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Old 12-02-2008, 01:13 PM   #1
ncinerate
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Wrench Well, the Saturn has finally started to smoke...

I guess it's finally happened. After 150,000 mostly trouble-free miles in a 99 Saturn SL2 it's started smoking out the tailpipe under acceleration loads. Of course like every sl2 on the planet it was consuming a bit of oil previously (roughly a quart every 1000-1500 miles) but things were reasonable and it didn't produce little clouds. I haven't clocked the new consumption rate yet because it just started smoking but I am certain based on the amount it's putting out that it will not be pretty.

I know the trouble is almost certainly the oil control rings finally gunking up to a bad degree. I'm going to give it a MMO soak or three to see if I can't clean things up a bit. I'd really like to keep this car on the road as she's been a trooper thus-far. If the MMO doesn't help clear things up what do you guys suggest as my next step? I'm unfortunately without a garage at the moment so removal of the engine for a rebuild isn't an option right now (unless I pay to have someone else do the work, but this seems obscenely expensive on a 150k 99 saturn sl2). If there's a reasonable way to get at the pistons with the engine-in I might consider doing that, but from what I hear honing the cylinders with engine-in can be tricky..... I think my dilemma here is if the MMO soaks don't cure the problem, the cost of repair goes beyond what the car is worth. She's lived a hard life here in phoenix, living out in the sun getting her paint peeled and battered, still running around on an original auto trans/engine..... It's spent years parked in lot 59 outside ASU, gotten my wife through college, and is still her daily commuter to the school she teaches at.

Lets face it, the cars probably worth 1k-2k in running order not smoking out the tailpipe. You guys have any suggestions to try before I have to face the 2k repair bill or letting her find a new home on top of someones forgotten and picked apart chevy cavalier in a junkyard somewhere?

I searched through quite a few posts before putting this up but there doesn't seem to be much wisdom beyond rebuilding the engine or praying a soak works, let me know if there's something I'm missing!

Any help appreciated.

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Old 12-02-2008, 01:23 PM   #2
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Default Re: Well, the Saturn has finally started to smoke...

Make sure the PCV valve is a dealer item. Do the MMO soaks. Beyond that, buy oil. Doing any more "invasive" work, on something that has ZERO impact on performance / longevity, is throwing good money after bad.
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Old 12-02-2008, 01:23 PM   #3
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Default Re: Well, the Saturn has finally started to smoke...

You're sure it's burning oil, and not trans fluid or just dumping excessive fuel?
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Old 12-02-2008, 01:28 PM   #4
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Default Re: Well, the Saturn has finally started to smoke...

How could it POSSIBLY burn trans fluid (manual or automatic) in a way that shows up in the tailpipe?
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Old 12-02-2008, 01:55 PM   #5
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Default Re: Well, the Saturn has finally started to smoke...

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Originally Posted by madpogue View Post
How could it POSSIBLY burn trans fluid (manual or automatic) in a way that shows up in the tailpipe?
Err, thinking of a much older transmission style. I usually work on really old engines, sometimes everything starts mixing together in this head of mine
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Old 12-02-2008, 02:10 PM   #6
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Default Re: Well, the Saturn has finally started to smoke...

150K on the original engine/ trans?

Just now starting to smoke? I would do a compression test and see what compression numbers you are getting. The MMO *May* work. For me, my engine is going to be rebuilt, although my family and friends say I should sell my 94 SC1 (the First Saturn that I bought and have owned now thru 340,501 original miles/auto trans). No body is going to buy a car with 340K miles on it.. Especially not in today's economy.

Do a compression test first, and report with your numbers. That will say if you need a rebuild. Your numbers should be at 180 psi or above across the board.

You can get an inexpensive compression tester at Harbor Freight tools for $8.
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Old 12-02-2008, 06:34 PM   #7
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Default Re: Well, the Saturn has finally started to smoke...

Do a compression test and see what the rings are really like.

I'd give Auto-rx a try. There a lots of examples on bobistheoilguy where it improved compression and reduced oil burning and leaks. I had good luck with it in my SW1. It's a lot cheaper than new rings.

http://www.auto-rx.com/
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Old 12-02-2008, 07:02 PM   #8
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Default Re: Well, the Saturn has finally started to smoke...

