Overheating

Tiny
MICHELE DONLAN
  • MEMBER
  • 2000 PONTIAC GRAND AM
  • 0.6L
  • V6
  • TURBO
  • 2WD
  • AUTOMATIC
  • 144 MILES
Low coolant light came on and then car started making gurgling sounds when I came to a stop. I added coolant and it was fine so I drove home. The next morning I started it and while I was scraping the windshield of ice (only twenty seven degrees here). By the time I got in and turned on the defrost the car was past the halfway point on the temperature gauge. So I turned on defrost full blast and nothing came out but freezing cold air, but it overheats so fast I cannot even go anywhere. All and all the car would not even be warmed up yet because how cold it is outside. I just bought it a week ago and bought it as is. Do you think it could be something major? I can probably fix it if it is not. Please help no transportation to work.
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Sunday, January 1st, 2017 AT 4:21 PM

6 Replies

Tiny
JOHNNY G.JR
  • MEMBER
Check coolant level inside of radiator, top off if necessary and pressure test cooling system. Tester can be borrowed or rented from auto parts store. Gurgling sounds is usually a overheating issue. Have head gasket tested with a leakdown test, check cooling system for bubbles, "combustion gases". Is there steam "white smoke" coming out of tailpipe? There is a dye that can be placed in cooling system to find leaks using a black light.
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Sunday, January 1st, 2017 AT 8:32 PM
Tiny
CARADIODOC
  • EXPERT
First you need to determine where the coolant is going. Look under the front of the car for wet spots. If you see excessive white smoke from the tail pipe, suspect a leaking cylinder head gasket. That is a fairly expensive repair, but a common one. One potential clue is you might see a steady stream of bubbles flowing into the reservoir.

Your mechanic can perform a chemical test at the coolant reservoir to check for a leaking head gasket. That involves drawing air from the reservoir, while the engine is running, through a glass cylinder with two chambers partially-filled with a special dark blue liquid. If combustion gases are present, the liquid will turn bright yellow.

A fast leak around the engine can be found by performing a pressure test. You can find that tester at an auto parts store that rents or borrows tools. For a real slow, elusive leak, you can add a small bottle of dark purple dye, then search a day or two later with a black light. The dye will show up as a bright yellow stain that you can follow back to the source. If the head gasket is leaking, you will find the dye inside the tail pipe.
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Sunday, January 1st, 2017 AT 8:42 PM
Tiny
MICHELE DONLAN
  • MEMBER
Thank you for replies. I have since checked my reservoir and there is absolutely nothing in it at all but while looking inside I noticed the inside was a dark brown. Is this just stained from rust over time or could this be another problem? It is hard because my funds are low as most of us after the holidays and why I was hoping I could fix myself. Is there a chance my thermostat might be stuck? And is there away for me to load video to this video to this sight? Sorry for a million questions?
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Monday, January 2nd, 2017 AT 9:08 PM
Tiny
JOHNNY G.JR
  • MEMBER
Pull thermostat, place it in a pot of hot water on stove, suspended, not touching sides of pot with a thermometer, observe opening temperature. If bad, resurface housing and block areas, install new gasket with sealer, refill system, bleed air, top off again when engine reaches normal temperature.
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Monday, January 2nd, 2017 AT 9:21 PM
Tiny
CARADIODOC
  • EXPERT
Oooh. That made the hair on my neck stand up. A new fellow who worked next to me at a very nice family-owned Chrysler dealership had been warned numerous times about wasting way too much time. In his case he was working on trade-in cars, but money changed hands on paper. The Used-Car Department transferred dollars to the Service Department for the safety inspections, oil changes, and repairs, then, the additional costs they had in that car resulted in lower profits when it was sold, and therefore, lower commissions for the salespeople.

The car in question had only cold air from the heater and the temperature gauge stayed on "Cold". Understand we always diagnose the cause of a problem, THEN order and pay for parts that often can't be returned. Do-it-yourselfers skip the diagnostics part and often just throw multiple random parts at a problem until one fixes it. That is the least effective and most expensive way to solve a problem. However, given the two matching symptoms, and that this is such an extremely common problem, the mechanic should have simply replaced the thermostat and moved on. Since this will solve the "cold air" problem on 99 out of 100 cars, no one would fault him if this turned out to be the wrong solution. Instead, he fiddled with all kinds of "tests" we had never seen or heard of. The people in the Parts Department got wind of the major lack of efficiency and ordered a thermostat locally for that car. After lunch break, the mechanic finally went to the Parts Department to order the thermostat, and lo and behold, it was already there.

