We have a 1991 Toyota Corolla, with he standard 4 cylinder engine, manual transmission, 140K miles.
When taking a cross country trip we went up a steep mountain pass (several miles of 10% grade) and experienced a lack of power. We were not worried because this is not surprising given the situation (high altitude, steep grade, old and small 4 cylinder engine, fully loaded car). When we got to the top the we saw the radiator fluid was squirting out the escape value at the top of the reservoir tank. We rested the car for 30+ minutes and rolled down the hill without further problem (and added some water to the reservoir tank).
A week later we noticed that the car seemed to be running a little hotter (it normally went 25% of the way up the heat scale, but now went 30%) and seemed to be gradually losing radiator fluid. We took the car into a national chain to be inspected and they broke the drain plug in the bottom of the radiator and claimed that the radiator was rusting and therefore they claim it needed to be replaced. Since the radiator would not hold water now we had them replaced the radiator and the thermostat. The same day 8 miles later, after going up a moderate 1 mile hill we stopped the car and noticed that the radiator dumped another pint of fluid. We could not see where it came from (presumably the reservoir was filled to high and it flowed out of the escape value). We took it back to the national chain and they ran the car while up on the lift and it did not leak from anywhere but they noticed that they did not connect the fan plug. Additionally, with the new radiator the car heats up faster (it takes only 1-2 minutes now to reach its new operating temperature) and runs hotter (it now stays about 45% of the way up the heat scale where the fan cycles on and off), still seems o be losing coolant, and if you run the heat vent into the car it is hotter than before.
Two days later we took the car up another long mountain climb, and it once again dumped coolant when we got to the top. Again we could not see where it came from.
Now two weeks later we are occasionally experiencing (at start up, more likely in cold weather) a total loss of power. When this happens the car (manual transmission) gets no power even when in a gear / speed combination that should result it high RPMs and lots of power. It took a couple of blocks to get up to 30 mph, and the engine never made the revving sound of high RPMs. However most of the time the car acts and sounds as it used to other than coolant system symptoms.
We have done several diagnostic checks.
We removed the battery and checked the coolant reservoir tank for leaks (none found) (Could my playing with the battery cables cause the loss of power?).
We ran the car with the radiator cap off and there were no gas bubbles coming out (heard that this would be a symptom of blown head gasket).
We checked the oil when he engine was warm and it looked normal (heard that if it looked like a frothy milkshake it would be a symptom of blown head gasket).
We checked the radiator cap it looked normal except it appears to be flaking little pieces of rubber. (Could an old radiator cap cause loss of coolant and hotter operating temperature?)
Are the two problems related (loss of power and loss of coolant)?