I ran 1 bottle through an engine that was using about 1 qt/2000 miles and it ended up at a bit over 1qt/4000 miles when the flush cycle was complete.
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Old 12-02-2008, 08:09 PM   #9
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Default Re: Well, the Saturn has finally started to smoke...

Auto-rx won't do miracles on an engine that is too far gone but it won't make it worse. On a motor that is still in decent shape it should at least improve the situation and put off the rebuild until you're ready for it. Nothing is going to put material back on bearings and straighten out worn cylinders without rebuilding.
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Old 12-02-2008, 08:22 PM   #10
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Wrench Re: Well, the Saturn has finally started to smoke...

Ok, update.

Just finished dumping some MMO into the cylinders and the rest into the oil (I'm nearly to an oil change anyway).

So anyway, there's liquid oil on plugs 3 and 4 (as in all over the threads, and it had a drop hanging off the sparking tip), plugs 1 and 2 are dry as a bone. I'm sure oil ended up dripping down all over the plug's sparking tip when I removed it.....

I'm pretty sure this signifies a leaky valve gasket, but it was a very small amount of oil overall. This -is- a fairly new development (I changed out my plugs maybe 5k ago) but if I'm not mistaken this isn't what's causing my burning oil smoking right?


As for everything else. Madpogue - The reason I'm trying to make this work right as opposed to driving it as-is with oil burn is simple. My wife is driving this car and would prefer not showing up to work trailing a cloud of smoke through a middle school parking lot. If I can stop the smokey burn even for 20k miles that puts off car replacement for 2 years or so. If I can't, she's going to expect a newer car (and understandably so) which is money I'd rather not part with at the moment.

As for Auto-RX, it appears you can only order it online. I'll consider doing this if the MMO doesn't help! I appreciate the recommendations so far.
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Old 12-03-2008, 07:02 AM   #11
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Default Re: Well, the Saturn has finally started to smoke...

Quote:
Originally Posted by ncinerate View Post
Ok, update.As for Auto-RX, it appears you can only order it online. I'll consider doing this if the MMO doesn't help! I appreciate the recommendations so far.
I'm in the process of using Auto-RX on my 97 Sl with 155K. I checked the compression before the Auto-Rx and will check it after the whole process. The website suggested using two cans (cycles or changes) on engines with 150K and I just started using my second can. After 3000K and another 3000K new oil flush I will post my new compression numbers. Hope this helps my oil useage---not really bad, bad, but so far, has not gotten better with one can of Auto-RX.

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Old 12-03-2008, 12:32 PM   #12
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Default Re: Well, the Saturn has finally started to smoke...

Quote:
Originally Posted by westwind999 View Post
Do a compression test and see what the rings are really like.
Compression test tells you ZERO about the oil rings.

Quote:
Originally Posted by ncinerate View Post
So anyway, there's liquid oil on plugs 3 and 4 (as in all over the threads, and it had a drop hanging off the sparking tip), plugs 1 and 2 are dry as a bone. I'm sure oil ended up dripping down all over the plug's sparking tip when I removed it.....

I'm pretty sure this signifies a leaky valve gasket, but it was a very small amount of oil overall. This -is- a fairly new development (I changed out my plugs maybe 5k ago) but if I'm not mistaken this isn't what's causing my burning oil smoking right?
That's correct. Cam cover gasket leak is an entirely external leak. The oil you saw on the spark plugs wasn't there until the moment you removed them, allowing the oil pooled in the spark plug well to drain onto the plug. It's always recommended to inspect each well before removing the plug, and if it's present, and if possible, sop up any oil pooled in there before removing the plug.

Good point about the cloud-of-smoke issue. It's actually very unusual for our cars to visibly show the oil burning that badly, even when we're burning a quart every 500-1000 miles. Are you sure it's bluish oil smoke you're seeing, and not blackish running-rich smoke?
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Old 12-03-2008, 03:53 PM   #13
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Default Re: Well, the Saturn has finally started to smoke...

Absolutely positive. This is definately bluish gray oil smoke, not black running rich smoke.

