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Old 02-15-2009, 12:01 PM   #1
kaptnjack
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Default bad luck after thermostat change

I am in the process of saving/restoring a recent SL2 buy.

The temps were running low and it needed a thermostat. I R&R'd the stat with little to no problems. Refilled with coolant and started her up and let ldle up to temp...all was sweet and temps hit the halfway mark. Checked out the fan controller circuit and it kicked on perfectly.

Went for a little test drive around the block about 2 miles and when I got home and raised the hood the %@*& radiator had split on the driver side between the trans line fitting up to the radiator mount.

I can only guess the added pressure from the increased temp after several hundred miles running well below spec temps split that puppy.

So now I am searching for a rad. I can pull a JY rad for about $45 but looks like the ebay rad mentioned in other posts ($65 shipped) makes as much sense as anything. It seems all rads have a high failure rate no matter where they are bought, the brand or the price.

94 SL2

Any thoughts?

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Old 02-15-2009, 12:07 PM   #2
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Default Re: bad luck after thermostat change

The consesus around here is that the average life of radiators for the S-series is about 10-yrs. And cracks right at the transmission connections.

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Old 02-15-2009, 01:17 PM   #3
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Default Re: bad luck after thermostat change

I got one of those $65 rads on Ebay. Work just fine!!!

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Old 02-15-2009, 01:29 PM   #4
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Default Re: bad luck after thermostat change

I'm reading this in preparation to change the thermostat on my SL1... and this is scary.
If you read this:
http://www.saturnfans.com/photos/sho.../size/big/cat/
it mentions there's a bypass valve to prevent sudden increases in pressure when the thermostat opens. I wonder if yours was not working correctly and there WAS a sudden increase in pressure. If that's the case, your new radiator will also be subjected to high stresses.

Now... if I could find a way to test the bypass valve...

...
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Old 02-15-2009, 01:59 PM   #5
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Default Re: bad luck after thermostat change

Quote:
Originally Posted by jarl View Post
I'm reading this in preparation to change the thermostat on my SL1... and this is scary.......
Isn't that why its recommended to work on cooling systems when the engine's cold? There are no bypass valves with thermostats. You must be thinking of something else entirely.

There's nothing scary to cooling systems; every cooling system operates under some pressure to raise the boiling point higher than normal otherwise all of our cooling systems simply overheats so pressurizing them and using anti-freeze allows a higher boiling point before coolant boils out. Instead of boiling water@212F, coolant allows boiling to around 230F while pressurizing raises boilng to 250F-260F. Some reading about cooling systems may help you to understand why things work a certain way and lessen fears about what can occur. Your basic "for adults only" material for those willing to work under the hood. The pressure just forces the boiling point higher, that's all. Every cooling system also circulates coolant constantly through the heater core now so there's virtually no way to blow a cooling system except for poor/lazy maintenance. About the only way to do this now is for some dimbulb not noticing the water pump turning via a broken serpentine belt; the battery light would come on, the temperature gauge would peg over to the RED side, and if there's power steering - a stiff wheel harder to turn. Heat, cold, vibration, chemicals, and UV exposure acts on plastic in one way or another that ultimately weakens radiator side tanks to crack. Read the past threads about them failing in the same area.

The scary part of all this is not knowing when HOT coolant sprays out and scalds unprotected skin. Imagine what HOT coolant would do to unprotected eyes. Education is the best way to being aware of potential dangers otherwise another dimbulb is borne with a horror story or two to tell unless too embarrassed to speak out.

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Old 02-15-2009, 02:16 PM   #6
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Happy Re: bad luck after thermostat change

Quote:
Originally Posted by kaptnjack View Post
I am in the process of saving/restoring a recent SL2 buy.

The temps were running low and it needed a thermostat. I R&R'd the stat with little to no problems. Refilled with coolant and started her up and let ldle up to temp...all was sweet and temps hit the halfway mark. Checked out the fan controller circuit and it kicked on perfectly.

Went for a little test drive around the block about 2 miles and when I got home and raised the hood the %@*& radiator had split on the driver side between the trans line fitting up to the radiator mount.

