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1990 Subaru Legacy L - Overheat, Radiator Leak


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17 replies to this topic

#1 jellyculligan

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Posted 14 July 2010 - 03:24 PM

Greetings subie brothers and sisters.


I just bought this Subaru 90 black legacy wagon, love it,and hate it, only because I want to finally take this thing on a surfing trip but am beset by 20 year old car issues.. although it's new to me. I just replaced the alternator and battery, but 2 days ago I was in Seattle driving about 4 miles when I smelled something, noticed smoke on the hood, and noticed my thermostat was peaking almost to red. Never has done that in the 2 months I've had it. Before I left the house, I observed there was a little wet spot in the left corner of the bumper, on the road. I hadn't noticed that before, but I left without thinking too much about it. I pulled over right away and saw steam coming out the hood, opened it and the reservoir was completely bone dry. Also, i noticed the oil dip stick had almost nothing on it, but I replaced the oil about a month ago and put 5 quarts in. I'm assuming it was because it was running hot as it was over heating.

I then was robbed by the local shell station as I had to buy coolant and 2 7 dollar bottles of crappy oil to get back home. As I drove home, it over heated in about 2 minutes, I parked again, noticed the reservoir wasn't empty completely, but half way so. My friend who helped pick me up saw that there was fluid on the left side of the grill and a stream of coolant on the grill and dripping out on the ground. an evaporated stream of fluid was also there.

I finally got it home. The next day, I opened the cap, filled the radiator itself with cold water, which was almost bone dry. My assumption is that its been drying up for a while before i bought it and finally ran out or started leaking all of a sudden. I hadn't noticed the leak before though or any puddles but it could have.

So i filed up the radiator. The concerning thing at the time too was, in the reservoir the "green" fluid was murky, dark. Indicating oil was in it. At any rate, I empted the reservoir refilled with fresh coolant. Started the engine, let it run for at least 10 or 15 minutes, it stayed cool, and didn't get higher then about a quarter mark which I was used to seeing it at. However, there is definitely a drip of antifluid coming out the left hand side of the radiator , left corner bumper.

The left fan came on as well, the compressor clicked too but only when switching from heat to defrost. At any rate, after letting it run a couple times for 10 to 15 minutes, it never over heated but thats not with driving. So there is a leak, when parked, and it's slow and doesn't over heat right away now that the radiator is full. I don't see any milky residue in the oil indicating a HG issue, although there was oil in the reservoir initially, but then on the second sit test at home, the refill never was tainted, stayed green but that was just parked and idling for 10 to 15 minutes.


Questions:

1) I'm hoping this is likely a radiator leak only, would you recommend putting some sealant and if so what kind?

2) I've heard a compression and fluid check should be done to see if there is a HG issue, can I tell by driving it around and trying to duplicate the overheat but not letting it get too hot?

3) Any reason the left fan (if looking head on to the front of the car ) doesn't turn on but the right one does?

4) Any other tests you would recommend before bringing it in to the shop?

5) Any other reason oil would get into the reservoir and can I try to recreate this by letting the car run for X time? (no water in the oil)

I've triangulated via research on this forum, that it's either a head gasket (please no), radiator, hoses, thermostat, water pump. Since it's leaking from the radiator corner though I'm assuming radiator.

Thanks for any help you can provide,

Sincerely,
Kelly "I just want my Subaru to run dammit" Dugan

#2 nipper

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Posted 14 July 2010 - 04:03 PM

First off never fill an aluminum engine with tap water, always use deionized water or a 50/50 premix.

Second the bad news; The head gasket is blown.

#3 jellyculligan

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Posted 14 July 2010 - 04:13 PM

Thanks nipper,

Could you elaborate a bit more on why you feel the head gasket is blown? And thanks for the advise on the fluids to use, very helpful.

I don't see the milky substance in the oil, nor do I see anything dripping from the tailpipe. When I let the car run after it overheated last night for some time no tell tale indicators of this.

Thanks again,
Kelly

#4 nipper

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Posted 14 July 2010 - 04:36 PM

Subarus do not blow headgaskets by making steam. They leak into the cooling system, pushing out the coolant causing the engine to overheat. The oily brown yucky stuff in your overflow tank is a dead give away that it is blown.

There are tests that can be done but they are a waste of time in this case.

#5 Olnick

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Posted 14 July 2010 - 05:17 PM

Before you panic about the head gaskets . . .

The concerning thing at the time too was, in the reservoir the "green" fluid was murky, dark. Indicating oil was in it.