Finished up an MMO soak, drove off the smokescreen it creates (well, took it a mile or so down the road). Still a bit of smoke under acceleration when the wife left, I'll see if it is less noticeable later on as this might be residual MMO smoke.....

Otherwise, 1-2 more treatments and I'm going to probably consider the oil rings shot......
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Old 12-03-2008, 04:08 PM   #14
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Default Re: Well, the Saturn has finally started to smoke...

Just replacing the oil rings may not fix it and its a lot of work. At that point you are not many dollars from a total rebuild.

Auto-Rx might be a good choice also.
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Old 12-04-2008, 12:20 AM   #15
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Default Re: Well, the Saturn has finally started to smoke...

Mine smoked a bit and I started using high mileage oil and it doesnt use a drop between oil changes and absoutly 0 smoke. Worth a shot.. I have a sl1 with 130K on it.
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Old 12-04-2008, 01:27 AM   #16
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Default Re: Well, the Saturn has finally started to smoke...

Many Saturn's fuel mixture run rich, and you get black smoke from the unburned fuel. Changing the o2 sensor did not help me.
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Old 12-04-2008, 12:41 PM   #17
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Thumbs Up Re: Well, the Saturn has finally started to smoke...

Yeah Oldnuc, I'm aware of what it means if the oil control rings need replacement (and I appreciate your knowledgeable help). I'm not going to go tearing the motor apart to get at them, it's too much work and I currently lack the garage and the tools (for honing etc) to do it in either way. Hell, I could replace the car with a much lower mileage example a year or two newer for barely more then it would cost to repair the one I have. If I liquidated my Saturn first for 1k or so as a running car with A/C I could probably end up in a couple year newer SL2 with half the mileage and be out of pocket LESS than it would cost me to rebuild that engine.

My main goal at this point is to stop or seriously reduce the smoking for another 12,000-20,000 miles for purely visual reasons. That would put me somewhere between 160-170k miles and a year or two down the road before I require a replacement. I can say at this point that it appears the MMO soak has reduced the smoking, the car was letting off a pretty decent cloud on acceleration, now it's giving off a much smaller puff. I'm going to attempt one or two more soaks then go to plan B.

Question on plan B. Would a heavier weight oil cut back on smoking? I live in Arizona so the viscosity isn't as much a problem as it would be in snow country. If it would allow me some smoke-free miles I'd be willing to give it a shot. Any particular oil recommendations? Bear in mind I've been using synthetic's (usually mobil 1) for the 90,000 miles or so..... Is it possible that the synthetic 5W30 is simply passing the oil rings too easily and changing to straight dino juice or a high mileage burn-resistant oil would help here?

Oh and a comment to Vueblue.... What oil did you change over to? From what I understand of it high mileage oil swells seals to prevent leaks but eventually causes seals to get weakened and ruins them over the longer-term. I suppose at this point it couldn't hurt to switch over as I'm not looking for this car to go 200k. I just want the wife driving to work not puffing out the tailpipe. She's embarrassed by it and ultimately a happy wife is better than the money spent replacing the Saturn. She -loves- her saturn though (it's been without question the best little car she's ever owned, fits her perfect), and if I can stop this issue for awhile she'd prefer to keep driving it.


OK, so current plan:
1 or 2 more MMO soaks
Change PCV Valve (it's a saturn dealer PCV valve, but it's got a few miles on it and only costs a few bucks so it couldnt hurt)
Switch over to high mileage burn resistant oil (or heavier weight oil, depending on your suggestions)
If all else fails, giving Auto-RX a shot.
If that fails, getting a newer car and saying goodbye to a good Saturn.

Let me know if I'm missing something. I appreciate the help guys.
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Old 12-04-2008, 12:48 PM   #18
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Default Re: Well, the Saturn has finally started to smoke...

Oh, and once again (for bobbyp)

It is -definitely- oil burning, whitish blue and unmistakable.

Thanks guys!
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Old 12-04-2008, 12:53 PM   #19
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Default Re: Well, the Saturn has finally started to smoke...

