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Old 04-28-2009, 01:07 PM   #1
jonnycube
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1997 SL2
Default Problems with 97 SL2

Here's my story: I've had my 97 SL2 (~166,000 miles) for a few years and though I've changed its oil regularly, I don't know anything about cars and have not been otherwise maintaining it. When something serious happens, I take it to the garage and they charge me a few hundred dollars to replace something, eg brakes, alternator.

In the past week or so I've become interested in learning about cars. I want to take care of my Saturn and make it last. Just reading through this forum has been an amazing help.

I thought that writing seperate posts about each issue my car has might get them more individual attention, but I've decided to just lay it all out and see what you guys think.

My car runs fine, but it feels sluggish. I can really tell when I contrast it with my wife's 95 SC2 - hers has a lot more pickup. Since reading this forum I've replaced the ECTS, cleaned the throttle body, changed the transmission fluid, and replaced the fuel filter (Purolater).

Since replacing the ECTS my car has been running hotter - instead of 3/8 on the gauge it's more like 7/16, and when I idle for a while, it goes over 1/2.

The spark plug hole on the left of the engine has a lot of oil in it. When I pull out the spark plug wire, it is dripping. I can wipe if off and put it back, and it will come out dripping again. Presumably my valve cover is leaking and I need to replace the gasket. I've tried sealing it off with Permatax but apparently it hasn't worked. How would this affect the way my car runs?

On removing the spark plugs I learned that they are Bosch. I've read enough posts to know that those need to go. Would something like that make a significant difference in the way my car runs?

It's often hard to get the shifter in gear. I have to push hard sometimes, especially with first.

Sometimes when the car idles in first gear, the car shakes pretty hard. It lasts a couple seconds and then stops. If I shift into neutral it immediately stops.

These are the major things. The oil in the spark plug hole particularly worries me. Are there any general things I can do to my long-neglected car to make it run better?

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Old 04-28-2009, 03:41 PM   #2
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1997 SL2
Default Re: Problems with 97 SL2

Quote:
Originally Posted by jonnycube View Post
Since replacing the ECTS my car has been running hotter - instead of 3/8 on the gauge it's more like 7/16, and when I idle for a while, it goes over 1/2.
Even though I haven't replaced the ECTS (yet) on my Saturn, that sounds normal for when it idles and for city driving in general (unless of course you're running the heater or A/C.)

Quote:
Originally Posted by jonnycube View Post
On removing the spark plugs I learned that they are Bosch. I've read enough posts to know that those need to go. Would something like that make a significant difference in the way my car runs?
I've heard nothing but trouble from bosch and platinum, however on my car I managed to get ~32.5mpg when I go on long trips (and yes this is using Bosch platinums.) Just to be sure, after the baseball season's over, I'm gonna change em out to something else.

IIRC you're supposed to change out the spark plugs after 12,000 miles or so.

As to the other parts of your post, I personally have no idea what's going on, maybe someone (like Madpogue or OldNuc or something) can help you there.

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Old 04-28-2009, 03:52 PM   #3
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1998 SC2
Default Re: Problems with 97 SL2

The 95 and 97 will have a different indication for the same temperature. 3/8 to 7/16 is fine for the 97 and the fan should come on at about 9/16. let it sit and idle till the fan does come on and verify this. The 95 will indicate 1/2 for normal and the fan will come on at 3/4.

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Old 04-28-2009, 04:39 PM   #4
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Default Re: Problems with 97 SL2

New valve cover.

New plugs. Your old ones are fouled with our. NGK Copper.

New top motor mount. Check yours folllowing Richpins video in the how-to library.

Clean your plug wires as yours now have oil in then.

Hard into first is suspect of worn pressure plate fingers. At red lights or stand still, keep the car in neutral with foot OFF the clutch pedal.

Still not satisfied:
Remove Front o2 sensor and drive the car. See if the "pep" is back. If yes, then a clogged cat is possible.

...
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Last edited by rc1488; 04-28-2009 at 04:44 PM..

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Old 04-28-2009, 04:43 PM   #5
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1997 SL2
1995 SC2
Default Re: Problems with 97 SL2

Quote:
Originally Posted by adventureoflink View Post

IIRC you're supposed to change out the spark plugs after 12,000 miles or so.
.
Wayy to early.

And this is a double post :P

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Old 04-28-2009, 09:12 PM   #6
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1997 SL2
Default Re: Problems with 97 SL2

Since oil + spark plug = fouled plug and wires, I should fix the leak before replacing plugs and wires. Does a new valve cover come with a gasket? Do I need to take any other precautions when installing a new cover or should that seal the leak? Is it necessary to buy a brand new cover, and if so, from where?

