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Overheating(what's the problem?)

jerry16jerry16 Posts: 22
edited March 2014 in Pontiac
My Firebird "shut itself off" a couple of days
ago. I was about 5 minutes from home when the
check gages indicator came on. I tried to get home
but as I was turning the corner the car just shut
itself down. I noticed that about the same time
the gages light came on my heater started blowing
cold air out( it was on the hottest setting!). The
coolant level was fine, could it be the
thermostat? Anyone have any ideas? Help! -J


  • KCRamKCRam Mt. Arlington NJPosts: 3,516
    Sounds like your water pump died. That would explain your coolant level being okay and the cold air in the heater vents. No water was circulating through the engine or the heater core. The engine computer is designed to make these shutdowns when the engine temperature exceeds a point where coolant will no longer be effective, thus all your dashboard warnings.
  • gchernya1gchernya1 Posts: 43
    You lost vaccum pal, this is the cause of all of it. Your directors in Heater/AC is powered by engine vaccum. Broken vaccum hose may be the reason as well as more expensive things like any vaccum powered divice, some of them deep under dush.
  • bigfur1bigfur1 Posts: 34
    Could be the thermo also.
  • quadrunner500quadrunner500 Posts: 2,728
    Which engine in the Firebird? Was it the coolant level in the overflow tank you were looking at, or was there coolant in the radiator itself? Check the belts?
  • KCRamKCRam Mt. Arlington NJPosts: 3,516
    regarding what gcher said,

    If it was a vacuum loss, the power steering would have stopped, not just the heat - that's vacuum-assisted as well. Jerry would have noticed he went to manual steering along with everything else. His original complaint was overheating and an automatic engine shutdown, not simply his heater cutting out.
  • jerry16jerry16 Posts: 22
    kcram gcher:

    Thank you both. The power steering DID in fact go out. I didn't mention it because I though the switch to manual steering was a product of the car shutting itself off. I had no idea it could be related to the vacuum. And also, the car never smoked or anything, I just noticed the temp gauge went into the red and the check gauges light came on. I assumed it shut down before overheating. The coolant level was checked in the radiator and the overflow. Matter of fact, I loosened the cap on the radiator to listen for water and sure enough the coolant slushed around violenty.( NOTICE: DO NOT EVER REMOVE THE CAP WHILE THE ENGINE IS HOT), I swear the coolant would've shot twenty feet into the air. With this info, is it definitly the vac? How do I go about fixing it? I will be trading this car in for a v8 soon and hope it's not too expensive!
  • KCRamKCRam Mt. Arlington NJPosts: 3,516

    Since your steering did die, then I do concur with gcher that you probably have a vac leak somewhere. A competent mechanic should be able to do a vacuum test and find it pretty easily. (Good call, gcher!)

    If it's just a hose as gcher surmised, the job is somewhat similar to fixing a radiator hose. If they can't find a specific leak, then they will test the engine's ability to produce vacuum.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright CaliforniaPosts: 56,748
    So wait a minute...why would this car overheat due to a vacuum leak....don't get that part....

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  • quadrunner500quadrunner500 Posts: 2,728
    You cannot check the coolant level by listening for the sound of fluid gushing with your ear, when it is hot. Check it again cold, in the radiator. Observe the level of the fluid. It may be very low on coolant. What about the radiator cooling fan switch? Do you hear the fans coming on? Have you tried reading-out the "service engine soon" code? If the engine died, you would lose power steering and vacuum. Did you lose power steering before it died? What about the belt?
  • KCRamKCRam Mt. Arlington NJPosts: 3,516

    from Jerry's symptoms, it sounds as if he may have lost water pump pressure and in the "struggle" took out the vacuum hose to the HVAC as gcher mentioned (since the coolant was not flowing properly through the system). He did say he lost everything when the Check Gauges light came on, and he tried to make it home - before he made it, the engine went to the failsafe shutdown.

    Without examining the Firebird, of course, we are all making educated guesses based on experience, but it sounds like a combination of some type of coolant flow failure and a possible resulting vac leak.
  • jerry16jerry16 Posts: 22
    Here is exactly what happened:

    Check gauges light came on, at about the same time cold air started blowing out of the vents( it was on hot)

    I tried to make it home (about five minutes away)

    About 1 minute from home while turning the corner the car shut down. AFTER the car shut down, I lost power steering.

