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Old 08-20-2018, 07:34 PM   #1
tracetrimble
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Default Intermittent Overheating

96 SL1 has been overheating the past week, but not in a way that is normal to me. Normal overheating for me is kind of an all-or-nothing deal; the motor basically heats up in a linear fashion until it boils over. It's happening more intermittently this time.

I'm in Texas and it's 100+ pretty much every day in the summer. In the past few days, it started running a little above the normal 1/3 level on the temp gauge, and will creep up, sometimes, after about 30 min of driving. Speed seems to have no effect, and the fan motor is working. The fan comes on and feels strong if I unplug the ECTS or turn on the a/c. Also runs after I shut it down if it's over about the 3/4 mark on the gauge. It got into the red after about an hour trip last weekend and boiled over.

The ECTS and plug have been replaced in the last 5 years, at different times. I think the radiator was replaced right before I bought the car, but that was in 2013. Hoses aren't leaking. It's always lost a little coolant over several thousand miles, but topping it off at oil changes is all that was needed. Water pump appears to be working - I can see turbulence in the reservoir when I goose the throttle.

Any ideas?

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Old 08-20-2018, 09:23 PM   #2
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Default Re: Intermittent Overheating

How many miles on the car?
What about your coolant to water ratio, what coolant do you have in it and does it need changing?
Perhaps all you need is a new pressure cap from the local auto parts store.

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Old 08-21-2018, 07:55 AM   #3
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Default Re: Intermittent Overheating

I just replaced a couple of my thermostats for that reason and that seemed to help. I thought it was the ECTS but it was just reacting to the low temp. just my 2 cents, good luck. One had just been done in 2016. Go figure

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Old 08-21-2018, 09:50 AM   #4
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Default Re: Intermittent Overheating

Quote:
Originally Posted by toggenburg View Post
How many miles on the car?
What about your coolant to water ratio, what coolant do you have in it and does it need changing?
Perhaps all you need is a new pressure cap from the local auto parts store.
186k mi. I just use the 50/50 premix. Coolant is about 1.5 yrs old, replaced when I replaced the heater core last year.

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Old 08-21-2018, 10:06 AM   #5
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Default Re: Intermittent Overheating

sticky thermostat? Crap stuck in the heater hose lines?

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Old 08-21-2018, 12:50 PM   #6
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Default Re: Intermittent Overheating

Somethings not right if you are boiling over.

Could very well be a bad cap as toggenburg suggested, and boiling over because system is not holding pressure.

you should have a continuous flow of coolant at the rear of the reservoir, where the return hose (de-aeration line) dumps coolant into the tank

Also check to make sure nothing is blocking airflow through the radiator fins

In 100F temp, and normal speeds, a working system shouldn't be overheating

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Old 08-21-2018, 03:25 PM   #7
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Default Re: Intermittent Overheating

Quote:
Originally Posted by alordofchaos View Post
Somethings not right if you are boiling over.

Could very well be a bad cap as toggenburg suggested, and boiling over because system is not holding pressure.

you should have a continuous flow of coolant at the rear of the reservoir, where the return hose (de-aeration line) dumps coolant into the tank

Also check to make sure nothing is blocking airflow through the radiator fins

In 100F temp, and normal speeds, a working system shouldn't be overheating
I flushed the radiator and hoses well when I replaced the heater core last year. I ordered a new cap today, and it should be here this week. I've never had to pay much attention to the coolant dilution ratio, but I'm also going to pick up a coolant tester. Will post results.

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Old 08-24-2018, 10:24 AM   #8
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Default Re: Intermittent Overheating

Got the radiator cap in yesterday, and it appears to have fixed the problem. It warmed up normally and the gauge stayed pegged on 1/3 for my whole 30 min commute with the a/c on this morning. Another $10 fix on this great little car. Thanks!!

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Old 08-27-2018, 10:24 AM   #9
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Default Re: Intermittent Overheating

Well, I spoke too soon. Drove it yesterday for about an hour on an errand, and it overheated right when I got back to my house. It seemed to be fixed on Friday morning, and then on the way home it was creeping up to around the 1/2 mark on the gauge. Seems to be related to outside temps - if it's below about 95 it does fine. Over that, and it slowly creeps up until it boils over.

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Old 08-27-2018, 03:42 PM   #10
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Default Re: Intermittent Overheating

Retest the cooling fan assembly.and replace the ECTS sensor. You probably still have a plastic, cracked sensor with the TS you have described and I have not seen you mention that the ECTS has been changed


You may need to pull the radiator and spray out the core at the car wash with the high pressure water.

The only other thing I can think of is a possible clog somewhere, which removing the thermostat and back flushing with pure water until everything is draining clear from the front of your block may help with.

If the symptoms you are describing are accurate as far as you can tell, it doesn't sound like a blown head gasket or a cracked head. Those usually have different symptoms. But, 1991-1996 SOHC engines are prone to head cracks at the #5 camshaft journal and that is near the upper radiator hose outlet to the radiator. This usually results in oil getting into the reservoir.

Replacing a heater core is usually a sign of old orange coolant turning to acid and eating the steel that it is made from, and is a sign of neglected coolant system maintenance. With orange, this will destroy the head gasket as well.