First I'll stop the leak, then I'll buy NGKs and clean/replace the spark plug wires.

Maybe I'm exposing my ignorance here, but how can a motor mount affect performance? I thought it was just a support.

I'll try playing with the O2 sensor in the morning. Thanks for the advice, and I'll let you know how it goes.

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Old 04-28-2009, 09:28 PM   #7
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1995 SC2
Default Re: Problems with 97 SL2

Quote:
Originally Posted by jonnycube View Post

Sometimes when the car idles in first gear, the car shakes pretty hard. It lasts a couple seconds and then stops. If I shift into neutral it immediately stops.
The motor mount test was for this ^^^^^

No just buy the valve cover gasket. No need for a new valve cover. They come pre formed, all you need to do is put the new gasket on the cover, and tighten the cover down in Sequence (i can post it up for you if you cant find it here).

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Old 04-28-2009, 09:47 PM   #8
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1997 SL2
Default Re: Problems with 97 SL2

Sorry, I must have misunderstood you. I thought you meant I needed a whole new valve cover.

Tomorrow I will buy a new valve cover gasket. Do I need a torque wrench to put the valve cover back on properly? Any advice on getting the oil out of the plug hole?

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Old 04-28-2009, 10:28 PM   #9
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1998 SC2
Default Re: Problems with 97 SL2

Yes, you need a decent torque wrench. The torque sopec for teh black plastic cover bolts is 89in-lb and I would suggest setting teh wrench for 85in-lb. A 1/4" drive torque wrench calibrated in inch-lb is what you need. If you have 11 bolts in your cover then this is the tightening pattern that you use.
9 5 6 10
3 1 2
8 4 7 11
exhaust

Soak as much oil as you can up with a paper towel and then remove the plugs. What ends up in the engine will burn. Clean out the wells with the plugs out and then crank the engine with the plugs still out and the PCM-B fuse removed. The fuse will shut off the spark and fuel and its located in the engine compartment fuse box and the location is shown in the cover. Use the SEARCH function above and select advanced search and search S-Series Tech and How-To Library only for <cover gasket> and you will find detailed instructions on how to do this job.

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Old 04-28-2009, 11:20 PM   #10
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1997 SL2
1995 SC2
Default Re: Problems with 97 SL2

+1 to the above. Use a torque wrench since you do seem new and may not have an idea of what "snug" means (No Offense )

However I disagree with removing the PCM B Fuse. Totally not needed. Just crank the engine over at Wide Open Throttle (WOT) with a rag over the cylinders to catch any excess oil.

Operation should take all of 15 minutes tops.

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Old 04-28-2009, 11:26 PM   #11
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Default Re: Problems with 97 SL2

WOT does not kill the spark and with the plugs out you can burn a hole in a boot. It is not good to run the ignition without plugs as it can burn right through the boots to arc across the towers. That energy has to go somewhere.

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Old 04-29-2009, 06:49 AM   #12
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1997 SL2
Default Re: Problems with 97 SL2

I have been reading a lot of old posts about properly sealing valve covers. Today I'll hunt down the appropriate torque wrench and a FelPro gasket, as well as some of that Hylomar Universal Blue. I'll make sure the valve cover isn't warped before I begin by setting it on a flat surface. If I really have to wait 24 hours for the cover to set, I can't begin until tomorrow evening at the earliest.

I'm going to open myself wide up to mockery now and ask, in reference to the tightening pattern, which side of the engine is the intake and which is the exhaust?

Cranking the engine with the PCM-B fuse removed sounds like a great tip, but I'm not sure what it will accomplish, particularly if there is no fuel or spark. Is it supposed to clean out the rest of the oil? How long should I crank it?

Once a Saturn valve cover is removed, replacing it properly sounds like such a specific job that I can't imagine anyone getting it right without first seeking out specific knowledge on the subject. For example, if a mechanic at my garage ever once took the cover off, is he going to use the right tighening pattern, the right torque specs? Is he going to put some RTV on the head and timing cover surface? It seems like the origin of my leak could be nothing more than a mechanic not realizing how picky Saturn valve covers are.

How do you guys think these oily Bosch plantinums have been affecting the way my car runs? Should I expect a noticeable difference once everything is cleaned up and I get some sparkling new NGK coppers?

