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Old 08-20-2010, 05:42 PM   #1
mjtolan
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1999 SW2
Default Cooling Fan Activation & Oil "burn"

I have a 1999 SW2 with 167k. Car runs absolutely perfect, though I only owned for the last 12k. Bought from original owner who did only ever need to do routine maintenance. If changed at 2500 miles, and driven mildly it doesnt use oil between changes. Other than bucket seats that cannot come close to upright, my only complaint is this possibly odd thing: if left at idle the cooling fan (radiator) will not kick on until the temp guage exceeds 50% (basically 51% of the way to "red"). Normal driving around temp is just past 25%. Once it gets to 50% with the fan coming on and off, there will be a faint oil burning smell. This goes away when car is driven, and thus far has only ever surfaced when at idle or driving mountain roads at high speeds. Two questions: (1) is it normal for the engine to get that hot before the fan should come on? I cannot say as my Nissans and Hondas always had the fan come on right away, anytime above 25%. And, (2) what would cause the oil smell when only at idle - most likely burning it, or perhaps causing a slight leak that falls on something and then burns?
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Old 08-20-2010, 06:34 PM   #2
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Default Re: Cooling Fan Activation & Oil "burn"

On a '99, normal operating temp is around 3/8. It's normal in some conditions (hot day, not moving) for things to heat up a bit more and the fan to kick on. It's always good to make sure the cooling system is properly maintained, so you might look into that, but it mostly sounds normal. Also be sure you are getting good temp readings, as the coolant temp sensors do tend to fail on these cars, but are cheap & easy to replace. As for the oil smell, look the engine over & make sure you don't have an oil leak.
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Old 08-20-2010, 11:14 PM   #3
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Default Re: Cooling Fan Activation & Oil "burn"

The first mark sounds a little low. My '97 is closer to 3/8 and when it dropped to 1/4 the mileage fell off. I replaced the thermostat and the mileage came back. Fan coming on at 1/2+ gauge sounds normal as well. Sounds like your oil doesn't like to get warm.
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Old 08-21-2010, 12:21 AM   #4
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Default Re: Cooling Fan Activation & Oil "burn"

Quote:
Originally Posted by mostly_gas View Post
The first mark sounds a little low. My '97 is closer to 3/8 and when it dropped to 1/4 the mileage fell off. I replaced the thermostat and the mileage came back. Fan coming on at 1/2+ gauge sounds normal as well. Sounds like your oil doesn't like to get warm.
It's more likely leaking slightly like a lot of cars do, maybe around the cam cover gasket, and when the fan comes on, it blows the smell around and into/outside the car.. Seen it before, definitely plausible.
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Old 08-21-2010, 01:51 PM   #5
Sky King
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Default Re: Cooling Fan Activation & Oil "burn"

Quote:
Originally Posted by mjtolan View Post
I have a 1999 SW2 with 167k. Car runs absolutely perfect, though I only owned for the last 12k. Bought from original owner who did only ever need to do routine maintenance. If changed at 2500 miles, and driven mildly it doesnt use oil between changes. Other than bucket seats that cannot come close to upright, my only complaint is this possibly odd thing: if left at idle the cooling fan (radiator) will not kick on until the temp guage exceeds 50% (basically 51% of the way to "red"). Normal driving around temp is just past 25%. Once it gets to 50% with the fan coming on and off, there will be a faint oil burning smell. This goes away when car is driven, and thus far has only ever surfaced when at idle or driving mountain roads at high speeds. Two questions: (1) is it normal for the engine to get that hot before the fan should come on? I cannot say as my Nissans and Hondas always had the fan come on right away, anytime above 25%. And, (2) what would cause the oil smell when only at idle - most likely burning it, or perhaps causing a slight leak that falls on something and then burns?
Your temp gauge is not marked with actual temps. The fan "ON" temp is approximately 221 deg F. Most people, including me, experience "normal" operating temps as indicated, while moving down the road, with the gauge showing a bit above the 1/4 mark or more but not above the half. While sitting in traffic, the gauge can, and normally will be well above half and possibly close to 3/4 when the fan turns on. As long is it does not get in the red, you are fine. All these statements are predicated on a properly operating cooling system and temp gauge. As others have posted, a defective coolant temp sensor will throw all this off. It is very easy to replace and should be a brass tip. IF you do remove it and find it to be a plastic tip, AND if it is cracked, also be sure to check the connector as well. If the sensor is cracked, they can leak through to the connector and corrode the connections which will also cause problems.