Try testing the fan by simply idling the car in the driveway, with the AC OFF and watch the temp gauge. Between 5/8 and 3/4 the fan should kick on. Of it does NOT kick on, replace the fan and grab a few spare relays from a local wrecking yard.

You'll have to drain the system to pull the radiator out, so the other two steps can be done simultaneously. Then refill the system with ONE FULL STRENGTH GALLON of GREEN coolant and finish topping off the rest of the system with distilled water.

From there, to test for blockages, you simply leave the cap off and watch the coolant flow in your tank, from the back of it, where the little rubber line feeds into the tank. There is a notch, in the top of the tank cutout for this.

That line is the de-aeration line, and if you have a cracked head, blown head gasket, or other form of blockage in the system, you will NOT see coolant flowing through continuously.

If the coolant is flowing continuously, then there are no blockages creating an air bubble. And your problem may be elsewhere.

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Last edited by Saturn Night; 08-27-2018 at 03:48 PM..

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Old 08-27-2018, 03:44 PM   #11
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Default Re: Intermittent Overheating

Unplugging the ECTS is NOT a definitive test, because when the PCM detects no signal fault conditions within the ECTS, it will run the fan automatically to protect blowing the engine sky high from overheating.

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Old 08-29-2018, 12:53 PM   #12
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Default Re: Intermittent Overheating

ECTS was one of the first things I had to fix on this car (used brass tip), and then the plug a couple years later.

I verified in my driveway this week that the fan is kicking on when the temp gets to about 5/8 on the gauge, cools it down, and then shuts off.

I replaced the heater core last year because I already had the dash apart replacing the a/c evaporator core. It's had green coolant in it since I bought it in 2013. I've always used the 50/50 premix in it, or distilled water.

I've never really had to worry about coolant ratios in my vehicles before, but I picked up a tester earlier this week. It was a little coolant heavy, but I topped it off with distilled water and I'm right in the middle now. This seemed to improve the situation. It hasn't overheated again since I adjusted the ratio, but it is still running quite a bit hotter than normal. It typically hangs around the 1/2 mark.

I think I will pull the radiator and do a thorough flush and fin cleaning, and flush the motor again. Should I replace the thermostat & water pump while I have it apart again? Even the AC Delco parts are so cheap, I feel like it's worth not having to break the system again.

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Old 08-29-2018, 02:42 PM   #13
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Default Re: Intermittent Overheating

At 186k miles, it might be prudent (when the car is down) to replace the water pump if its the original one. Your choice. With almost everything replaced, there aren't any more guesses left to explain your overheating. My guess, and only a guess, is the radiator may be a little undersized but as long as coolant doesn't overflow with a replacement (correctly) rated coolant cap and the fan turning on to bring temps down, you're describing normal operating conditions. Replacing the water pump probably won't correct overheating unless it's damaged but is worth replacing if you're holding onto the car.

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Old 08-29-2018, 03:37 PM   #14
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Default Re: Intermittent Overheating

I guess I will just keep an eye on it for a few days. It's been 100+ here for over two weeks straight now. I don't recall ever noticing it much over the 1/3 point on the gauge in the past unless something was wrong, but maybe I wasn't really watching it until it boiled over the first time a couple weeks ago. Between the cap and ratio, maybe I have it back in normal operation. Thanks!

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Old 08-29-2018, 04:20 PM   #15
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Default Re: Intermittent Overheating

You're at the extreme temperature end, next to desert temps so cooling and ac are close to their limits. With a new car, nothing will break but an old car with well worn parts can let go since parts age. Even cooling fans wear out if they're not blowing with force. If your car has ac (doesn't matter if its working or not), the condenser coil sits in front of radiators where fan operation is crucial to moving airflow thru two radiators. I would imagine hot Texas weather requires a little more care to ensure the condenser coils aren't blocked as a blocked condenser coil can block all air flow to the radiator to accelerate overheating.

While fan operation turns on around 220F and boil over occurs when pressures exceed the 15-20 psi cap rating, the pressure cap, 50/50 coolant mix and a good cooling system goes a long way to keeping your engine cool in oppressive heat. Some are unaware of cooling fans wearing out. One member insisted throughout a lengthy thread that he couldn't determine why his engine overheated and stated from the beginning that his fan was blowing with force. He didn't check this again until exhausting every suggestion when he suddenly saw his cooling fan not blowing as hard as he assumed. The worn out cooling fan was his problem from the beginning.

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Old 08-29-2018, 05:02 PM   #16
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Default Re: Intermittent Overheating

Again thanks. I replaced the fan motor a couple years ago when I was having overheating issues. Watching it heat cycle in my driveway, the fan appears to be a 2-speed. It blew pretty hard when it first came on, then dropped to a lower speed after it got below about 1/2 on the gauge.

I will rinse and blow out the condenser & rad tonight and see if that helps.

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Old 08-29-2018, 08:39 PM   #17
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Default Re: Intermittent Overheating

Unless you're told from a reliable source, the S-series never uses two speed ac condenser/radiator cooling fan. The closest model year is '98 and service manual descriptions are for a single speed fan. The cooling fan is either on, blowing hard or off.

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Old 08-30-2018, 08:52 AM   #18
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Default Re: Intermittent Overheating

I must have been imagining it then.

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