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Old 04-29-2009, 08:31 AM   #13
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1998 SC2
Default Re: Problems with 97 SL2

Quote:
Originally Posted by jonnycube View Post
I have been reading a lot of old posts about properly sealing valve covers. Today I'll hunt down the appropriate torque wrench and a FelPro gasket, as well as some of that Hylomar Universal Blue. I'll make sure the valve cover isn't warped before I begin by setting it on a flat surface. If I really have to wait 24 hours for the cover to set, I can't begin until tomorrow evening at the earliest.
If you use the Hylomar its good to go as soon as the last bolt is torqued. The Hylomar is applied and it will flash off almost immediately as you only want a finger smear on the head and timing cover surface. The inch long ribbon that is thicker at the head timing cover joint will have to set for about 30 minutes before placing the cover. You can use either Hylomar or RTV at the head-timing cover joint. The Hylomar is much different than RTV in how you apply it. The TDS is attached,

Quote:
Originally Posted by jonnycube View Post
I'm going to open myself wide up to mockery now and ask, in reference to the tightening pattern, which side of the engine is the intake and which is the exhaust?
If you don't ask, you never learn. The exhaust is the side that faces you when you are at the front of the car. Has the exhaust manifold and exhaust pipe. The intake is up against the firewall and has the injectors, throttle body, and air intake piping. The plugs are down the center and are numbered from the engines front which is to your left when facing the car or on the car's right(passenger) side. The first plug is #1 etc.

Quote:
Originally Posted by jonnycube View Post
Cranking the engine with the PCM-B fuse removed sounds like a great tip, but I'm not sure what it will accomplish, particularly if there is no fuel or spark. Is it supposed to clean out the rest of the oil? How long should I crank it?
The reason to crank the engine with all of the plugs out after draining any leftover oilinto the cylinders is to eject the oil and clear it back out of the cylinders. That is why you spread a rag over the open plug holes, all of them. teh oil will be ejected with some violence as the engine cranks. You crank it about 2 complete revolutions, 3 to 5 seconds is plenty. As all you are doing is clearing out the cylinders you do not need any fuel or spark so by removing the fuse(PCM-B) you shutdown the PCM and it will not run the fuel or spark. You can accomplish the same thing by removing the battery cable but that looses the radio and clock presets and eventually fouls up the battery connection.

Quote:
Originally Posted by jonnycube View Post
Once a Saturn valve cover is removed, replacing it properly sounds like such a specific job that I can't imagine anyone getting it right without first seeking out specific knowledge on the subject. For example, if a mechanic at my garage ever once took the cover off, is he going to use the right tighening pattern, the right torque specs? Is he going to put some RTV on the head and timing cover surface? It seems like the origin of my leak could be nothing more than a mechanic not realizing how picky Saturn valve covers are.
Professional mechanics have acquired the skill to change a valve cover without causing leaks. But, the composite cover is tricky. The cover is held between the gasket and the insulators on the bolts. If you look closely you will see that the bolt has a washer with a shoulder that will limit the final height of the assembly when installed. This controls the compression of the insulator and gasket. All you are torquing is the bolt into the washer to hold the washer against the head. The gasket compression is determined by the height of the washer and the thickness of the components. This is not the way most gaskets are designed.


Quote:
Originally Posted by jonnycube View Post
How do you guys think these oily Bosch plantinums have been affecting the way my car runs? Should I expect a noticeable difference once everything is cleaned up and I get some sparkling new NGK coppers?
In a word YES, pitch the Bosch plugs and get the NGK plugs, BKR5ESA-11 for your car. Replace the oil soaked plug wires also.



You can use acetone to clean the head and cover surfaces and the seal will be enhanced. Absolute cleanliness is critical to a good seal with these preformed gaskets. No oil or oil film. Acetone is about all that is left for cleaning that is not some form of petroleum.

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Old 04-29-2009, 10:35 AM   #14
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Default Re: Problems with 97 SL2

Quote:
Originally Posted by OldNuc View Post
WOT does not kill the spark and with the plugs out you can burn a hole in a boot. It is not good to run the ignition without plugs as it can burn right through the boots to arc across the towers. That energy has to go somewhere.
Never had Any issues with any one of my saturns Id expect this for continous cranking but not a 2 second crank.

And removing the battery cable wont let the car crank at all so you cant accomplish any thing

OP: As Old Nuc said earlier there should be a write up in the How-to Library. Because you seem new to this, I'd follow it and torque the bolts in order as it says. Its not a hard job at all.