I can only guess the added pressure from the increased temp after several hundred miles running well below spec temps split that puppy.

So now I am searching for a rad. I can pull a JY rad for about $45 but looks like the ebay rad mentioned in other posts ($65 shipped) makes as much sense as anything. It seems all rads have a high failure rate no matter where they are bought, the brand or the price.

94 SL2

Any thoughts?

Im sorry that happened, But the SAME thing happened to me also, change out the coolant, and T-stat, filled it up, and in about 18 miles, got a crack on the rad, in the same spot as you.. Oh yeah, rockauto, is a decent place for rads.

...
Current:
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1995 Eagle Vision 3.5L TSI 117K
Past:
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94 SL2 125K miles Diff Pin Blew!
94 SL1 Sold @134K.

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Old 02-15-2009, 02:25 PM   #7
DonP
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Default Re: bad luck after thermostat change

A working T-stat will allow the coolant temperature to reach normal operating temperature, and pressure. This can cause a marginal radiator end tank to split a bit earlier than it would if it did not reach normal temperature. zThe t-stat did not cause the underlying problem, it just brought it to light a bit earlier than it would have otherwise.

This is a problem with ALL Saturn S-car radiators, so a JY pull may well have the same issue, the only question is how much of its useful life has already been used up before you pulled it. If the JY pull is $44 plus the effort to pull it, it makes a new radiator with full remaining life much more attractive doesn't it?

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Old 02-15-2009, 03:24 PM   #8
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Default Re: bad luck after thermostat change

thanks for all the repilies and the added info and scans.

I agree with all the above....I have read the forum thoroughly on this and other topics during this save and was ready for "surprise" rad tank failures.

I agree the stat change didnt actually cause the failure but just magnified an underlying future problem to the point of immediate failure.

I have decided that new is the way to go as well but I am going to check monday mornin on a couple 2001 rads here locally in yards

as far as the pressure valve...thats a new one on me but the scan definetly refers to one. Also says dexcool so I assume that is second gen and newer?

thanks

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Old 02-15-2009, 03:26 PM   #9
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Default Re: bad luck after thermostat change

Quote:
Originally Posted by fdryer View Post
Isn't that why its recommended to work on cooling systems when the engine's cold? There are no bypass valves with thermostats. You must be thinking of something else entirely.
From the image:
"A thermostat by-pass valve controls return coolant flow through the cylinder block and dampens sudden coolant pressure surges by venting coolant back to the water pump suction side"

It makes sense to have a bypass of some kind... with centrifugal pumps, the output is nil if you prevent fluid from entering the pump, but allow just a bit of fluid in and the pressure will go up rather quickly. To put it in other words: when the thermostat opens, the pressure will go up instantaneously to big numbers... probably big enough to split a radiator.

(Edit: on richpin's video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DrCSJpbDCiI , at 2:10 you can see a small hole on the thermostat housing. Could that be the bypass?)

Now the scary part: you have a car that's working -albeit so-so - and decide to fix it by replacing the thermostat ($15). But you end up paying the thermostat+towing+radiator... that's scary.

JR

...
//*********************************

'99 SL1
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100K miles

Last edited by jarl; 02-15-2009 at 03:38 PM.. Reason: New info added

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Old 02-15-2009, 03:48 PM   #10
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Default Re: bad luck after thermostat change

thinking about the rad crack at the tranny lines a little more.....

I read on another thread about the FSM saying to bend the tranny line 30o to line up the fitting and looking at mine that looks to be about right.

I wonder if splicing in a small piece of hose into the line right at the tank would act as a shock/stress absorber and prolong tank life? Would a piece of rubber fuel line work? Is their too much line pressure from the tranny to allow this splice? Is it worth the trouble?

