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Old 02-09-2010, 11:11 AM   #1
tempomental
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Default Coolant issue

Hey SaturnFans,

I've a 95 SL2 that recently started acting up. The "low coolant pressure" lights came on, so I checked the coolant level and, while it didn't seem low, I added some and lo and behold, the lights went off. This was Friday.

This morning, I was driving to work and stuck in very heavy traffic. I noticed my temp gauge climbing for the first time ever, and I also saw a small amount of vapor (smoke? steam?) coming from the passenger side of the hood. I switched lanes (to another stopped lane), but that made the gauge drop significantly and the vapor stop. Later on, it started climbing again, but once I cleared the bottleneck it was OK.

My question to you is: what are the likely causes of this? I would like to get this fixed (myself) ASAP with minimal outlay. A friend of mine suggested that it might be the coolant pump or the thermostat, but I would like some more opinions, please.

Thanks!
TM

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Old 02-09-2010, 11:56 AM   #2
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Default Re: Coolant issue

Check the following, as it is most likely one of these:

1. Coolant Tank, check the cap and check for good pressure in system.

2. You mentioned steam coming from the Passenger side. Did you have a puddle underneath the car? Do you have a full mix of coolant and water in your coolant system?

3. If you have a puddle underneath the passenger side it is most likely a water pump that needs replacing.

4. Check the driver side top of the radiator for a small pinhole/hairline crack. If you are still on the original radiator, then it's time for a replacement. You can buy them online relatively inexpensive (between $85-$150). If you have an automatic you will NEED to replace the upper and lower trans cooling lines, but these are a dealer only item at $20 per each.

5. Change out your Engine Coolant Sensor (ECTS) for $15 from your local auto parts store. It is a 13MM Deep Socket.

My bet though from what you describe is that the water pump and/or radiator have gone to meet their makers. Most likely the water pump. They are not difficult to replace.

Water Pumps new will be about $25-$50
Radiators will be $85-$150
Trans Cooling Lines $20/each
Replacement Coolant (go for the New Universal ~ $13 a gallon)
Distilled Water

The S-Series takes 7 Quarts to full capacity. Make sure this is a 60/40 or 70/30 Coolant to Distilled Water mix.

...
Bryan

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Old 02-09-2010, 11:57 AM   #3
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Default Re: Coolant issue

The cap on the coolant tank might be defective(not holding pressure).Get it pressure checked. What is the highest the needle goes on the temp gauge?

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Old 02-09-2010, 12:41 PM   #4
tempomental
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Default Re: Coolant issue

Thanks, 2NDSOUT and bluesl2.

2NDSOUT: no puddles that I'm aware of -- I usually park in an unpaved driveway, so with all the recent rain I've not really noticed. I'm in a parking garage today, so I'll check for one later. I've only got ~130K miles on it, so I'm assuming it's all original parts under the hood.

bluesl2: it was a race between the temperature gauge, the traffic, and my sanity this morning. It probably got ~75% before it cooled down, and that was a few minutes into the "dead stop" portion of my commute this morning. Normally it runs fairly low.

TM

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Old 02-09-2010, 02:52 PM   #5
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Default Re: Coolant issue

Your coolant concentration is low. Add some 100% antifreeze to what you have in there. If the concentration is correct, it will not boil. Get the cap checked or just replace it. When cold fill the reservoir to the point where the level is about 1/8"->1/4" over the top of the weir wall that you see through the opening.

For best results you want an antifreeze to water ratio of 57/43. That means do not use the premix. A low antifreeze concentration markedly increases the probability of a cracked head.

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Old 02-09-2010, 03:04 PM   #6
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Default Re: Coolant issue

OldNuc: I added Peak(?) straight out of the bottle at the convenience store on Friday night (yeah, I probably shouldn't haven't done that). Not sure if that's concentrated antifreeze or not - didn't look as neon green as, say, Prestone, but that could have been the light.

Outside of draining/refilling, what's the best way for me to check the H2O/coolant balance in my pipes already?

thanks
TM

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Old 02-09-2010, 03:33 PM   #7
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Default Re: Coolant issue

Quote:
Originally Posted by tempomental View Post
OldNuc: I added Peak(?) straight out of the bottle at the convenience store on Friday night (yeah, I probably shouldn't haven't done that). Not sure if that's concentrated antifreeze or not - didn't look as neon green as, say, Prestone, but that could have been the light.

Outside of draining/refilling, what's the best way for me to check the H2O/coolant balance in my pipes already?

thanks
TM
You can buy a small hydrometer that sucks up a small amount of antifreeze and then floats a number of balls or moves a gauge that tells you the concentration. They can be had for around $5 but they aren't always incredibly accurate.

Here's a pic of one

...
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Old 02-09-2010, 11:32 PM   #8
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Default Re: Coolant issue

...snip...

Quote:
Originally Posted by tempomental View Post
It probably got ~75% before it cooled down, and that was a few minutes into the "dead stop" portion of my commute this morning. Normally it runs fairly low.

TM
That is proper function on that year car. The fan should kick on at 3/4 on the gauge and cool things down.