He installed the new thermostat, warmed up the engine, and would you believe it, the air from the heater was hot and the temperature gauge read "normal". You would think that would be the end of that job, right?

Nope, after being repeatedly and strongly warned by many of his coworkers, he punched two holes in the top of a soup can, fished a piece of wire through them so it could hang from a vise handle. He filled it with water and a thermometer, dropped the thermostat in it, then sat there for a half hour heating it with the torch. That was his last day working there. How could the Service Department justify billing the Used-Car Department over $600.00 to replace a thermostat?

This type of experiment could make a dandy demonstration in school where we are learning theory of operation, but I never did this for my students, or even talked about it, because I did not want to risk anyone ever trying that on the job. A running engine burns fuel and gets real hot. What else is there besides a thermostat stuck open that will prevent the engine from reaching normal operating temperature?

An additional problem with this "test" is a good thermostat will only start to open near 195 degrees. It can take as much as 215 degrees before it is opened fully. At which temperature do you consider it to be "open"? Also, you might not see it start to peek open at 175 or 180 degrees. That can be enough to allow coolant to circulate to the radiator before it is hot enough. Air from the heater will be equally not hot enough. The thermostat has opened too soon, but not enough to see, so what did the test prove? And what if the thermostat does stay closed until at least 195 degrees? Are you going to stick it back in the engine and risk having the same problem, especially when it is such a common problem?

As for the rust color in the reservoir, GM is famous for using red Dex-Cool antifreeze. We call that "Dex-Mud" because that's what it turns into. All antifreeze is an alcohol that will always be alcohol. We need to replace it every two years because it is the critical additives that wear out. Those include water pump lubricant, corrosion inhibitors, and seal conditioners. In an effort to falsely make their cost of general maintenance appear to be lower than that of their competitors, GM advertised this coolant as "lifetime" coolant. Then, on the side of the reservoir, they planted a sticker that no one looked at that said to replace it every three years. That was their "out" for legal purposes. Even the Dex-Cool company specifies the coolant be replaced every two years.

As a result of believing the false advertising of lifetime coolant, GM owners are way too familiar with corroded and leaking heater cores and radiators. The acids that naturally build up in the coolant over time also attack cylinder head gaskets. We have enough trouble with that on all car brands already without inviting more problems by leaving old coolant in there. This is just one more of many of GM's lack of foresight. Who cares about repair cost after you buy the product, and the resulting bad reputation, as long as you buy the product. There is always more new, unsuspecting customers next year. To make matters worse, if your mechanic has your best interest at heart, he will recommend a cooling system drain and refill, or a flush, every two years to prevent these problems. In return he will be accused of trying to sell parts and services that aren't needed. Those false claims of "lifetime" coolant will be used as proof he is trying to defraud you.

The rust-colored stuff in the reservoir is often not an indicator of a serious condition. It can be caused by engine oil seeping through the head gasket over time, and it can come from rubber heater and radiator hoses starting to deteriorate. More commonly it is from an accumulation of worn-out additives that flow into the reservoir, then accumulates there when it is cold. We normally wash that out when we do a system flush.
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Tuesday, January 3rd, 2017 AT 3:47 PM
Tiny
CARADIODOC
  • EXPERT
The point of my sad story is the test is not likely to yield any information of value and it is a waste of time. If anyone wants to do this on their own time, that's fine, but if I ever saw a mechanic doing this when I visit a shop, I would question whether the customer was being charged for that time, and if the mechanic was expecting to be paid for it. We never approve of throwing random parts at a problem in hopes one will stick and fix the problem, but when you see a leaking dry-rotted tire valve stem, a shredded wiper blade, a broken head light bulb, or a failure of the engine to warm up, there is no need to search for an obscure cause when the fix is so obvious.

What I really don't want to happen is when other people are researching the same problem for their car, and they come across this post, I don't want them to think this is a typical or normal service procedure. No mechanic should ever be asked to do this by a misinformed customer. We already get blamed when we try to sell needed parts and services, and we get blamed for every possible breakdown for years after we did the last repair because we did NOT recommend parts or a service that we "should have known" were going to be needed. Testing a thermostat is not a service any customer should get talked into paying for. Mechanics are already held to much higher standards than are doctors. My reply was meant to be mildly entertaining, but seriously informative.
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Tuesday, January 3rd, 2017 AT 6:05 PM

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