Mechanics

COOLANT SPILLING NIGHTMARE

Saturn Other

The car in question is a 1997 saturn sc-1 with approx 140, xxx miles on it.

last week I was driving this car to deliver pizzas. The car had been running for an hour or 2 ( I leave it idling between deliveries) when I started driving it and it began steaming from under the hood, at the coolant reservoir. I got out of the car (in a parking lot) and noticed that all of the coolant in my car had leaked out. I turned the car off and returned to it the next day.

the car is my girlfriends, and I asked her if anything had been wrong with it lately. She said the temp gauge in the dash had stopped working a week or so prior, so I replaced the thermostat. The car drove fine for 2 days.

then one day, after the car had been running for an hour or 2 again, it spit coolant out all over the parking lot at my work and started steaming again. We popped the hood and once again the steam and coolant appeared to be coming from the cap on the coolant reservoir. I replaced the cap, thinking it had lost pressure, and drove it again the next day. Once again after about an hour and a half the coolant and temp indicator lights started flashing in the dash, and about 15 minutes after that it dumped all my coolant again. This time we found a leak under the car, in addition to the reservoir cap. We do not think it was coming from the radiator, but were not sure.

according to the temp gauge, the car is not running too hot (right at about 1/4 of the way up after running for an hour). The car drives fine with no unusual noises or anything.

just to get the car to somewhere we could park it, I waited for the engine to go cold and re-filled the resevoir with water and sent my gilfriend home in it. Now, this may be unelated, but when she started it up, the rpm gauge dipped below 1, then shot up to 2, sat there for about 5 seconds, and then would drop back to 1 where it belonged. I dont know a lot about cars, so I dont know what the hell that could mean. Anyway, after about a 15 minute drive the coolant and temp indicator lights started flashing again, and by the time she got home the car had dumped more coolant into her parking lot.

here's my questions:

is the car safe to drive 15 minutes to a repair shop?

what different things could be wrong with it?

how much time / money for parts would these problems run me to fix myself?

how much should I pay at a repair shop?

thanks a lot in advance.
Avatar
Devildanstl
February 26, 2006.



My first question is are you losing coolant. There is a light on the gauges that looks like a thermometer over a battery that flashes when the coolant level in the resevior is low.

If the overheating is caused by a coolant leak you need to find the leak. At that mileage you could be looking at a water pump or a radiator. The rads have plastic side tanks that tend to crack over time. Both of these items can be done by the home mechanic.

Single overhead cam engines have had some issues with heads cracking. Check the coolant for signs of oil and the oil for signs of coolant. If the oil looks like chocolate milk you might want to have further test (compression and or leak down test) done to be sure.

Does the radiator cooling fan come on?
Last but not least could be a failure of the ECTS (engine coolant temperature sender). This sensor provides the computer with input that it uses to adjust the air/fuel ratio, turn the cooling fan on, adjust the idle, signal the temperature gauge, and more. It can cause all sorts of proplems when it fails. The original coolant sensors had composite/plastic tips that would crack after time. When they failed they could also ruin their wire connector. Saturn makes a solid brass updated replacement sensor that should be available for under $20.00. The wire connector is around $30.00. It is as simple to replace as a spark plug.

I would start by testing or replacing this item after checking for leaks and intermixing of oil and coolant.

Good luck and let us know. : )

Tiny
Peppermrj
Feb 26, 2006.
If you determine it is the ECTS post back. I can give you detailed instructions on its replacement.

Tiny
Peppermrj
Feb 26, 2006.
The cooling fan should come on when the AC is switched on. On an eighty degree day my 96 SC2 took aqbout 15 minutes at idle from a cold start for the cooling fan to kick on. Just for reference.

Tiny
Peppermrj
Feb 26, 2006.
Definitely losing coolant. All of it, all at once, generally.

The theory we are running on is water pump. Doesnt look like its coming from the radiator. This sound about right for a bad water pump?

Tiny
Devildanstl
Feb 27, 2006.
When the waterpump on the 96 went it started just like yours. It would get the low blinking lights indicating low coolant. Hard to find tho. Then it would upchuck. Found out that the seal on the pump had a slow leak and the spinning pulley would fling the coolant around making it hard to find a leak. Finally it leaked so bad that it was easy to find.

The tuffest part of repacing the pump was getting the 3 pulley bolts off. A strap wrench helped.

The coolant sensor can cause a high idle. Replace the pump first tho. Be sure the cooling fan comes on too.

Good luck and let us know. : )

Tiny
Peppermrj
Feb 28, 2006.