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Old 05-19-2018, 03:26 PM   #1
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Default 99 Saturn SL1 Oil in coolant

Hello everyone! Long time lurker and proud Saturn owner here. I got to 193,000 miles before this problem showed up.

Recently oil has appeared in my 99 Saturn SL1's coolant reservoir. It started with the coolant level dropping (the lights on the dash alerted me). I didn't notice at the time that there was something wrong the coolant (I didn't have proper lighting and I had to get to work) so I topped it off with the coolant mix and went on my way. The following morning its low again and again I topped it off. I thought maybe my cap wasn't on tight enough so I tightened it down and the light didn't come back. After work that day my dad and I looked inside the tank and found the green-brown milkshake fluid.

I've been looking around for answers and the most likely cause is cracked head and/or broken head gasket. There are some things don't add up about it such as no sign of smoking or dribbling coolant in the exhaust pipe and the spark plugs are dry and look clean.

We also did pressure checks on the cylinders and got the following numbers, going from left to right while facing the front of the car: 185 psi, 165 psi, 170 psi, and 165 psi. Also there is no sign of coolant in the transmission or the engine oil.

So before I start buying up parts and take apart my car I want to get some other people's thoughts on this. Is this a sure sign of a cracked head or broken gasket? Is there no alternative to fixing it besides full replacement? Or is this a different problem? I'd appreciate any and all help on this. Thank you!


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Old 05-19-2018, 09:42 PM   #2
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Default Re: 99 Saturn SL1 Oil in coolant

I was advised by local Saturn dealer (about 2000), that the SOHC engines were
not good -- they tended to develop cracks in the head.

OldNuc has researched & discovered that the problem was not the 'engine' or 'head', but the head torquing procedure... which a tech service bulletin from about '99 specified.

So, decent chance your head is cracked, possibly toward psgr side, at rear of engine; but maybe just gasket issue.

But i don't know about definitive proof. generally new head + gasket ++
New Specifications for head torquing, will rectify.

I think i recall fotos on the site/forum, of characteristic crack locations, for both the DOHC and SOHC heads.


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Old 05-20-2018, 07:13 AM   #3
Saturn Night
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1995 SC2
Default Re: 99 Saturn SL1 Oil in coolant

You can use this to source a used cylinder head, as you likely have a crack in one of the camshaft journals.

The 1991-1998 SOHCs had a casting defect, that caused this same exact issue.

1999-2002 had the casting design changed, but heads can still crack on any engine when the coolant level gets low.

While you are replacing the head, you will want to pull your radiator and check for cracks on the driver's side tank, near the upper radiator hose inlet. Over time, the radiator will develop cracks, which will cause gradual coolant loss.

The head gasket and head replacement is actually not too bad, but it does require you to pull the timing cover and the timing chain. It is easier to pull the water pump, when doing this. Chances are, you may need a replacement water pump.

"What does a Saturn owner do, at the gas station?"

"He checks the gas, and fills the oil....."


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