Possible head gasket issue?

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irowiki
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Possible head gasket issue?

Post by irowiki » Thu Jan 15, 2015 8:25 am

I think my 87 FWD is having headgasket issues.

Back when we replaced the radiator, I noticed a slight coolant loss, like a few ounces every few hundred miles. At first I thought it was just air being burped out, so I didn't think much of it. Then I stopped checking the coolant so often.

Even with a new double row radiator she always seem to run a little hotter than I thought she should... but I thought maybe that was just the auto causing it to be hotter.

Fast forward to a few weeks ago and I started noticing heavy gray smoke when cold and she smelled more rich than usual when cold. I had assumed there was a problem with the cold circuit on the carb and I was going to swap it out when I could, but since she ran fine when warmed up I thought nothing of it. Edit: Now that I think about it, I think there was a thin stream of white exhaust when she warmed up, too.

Then yesterday when we were going to the store she went from cold start to almost overheating in less than five minutes! At one point I thought I smelled a faint whiff of antifreeze, but I thought it was the car in front of me.

I pulled over and turned off the car before she hit the red. Overflow bottle was practically dry, upper radiator hose was hot, as was the temp sensors, but the radiator was cold, hmmm. So I popped the radiator cap (after putting a coat on it first). Ooops, bad idea. What was left of the coolant escaped in an awesome explosion of steam! Fortunately the coat trick saved my bacon from being burned. :shock:

Started the car back up, quickly verified the heater was blowing cold, and darted (slowly) across the street into a hotel (Safer), and the time was 5:50. Napa auto parts was a half mile away and closed in ten minutes! I am terribly out of shape but managed to run-jog-walk just in time to pick up a 50/50 bottle of coolant before they closed. :lol: Walked back to the car, and she took over 3/4 of a gallon of coolant, started back up, didn't overheat, and we drove her back home.

Oil still looks clean.

What confuses me is she ran fine for months then suddenly no coolant?

My thoughts:
  1. Head gasket had a small leak, which suddenly turned into a large leak.
  2. New radiator has developed a leak
  3. Cracked head/block?
  4. Some other cooling system leak
  5. stuck thermostat?

This engine was supposedly rebuilt 20k miles before we bought it... so who knows if they did a proper job on the head gasket? The rest of the engine had been put together with goopy gasket sealant (I mean everything).

I'm going to take the spark plugs out, see if any have been steam cleaned, then do a compression test. At the same time I might try to pick up a pressure tester for the cooling system.
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Re: Possible head gasket issue?

Post by Gottolovem » Thu Jan 15, 2015 10:13 am

When my head gasket blew i was getting bubbles into cooling system causing the water to be pushed into the overflow (curious yours was dry?)
Head gaskets can leek all sorts of ways white smoke indicates burning off the fluid rather than bubbles in the rad "does the exhaust smell sweet"?
Get a light and look at the piston tops

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Re: Possible head gasket issue?

Post by irowiki » Thu Jan 15, 2015 10:23 am

I think the overflow was dry because if it was burning it, it was sucking more in to make up for it?
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Re: Possible head gasket issue?

Post by marlinh » Thu Jan 15, 2015 12:44 pm

Since you weren't checking the coolant level regularly, it is hard to say where it went. Now that it is topped up, pressurize the system (either with a pressure tester, or warm it up till the upper hose is hard) and check for external leaks. You may have been losing a small amount of coolant and may now have compromised the head gasket. Water is a natural by product of combustion and a small amount of whitish smoke on start up is normal. Did it or does it have a sweet smell to it?

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Re: Possible head gasket issue?

Post by irowiki » Thu Jan 15, 2015 12:58 pm

It had more of a burning nasty smell to it, I think. Definitely smelled different than the rest of the cars I own!

As far as smoke goes, if I started up the car, let it warm up for a minute, on acceleration I'd get big clouds of gray smoke.

May or may not be related but cold idle has always been pretty rough on this car, and warm idle is so-so sometimes.
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Re: Possible head gasket issue?

