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Car - Mechanics head gasket?

Old 04-12-2008, 06:52 AM
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Default Car - Mechanics head gasket?

1996 Cutlass Sierra 3.1 w 148,000. has been gradually climbing temp for last 2 years esp. in summer. Finally gets up to hot after a few miles and fills up the overflow. Could it be anything else - seems the pump is working and the coolant looks very dirty. Have never changed the waterpump or thermostat which is a major pain in the but to get at. I can't make it to a garage - how can I test for head gasket (which seems likely given the collant overflow thing) .. Any ideas? (Other than bury it)?? I don't have an exhaust analyzer....Is there some cheap portable test for exhaust in coolant or something?
Thanks!
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Old 04-12-2008, 07:13 AM
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Default Re: Car - Mechanics head gasket?

You can smell it if it's the head gasket. White exhaust with a sort of sweet smell. I bet it's the t-stat. If it's a head gasket you'd lose power and idle real rough. I'm no pro, but I'm sure some around here are. I do know a thermostat can go bad and make it seem like a blown head gasket. The 3.1 is a good motor, and I just can't see a head gasket at 150k.
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Old 04-12-2008, 07:21 AM
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Default Re: Car - Mechanics head gasket?

It may be as simple as the radiator cap. They go bad frequently, but are seldom replaced.

Ever changed that coolant? To do a complete job on it, I would flush the system with a radiator flush product. Drain both the radiator and the block drains. Replace the cap and thermostat. Borrow a pressure tester from Autozone, advance Auto, etc. and pressure test the system. Check upper and lower radiator hoses for sponginess and replace if needed. If you are going to keep the car, consider putting in a new radiator; they are pretty inexpensive these days and your 12 year old one is probably getting a bit tired by now. Install new 50/50 coolant/distilled water mix and you are good to go.
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Old 04-12-2008, 07:29 AM
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Default Re: Car - Mechanics head gasket?

Thanks - there is hope!!!!

I always go for the simple things first but when the cooland jug was filing I thought that had to be the gasket - If I ever changed the coolant it was years ago. And there is no exhaust smell in it - so hopefully its the thermostat or radiator !!
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Old 04-12-2008, 07:43 AM
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Default Re: Car - Mechanics head gasket?

is there coolant in the oil? my guess is that there probably isnt. it doesnt sound like a head gasket in which case the advice of itwonder is the way to go.
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Old 04-12-2008, 08:02 AM
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Default Re: Car - Mechanics head gasket?

If it were the head basket you would have water in your oil and vise versa, pull the dip stick and check, if there is water in it, it will be on top of the oil as you pull the stick you would have a few beads of water on the stick as well. I tdoes sound like your thermostat is getting stuck or your heater core could be clogged as well. Flushing it sounds like the first thing to do, make sure you turn your heater on high and hot when doing this so flush the whole system.
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Old 04-12-2008, 08:04 AM
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Default RE: Car - Mechanics head gasket?

Thanks

Is that drainplug a normal right hand screw ?(turn left - counterclockwise -to loosen)
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Old 04-12-2008, 08:06 AM
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Default RE: Car - Mechanics head gasket?

[QUOTE]LI Sound Grunt - 4/12/2008 10:04 AM

Thanks

Is that drainplug a normal right hand screw ?(turn left - counterclockwise -to loosen)[/QUOTE

Correct
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Old 04-12-2008, 10:33 PM
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Default Re: Car - Mechanics head gasket?

Domino Effect - 4/12/2008 8:02 AM

If it were the head basket you would have water in your oil and vise versa, pull the dip stick and check, if there is water in it, it will be on top of the oil as you pull the stick you would have a few beads of water on the stick as well. I tdoes sound like your thermostat is getting stuck or your heater core could be clogged as well. Flushing it sounds like the first thing to do, make sure you turn your heater on high and hot when doing this so flush the whole system.
This is not exactly true. Once the oil & water are heated (as in normal driving) the oil & water will combine into a brownish thick oily sludge. Check your oil dipstick it will noticably "not look right". Your head gasket can be blown & you not have water in the oil also. You can also look for steam in the exhaust. I would change the thermostat 1st. much cheaper. Much easier. If it turns out to be the head gasket it won't hurt to have a new t'stat anyway. Usually heads warp / head gaskets blow as a reult of running hot from some other problem, but not always.

Hope this helps. Good luck.
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Old 04-13-2008, 06:33 AM
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Default RE: Car - Mechanics head gasket?

Thanks again.

