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I've only had my van ('08 Shuttle SE) for about three weeks but all along I've been whiffing a funny damp, oily, sweet smell emanating from somewhere. I thought it was probably all the dog hair from previous owner(s) as I saw a lot of it whilst on my cleaning crusade. Yesterday, I drove it for quite a run for the first time in a couple of weeks and I noticed that the smell was a lot stronger. I thought it might be a heater matrix leak and got severely depressed as the thought of a dash-out job. However, there's no sign of coolant loss.

Today, I drove it for even longer and sat in traffic for ages and I felt like I was gonna be sick with the on and off of the smell - sometimes quite intense. I could only think of how to minimise the disruption to work yet still not have a heater matrix suddenly fail on me in spectaular style. One thing I just couldn't get my head around was how the smell seems to come and go quite randomly. I thought I had identified a pattern and that it only manifested after I slowed to a stop, or near stop, and then moved off again. However, I couldn't really be sure. After picking up the missus from the City this evening she noticed the smell and opened her window (front cab). After a while, I thought "how can it be worse with the window open?! and seems to be quite constant as well!" so I opened my window partially as well and it made no difference. On hitting the highway we shut the windows and the smell disappeared - or at least reverted back to faint whiff occasionally. Totally BIZARRE! But I had checked the outside of the car mid journey earlier in the afternoon and could find no smell outside. I was resigned to that fact that I might have to do a test and bypass the front matrix by connecting the feed and return hoses to each other under the bonnet.

Got home and despite being pitch dark I went back to the boot to reattach a seatbelt - picking up some passengers in the morning. As soon as opened the tailgate I was hit with that sweet coolant pong! Now, I've had both rear quarter panels off for all sorts of work, including seeing what was wrong with the rear heater (as it was only blowing cold air when I bought the van). Then it dawned on me that I had not driven the van until yesterday after fixing the rear heater (dislocated flap control). It is surely too much of a coincidence that the coolant smell has gotten worse after I fixed the rear heater controls! This would also explain why my windscreen isn't misting up from a coolant leak.

I can then only conclude that the rear matrix has either sprung a leak OR was replaced previously and the old coolant was never emptied out. Since the coolant level in the expansion bottle isn't going down, I suspect it may be the latter. However, how do I actually check the rear matrix? I can see where it is in the rear heater unit but have no idea if I can get to it without dismantling the bejeebers out of the whole thing - and I think it has rear AC too :(

Has anyone done this beforeand/or provide any pointers? Should I try to disconnect the rear matrix and join the feed and return hoses from the rear unit (assumming I can actually get to them - can't see in the dark, and I've reinstalled the panel - sigh!)?
 
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