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Overheating issue, please help? (I'm sorry this is a long description)

 
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Old 09 Jun 2012, 08:09 pm
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Default Overheating issue, please help? (I'm sorry this is a long description)

I'm trying to fully and accurately explain the details of my dilemma because I know very, very little about cars and it seems like the shops I have spoken to are trying to take advantage of this. I'm trying to diagnose a building overheating problem with my 06 PT Cruiser. It has 67k miles on it and most of the time runs quite well. I drive quite a bit each day mostly city stop and go driving.

However, when I hit the highway for a longer than usual trip (usually around 30-40 miles of highway driving at 65 mph), I notice that the temperature gradually rises in the vehicle. I am extremely careful to try to catch the problem before it gets too hot. The "normal" reading for my car is slightly below the halfway mark. The highest I have allowed it to reach is equidistant above halfway. Usually the increase is gradual and I have plenty of time to safely pull over, pop the hood for 20 minutes before driving another 20 miles to repeat the process. I have experienced this 3 times now in the past 4 months, which is each time I have driven more than 30 miles of highway driving. Once I pull off the highway, the temperature does not continue to climb, it actually begins to re-regulate towards normal, but i'm scared to push it. Also, the high temp light has never come on on the dashboard during this.

I know for a fact that my fans are running. It comes on when I start the AC, and when the car reaches its normal running temp. Symptoms have not been consistent. My overflow tank level rises and falls, I only smell coolant if it has been recently added and it splashed out of the funnel. I don't notice any smoke from under the hood or the exhaust. I have added slightly over a gallon of coolant the past 7 months, which seems excessive to me. At times I hear a gurgling or bubbling noise after running the car on hot days. I called the Chrysler dealership to figure out what it is, and they told me it was normal and nothing to worry about. I even brought it to them so they could hear it, and they claimed there was no problem. (I realize that now this is likely the coolant in the overflow boiling hot.)

I asked a mechanic a friend knows to look at the car, and did my best to describe the situation, but he was not fluent in English, and I don't know my car lingo in Spanish! He didn't find an issue because we could not reproduce the car running hot through city driving and he just advised me to watch the coolant levels.

However the past trip I took 2 days ago (coolant was fine when I left), I had to pull over 30 miles out of town from climbing heat. The overflow tank was completely full and boiling out. I heard the noise for at least 30 seconds after turning the car off. My temp gauge never gone over the halfway mark, but it had been staying high for 10 minutes. I let the car sit before opening the hood and after a a few minutes more, opened the overflow tank and with the relieved pressure, the coolant quickly came back to its normal level. (halfway between hot and fill). This was my first lesson about the systematic pressure of the cooling system. It is really quite fascinating and simple! Or I guess it should be...

After this incident, I was told by a car savvy person that it was a faulty radiator cap causing the boiling coolant issue. It made sense, I replaced the cap and tried to make the trip the next day. Again, I double checked my coolant levels and all seemed fine. (However, keep in mind that up until this point I was not looking directly into the radiator only the overflow.) This time I made it to my destination (60 miles away). 40 miles into it, I saw a SLIGHT increase, but nothing bad and it stayed steady right at the halfway mark. The last highway mile, I saw the temperature increasing, but the second I reached my exit and came back to 20 MPH driving, the temperature again fell to below halfway.

Driving home was a disaster. My car had sat for 4 hours and cooled before I departed for home. 20 miles back onto the hilly highway home, the heat was climbing. I pulled over at a gas station, and tried to add coolant but what had looked like an empty overflow tank was completely full and the coolant was running out the side as I poured it. A man quickly came to help me and opened my radiator and claimed it was dry and added coolant directly to the radiator. I questioned him about the overflow being too high and what damaged it would cause, and he jokingly told me I could drink it out with a straw if I wished. He then hit on me, asked where my husband was, and made several sexual comments. When I didn't take the bait, he then recommended that I leave the new radiator cap slightly open so that I don't over pressurize the radiator. I asked him how that would help considering I just replaced my radiator cap that morning for not having the proper seal. He responded with "you clearly weren't a physics major in college". At this point, because I was in the middle of nowhere at a gas station that had just closed, I was quite nervous and decided I would drive the 7 miles to the next exit in the opposite direction that I had told him I was heading with the cap like this and then wait for the car to cool and tighten the cap all the way. (I was scared he was intentionally trying to break my car on the highway so that I would be completely disabled.)