What the h...I went for for the thermostat. Had to take off exhaust manifold shrouds, about 5 hoses, part of the air intake system, and a 3 foot piece of steel water tubing wrapped half way around the engine just to get at the top bolt. Lots of rusted bolts on that shroud. Had to be Houdini to get an air ratched and about 5 extensions to reach some.....I am still trying to access the bottom bolt - no room to get a ratchet in and no room to swing a monkey wrench. I have about one and a half inch between that and the exhaust manifold....
No mattter how many told you have it seems every job requires a new one.....More fun and games -
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Old 04-13-2008, 07:40 AM
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Default Re: Car - Mechanics head gasket?

Recommend you start with the basics. Change out the cap, t-stat and put new fluid in there at the highest mixed rate (50/50). This will establish your baseline. Since you have already started to get to the T-stat - GOOD LUCK LOL - get everything running again and then report back.

A leak in the head gasket will, as mentioned, put a white cloud in the air that dissipates quickly. You can definitely smell it - sweet.

Based on what you said about the coolant overflowing after a few miles, I suspect the T-Stat will be the culprit and I recommend you flush the system a few times with a light solution of antifreeze and water to get any rust or debris out. Fill for good with a mixture of distilled water and antifreeze and get a float hygrometer, they're very cheap and will tell you how well you REALLY have the mixture. There is always fluid in the heater core and in passages that will upset what you think is a good mix, when it isn't.

Good luck.

And get a riding a mower, you need the exercise..
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Old 04-13-2008, 11:25 AM
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Default Re: Car - Mechanics head gasket?

LI Sound Grunt - 4/12/2008 9:29 AM Thanks - there is hope!!!! I always go for the simple things first but when the cooland jug was filing I thought that had to be the gasket - If I ever changed the coolant it was years ago. And there is no exhaust smell in it - so hopefully its the thermostat or radiator !!
If the coolant is reeeeally old and your radiator is aluminum(most are) it's probably "next" on the list to be replaced. Don't ask me how I know.
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Old 04-14-2008, 08:11 AM
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Default Re: Car - Mechanics head gasket?

Did you check to see if the fan is coming on?? On most FWD GM cars the coolant fan
comes on about 215-220 degrees. Watch your temp gauge and if it goes up over
225 230 range and the fan does not come on you could have a bad cooling fan switch
or bad cooling fan relay or cooling fan motor itself. Jump the terminals on the cooling fan switch connector and see if the fan comes on, its a two wire connector and switch is screwed into intake manifold somewhere. You could also run power to the fan motor and see if it goes on. When you jump the connector on the fan switch you should also here
the relay click. OH First CHECK THE FUSE. If you have coolant in the oil or are blowing out
white smoke out the exhaust you got head gasket problems or worse. The proper way to diagnose a head gasket problem is do a leak down test on the cylinders to pinpoint the cylinder thats giving you the problem. Since you did not mention if the fan was going on i figured i would start with first things first.
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Old 04-14-2008, 10:18 AM
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Default RE: Car - Mechanics head gasket?

Apparantly it is the thermostat - didn't finish the job yet as it is a beautiful day and I have to get my lawn cleaned (an dsome taxes left) - but after I finally got it out and tried to open it up in boiling water - it wouldn't move - If you ever have to get one replaced on this engine and they charge you 2 or 3 hours of labor don't be surprised - it took me all day to get the thing out so a good maechanic could probably do it in an hour and a half. repairability isn't a big priority for these manufacturers. However I have to admit the car has been trouble free for 12 years and 146,000 miles (bought it for $10,000 with 25,000 miles in 96) and it went through one MacDonalds sales man and 3 of my kids with just oil changes and brakes so I guess have no grounds for complaint.

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Old 04-14-2008, 10:25 AM
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Default Re: Car - Mechanics head gasket?

Those 3.1's need to have the cooling system bled after every cooling system flush, thermostat change, etc, or air pockets will form, and they can lead to overheating and damage.

My brother had three Chevy Corsicas (with 3.1 V-6s), that he used in his business. One suffered a blown head gasket and a warped head after having its cooling system serviced by a dealer. The mechanic forgot to bleed the system. Luckily, the dealer stepped up to the plate and replaced the head.

You should be able to find the two (or was it three?) cooling system bleeders in the engine compartment, without too much difficulty.

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Old 04-14-2008, 11:30 AM
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Default Re: Car - Mechanics head gasket?

Thanks

And Yes I see 2 of them - one over the watertube manifold out of the waterpump and one in the thermostat housing. I'll check for others....

I'll make sure coolant is coming out before I close them!
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Old 04-15-2008, 05:38 AM
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Default Re: Car - Mechanics head gasket?

Just a thought... Since your coolant looks so nasty you might want to flush the system a few times before adding in the new coolant. There are chemicals for this but even a water flush will probably be of benefit. Dont be afraid to let it sit and drip a long time.

Good luck!
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