In any case, if the air conditioning system is working properly, the fan will come on anytime the air cond is turned on regardless of coolant temp.
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Last edited by Sky King; 08-21-2010 at 01:58 PM.
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Old 08-21-2010, 02:01 PM   #6
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Default Re: Cooling Fan Activation & Oil "burn"

I cut and pasted this from a post I made a couple of years ago. But if you are new to the "S" series cars, it may be helpful and may ease you mind in regards to what you see on your temp gauge.

In an attempt to provide information and help for "S" series car owner concerning the issues of coolant temperature indication and suspected overheating, I hope to offer some insite with this. This turned out to be longer than I expected but please bear with me. I believe it should answer many question that are commonly asked about this issue.

First, let me go over some cooling system basics.
The coolant in the car is generally a 50/50 mix of a form of glycol and water. This mix lowers the freezing temp of the water and also raises the boiling temp.

The system is comprised of several components that must work together to perform properly.

The radiator is a device that provides for the exchange of heat from the engine coolant to the air passing through it. If coolant flow through it is restricted by corrosion or deposits, or if clogged externally by leaves or other debris that restricts air flow, the radiator will not effectively remove the heat from the coolant.

The water pumps job is to circulate the coolant through the engine, heater core and radiator. The water pump can fail internally causing the coolant to not circulate. The coolant has to circulate from the engine through the radiator in order to be cooled.

The thermostat has the function to regulate the operating temperature of the engine and coolant. Engines make more efficient use of fuel when the engine is warmer. The OEM thermostat in an "S" car is 195 degrees F. Prior to reaching this temp, the thermostat is closed and the coolant circulation is kept within the engine. The coolant is not allowed to flow through the radiator. As the temp reaches the operating temp of the thermostat, it starts to open. The thermostat will modulate, (fluctuate) between open and closed, controlling the amount of coolant that is sent through the radiator in order to regulate the operating temp of the engine. If the thermostat fails closed, the coolant will remain trapped in the engine, unable to circulate through the radiator and will result in an overheat condition. If it fails open, the coolant will constantly flow through the radiator and can cause the engine to not reach optimum operating temperature.

It should be noted that the thermostat is NOT an electrical device. It has no control over the operation of the radiator cooling fan. Nor does it send or receive any signal from the vehicle's control computer, (ECM or PCM).

The radiator fan is an electric motor driven fan. It is commanded on by the ECM or PCM. The command signal controls a relay which in turn switches the actual current to the fan motor. Several different conditions will result in the fan being commanded on.
This fan air flow is equivelant to approximately 35 to 40 MPH of forward motion. If the car is in constant forward motion at or above this speed, the resulting air flow over the radiator should be sufficient to keep the coolant cool enough so as the fan will not come on unless commanded on for another reason such as the air conditioner being turned on.

The operation of the fan is commanded by two separate and parallel circumstances. Failure of one will not prevent the other from commanding the fan on. The two circumstances are cooant temp and air conditioner operation.

The coolant temp is purly derived from the ECTS. When coolant temp reaches 221 deg F, the ECM/PCM will command the fan on

Turning on the air conditioner will also cause the ECM/PCM to command the fan on providing the air conditioning system itself is operating properly. If there is a problem with the air conditioning system that prevents the compressor from operating, such as a low refrigerant, (freon) condition, the ECM/PCM will not command the fan on.

The ECTS, Engine Coolant Temp Sensor. This device is key to many operating parameters of the engine. Many things vary based on engine temp. On "S" cars up through 1995, there are two sensors. One is used to send a signal to the temp gauge on your dashboard. This signal goes nowhere else and the temp gauge operation is driven by this one sensor only and receives no signal from the ECM/PCM. The second sensor sends its data to the ECM/PMC to be used to control functions and parameters that are temp dependent. This includes the radiator fan.