Too late, the damage was already done. My car had run fine, but I pulled over to find the coolant boiling over at the radiator which caused a lot of smoke. No white smoke, no milky looking oil... My overflow looked empty, but it was dark, I had no more coolant with me to add, so I finally decided a high towing bill would be cheaper than permanent damage.

I brought my car this morning to the only shop close to my house and open on Saturdays. They would not listen to details of my story, just that the car had been overheating. After 20 minutes, they asked if I had added any coolant recently. I told them yes, but the cap had not been sealed all the way and it seemed to have boiled out. They went back to the shop, and 10 minutes later came with an estimate of $1000. They claimed I had a water leak at the seams, which meant I needed a new radiator, a new thermostat, and while they had the car they noticed a faulty balljoint which was needed to pass an MVI (which i never asked for, nor for them to look at) and a tire which was worn. Something seemed wrong when they quoted me $180 to change the thermostat. I asked them if they knew it was faulty, and they admitted that they didn't, just that it "probably was". I agree, it probably is and I think it may be the lone problem in this equation which is why I specifically told them I need a new one when I got there, but that made me wonder how much they knew about my supposed radiator leak. The second I acted like I didn't have the money to pay for the outrageous repair cost, offered to reduce the price by $100. I advised them to just make sure i had enough coolant in the radiator to make it the 5 miles to my house, and I would maybe return Monday. By now three sales guys were trying to convince me that I was making the wrong decision and my car wouldn't make it through the weekend, and the cost of repair would only rise considerably. Still, I left and called the Subaru dealership my father uses which has always seemed honest, and they confirmed the estimate (if the diagnosis was correct) for a new radiator and thermostat on my car would run $550 parts and labor because the procedure for a PT cruiser requires the removal of the AC unit to access the radiator, totaling a 4.5 hour repair. Then I come on here, and I read people changing both of these parts fairly easily and in 30 minutes to an hour. And I have been told by so many that changing a thermostat is a super cheap fix and would likely cost only $75 including labor.
I am completely in doubt about whether my radiator really is leaking, and my coolant loss isn't just from the boiling over from the overflow. It also seems that for some reason, the coolant is staying completely in the radiator, or completely in the overflow. When one is full, the other is dry and vice versa. So, thermostat, no? I just added coolant to the radiator directly and filled it until it was backed up in the funnel (approx. 1/4 gallon). I let it sit for 20 minutes until it had settled and I could put the cap on properly without spilling it. Then idled the car for 10 minutes at normal temperature. Still, nothing in the overflow, and no sign of overheating. (I haven't checked the radiator because it is still too hot to open). I also put a white sheet under the car to try to see any sign of leaking, but nothing yet. I am nervous to drive it normally today in case the smoke from last night was the sign of something more serious, or perhaps the radiator really is leaking?
I am so sick of this headache. I am a musician and cannot afford to give up gigs that are out of a 30 mile radius. But, I also cannot afford a new car, I'm a single mom!!!! Does anyone have advice on this? This is not a job I can complete on my own, but are these shops trying to take advantage of me because I am a young woman? Is changing the thermostat on an 06 PT cruiser really THAT labor-intensive? Can they determine EXACTLY the source of a leak on a radiator without even taking it out to look at it? They claim they ran a pressure test, but I am suspecting that they knew I was low on coolant and wanted to blame it on something to make me spend a large chunk of money.
Again, I'm sorry this is so long, I just wanted to make sure i got every detail of this dilemma. Thanks in advance. I've already learned a lot from reading this forum. It's pretty informative!
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Old 09 Jun 2012, 11:26 pm
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Join Date: Jul 2011
Location: Detroit, MI
Posts: 106
Default Re: Overheating issue, please help? (I'm sorry this is a long description)

I'm sorry to hear about your problems. Let me address a few of things that you talked about. First, the guy who told you to leave the cap OFF of the radiator actually doesn't know anything about physics. Tightening the cap pressurizes the system, which raises the boiling point of the coolant. Leaving it off or loose is going to make the coolant boil faster and overflow right out of your system.

