting on the midline.
This will make you crap your pants when you're doing seventy on the highway. I took it in to get it fixed as soon as possible, which was actually a week after it started happening, and so now you know I need underwear for Christmas.
My delightful mechanics, the Mr. Tire in University Heights, diagnosed the problem as a bubble in my cooling system (made sense) and a bad thermostat (ditto), and they fixed the problem for a couple hundred bucks, by which I mean they made the oh my stars and garters thing stop happening, and settled on leaving the thermostat on a nice cool "C" setting. Which was not scary, but it was cold, because the car was convinced that there wasn't any hot air in the engine and so the heater didn't work while it was 11 degrees outside.
Surprisingly, that also was not very popular with me, so I took it back 2 more times to get it fixed. Somewhere in there, I also noticed that there was this horrible burning smell. Before taking it in the first time, I'd managed to dump coolant all over the engine (I'm no mechanic), and this smelled just like that (I do know horrible smells). So the first time I took it back, I also mentioned the "burning coolant" smell.
Determined to provide good service, they ignored the problem and also didn't replace the thermostat until the third time I brought it in.
So finally after three mornings spent playing X-Com and Monument Valley on my iPhone, during which my wife was wrangling our three kids for two extra hours on top of her 10-hour wrangling days, when the thermostat dial stopped scaring/freezing the shit out of me, I decided that burning coolant couldn't be that bad for me, and let it go.
After a few weeks of periodically having to open the windows while driving because the fumes were so bad that my eyes were watering, I decided to pop the hood. Now, I'm no mechanic, but I read okay. I also am pretty used to seeing messes, because, kids.
As it turns out, in response to my complaint of engine overheating, the rocket surgeons at Mr. Tire in University Heights decided to fill the shit out of my coolant.
I mean, they didn't fill it. They drowned it. They filled the tank all the way to the top with coolant, about six inches above the hot-fill line. There's this little spigot off to the side, where the overflow coolant spits out. Somebody tells me there ought to be a drainage hose on it, so that if the coolant happens to overflow in the engine, it doesn't wind up splooshing hot coolant all over your much-hotter engine, sending toxic fumes up into the cabin.
The coolant level when hot is basically sitting right below the drainage point of this spigot. If I take a turn too hard, or if the engine heats up a little extra, the coolant gushes into the drainage point, then splatters all over my engine.
Remember the toxic fumes? The MSDS for my coolant describes "coughing and difficulty breathing . . . unconsciousness, increased lymphocyte count, and a rapid, jerky movement of the eyes in persons chronically exposed", as well as "liver abnormalities, kidney damage, lung damage and central nervous system damage". Which is pretty cool, because my 4-beer hangover tendencies lately really make me think that my liver needs a little extra trauma.
You know how to prevent all this? Not drowning my engine in coolant. I mean, reading, right? "FULL HOT" - it's not hard to figure out. Or subtle. Even with the way my eyes are jerking around, I can still see it pretty well.
My main solution at this point is siphoning off all that extra cancer juice and hoping that I do less swallowing of it than the last time I siphoned something (a waterbed). Also posting a self-indulgent, vent-y thing to the interwebs.
Also adding a safety helmet to my Christmas list. It'll go great with my new underpants.