Quote:
Originally Posted by ncinerate View Post
Yeah Oldnuc, I'm aware of what it means if the oil control rings need replacement (and I appreciate your knowledgeable help). I'm not going to go tearing the motor apart to get at them, it's too much work and I currently lack the garage and the tools (for honing etc) to do it in either way. Hell, I could replace the car with a much lower mileage example a year or two newer for barely more then it would cost to repair the one I have. If I liquidated my Saturn first for 1k or so as a running car with A/C I could probably end up in a couple year newer SL2 with half the mileage and be out of pocket LESS than it would cost me to rebuild that engine.
This is true. a rebuild is going to burn through about 1000.00 or so.

Quote:
Originally Posted by ncinerate View Post
My main goal at this point is to stop or seriously reduce the smoking for another 12,000-20,000 miles for purely visual reasons. That would put me somewhere between 160-170k miles and a year or two down the road before I require a replacement. I can say at this point that it appears the MMO soak has reduced the smoking, the car was letting off a pretty decent cloud on acceleration, now it's giving off a much smaller puff. I'm going to attempt one or two more soaks then go to plan B.
Try and follow up with Auto-Rx, it works.

Quote:
Originally Posted by ncinerate View Post
Question on plan B. Would a heavier weight oil cut back on smoking? I live in Arizona so the viscosity isn't as much a problem as it would be in snow country. If it would allow me some smoke-free miles I'd be willing to give it a shot. Any particular oil recommendations? Bear in mind I've been using synthetic's (usually mobil 1) for the 90,000 miles or so..... Is it possible that the synthetic 5W30 is simply passing the oil rings too easily and changing to straight dino juice or a high mileage burn-resistant oil would help here?
The oil that gets out the back of the car is oil that is at operating temperature. Synthetic will be slightly higher viscosity than any comparable petroleum based oil. Using a higher viscosity is not a good idea as the operating viscosity is within tenths of a point identical. But, as you are in a perpetually warm climate a 10w-30 oil would be the proper weight. Look at the owners manual real hard and you will find that recommendation also.

Quote:
Originally Posted by ncinerate View Post
Oh and a comment to Vueblue.... What oil did you change over to? From what I understand of it high mileage oil swells seals to prevent leaks but eventually causes seals to get weakened and ruins them over the longer-term. I suppose at this point it couldn't hurt to switch over as I'm not looking for this car to go 200k. I just want the wife driving to work not puffing out the tailpipe. She's embarrassed by it and ultimately a happy wife is better than the money spent replacing the Saturn. She -loves- her saturn though (it's been without question the best little car she's ever owned, fits her perfect), and if I can stop this issue for awhile she'd prefer to keep driving it.
The high mileage oil probably sealed up the valve stem seals.

Quote:
Originally Posted by ncinerate View Post
OK, so current plan:
1 or 2 more MMO soaks
Change PCV Valve (it's a saturn dealer PCV valve, but it's got a few miles on it and only costs a few bucks so it couldnt hurt)
Switch over to high mileage burn resistant oil (or heavier weight oil, depending on your suggestions)
If all else fails, giving Auto-RX a shot.
If that fails, getting a newer car and saying goodbye to a good Saturn.

Let me know if I'm missing something. I appreciate the help guys.
That will work but I would hold off on high mileage oil until I completed the Auto-Rx program. I am not impressed with high mileage oil.
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Old 12-04-2008, 09:01 PM   #20
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Default Re: Well, the Saturn has finally started to smoke...

A different oil choice might be to use diesel 5W40 in your area. It's a very good oil and would probably be a better choice than a high mileage oil.

Auto-rx has a better history of reducing oil burning and leaks than high mileage oils. I would us it first and if it didn't work as well as hoped give the high mileage oil a chance.

I've tried a number of different oil and gas additives over the years. None really performed very well, a few maybe I imagined that they made an improvement. A few even made my car run worse. Auto-rx is the only thing I'll add to the oil now, I don't even use MMO anymore. Auto-rx made a noticeable improvement in performance, and reduced oil consumption. Independent testing has shown that it really does work as advertised. (I don't work for Auto-rx!)

Do some research at bobistheoilguy particularly the oil additives forum.
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