2004 Chrysler PT Cruiser overheated & stalled

  • 4 CYL
  • FWD
  • 59,000 MILES
For weeks the car had been running hot -- almost to the red zone -- but my wife insisted it was only when the AC was on. I noticed it particularly whenever it was idling at a stop light. Money's tight, so we held off on taking it in.

One evening we were driving around town without the AC on, and it didn't get too hot (about 60%), so I took the car the next day (instead of mine--which had other problems at the time) to pick up my son, who lives in the mountains. On the way up I did not use the AC, but it was still running very hot. I stopped at his place for an hour to let it cool down. On the way back, the car stalled on the way up a hill and would not re-start. I had it towed to a mechanic.

The mechanic I took it to refuses to work on it without a small fortune -- he estimates 20 hours and says it's because he HATES PT Cruisers. His diagnosis is that it has a rod knock and compression in the radiator (possibly a head gasket). Ballpark estimate: $3500.

Right now, the car does start, but with difficulty.

What can I expect in terms of a reasonable repair estimate (or as an alternative, as an engine replacement estimate) from someone without a PT Cruiser hatred?

Do you
have the same problem?
Wednesday, June 30th, 2010 AT 2:04 PM

1 Reply

Well I have an 02 that I bought right off the showroom floor and have had almost everything single problem you could think of. After careful maintenance and a few outrageous repairs, that luckily happened under warranty, i'm a bit more knowledgeable about certain problems. Last year I replaced the transmission which made it to the 7 or 8 year mark. I'm currently working with the worse case scenario of an overheating problem, which is the replacement header and or head gasket.

To start off overheating causes quite a few problems. The main part of the pt cooling system are the fan, radiator, coolant cap, upper and lower hose, water pump, and heater core.

Narrowing down which of these is causing the problem is the first concern, because replacing the header, head gasket, minor engine rebuild, or complete engine replacement won't do to much good if the same problem isn't fixed. It will only mess up what you just replaced.

First there could be a fan problem, which could keep the fan from kicking on, possibly a loose connection. If the car warms up and fan kicks on (even when you play with the wiring a bit, then its ok. If it studders or doesn't go on at all, you've found the problem. New fan is around $150

Hoses and radiator are easy, if you see leaking from anywhere, you can narrow it down to that part. Each hose is around $40 each and radiator is $150. If you are worried about flow, you can take off the lower and upper hose without removing the radiator and flushing it with a hose. If it comes out fully pressure then there is no blockage, if it dribbles or stutters out slower than its going in, then the radiator might have build up and would have to be taken off and dipped at a radiator shop.

Thermostat, testing isn't even worth it, just replace it since its only like $15 bucks and an easy install, since its right below the cap, under the top hose, need to remove two bolts to slide it out from the thermostat housing. Easy way to check if thermostat is working. Start the car, top hose will be soft, cool, and squeezable until it warms up. Around the time that the car heats up the thermostat will open if it's working and cycle through the top hose which will make it firm and uncomfortably hot. This will also show you that the water pump is working. If its not then the water will not be pushed up and into the radiator.

Heater core, isn't really a problem with cooling, its just mentioned as part of the cooling/heating process. When you turn on the heater, hot coolant siphens through it and the heat is blown through the vent to give you heat.

Ok. Sorry for that being so long, but if you spend 1500 to 3000, you'll be glad to know that you won't have the same problem after you think you fixed the problem.

Now, when a car overheats, they say the main concern is damage to the head gasket, or possibly warping or cracking the head. Coolant flows around the outside casing of the pistons in order to dispense heat through the coolant, which is drawn out and cycled with cool mixture through the coolant process. If it is not cycled properly due to one of the issues noted above, then it could case that casing to get hot which would break the seal (head gasket) or even warp or crack the casing (header, engine block) either of which would cause coolant to leak into the engine. So coolant could make its way into the oil, or oil into the coolant.

Check first the oil dip stick to see if it has bubbles on it, see if the coolant is darker due to oil, plus if you hear a bubbling sound when you try and start the car coolant is usually above each piston within the block. An easy check would be removing one spark plug and attempting to start the engine. The pressure will try to spit out coolant.

One serious problem is that if a car gets hot enough, it will lock up the engine due to the metal getting so hot that it fuses together (worse case scenario, nothing will help you) only a new engine.

Since this car actually kicks over, it is a good sign, but damage is still done due to it overheating. Air and fuel mixture creates little explosions to move the pistons up and down, so coolant in the mix does not help this process and usually fowls up the spark plugs to keep it from starting.

Pt's are designed with a double layered gasket to prevent the gasket from breaking, helps in most overheating issues, but it also means that if the car overheats too bad, it will create a high possibility of the head warping or cracking.

Start here, the header is around $350 and gasket is normally a kit which has the head gasket, manifold gasket, intake gasket, and a few other things. That is $160, so $500 parts just starting out to fix the basic damage as a result of the car overheating too bad on top of the cost of what is causing the cooling system to fail. Now if the car starts, it doesn't mean it should be driven, the main reason is because it could cause other problems, due to the coolant being in the system.

A bent piston rod and damaged barings leads to the minor engine rebuild. Now that i've given you the basic overall prices to common parts, remember that services are normally 1/3 parts and 2/3 labor, if you are lucky then the labor will be the same cost as the parts.

Oh and the reason they hate Pt's is because the engine compartment is so small and compact, plus for a head job practically the whole engine has to be dismantled which explains all the gaskets.

My experience so far, if its just the gasket and not the header it could be anywhere from 600 to 800, if its the header then you are looking from 1000 to 1500, If there is additional damage to the engine such as a bent rod or barrings, then you would go more toward the minor engine rebuild. Could be from 1500 to 2500 depending on how much damage.

Since my car is an 02 and has 150000 miles on it, i've decided to drop in a remanufactured engine so that I know all the problems are taken care of and I can keep the car for another 7 to 10 years. I also had the transmission rebuilt last year while I was going to school, so i've invested enough in this car to keep it going.

The overall cost is based on what caused the problem, and how much damage was done to the engine as a result of it. Find the problem in the cooling system and fix it. Then work on the damage. Let me know how it turns out and how it progresses.
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Saturday, July 17th, 2010 AT 2:19 AM

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