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Old 04-29-2009, 01:14 PM   #15
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1997 SL2
Default Re: Problems with 97 SL2

I am now the proud owner of:

A new FelPro valve cover gasket
NGK spark plugs
Acetone
Brushes
Hylomar Universal Blue sealing compound

A 1/4 in. drive torque wrench can not be had anywhere for love or money. I tried Sears, Pep Boys, Advance Auto Parts, Home Depot, Harbor Freight, Ace Hardware, and Napa. I finally broke down and bought it on Amazon, which is disappointing because it means I probably can't do the work until next week (I wasn't going to pay $20 for next-day delivery.)

I cranked the engine with the plugs out and the PCM-B fuse removed. The rags over the plug holes moved a bit, but they were spotless when I took them off. Oh, and although the first plug hole has the most oil, there is oil in all of them, and each plug was covered when I removed them. I got out as much oil as I can, and once I am convinced that I have successfully sealed the cover, I'll put in the NGKs and some new wires.

I need to get the right sized box wrench before I can try driving without the front oxygen sensor and determine whether the exhaust is blocked. I'll probably do that tomorrow. Is the idea that, with the sensor removed, exhaust can go right out the front of the engine, so it doesn't have to work as hard?

According to Richpin's test, my top motor mount is fine. I had it replaced around 100,000 miles so that makes sense.

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Old 04-29-2009, 01:21 PM   #16
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1996 SW2
Default Re: Problems with 97 SL2

Quote:
Originally Posted by jonnycube View Post
I need to get the right sized box wrench before I can try driving without the front oxygen sensor and determine whether the exhaust is blocked. I'll probably do that tomorrow. Is the idea that, with the sensor removed, exhaust can go right out the front of the engine, so it doesn't have to work as hard?
Correct. Think "tracheotomy".

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Old 04-29-2009, 01:24 PM   #17
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Default Re: Problems with 97 SL2

Yes, removing the front O2 allows the engine to properly breathe. Be very careful with the O2 sensor while its out of the system. They contaminate easily. It is good you have a decent torque wrench on the way. Aluminum is very unforgiving of overtightened bolts.

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Old 04-30-2009, 11:16 AM   #18
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Default Re: Problems with 97 SL2

I got my box wrench today and drove around without the O2 sensor. Boy was it noisy. Is it legal to drive like that? Anyway, I noticed no difference in the way the car drove. Does that rule out the possibility of my exhaust system being blocked?

rc1488, when you advise me to keep my foot off the clutch when the car is stopped, is that a way of dealing with worn pressure plate fingers, or is that what I should be doing all the time? I've driven a manual all my life and when I'm stopped at a light, I'm typically depressing the clutch - I don't shift to neutral. Is that bad?

Once I successfully seal off my valve cover, should I be afraid of opening it again? Will I have to repeat the process of cleaning and applying sealer each time?

I passed my emissions test today. Hooray!

My torque wrench is on it's way from Nevada...

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Old 04-30-2009, 11:48 AM   #19
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Default Re: Problems with 97 SL2

Quote:
Originally Posted by jonnycube View Post
I got my box wrench today and drove around without the O2 sensor. Boy was it noisy. Is it legal to drive like that? Anyway, I noticed no difference in the way the car drove. Does that rule out the possibility of my exhaust system being blocked?
Yes, the exhaust system is functioning fine.

Quote:
Originally Posted by jonnycube View Post
rc1488, when you advise me to keep my foot off the clutch when the car is stopped, is that a way of dealing with worn pressure plate fingers, or is that what I should be doing all the time? I've driven a manual all my life and when I'm stopped at a light, I'm typically depressing the clutch - I don't shift to neutral. Is that bad?
The car is supposed to be in neutral with your foot off the clutch when stopped at a light. Holding the clutch disengaged is dangerous. Contemplate what will happen if the "idiot in training" behind you bumps your bumper right before the 18 wheeler passes through the intersection at 30mph. Not only that it wears the engine thrust bearing and clutch fingers.

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Once I successfully seal off my valve cover, should I be afraid of opening it again? Will I have to repeat the process of cleaning and applying sealer each time?
Usually there is no reason to be periodically removing the cam cover. Why would you want to be peeking in there?

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My torque wrench is on it's way from Nevada...
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Old 04-30-2009, 12:30 PM   #20
jonnycube
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1997 SL2
Default Re: Problems with 97 SL2

If holding the clutch in wears things out, then it's not surprising that my car occasionally shakes when it's sitting like that. I don't know why it shakes, but I'm sure I've worn something down.

As to the safety issue, I also have the brake on when I'm stopped at a light, so it doesn't seem likely that the crazy guy behind me will knock me too far into the intersection. Anyway, don't the wheels turn when it's in neutral, as well as when the clutch is in?

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