Second, if your system is beginning to overheat, turn your heater on to full heat. This will open up the heater core and allow the coolant to flow through there, which is a secondary radiator. You don't have to have the fan on full blast, but make sure the heat is set to the furthest red setting. You should notice the temp gauge to fall back down, and allow you to continue driving. I'd just open up all your windows so you don't pass out from the heat!

Third, you can also add distilled water (any water actually, if you're in a pinch, but distilled water is the best) to your system if you don't have coolant handy. Keep a gallon in the trunk if you need it, and then just refill with coolant when you get the opportunity.

Now, addressing the problem, it could be a few things. The first thing would be the radiator cap, but you already replaced that. It could also be the thermostat, but don't let those guys rip you off. Replacing it is a simple task if you have a basic set of tools. There might be a write up on here on how to do it, or do a google search, or check out a Haynes or Chilton manual.

You could also have a clogged radiator. OR, worst case, you could have a head gasket leak. This could be pushing air into your coolant system and acually pushing it out of your radiator overflow. But you did say that the overflow would suction back into the radiator after it sat, so hopefully this is not the problem. If it was a blown head gasket, the fluid would stay in the overflow tank because the pressure wouldn't allow it to come back into the radiator.

SO, my advice would be to replace the thermostat first and see if that fixes the problem. In the meantime, remember the trick about the heater if it starts to get hot.

I'm sure others will chime in with possible causes and solutions as well.
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Old 10 Jun 2012, 01:26 am
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Default Re: Overheating issue, please help? (I'm sorry this is a long description)

Thank you for your response, Harry2011. I definitely feel like I need to find a course locally to get basic knowledge of how a car works so I know how to safely handle it when things go wrong. I've done a ton of reading the past two days about the cooling system in general in cars, and I feel much more educated to try to diagnose what is really happening in my car.

One thing that I haven't all the way thought out yet is the phenomenon of the moving coolant. Perhaps my understanding of the system is incorrect, but the pressure of the heated liquid causes the "spring" of the cap, which allows a valve to open and hot coolant to leave the radiator into the the overflow to cool before entering back into circulation. On the other end, the pressure in the overflow tank should be affected primarily by atmospheric pressure, yes? So when I pulled over with a full overflow tank and removed its cap, the suction noise implied there was too much pressure in this overflow tank caused by the low pressure on the other side of the valve and in the radiator and the density of the hot liquid in the tank. However, the overflow has a release point, where excess steam and liquid can flow out, right? I did not see the "boiling out", only heard the noise when I turned off the vehicle, and saw the bubbling just below the release point. And this was an indicator that the radiator cap was faulty because the "vacuum" effect was occurring on the wrong end of system?

So from what I have come to understand from reading over the past 36 hours, the "communication" and exchange of liquids between the radiator and the overflow is controlled by the thermostat. Like you suggest, I'm going to start there and see if I can find someone who can replace it for me at a decent rate. I don't have the tools or technical skills/knowledge to pull off something like that, but if I know the person, I may ask to watch so I learn something. It couldn't hurt!

I have tried the heat trick each time I have experienced the car starting to heat, and it has shown to help slightly especially when I feel panicked about how far i have to go until the next exit. After my run in with the man who left the radiator cap loose, the heater was blowing out cold air exclusively even at full blast, but that was the only time this has happened, and the heater was working just fine this evening when I drove it around the block.