Are you sure that's oil in it? Or could "murky, dark" be old, old antifreeze that has never been changed?

Of course, if it's nipper's "oily brown yucky stuff" then, yes, that's probably head gaskets.


I observed there was a little wet spot in the left corner of the bumper, on the road.


I'd start by tracking that down. Could be radiator or hose or water pump.

If it is the radiator don't mess around with stop-leak gunk. Put in a new radiator. They can be found for a reasonable price--shop around,, maybe even try a Radiator Barn type place.

BTW replacing a radiator is no big deal. You could do it yourself.

Good luck.

#6 nipper

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Posted 14 July 2010 - 06:21 PM

Puddle left side - overflow tank.

Lets try to get rid of my brown gook :rolleyes:

Remove the tank. Put in a bunch of tiny rocks (clean) a little soap and shake the hell out of it. Drain everything out, rinse, rinse, rinse. Put it back, fill it to low with antifreeze, and lest see what comes back.

#7 heartless

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Posted 14 July 2010 - 07:10 PM

in the reservoir the "green" fluid was murky, dark.


may, or may not be oil - it seems the resevoirs, as a general rule, never get cleaned regularly, so 20 years of dust & dirt and very old coolant can make it look like it has oil in it. the tank on my car was so dirty you couldnt see the level without popping the cap!

1st off, clean out the tank thoroughly.
next - get that tap water OUT of your Subaru! You should never use regular tap water in ANY vehicle to be honest.

reflill the system properly and try to verify EXACTLY where the "leak" is.
left corner could be resevoir, could be lower radiator hose, could be radiator itself, could even be water pump...

i second replacing the radiator if that is the problem - adding things like stop leak can cause serious issues with these motors and is generally not recommended.

good luck

#8 jellyculligan

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Posted 15 July 2010 - 07:27 PM

You guys are the greatest.

I wish I would have received the notificaiton about not putting the alumaseal or stopper before doing so last night, but it is done. I can see the drip still on the left side, ran the car around for 45 minutes in the hot weather, fan works, still drips and sprays coolant. Temp stayed at healthy level, replaced coolant although will use soap and rocks as suggested. I didn't see any back flow of the BP oil spill in my coolant reservoir as I did initially but of course the radiator is full now of the 50/50 coolant so it would have to leak out fully to reproduce the over heat.

I didn't know that the sealant would cause problems. I will test it out today to see if it's sealed, however I can't find the specific location of the leak yet, it looks obvious on the left bumper side dripping but i have to look closer because I cna't see where it's coming from. I'm assuming it's not a water pump issue, but don't know how to tell that, it seems the glaring problem is the obvious leak. How would i tell if it's a radiator tube versus the radiator itself? Where is the flush valve so I can empty it? Sorry I don't have a chiltons manual yet and can't seem to find one online for a 90 legacy L.

Thanks for the tip on Radiator Barn, there is one for 130, which is 30 bucks less than shucks.

Really appreciate all the advice and guidance folks.

can't wait to take this thing out camping and surfing finally!

sincerely,
Kelly

#9 nipper

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Posted 15 July 2010 - 10:21 PM

"Sprays coolant"

We are done here, it is a headgasket.

:mad:

#10 heartless

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Posted 16 July 2010 - 08:32 AM

"Sprays coolant"

We are done here, it is a headgasket.

:mad:



Not necessarily... wonders why everyone is so quick to jump on the HG bandwagon lately???? sheesh...

if the spray is coming from the radiator itself, it can very well be a small hole in the radiator. We are talking about a 20 yr old car here that probably has the original radiator in it....

running the car creates heat in the system
heat = expansion
expansion in a properly pressurized system can and does cause "spraying" of coolant if there is a small hole.

From what I am reading, it sounds more like to me that the problem is a hole in the radiator near the left corner. If it were pushing the coolant back thru the overflow bottle, then yeah, I would agree with you, but it doesnt sound to me like that is the issue here.

OP - with the car running and at operating temp, get down to where you can see up underneath (please protect your eyes from dripping/spraying coolant! we dont need anyone getting hurt!) have a rag or two handy and try to determine where the coolant is coming from.
Use the rags to wipe off any drips/runs to try to trace back where they come from.

if it comes from the front/lower rad support, your radiator needs to be replaced (this is what I am expecting to hear reported back).
if it comes from the lower hose connection at the radiator it could be a loose clamp, a bad hose, or corrosion on the hose nipple and bears further investigation. if it comes from the other end of that lower hose, again, could be loose clamp, could be bad hose, corrosion on the hose nipple, etc...