    I sat for about five minutes to see if it would cool down. The gauge never moved so I popped the hood, there was no smoke or burning smell. I loosened the cap on the radiator and the coolant went crazy(don't know what that means). Called my wife and asked her to bring me some coolant.

    Wife brought the coolant, I put it in the overflow tank.

    Waited about ten more minutes started the car and drove 1 minute home.

    I hope that clarifies everything. I appreciate you guys helping me out. -j
  • KCRamKCRam Mt. Arlington NJPosts: 3,516

    ok, that's a little different. Your power steering stopped because the engine wasn't running - I thought you lost it while driving.

    Somewhere between the water pump and the HVAC, you lost coolant flow. It's either a failure (vacuum or otherwise) in the HVAC area, or there is some kind of blockage in a coolant line.

    Did you happen to hear an unusual "clunk" or "hiss" just before the warning light came on and the cold air started? When you restarted and got home, did you happen to listen under the hood with the engine running when you got home? If you haven't yet, give it a shot and see if you hear a hiss or whistle that would be indicative of an air/vacuum leak.
  • quadrunner500quadrunner500 Posts: 2,728
    If it didn't throw a belt operating the water pump, then it sounds like it just ran out of coolant. And you can't just put it back into the overflow tank when it really runs out. You have to let it cool, and put it into the radiator itself. The coolant overflow recovery tank can be full...but the radiator and block empty! Now if that's the case, you have to find out why it lost the coolant. A pressure test can reveal this. Coolant can leak out of a hose, but these days it's more likely it's dripping out of the water pump because of an aged seal. A radiator cap can also leak.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright CaliforniaPosts: 56,748
    Yeah, he's right, if you're low on coolant, it went somewhere...also, the fact that the heater blew cold is another good sign of low coolant level...pressure test should turn up something here.

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  • bcathcartbcathcart Posts: 54
    A common problem often missed is blockage of the radiator fins by insects.When the car cools all the usual tests show up ok.A good blast through from rear to front with an airline or water jet can often transform a radiator performance.Surprisingly this simple job is often missed even by experienced mechanics.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright CaliforniaPosts: 56,748
    Very good point but this wouldn't explain his symptoms directly in this particular case...from what I'm reading, he lost coolant with no apparent leak...that can only mean one thing (gulp) it being burned?

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  • bcathcartbcathcart Posts: 54
    Could have blown out rad cap at 13 psi and at 110c would evaporate instantly at atmospheric pressure,steam would not always be apparent dependant on local air temp.Fill the rad at night and check the dipstick in the morning for water droplets if burning off is suspected.I am told by old guys that water injection improves performance so it's not all bad.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright CaliforniaPosts: 56,748
    Yes, but anti-freeze lubrication of engine bearings needs further development to be successful..:)

    But...but...radiator cap wouldn't pop-off on a modern should go into the overflow, shouldn't it?

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  • rlhandrlhand Posts: 1
    Little late in the game here but noone seems to have asked the question if possibly the radiator could have started out being froze which would have resulted in water loss. Since you apparently had the heater on max it must have been cold outside. Just another thought....
  • jerry16jerry16 Posts: 22
    Everyone, thanx for the help. Checked the fluid level and, low and behold, it was looooow. Filled it and the car so far has been great. (replaced my thermostat while I was at it). Apparently, it leaked over a long period through the cap and evaporated into the air. I took it to a mechanic to check it and that is what he said. He also said that many times if a car is burning coolant it will have a distinctive smell to it?! Anyone heard of that before? Well, for now I will enjoy driving as everything seems OK.
  • KCRamKCRam Mt. Arlington NJPosts: 3,516

    Your mech is right - burning coolant smells awful - you'd know it in a second...

    Glad to hear it wasn't as bad as it could have been.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright CaliforniaPosts: 56,748
    Yes, the smell is bad unless it's just a tiny leak then you might not notice...I'd keep a close eye on the fluid level...if it goes down again, you need to apply some agressive diagnostics...I presume your mechanic pointed to evidence of this leak? A stain down the radiator or crystalline residue of some sort? If your radiator around the cap is spanking clean and shiny, he didn't solve the problem, IMO...excuse me if I don't let you off the hook...when it comes to fixing cars, I am relentlessly skeptical and this seems to help.

