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CqOUzwsT
05-11-2011, 12:10 PM
I drive about 100 miles (50 miles twice) and on my return trip I noticed that white steam was coming from the engine, in particular around the coolant reservoir. It was too hot to check if the coolant was low and I didn't check my engine gauge until maybe 5 min (max) after I noticed but it wasn't overheating. Is there anything else it could be? Is there anything else I should check?

Thanks!

BV22
05-11-2011, 12:17 PM
Since you state that the engine was running at normal temperature when you observed the steam, the seal on the coolant reservoir cap might be tired, especially on a '96. If you find that the coolant level is not down much, I'd start with a new cap. Also, look at the reservoir itself for any sign of a crack. These reservoirs are rather robust on Saturns, but you would not be the first person to have one crack.

CqOUzwsT
05-11-2011, 12:28 PM
Thanks for the quick reply BV22!

If it is a leak (like a cracked reservoir or head gasket or something) can I drive it if I keep dumping coolant into it? Just long enough to make it to the shop.

How hard is it to replace the reservoir? Head gasket? tubes? I can already think of 3 or 4 reasons why I won't be able to do the job myself (time, knowledge, work area,..) but I am curious.

2509fj
05-11-2011, 12:36 PM
Do like my wife and just keep driving.

BV22
05-11-2011, 12:44 PM
You have some loaded questions there!

If the leak is not severe, and definitely not going into the crankcase and mixing with the oil (milkshake looking gunk on the dipstick is an indicator), yes, you can keep driving and adding coolant. Make sure you use coolant and water, not just water. Your temperature gauge becomes your best friend, so don't ignore it. Have a gallon of water/coolant mix in the trunk for emergencies. Always wait a while before opening the reservoir - it is under pressure when the car is hot.

Replacing the reservoir cap is obviously easy. So is replacing the reservoir. Head gasket is another animal altogether as that involves major engine disassembly, but a head gasket failure usually has symptoms like coolant in the oil, oil in the coolant, or a terrible running engine because two cylinders have no compression. Your description does not indicate any of this.

Tom92SCm
05-11-2011, 12:50 PM
I had a reservoir crack on me. Mine would only leak when pressurized and up to operating temp.

Easy to replace- couple hose clamps here and there, a fastener or 2, an electrical connector..... easy peasy.

A head gasket is much more involved- but I kinda doubt it's that.

ehunter
05-11-2011, 02:11 PM
You should be able to idle the car in your driveway and watch where the steam starts coming from. Should take about 20-30min of idle time with the hood up.

Could also be a hose that needs replacing. You could validate what it is before buying something you really might not need.

adventureoflink
05-11-2011, 03:01 PM
I had a reservoir crack on me. Mine would only leak when pressurized and up to operating temp.

Easy to replace- couple hose clamps here and there, a fastener or 2, an electrical connector..... easy peasy.

A head gasket is much more involved- but I kinda doubt it's that.
+1 to this man.

there's even a Richpin video on R&R'ing the coolant reservior (mostly for cleaning, but you can still use the tips and tricks in that video to do your reservior).

and +1 to whoever mentioned the temp gauge is your best friend, especially when you have a big leak.

alordofchaos
05-11-2011, 03:06 PM
You should have a red low-coolant warning light that will flash when it gets low. Next time you turn your car on, look for it during the bulb check.

The system is only 15 psi so it is not quite like the old "face full of boiling steam" days :) I would feel comfortable opening the reservoir with a glove on and rag over it (but would keep away from teh opening because i want to preserve my pretty face :D)

Check around the water pump for leaks, too... steam could be coming from other places... kind of deceptive. But I agree, an old cap is likely the culprit. You should bet a bit of a hiss when you open it

CqOUzwsT
05-12-2011, 01:42 PM
So part of the problem may have been that my oil was low, which was boiling off some of the coolant?

However, after changing the oil, I still have the problem.

The coolant is boiling (as far as I can tell) and it was spilling out onto the ground.

Is the coolant supposed to boil after a long drive? If so, then the cap is supposed to prevent the boil over?

Please excuse the ignorant questions.

BV22
05-12-2011, 01:53 PM
Low oil will make an engine run a little hotter, but I don't think that is the issue here. How low was it???

The cap, when in good shape, holds about 15 psi, which effectively raises the boiling point of the coolant to well above normal operating temperature. If the cap is bad or the reservoir cracked, it won't hold pressure, so the boiling point is lower.

Try to locate where the coolant is coming from as best you can. At least which side of the car, in front of or behind the engine, etc. This will help diagnose.

Tom92SCm
05-12-2011, 01:56 PM
If your coolant is boiling, that means your coolant system pressure is either too low or you've got serious coolant system performance issues. The cap is suppose to raise the pressure in the system, thereby raising the boiling point of the water/coolant mixture.

So yeah, replace the coolant cap.