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Old 02-15-2009, 03:51 PM   #11
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Default Re: bad luck after thermostat change

To quote an old saying, "much ado about nothing", as the little bleed hole allows bleeding coolant, not pressure as you may be overimagining. Coolant is always circulating through the heater coil and never allows instantaneous pressure to build up as you may be imagining. Since the engine warms up so does the coolant and pressure, building up gradually. The constantly running water pump constantly moves coolant around even if the thermostat is closed as the heater is not separate from the cooling system but a branch of it. Leave off the reservoir cap and watch the coolant flow. Coolant flow. The system is designed to purge itself of any air in the system as seeing coolant move in and out of the reservoir is one way to see that coolant is moving around all the time despite your fears of explosions.

Explosions with hot water systems is a real danger if you were to consider that some city systems use extremely HOT high pressure steam systems where steam temperatures are 600F, enough to cut a person in half and never know what happened.

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Old 02-15-2009, 04:15 PM   #12
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Default Re: bad luck after thermostat change

Quote:
Originally Posted by fdryer View Post
...The system is designed to purge itself of any air in the system as seeing coolant move in and out of the reservoir is one way to see that coolant is moving around all the time despite your fears of explosions...
You are taking all my statements the wrong way. I don't fear an explosion... I fear spending 10 times more money than I expected to invest. The pressure build up from the temperature raising is not what I'm talking about, but the increase in pressure due to the fluid moving around.

All I'd like to get is an explanation to the bursting radiators before it happens to me. I don't think the closing of the thermostat is causing the problem, but the opening of it after being close. I might be wrong, but until I have a better explanation to the problem that bypass valve is a strong candidate.

...
//*********************************

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Old 02-15-2009, 04:50 PM   #13
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Default Re: bad luck after thermostat change

Search for the Saturn cooling system around here. It seems that you're not familiar with vehicle cooling systems in general. Pumps don't create pressure, they circulate coolant. Coolant pressure is a direct result of coolant heating up and the reservoir cap restraining the pressure build-up to approximately 15-20psi before the relief valve vents higher pressures. Radiators break from age as the plastic side tanks cracks, not from any water pump pressure but from heat, cold, vibration, transmission lines angled incorrectly leading to stress around the fittings, etc..

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Old 02-15-2009, 04:55 PM   #14
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Default Re: bad luck after thermostat change

eBay is the best way. I bought some time on my old SL1 by using a ton of JB Weld on all the splits on the radiator until my new one came in. The JB weld stopped all the leaks until my new radiator came in, but that stuff by no means is a good long term fix.

I only did it because the car was my only means of getting around, so I patched it up and checked the coolant anytime I drove it.

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Old 02-15-2009, 05:01 PM   #15
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Default Re: bad luck after thermostat change

Quote:
Originally Posted by fdryer View Post
Radiators break from age as the plastic side tanks cracks, not from any water pump pressure but from heat, cold, vibration, transmission lines angled incorrectly leading to stress around the fittings, etc..
Yep... but I'm afraid the radiators don't age that much between thermostat changes The fact is there's something associated with changing the thermostat that makes the defects in the radiator to surface in a catastrophic manner. The overall pressure in the system must be the same with or without thermostat... except for the fluid moving around or not: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dynamic_pressure

...
//*********************************

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Old 02-15-2009, 05:20 PM   #16
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Default Re: bad luck after thermostat change

Quote:
Originally Posted by DonP View Post
A working T-stat will allow the coolant temperature to reach normal operating temperature, and pressure. This can cause a marginal radiator end tank to split a bit earlier than it would if it did not reach normal temperature. The t-stat did not cause the underlying problem, it just brought it to light a bit earlier than it would have otherwise.

This is a problem with ALL Saturn S-car radiators, so a JY pull may well have the same issue, the only question is how much of its useful life has already been used up before you pulled it. If the JY pull is $44 plus the effort to pull it, it makes a new radiator with full remaining life much more attractive doesn't it?
Well, here's another take on the same theme..................

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Old 02-15-2009, 06:29 PM   #17
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Default Re: bad luck after thermostat change

Quote:
but I'm afraid the radiators don't age that much between thermostat changes
No, but new t-stats replacing failed units do change the temperature and pressure of the system. Plastic becomes a bit softer and weaker at higher temperatures, and in a close system (especially one with air in it) higher temperature means higher pressure. The physics of it says that the difference between cold engine and warmed-up engine pressure will be more pronounced in winter up to the point the pressure cap actually vents.