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  • spokanespokane Posts: 514
    Good advice from Shiftright. I believe the "odor check" can also often be used to detect a coolant leak to a combustion chamber, as with a head gasket failure or cracked head, even if the leak is as little as one or two pints per 1000-miles.

    This odor (burner ethylene glycol) is similar to that of burned polyethylene. Try burning a little of the insulation from a piece of automotive wiring to familiarize yourself with the odor.

    Get the suspect car up to full operating temperature and then park it in a closed garage. Wait 2 or 3 minutes and check for the odor. If the odor is present, assuming there are no hot electrical components or polymer on the hot exhaust system components, it's probably time to pull the cylinder head.

    In order to have adequate "odor sensitivity", it's probably best if one person warms up the car and another second person makes the "odor check."

    Has anyone else used this criteria? Your comments?
  • guitarzanguitarzan OhioPosts: 750
    Sorry Spokane, that is pretty irresponsible advocating running an automobile in a closed garage. THIS IS VERY DANGEROUS.
  • spokanespokane Posts: 514
    Agreed, you need not run the engine in a closed garage. Stop the engine when you close the garage door. I have found that the hot engine and exhaust system, after a few minutes parked in an area with no air circulation, may emit the distinctive odor to show the presence of coolant in a combustion chamber. There may be some instances in which there is damage but no odor; so this method is not a certain diagnosis.

    Sorry that post #23 was incomplete.
  • gusgus Posts: 254
    Good to clarify it, thanks spokane.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright CaliforniaPosts: 56,748
    Also, if I might be a bit macabre, cars today are running so damn clean you'd have to be very patient to kill yourself...nonetheless...SAFETY FIRST!

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  • gusgus Posts: 254
    That's right!! You'd get a bad headache, but you probably wouldn't die (nevertheless, don't test this out)!
  • app1nagapp1nag Posts: 15
    A few months back I installed a radiator for my 1989 Dodge Caravan 4 cyl non-turbo engine. After installation the coolant level remained constant and the temperature level never exceeded normal level.

    However, a few weeks ago I noticed that I was low on coolant and added some. I've been checking every day since then and I need to add coolant practically daily. I do not see any leaks nor is there ever any coolant on the ground under the vehicle. The car runs cool enough when I am moving but when I stop (at a traffic light, for example) the temperature starts to climb. Once I get moving again the needle moves back to an acceptable temperature range. When I arrive at my
    destination and exit the vehicle I can smell a strong odor of coolant from the engine compartment. The hoses and radiator cap are extremely hot and there is a lot of pressure built up.

    I've tried numerous things to correct the situation such as:

    1) replacing the radiator cap with a 'pressure- release' cap...whenever I park the car and release the pressure by lifting up the little
    handle on the cap, coolant flows in to the overflow bottle and it is actually boiling hot.

    2) flushed the entire system, and added fresh coolant/water mix.

    3) replaced the thermostat.

    4) verified the fan and water pump are functioning.

    I'm stumped and was wondering what could possibly cause the vehicle to run so hot while losing coolant daily? And why am I not seeing any
    coolant on the driveway?? Could the coolant be evaporating due to the intense heat? Would a cooler thermostat help? Could there be something
    wrong with the radiator? Any advice would be appreciated!

  • spokanespokane Posts: 514
    App1nag, you seem to have done all right things. While you have verified that the fan functions, your symptoms still point strongly toward the fan, fan relay, and fan thermostatic switch. If there's any doubt, a replacement thermo switch and relay would be worthwhile at $20 - $35 plus installation. Wiring in this area can also be deteriorated; wiggle the wiring and connectors to and fro with the fan running to check for an intermittent open circuit.

    As to the loss of coolant, the head gasket on the 2.5 liter Chrysler engine is somewhat prone to failure. The failure is usually at the end of the head and coolant leaks into either #1 or #4 cylinder. The leakage rate could be little enough that driveability is OK but coolant is disappearing.

    I would first concentrate on the fan-related items. Hopefully, the disappearing coolant is a hose leak ...and you don't see it because the high temperature evaporates it before it drips on the pavement. Hopefully, after the high temp problem is resolved, you will find just such a leak rather than having to remove the cylinder head.

    A cooler thermostat won't help. I would change the thermostat (using the reccommended temp setting) only if the problems started shortly after installation of the present thermostat.
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