Post by entrax » Fri Jan 16, 2015 1:46 am

radiator was cold? is the lower hose cold while the upper is hot?

that's how my head gasket went. stuck thermostat, no circulation, but it's kind of sort of capable of cooling down because it's kind of still circulating within just the upper hose. however any sort of sitting in traffic would get it to red real quick.

another symptom would be the fan never turning on even when the temps are super hot. that's because the coolant temp switch is directly beside the lower hose, normally the thermostat would open when hot enough and the coolant runs down the lower hose with hot coolant then the temp switch turns on as soon as it feels the hot coolant. with a stuck tstat, that lower hose is always cold and the fan never turns on.
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Re: Possible head gasket issue?

Post by irowiki » Mon Jan 19, 2015 8:37 am

So did a compression test:

#1: 135
#2: 140
#3: 125
#4: 110

Well that's odd, for a "Recently rebuilt" motor. Oil is still clean too!

Put some oil in each spark plug hole and tested again:

#1: 280
#2: 180
#3: 170
#4: 150


What is with #1? Is it sucking water in, raising the compression, or is it carbon buildup, or did I put too much oil in? :lol:

On an aside, we definitely noticed more white smoke now when idling, even more so when warmed up, so the head gasket did get worse (unless there's a crack somewhere)
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Re: Possible head gasket issue?

Post by marlinh » Mon Jan 19, 2015 5:20 pm

No idea Paul about the number 1 cylinder. Never seen that kind of difference before. Those first numbers are not good if that motor was rebuilt. What is the history of that engine again?

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Re: Possible head gasket issue?

Post by Vienna » Mon Jan 19, 2015 5:48 pm

We picked up the engine from a first gen in Phoenix. The guy was gutting the car to make it into some racer and selling pretty much everything out of it. He said the engine had been rebuilt (told by the person he bought it off of) only 20K miles before he purchased it and it ran perfectly fine during the time it was still in the car.

It sat for a few months before we got it from him, and a few more while we managed to get the blown engine out of our FWD wagon since the blown one was seized and we couldn't get it to disconnect from the transmission until we used a 3ft pipe wrench to manage to get it to turn enough to get at the bolts we needed.

Engine seemed fine when we had everything up and running initially but we had a bit of an overheating in traffic issue with a single row radiator so I purchased a double row which seemed to have fixed the issues but she still ran hotter than we would have expected with the double row. We noticed a slight coolant issue where the overflow reservoir would go empty with the new radiator but we thought it might be her burping out air. Problem lasted a while but was minor so we thought maybe a small leak.

Fast forward to last week and she apparently ran herself nearly dry/overheated. and was giving us symptoms of a stuck thermostat.

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Re: Possible head gasket issue?

Post by irowiki » Mon Jan 19, 2015 5:52 pm

Now that I think about it, maybe it sat too long and the rings rusted to the cylinder walls, causing premature failure?
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Re: Possible head gasket issue?

Post by Gottolovem » Mon Jan 19, 2015 5:57 pm

irowiki wrote: it sat too long and the rings rusted to the cylinder walls
phooey I have brought engines back to life that have sat for a decade.

I would retest it :oldgeek:

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Re: Possible head gasket issue?

Post by dlb » Mon Jan 19, 2015 7:58 pm

i agree about retesting it. i have no experience with #s that high but besides an inaccurate reading, the next thing i think of is that a bunch of coolant dumped into that first cylinder between your first and second compression tests. coolant/water does not compress so it raises compression very quickly. my concern about a reading of 280 psi is bending the piston rod.

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Re: Possible head gasket issue?

Post by Petros » Wed Jan 21, 2015 4:53 pm

based on those numbers, I would say the engine was not rebuilt, or it was, someone really messed up. looks like both rings and valve seats are bad. there should not be that much variation between the cylinders (indicated bad valve seats), and there should not be that low, nor come up that much with the addition of oil (meaning bad/worn rings). As far as the high one, that is anomaly, if it that bad after the retest, likely some kind of large carbon build up or other source of volumn blockage in that cylinder. Either case, the engine should come apart and get rebuilt.

It is not so bad that you can keep driving it, but those numbers are so low it appears it should get the rings replaced, and the valves seats ground sometime soon.
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