I would suggest checking the list that 2ndsout made, but not worry about the ECTS if your fan is kicking on at 3/4, at least not as part of your cooling system troubleshooting.

Probably the easiest way to look for an issue is to let the car come up to temp while stationary and watching for any steam or leaks. If your system is holding pressure properly and the fan comes on coolant mixture shouldn't be a factor. If the cap or something else is leaking then the lack of pressure can make it an issue, but the problem is really the lack of pressure.

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Old 02-09-2010, 11:47 PM   #9
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Default Re: Coolant issue

Quote:
Originally Posted by tempomental View Post
OldNuc: I added Peak(?) straight out of the bottle at the convenience store on Friday night (yeah, I probably shouldn't haven't done that). Not sure if that's concentrated antifreeze or not - didn't look as neon green as, say, Prestone, but that could have been the light.

Outside of draining/refilling, what's the best way for me to check the H2O/coolant balance in my pipes already?

thanks
TM
You just may have mixed types of antifreeze if you never drained out the original fill. You should drain and flush your system as a minimum and use a full gallon of any of the 100% strength universal antifreezes, then top the system off with distilled water. Mixed antifreeze types is a disaster. A proper coolant mixture and a good cap and you should be fine. The 3/4 fan on point is normal and the rapid heatup could be from low antifreeze concentration. The front of the jug will tell you if its is a 50/50 mix or 100%, use 100%.

The system will only pressurize if it boils. You do not want it to boil as that causes hot spots in the head. Get the concentration up to 57% with a good quality antifreeze.

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Old 02-10-2010, 12:20 AM   #10
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Default Re: Coolant issue

focus on 2ndsout procedure , and oldnukes' advice/emphasis on coolant ... you need service the cooling system properly now that you've messed with it.
Maybe start with the signmaster stationary leak/fan test after the coolant flush.

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Old 02-10-2010, 12:22 AM   #11
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Default Re: Coolant issue

Quote:
Originally Posted by OldNuc View Post
The system will only pressurize if it boils. You do not want it to boil as that causes hot spots in the head. Get the concentration up to 57% with a good quality antifreeze.
The system will pressurize before it gets near boiling. Expansion of fluids and gasses are a proven fact. As I've asked before, if you have some new laws that contradict this, please fill us all in on it.

And in either case, you can't see steam without a leak. With a properly working 15 psi cap, a person would be pushing 250+ degrees before pressure overcame the cap, even if they were running straight water.

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Old 02-10-2010, 12:28 AM   #12
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Default Re: Coolant issue

Quote:
Originally Posted by TomM96 View Post
focus on 2ndsout procedure , and oldnukes' advice/emphasis on coolant ... you need service the cooling system properly now that you've messed with it.
Maybe start with the signmaster stationary leak/fan test after the coolant flush.
Though I agree 100% on a new flush and fill if there was a possible coolant type mix, why would a person put the new coolant in and then look for a leak? Since the leak source could be a water pump or radiator which requires draining all the coolant anyway, I'd work it the other way around.

Better to lose some of the fluid you need to get rid of IMHO.

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Old 02-10-2010, 12:50 AM   #13
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Default Re: Coolant issue

Quote:
Originally Posted by Signmaster View Post
The system will pressurize before it gets near boiling. Expansion of fluids and gasses are a proven fact. As I've asked before, if you have some new laws that contradict this, please fill us all in on it.

And in either case, you can't see steam without a leak. With a properly working 15 psi cap, a person would be pushing 250+ degrees before pressure overcame the cap, even if they were running straight water.
And I told you before that the expansion of the liquid and the very small air volume will yield about a 1 psi pressure at operating fan on temperature. If it exceeds that then you are boiling in the head.

I never said that he did not have a cap problem. If the coolant concentration is proper the atmospheric boiling point is over the fan on temperature.

Steam is a gas and is invisible. Water vapor is visible and will exist at slightly below 212F. As the OP saw a water vapor stream then the cap is passing vapor. Its not any good any more. I mentioned above to either test it or replace it as it could be a bad seal.

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Old 02-10-2010, 12:55 AM   #14
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Default Re: Coolant issue

>Since the leak source could be a water pump or radiator which requires draining all the coolant anyway, I'd work it the other way around.
Better to lose some of the fluid you need to get rid of IMHO.

--Agreed , Signmaster. I just wanted to emphasize the prudence/necessity of replacing the coolant.

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Old 02-10-2010, 12:55 AM   #15
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Question Re: Coolant issue

Quote:
Originally Posted by 2NDSOUT View Post
Check the following, as it is most likely one of these:

1. Coolant Tank, check the cap and check for good pressure in system.

2. You mentioned steam coming from the Passenger side. Did you have a puddle underneath the car? Do you have a full mix of coolant and water in your coolant system?

3. If you have a puddle underneath the passenger side it is most likely a water pump that needs replacing.

4. Check the driver side top of the radiator for a small pinhole/hairline crack. If you are still on the original radiator, then it's time for a replacement. You can buy them online relatively inexpensive (between $85-$150). If you have an automatic you will NEED to replace the upper and lower trans cooling lines, but these are a dealer only item at $20 per each.


