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Old 03-03-2021, 07:20 AM   #1
CM400T
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2001 SL2
2002 SL2
Wrench Cooling system problem?

Over the last several years, my 01 Saturn seems to have changed.

In winter, the heater is not as hot and the temperature needle takes longer to get up to its normal position (one width of the needle above 3/8). Many times it will never get up to normal position unless I idle when I get to my destination.

Also, the temperature needle seems to be more eager to rise above the normal position even before the heat of summer (assume no A/C usage).

I viewed the live data with a code scanner on my way to work and back home again last night. On a cold car (sitting for 10 hours around 32F), I think IAT was 32F and ECTS was 37, at 5 AM, before starting the car. When driving (up to 35-40 MPH), the ECTS never really got over 115F (I'm sorry I don't have a "baseline" to know if this is unusual or wrong).

Can my thermostat go out of adjustment over time? Does the ECTS wear out? Both have analog parts, so they could, right?

EDIT: My 2001 has the original thermostat but the ECTS was replaced once, probably around 2006-2008. My other SL2 has always been much faster to warm up since I bought it used in 2015 (the timing chain cover repair, in thread #266349, is still underway at the time of this writing).

Is there anything else I might try?

Last edited by CM400T; 03-03-2021 at 07:29 AM.
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Old 03-03-2021, 08:54 AM   #2
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Default Re: Cooling system problem?

Replace the worn out t-stat. You should be seeing rising temps as soon as you start driving, reaching 185F-195F after a mile or so with plenty of heat.
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Old 03-03-2021, 09:21 AM   #3
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Default Re: Cooling system problem?

Yes the thermostat is the likely suspect here. They do wear over time and they fail open. It should stay closed until about 188 degrees at which time it cracks open. At 195 it will be fully open. There is also a cooler thermostat out there that is 185/192; usually installed for warmer climates.

With a failed thermostat the engine is not able to get to operating temperature when moving or when the radiator fan is on as there is too much cooling going on with flow through the radiator.

You can test for a failed thermostat. From a cold engine start put your hand on the upper radiator hose close to the radiator. It should not get warm in the first couple minutes as there should be no coolant flowing into the radiator. If it gets warm then you've proven that your thermostat has failed.

The recommended replacement is a Stant 14279 which re-uses the OEM housing. If your thermostat has been replaced with an aftermarket thermostat with housing at some point then the OEM style will not work. The aftermarket housing usually has a stamping on it like MotoRad signifying it's not OEM. The OEM does not have a manufacture stamp.

If you've replaced the ECTC with a brass tipped version then it's not likely the problem. The original resin tipped sensor was prone to cracking. If the original had cracked and coolant seeped through then the connector may have been compromised. If the connector was replaced or needs replacing it is recommended to solder and shrink tube the splice. Crimp connectors are a suspect point of failure.
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Old 03-12-2021, 10:50 AM   #4
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Default Re: Cooling system problem?

Yes- change out the T-Stat. While you are changing that... it's also good to check the Water Pump, and clean out/flush out the coolant tank. Sometimes the float device that is in the coolant tank can get stuck. You should hear a rattle when it's been cleaned/flushed out. A stuck float in the Coolant Tank can also cause issues with the Temp Gauge showing a wrong/slow temp. Especially if you have already changed out the ECTS.


I would also check the Heater Core- which is under the middle front of the car underneath the Glove box, and make sure it is not clogged up...they can get clogged up over time as well, causing slow times to get the car warmed up and slow heat...


Do the simple fixes first. T-Stat, Coolant Tank cleaning, Water Pump, Heater Core, and then Radiator... from a cost perspective...
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Old 03-14-2021, 04:29 AM   #5
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Happy Re: Cooling system problem?

I can't thank you all enough for your kind advice.

I bought the Motorrad thermostat because it was in stock at the auto parts place. (Since I have two Saturns, I'll keep the assembly-line housing and put the Stant in it in case the either Saturn needs it later.)

I replaced the ECTS (it was inexpensive) even though it was already changed once since I bought the car new. (The ECTS on my 83 Cutlass Ciera with the 2.5 "Iron Duke" motor seems to have gone out of calibration, since there was almost a "meltdown" years ago in downtown Cincinnati during the afternoon rush hour.)

I replaced the radiator with a new GM/Delco unit I had in my shed. (When I changed the coolant 5 years ago, I twisted the drain plug as if it was a water faucet on the outside of my house. I should have replaced the radiator back then, but did not. This repair was overdue.)

Two days before the replacement, I drove 45-60 MPH on a divided highway around 30-35F and the coolant wouldn't go over 115F per the live data from my code scanner. Now I can drive the same divided highway with the outdoor temps around freezing and live data shows coolant between 188 and 195F. When the coolant first hit 190F on my test drive, I thought there was a malfunction and almost drove right back home. The heater output is hot, and the temperature needle is higher than it has been in years, as high as when the car was new.

Also, this seems to fix the high idle condition (typically 1600 RPM) I had for 2-3 months before I started this thread. The engine computer was trying to warm the engine, but of course it never warmed up. I can see an air gap in the old thermostat even at 30 degrees F.

The MPG appears to have improved nicely, judging by the two fill-ups since the repairs. Thanks guys!
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Old 03-14-2021, 07:19 AM   #6
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Default Re: Cooling system problem?

Glad to see the easy fixes were the culprit of the issues.

Just curious, but was the old thermostat the original? Our from the factory thermostat lasted a long time. And if it was the original, did you by chance take a look at the markings?


I stuck a Motorad in the SL1 the last time, and had no issues at all with it.
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Old 03-21-2021, 03:21 AM   #7
CM400T
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Happy Re: Cooling system problem?

Yes, the old thermostat was the original. On the metal "tab" that holds the thermostat in the housing I see "3/0" and "Made in Germany".

Years ago I had a high idle (3100 RPM) and an engine code because the intake manifold gasket failed (it was around July/August 2007 and the car had about 57,000 miles on it). The dealer said the water pump was weeping, so I had them replace that as well.

The dealer also gave me the option of replacing the thermostat, but someone told me that thermostats basically never fail unless the coolant was so low that the thermostat was bathed in steam. So I declined.

Now I realize that thermostats DO fail gradually, over time.
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Old 03-21-2021, 07:34 PM   #8
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Default Re: Cooling system problem?

Sounds like you still had an OE thermostat in there. No real surprise, as many of them lasted a long time. Most of them also had markings on the body that shows 85C, which was the temperature rating. As far as I've found they are the only thermostat type confirmed to have shipped in the cars.

Sadly, like many other things, the aftermarket units don't seem to last as long. But they are cheap and fairly easy to replace.
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