I will check the thermostat, but I am also wondering if my car was not chronically low on coolant through out all of this. Because I honestly never checked under the radiator cap (never knew I needed to), I only know what the level in the overflow has been, which seems to go up and down frequently. As of tonight, my radiator is "full" because I added to it directly, and I went back and filled my overflow halfway as well. I thought about attempting to bleed the system, but I don't think I can do that without someone watching and making sure I don't do something dumb. I did drive it for a few minutes tonight without a problem, but if the levels look off in the morning and the sheet shows no stain, I know that the coolant is pooling in a particular part of the cycle, and it is not as full as I thought. At least, I think so.

Also, I do not understand why this isn't bothering me during driving that is supposed to be difficult on my engine, but only on the open road. If it is a blown gasket, how long would I be able to drive it before the engine completely fails on me? It has been running perfectly normal on city driving since getting a water pump issue repaired in November. Also, I have read enough on here to see that I should expect my fans to start failing any time now, so could this be it? After I got my water pump serviced last November and since then, I feel like the fans have been louder than before. I know that my fan comes on when the AC is on. I also know that my fan comes on when normal temperature is reached while idling. I have seen mentioned that sometimes the fans don't spin at the right velocity, and it made me wonder if that is what is happening. When I first experienced this low-grade overheating problem, my instinct was it could be electrical because it was like all I had to do was turn my car off for a few minutes, and it would recharge and start again like new. I thought maybe something was getting tired, and simply needed to be resparked. It didn't make sense to me at the time though, because I literally only knew that cars had tires, you put gas in the designated hole in the back, and never touch a hot radiator cap unless you want to be shot in the face with steam and scalding water. What can I say, I'm a real car genius, a natural...

Oh..
(For the record, I actually received an A in physics at the University of Missouri and it was in fact my favorite collegiate course because it was a subject I knew nothing about but it was so fascinating and it really made sense! I knew the man was full of crap, but I couldn't forcefully tell him that. I was just scared to tell him to stop because he was so pushy and didn't even ask if I wanted his help, he simply saw I was putting in coolant and barehanded-ly and without permission or hesitation, removed the radiator cap not even 3 minutes after I pulled off the highway. And his repeated sleazeball comments about why a girl like me shouldn't have to travel alone at night made me desperate to get out immediately, blown engine or not.)
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Old 10 Jun 2012, 02:28 am
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Default Re: Overheating issue, please help? (I'm sorry this is a long description)

Quote:
Originally Posted by maritsj View Post
So from what I have come to understand from reading over the past 36 hours, the "communication" and exchange of liquids between the radiator and the overflow is controlled by the thermostat.
Actually it is controlled by the radiator cap. You kinda had it right in your preceding paragraph. However, it doesn't go there to cool off and then come back in. Fluid expands when heated. The reservoir is needed hold the fluid when it expands. Once the engine and coolant cool down, the cap allows it to flow back into the radiator.

That reservoir is not pressurized, BTW.


The thermostat controls the flow of coolant to the radiator. Once it reaches 195* the thermostat will open fully allowing coolant to flow into and through the radiator.


My guess is that your cap was bad and your radiator was low on coolant as you were only refilling the reservoir.

Now that you have a new cap and the radiator is filled properly, you shouldn't have any issues. Of course, this is providing your thermostat is good.

You'll need a 10mm socket with an 8" extension to change the thermostat. And vice grips to remove the clamp on the top hose.

If you have tools and about 30 mintues I can give you a quick "how-to".

I've been having similar issues as yours, though unresolved, and have had to remove that damn thing 3 times today!
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Last edited by JenneK; 10 Jun 2012 at 02:33 am.
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Old 10 Jun 2012, 10:58 am
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Default Re: Overheating issue, please help? (I'm sorry this is a long description)

Well, sadly I checked the sheet this morning, only to find decent sized greenish puddle on the sheet under the passenger side. So, it looks as though there is in fact a radiator leak. The level in the overflow was unchanged, and the level in the radiator was down only slightly. An independent mechanic has agreed to look at the car, but can't get to it until Tuesday or Wednesday. If I closely monitor the coolant levels and add when needed, is it safe to drive until then?