5. Change out your Engine Coolant Sensor (ECTS) for $15 from your local auto parts store. It is a 13MM Deep Socket.

My bet though from what you describe is that the water pump and/or radiator have gone to meet their makers. Most likely the water pump. They are not difficult to replace.

Water Pumps new will be about $25-$50
Radiators will be $85-$150
Trans Cooling Lines $20/each
Replacement Coolant (go for the New Universal ~ $13 a gallon)
Distilled Water

The S-Series takes 7 Quarts to full capacity. Make sure this is a 60/40 or 70/30 Coolant to Distilled Water mix.
Why is changing the trans cooling lines absolutely necessary? Do they break?

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Old 02-10-2010, 12:59 AM   #16
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Default Re: Coolant issue

He is just listing the price of all the parts you may need to do a major cooling system overhaul. The trans lines sometimes do not come off of an old radiator in reusable condition.

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Old 02-10-2010, 10:17 AM   #17
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Default Re: Coolant issue

Quote:
Originally Posted by mfedenko View Post
Why is changing the trans cooling lines absolutely necessary? Do they break?
In addition to what OldNuc mentioned; as I was listing prices for overhaul...it is a good suggestion to replace the tranny cooling lines because they can get brittle with age. I have always done this; as it would be more time consuming if you put a new radiator in, then have the trans cooling lines go bad; have to remove the NEW radiator AGAIN and replace the trans cooling lines...having to put everything back together. Just easier to do it all in one pass so that you eliminate the possibilities of anything else breaking.

...
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Old 02-10-2010, 11:07 AM   #18
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Default Re: Coolant issue

Quote:
Originally Posted by tempomental View Post
Hey SaturnFans,

I've a 95 SL2 that recently started acting up. The "low coolant pressure" lights came on, so I checked the coolant level and, while it didn't seem low, I added some and lo and behold, the lights went off. This was Friday.

This morning, I was driving to work and stuck in very heavy traffic. I noticed my temp gauge climbing for the first time ever, and I also saw a small amount of vapor (smoke? steam?) coming from the passenger side of the hood. I switched lanes (to another stopped lane), but that made the gauge drop significantly and the vapor stop. Later on, it started climbing again, but once I cleared the bottleneck it was OK.

My question to you is: what are the likely causes of this? I would like to get this fixed (myself) ASAP with minimal outlay. A friend of mine suggested that it might be the coolant pump or the thermostat, but I would like some more opinions, please.

Thanks!
TM
Had a very similar problem about 3 years ago on my 92 SL1. I know in the end i replaced my radiator (accident right after i bought it had caused a hairline crack), but the water pump was replaced before that. In my case, I had two puddles. The one from the pump, which when fixed (I think) caused an increase in pressure in the radiator and opened up the crack, which then caused another puddle...well, more like a lake. And I definitely remember the steam shooting up from the passenger side of the hood, right next to the windshield. Which is now where i have a nice 4-5" long crack in the windshield crossing the corner. Ice cold glass and hot steam dont work to well together. But I'd follow the advice given so far. It's best to try the easy stuff first, before fixing something expensive and still having the problem.

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Old 02-11-2010, 12:50 AM   #19
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Default Re: Coolant issue

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Originally Posted by OldNuc View Post
And I told you before that the expansion of the liquid and the very small air volume will yield about a 1 psi pressure at operating fan on temperature. If it exceeds that then you are boiling in the head.

I never said that he did not have a cap problem. If the coolant concentration is proper the atmospheric boiling point is over the fan on temperature.

Steam is a gas and is invisible. Water vapor is visible and will exist at slightly below 212F. As the OP saw a water vapor stream then the cap is passing vapor. Its not any good any more. I mentioned above to either test it or replace it as it could be a bad seal.
I can't even remotely agree with a 1 PSI pressure raise, unless someone is starting the car at 150 degrees or so.

Even if the coolant was 100% stable the air pressure rise between a 32 degree cold start and the fan kick on temp would be right around 5 PSI. Combined with the much lower percentage (but much greater volume) of fluid expansion this would compress the air even greater. Since fluid volume is only 4 to 5 percent, the significance is the very small amount of air it displaces, and the pressure rise that it creates.

Even discounting the fluid expansion, the pressure change due to the air temp rise on a cool day brings the boiling point to above the fan kick on point.


As for the cap, my point was in line with that of 2ndsout, in that the cap isn't the only thing in the equation that is subject to the pressure. If the cap itself is good it will take a great deal of heat to allow a leak, even if the fluid did boil. From the OPs post there was no indication that temps went beyond the normal fan on point, so he shouldn't have seen a leak anywhere, with no regard to whether it was a liquid or gas.

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Old 02-11-2010, 01:30 AM   #20
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Default Re: Coolant issue

Nope, not correct. Now keeping in mind this discussion is regarding a Saturn and an ethylene glycol water mix at about a 57/43 ratio. There is only 7 quarts of fluid to expand and the container also expands. The air volume in the reservoir is not large.

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