From 1996 and later, there is only one of these sensors for coolant temp. It provides the ECM/PCM the temp signal which in turn drives the temp gauge. This same part number sensor is used also for the Intake Air Temp (IAT) and the Transaxle Fluid Temp (TFT). (It should be noted that being the same part number does not mean that there is only ONE sensor doing three jobs, there are three separate sensors in three different locations doing these jobs. It is just that these three sensors are the same part number and are interchangable) They also use the same part number connector. So if obtaining a replacement at a salvage yard, the IAT sensor is much easier to get to and will most likely be in the best condition.

The origional ECTS was a resin (plastic) tipped sensor and is known to crack. When they crack, the data sent to either the temp gauge or ECM/PCM can be corrupted effecting the operation of things that are temperature related. This cracking can also allow coolant to leak through the sensor to the electrical connector on the sensor. This coolant leak leads to corrosion in that connector which can have the same effect on the signal.

Saturn later revised this part with a BRASS tipped sensor. So if replacement is needed, be sure you get a brass tipped sensor. Some aftermarket outlets will still try to sell a resin tipped sensor for older cars saying the brass tipped is only effective for the later cars. This is not true, the improved brass sensor is good for all "S" cars.

The coolant resevoir serves to hold reserve fluid, provide a conveinient way to add fluid as necessary and contains a sensor that sences fluid level which provides an indication on the instrument panel when a low fluid condition exists. The cap on the resevoir is a pressure cap which must work properly to allow the system to maintain system operating pressure.

Along with anti-freeze, the boiling temperature of the water/coolant mix is raised by operating in a pressurized system. If the system has a leak such as a faulty resevoir cap, the system will not maintain pressure and the coolant can boil at a temp lower than the design temp. This can be seen as cooling overflow/boiling over from the resevoir.

The following information was obtaind by me using a Snao-On MT-2500 scan tool. They were taken from two different "S" cars. One a 1995 SL-2, the other a 1999 SC-2. The differances between the two were so negligable it was pointless to list them separately.
I can not say if these numbers are valid for years prior to 1995.

Normal running temp, just below 3/8 indication, 85 deg C - 185 deg F
3/8 indication 94 deg C - 201 deg F
1/2 indication 101 deg C - 214 deg F
Fan came on at just below 5/8 105 deg C - 221 deg F
Fan went off at 97 deg C - 206 deg F

The temp gauge IS NOT marked in actual temps. The readings above can allow you to correlate what you see to a real temp and when you should generally expect the fan to kick on. You should also note that with no actual temps on the gauge, it should be used as tool to monitor TRENDS. If you see a gauge that is suddenly and rapidly rising, you should suspect a problem. A temp indication that is steady but now is substancially higher than it used to be would indicate a change in somthing even if the higher temp is not an overheat condition. This would warrant monitoring.

I know this has been long but with this information you should know these things:

If the temp gauge is NOT in the red, the car is NOT overheated provided the ECTS has not failed and causing a faulty gauge reading.

If coolant is not boiling over, you may not be overheated. Remember a faulty resevoir cap can allow coolant to boil over prior to an actual overheat condition.

The fan should come on WITHOUT air conditioner operation at approximately 221 deg f coolant temp. This will be around the 5/8 mark on the temp gauge. This for some people is uncomfortably close to the red but it is NOT in the red.

The fan should come on regardless of coolant temp when ever the air conditioner is turned on provided the air conditioner is functioning properly.

So with all this said, relax, Saturn "S" cars tend to show a temp on the gauge that is higher than most people are used to but that does not mean there is anything wrong.
...
1999 SC-2 280,000 miles -mine now also dead, RIP
1995 SL-2 296,000 miles - my wifes totaled, RIP
1993 Chevrolet S-10 Pick-up - mine
2003 Harley Davidson Low Rider - mine
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Old 09-22-2010, 12:29 AM   #7
iuam
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Default Re: Cooling Fan Activation & Oil "burn"

This was great info Sky King, you just answered all my issues. Looks like I have a faulty coolant reservoir cap as my coolant is boiling over before I get ot the 5/8 mark on my gauge. Thank you very much.
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