And FWIW, after I replaced the cap on my '92, the radiator failed (driver's side crack in the end tank). My theory is when the new cap was keeping proper pressure, the next weakest link in the system failed. Then after that, the water pump failed (it actually seized when the bearing failed causing too much shaft wobble and the impeller blade drove itself into the engine block).

ehunter
05-12-2011, 02:24 PM
Yes, after a long drive, after you shut off the engine, the coolant can boil IF your coolant system is not sealed.

In your case, after shutting the engine down, the residual heat in the engine continues to heat the no-longer-circulating-coolant until it boils. However, your coolant will not boil if you have a high enough concentration of antifreeze AND your coolant system is sealed.

This is why I recommended you idle your car in the driveway and shut if off just before the temp gauge hits the reading just before your radiator fan comes on. Shutting the engine down at this point will reproduce your situation. You can then watch where the coolant is exiting the system.

After you noticed the boil over, did you check to see if there was fresh wet coolant around the reservoir cap?

alordofchaos
05-12-2011, 02:48 PM
Are you seeing this steam when driving, or only after you have stopped (at the end of the trip)?

What is your temp gauge reading when it is boiling?

Are you seeing this boiling after you have stopped, and the car is no longer moving - and is the fan running?

If not, and if your car has AC, does the fan run if you turn on the AC (has to be over 40F outside)?

Are you the original owner and do you know if the ECTS has ever been replaced?

In theory, during the heat-soak condition that ehunter describes, under normal conditions your ECTS should signal high temperature to the computer, which should turn on the fan (even with the engine off, key removed)

The good news is that the reservoir cap and ECTS ($10-$15) are both inexpensive

CqOUzwsT
05-12-2011, 02:49 PM
now that you mention it ehunter, I did notice the distinct green fluid near the cap. I suppose if it was the reservoir or hose it would be somewhere else, or else I would notice a breach. I'll try and do your test.

The only problem is that the pep boys near by claims they don't have the cap in stock. I'm going to call a few more places, but maybe it's hard to find a cap for a 96 in stock these days?

alordofchaos
05-12-2011, 03:11 PM
Pep boys doesn't show the part online at all

I think this is the part (http://shop.advanceautoparts.com/webapp/wcs/stores/servlet/product__17110026-P_115_R%7CGRPCOOLAMS_1715510990___?zoneAssigned=1) at Advance auto, can't tell as there is no picture (part Part No. 10239) $3.39

Or if you are into junkyards, you can take your chances there, should be really cheap

CqOUzwsT
05-12-2011, 03:12 PM
@alordofchaos

I don't see it when I'm driving (as far as I can tell, it's not a ton of steam) but it seems to only be noticeable after I stop.

The gauge shows right down the middle between C and H. This is after starting it again after letting it sit for 5 min (max) but I cant imagine that it would cool down that much. I would *guess* it is well below the redline.

Now that you mention it, I didn't notice the fan running when the coolant was boiling over. I do have an AC but it no longer blows cold air. I could try running the AC to see if I can get the fan on.

This car has been in my family and I've owned it for the last 9 years or so, but as far as I know the ECTS has never been replaced.

Thank you all for your help.

adventureoflink
05-12-2011, 03:25 PM
Pep boys doesn't show the part online at all

I think this is the part (http://shop.advanceautoparts.com/webapp/wcs/stores/servlet/product__17110026-P_115_R%7CGRPCOOLAMS_1715510990___?zoneAssigned=1) at Advance auto, can't tell as there is no picture (part Part No. 10239) $3.39

Or if you are into junkyards, you can take your chances there, should be really cheap

yep, that's the cap. I have it currently installed on my Saturn right now.

ehunter
05-12-2011, 05:22 PM
now that you mention it ehunter, I did notice the distinct green fluid near the cap.

Dollars to doughnuts a new cap will do it for you then... ;-)

Keep in mind for the future that if the parts store does not have what you want, rockauto.com can ship pretty darned fast. (2-3 days).

alordofchaos
05-13-2011, 07:27 AM
but as far as I know the ECTS has never been replaced. This might be the problem, or it could still be the cap

ECTS sends a signal that tells the computer the coolant temp. the computer (PCM) does a couple things with this:

1) from 96 on, it controls the temp gauge
2) turns on the cooling fan when the coolant gets too hot

Some relevant videos from our friend richpin
How to find the ECTS (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pUwCTJRqnAk),
How to replace the ECTs (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cucm7QGlsYs)

Guy in WNY
05-13-2011, 08:17 AM
If you decide to replace the ECTS, watch the richpin video first. It's a very simple change out. Bear in mind that sometimes the connector also corrodes and needs to be changed out also.
As for no cold A/C, as long as the condenser doesn't have any holes in it, just get one of the recharge kits from Autozone. The instructions are included. Simple to do, and having the A/C work in the summer is just great! I know, it should be flushed out, purged, and vacuumed before recharging. But cold air is so nice!