The pump is a centrifugal vane pump, kind of like blower or fan, and will not build up the kind of pressures u get from an oil pump. (It is not a positive displacement pump like the oil pump.) In fact, the pressure is limited to about 15 PSI by the reservoir cap, although points of higher dynamic pressure will exist, mainly close to the pump outlet.

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Old 02-15-2009, 07:26 PM   #18
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Default Re: bad luck after thermostat change

Usually what happens that cracks the radiator at the inlet fitting is thermal stress caused by the rapid temperature change. The plastic becomes brittle with age and this aging (the magic 10 year period) is what sets up the failure. If the thermostat has failed open over time then the radiator is heated up with the rest of the system. but. If the thermostat functions as designed then the radiator undergoes a step change in temperature from ambient to 190+ degrees. In an aged embrittled condition it may crack. The system pressure usually does not exceed 4 or 5 psi when at equilibrium temperature as the coolant boiling point is 239F or so and the fan is on at 226F or a bit less. The Saturn coolant loop is 2 parallel loops and a continuous vent off of the high point (intake manifold) back to the reservoir. The radiator loop flow is controlled by the thermostat and the heater loop is either returned to the pump suction and the head or the pump suction depending on temperature.

Replacing a defective thermostat can be the straw that breaks the camels(radiator) back. This is a failure that is waiting to happen and my choice of the time and place would be the driveway.

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Old 02-15-2009, 08:07 PM   #19
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Default Re: bad luck after thermostat change

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I got one of those $65 rads on Ebay. Work just fine!!!
In contrast, I gave about $85 shipped almost 2 years ago for a radiator from carpartswarehouse off ebay. Right away when I received it I thought it looked cheap and it was obvious that quality was compromised for price. The plastic they used was that glossy brittle stuff and I had to reuse the clip-nuts from my old radiator. Sure enough, not even 3 months later it failed at the driver side tranny cooler seam like they all do.

I prolly could've fought for a replacement, but I just bit the bullet and spent $135 for a Ready-Aire (they now carry Transpro, also a good quality vendor) radiator from AutoZone and been happy ever since. It also has a better no-frills draincock that screws out rather than the failure-prone O.E. plastic design with the metal pin. It is worth the extra money since you won't have to pay for return shipping if you need to swap it out and most AutoZone locations carry this in stock. It comes with a lifetime warranty that's valid at any AutoZone nationwide without a receipt as long as you can remember the phone number you stored your warranty under. Try getting that from ebay.

I'm not saying that all the radiators on ebay are junk. I'm just saying that if/ when it does fail that getting a replacement will likely be a pain in your butt and my end up costing you more in the long run. Make sure you know what their warranty/return policies are before you buy. I live in Iowa so I could almost bank on 2 weeks of downtime by the time I send it back, how long it takes for them to process my return, and when they decide to send me another one (also likely at my expense).

With regards to the pressure question. I don't know about the science involved, but I believe that more pressure is created after a warm vehicle is parked and shut off. The coolant is no longer circulating and as a result the coolant in the engine becomes much hotter than the coolant that is not, creating a buildup of pressure that cannot be sufficiently relieved by the cap because the coolant is no longer being circulated and that part of the radiator must be the weakest point. I believe this because of the similar manner in which my two Saturn radiators failured. The first was on a previously owned 1995 SC2 auto and the second with my current SC2. Both radiators cracked after sitting for less than 15 minutes.

...
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2007 Chevy Equinox LT 190K miles

Last edited by ruley73; 02-15-2009 at 08:12 PM..

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Old 02-15-2009, 11:02 PM   #20
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Default Re: bad luck after thermostat change

this is a very good discussion,,,,thank you.

Oldnuc....your sentiments and mine coincide here...."my choice of the time and place (for a failure) would be the driveway."

exactly!

Last edited by kaptnjack; 02-15-2009 at 11:15 PM..

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