Also, am I correct to assume the puddle is from a leak? If the thermostat is faulty and coolant is not moving through the system, the heat of running the car would still cause the fluid to expand. So, could it have possibly spilled out from the radiator cap and caused the puddle? I don't recall seeing any smoke or anything weird when I parked the car last night, but I was pretty confident I had solved my problem.

I guess there is no way to avoid a sizable repair bill. Bummer!
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Old 10 Jun 2012, 11:10 am
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Default Re: Overheating issue, please help? (I'm sorry this is a long description)

The leak that was under the passenger side, was it near the front of the car, or more towards the reservoir tank? Can you see any of that liquid on any engine parts or hoses, to try to see where the leak is coming from?

Also, if you've always been adding coolant to the reservoir tank, that would fill the radiator. When your car is running, if the radiator is low, it will suck coolant into it from the reservoir tank, so what you were doing was correct. However, it sounds like you had a leak and were just getting low on coolant occasionally, which would cause the overheating.

It sounds like your radiator fan is working properly, so I wouldn't worry about that right now. As a matter of fact, if the overheating is occurring while driving on the open road, then the fan is definitely not the problem, since you don't need the fan when the air from outside is flowing through the grill into the engine compartment. I think the fan actually shuts off when you reach 35 mph, if I'm not mistaken, since it's not needed.
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Old 10 Jun 2012, 11:14 am
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Default Re: Overheating issue, please help? (I'm sorry this is a long description)

And yes, it's safe to drive if you keep an eye on it and make sure it's always got adequate coolant. Just get it fixed sooner than later.
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Old 10 Jun 2012, 11:25 am
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Default Re: Overheating issue, please help? (I'm sorry this is a long description)

It was toward the front of the car's right side, I am pretty certain. My overflow is actually more towards the middle, so I'm think it was coming from something near the radiator, likely the radiator itself. Also the puddle was a clean uniform circle, probably from dripping I would imagine. It didn't look like it had "sprayed" or anything caused by anything too crazy or violent.
Also, the leak only started AFTER I had driven the car a few miles. Before I drove and after adequately adding the coolant, I let the car sit on the sheet for a few hours and saw no sign of leaking. I'm not sure if this means anything, just thought it was an interesting observation. I thought it could be condensation because I had turned on the AC while driving, and I don't think that it would still be damp in the morning (10 hours later), or that it would the greenish color like coolant.
Thanks for all the help/patience with my lack of car knowledge. I will hopefully be getting another opinion as soon as I can get someone to look at it and I will update you as it goes.
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Old 10 Jun 2012, 11:38 am
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Default Re: Overheating issue, please help? (I'm sorry this is a long description)

It sounds like it could be the water pump inlet tube, or more likely, the o-ring has failed around that tube.

Check out the following link, click on "view illustration" to see what the inlet tube looks like. Disregard the top portion of the illustration, as that is the water pump itself. The o-ring is labeled "5" in the picture, and is only about $5 at a Chrysler dealership. The dealership would still probably charge a ton in labor for that, even though it's not that difficult of a fix. SO, I would get the o-ring at the dealership, and find someone else to install it.

Chrysler Parts Mopar: Chrysler: Pt Cruiser: 2006: Cooling: Water Pump: Inlet Tube

Take a look at the illustration, then pop the hood of your PT and look for it. Look straight down just on the other side of the radiator, closer to the passenger side. See if you can see a coolant leak around that area.

As a side note, you should be using orange coolant, not green, for this vehicle. There's a whole discussion on that here:
Why HOAT? The PT radiator coolant thread...
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Old 10 Jun 2012, 11:42 am
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Default Re: Overheating issue, please help? (I'm sorry this is a long description)

Just another comment... Even though you should be using orange coolant, continue to use green until you can flush out the whole system. Mixing the two is a bad idea. It can cause the liquids to foam up, which can potentially clog your system.
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