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Need Advice on Dead Cruiser

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  #1 (permalink)  
Old 26 Dec 2011, 10:31 pm
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Join Date: Dec 2011
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Default Need Advice on Dead Cruiser

Greetings, all --

Newbie here. I've owned my 2001 Ltd Edition for about 3.5 years now and have rarely had it in the shop. The only times I have have been cooling system related, so I hope someone can help me out here (even though I'm fairly certain it's ~not~ cooling related right now).

About 18 months ago, I had the water pump replaced, along with the serpentine belt. Never had any issues with overheating in all this time, but the temperature gauge would creep up to about 1/4 away from 'hot' whenever I'd first get going down the road, then back to pretty much dead centre or just a hair below.

Over the past week, the temp gauge would do its thing, then it would drop to almost nothing, only registering whenever I was in stop & go traffic, then dropping again whenever I got moving.

On my long-distance drive this weekend, I noticed the gauge creep up to the standard 'hot'-ish temperature while I was driving, then back down to just ~above~ nominal and it stayed there. I made sure there was fluid in the radiator (it was a little low, but no visible leakage) before I headed back today, but about 150 miles into the trip, the temp gauge started going up and stayed there. It never entered the red, and the warning light never came on.

I headed to a gas station and when I turned the wheel to go into the driveway, it died on me. I was able to get it started and into the parking lot. I filled the reservoir, checked the oil and made sure that everything was okay. Limped down the road another 10 - 12 miles and the temp gauge did it again, but this time, whenever I punched the accelerator, it made an awful clattering noise, like bad fuel (not like 'no oil'... almost like a diesel engine). I pulled onto the shoulder and as soon as I slowed down again, it died on me. I started it (sluggish response, but it did finally engage) and limped it to another parking lot, where it promptly died on me, and didn't start again (it continued to turn over, but wouldn't engage). Also, I saw a disturbing amount of smoke start to come from the engine, at which point, I stopped trying to start it.

The smoke smelled burnt, but not ~quite~ like oil, and definitely not like coolant.

There was no oil or coolant leaking under the car, but the smoke seemed to be coming from around the head gasket.

SO... my question is: is it more likely the head gasket has blown or has the timing belt possibly slipped and caused the engine to overheat?

Any help is greatly appreciated, and feel free to contact me offlist if you'd prefer.

Thanks --

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  #2 (permalink)  
Old 26 Dec 2011, 10:54 pm
compdr59's Avatar
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Join Date: Nov 2007
Posts: 543
Default Re: Need Advice on Dead Cruiser

If your temperature gauge drops to almost nothing when it should be 1/2 way, your thermostat may be stuck in an open state. What brand antifreeze was used when the water pump was replaced? I would start with a new thermostat and Mopar antifreeze. Monitor the cooling fans for low and high speeds. If you're leaking coolant with no sigh of leakage, you may have a head gasket issue.

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  #3 (permalink)  
Old 27 Dec 2011, 12:06 am
Cool Cruiser
Join Date: Nov 2007
Posts: 394
Default Re: Need Advice on Dead Cruiser

As for a head gasket:

You will very nearly always be able to tell if the head gasket is blown. The motor simply won't run, or runs so poorly that it isn't worth it.
If the head gasket is blown you will almost always have either coolant in the oil (causing the oil to form a goopy whitish horrible emulsified mess) or oil in the coolant - visible as, well oil in the coolant. You would usually be able to smell the sweet coolant in the exhaust, it is unmistakable. oil in the exhaust is a bluish white or dark cloud of horribleness.

There exist only a few things that causes the motor to overheat:

1. water pump failure.
2. Low coolant (usually because of a burst hose or radiator), or freezeplug.
3. Restricted air through the radiator (either because of a failed fan, or something is in the way, like a plastic bag)
4. Restricted coolant flow through the motor (stuck closed thermostat, clogged radiator)

Normal temp gauge operation is that it slowly rises to the middle mark (or just below) and never varies from that. You mentioned your needle dropped to very low and stayed there for quite a long time. WHen my wifes did that (well it would hover around 1/3 unless in heavy traffic) - it was a stuck open thermostat.

When my cars fan died (actually it was wiring, not the fan btw, but YMMV - fans seem to die very very often in pt cruisers), my temp gauge only rose above 1/2 in heavy traffic, and it would rise until I started moving faster than about 25mph, then go back down. I suspect your fan is dead based on the temp readout. Also note that the "indicator" gauge is based on a sensor in a different area of the motor than the one the PCM uses to control the fan. My indicator gauge temp sensor went bad and that gauge went completely whacky.

If your timing belt slipped, the motor would backfire. It would run like absolute garbage and you wouldn't be driving very much at all. Its also very very rare to actually have that happen.

Were any fluid levels low or did any fluids look wrong? Did a check engine soon light come on?
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