IF the coolant is coming back thru the overflow bottle, THEN you have a much more serious problem as noted by others.

Please let us know what you find.

#11 jellyculligan

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Posted 19 July 2010 - 03:23 PM

thank you heartless,

for your heartful response. I of course don't want to kneejerk to the HG, but am wary based on my murphy's law experience. :-) so here is the latest, I am overheating more often now , normally when I filled with coolant it would last a half hour or more, but I believe the "hole" to be getting worse. when the needle reached the tip I looked again to oil backflowing to coolant, good news is that the reservoir stays relatively green (give or take plastic grime on container) (no backflow of oil). I can see a lot of steam coming from the lower left corner, and then when the steam subsides I can see another culprit which is a tiny stream of hot water coming out the mid to top left of the radiator.

I want to do a 40.00 check on this first, but it seems that even if I did replace the thermostat, that the radiator would still be an issue.

now I just need to figure out how to keep it cool enough to drive it over to a reliable somewhat close mechanic in the seattle area, why are all the good ones seeming to be out in the sticks! I'm sure there are others, just a matter of finding them. Here's to it being the radiator so I can stop waiting 10 bucks a pop on coolant to get me 5 miles!

Thanks again for all your input, it rounds out my opinion on what is going on and correlates to my experience.

sincerely,
kelly

#12 bheinen74

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Posted 19 July 2010 - 03:59 PM

possible pinhole in the bottom hose of radiator, on the lower driver side....?
just a thought.
or water pump leak?
report back.

#13 nipper

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Posted 19 July 2010 - 05:01 PM

Yuo can try to have the radiator cap 1/2 way on, that may help a bit.

But over heating more often is a telling sign of the evil that shall not be spoken.

#14 heartless

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Posted 19 July 2010 - 10:15 PM

thank you heartless,

for your heartful response. I of course don't want to kneejerk to the HG, but am wary based on my murphy's law experience. :-) so here is the latest, I am overheating more often now , normally when I filled with coolant it would last a half hour or more, but I believe the "hole" to be getting worse. when the needle reached the tip I looked again to oil backflowing to coolant, good news is that the reservoir stays relatively green (give or take plastic grime on container) (no backflow of oil). I can see a lot of steam coming from the lower left corner, and then when the steam subsides I can see another culprit which is a tiny stream of hot water coming out the mid to top left of the radiator.

I want to do a 40.00 check on this first, but it seems that even if I did replace the thermostat, that the radiator would still be an issue.

now I just need to figure out how to keep it cool enough to drive it over to a reliable somewhat close mechanic in the seattle area, why are all the good ones seeming to be out in the sticks! I'm sure there are others, just a matter of finding them. Here's to it being the radiator so I can stop waiting 10 bucks a pop on coolant to get me 5 miles!

Thanks again for all your input, it rounds out my opinion on what is going on and correlates to my experience.

sincerely,
kelly


you obviously have a hole in the radiator - replace the radiator - simple.
you can him & haw & do the $40 check all you want - the fact is: until you replace the radiator you will continue to overheat and any other "evil that shall not be spoken" will remain undiagnosed and only guessed at because of the obvious problem of the radiator loosing it's cool. :rolleyes:

honestly - this isnt rocket science here - you see where the problem is - fix it!

Sorry, I'm a little crabby today. :-\

#15 nipper

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Posted 19 July 2010 - 10:30 PM

Just to back up a bit, has anyone done a leak down or pressure test on the cooling system yet?

#16 maozebong

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Posted 09 August 2010 - 08:22 PM

Yuo can try to have the radiator cap 1/2 way on, that may help a bit.

But over heating more often is a telling sign of the evil that shall not be spoken.


you cant be serious.. thats a bigger coolant leak than the hole in the radiator. anytime the system can't be pressurized, the boiling point of coolant is lowered and you boil it all out because it will boil close to 30* lower than pressurized.

#17 Markus56

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Posted 09 August 2010 - 08:37 PM

OP should do a pressure test on the coolant system. That tell you exactly if and where an external leak is.

A decent pressure kit can be found at your local harbor freight, or borrowed from a local mechanic in trade for a 12 pack, pack of smokes, etc.

#18 rxleone

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Posted 10 August 2010 - 01:28 AM

Anyone thought about a split side tank in the radiator? I just had pretty much the exact same problem - bubbles in the water, throwing coolant out, not overheating though - but maybe it could be forcing so much water out that there's not enough to cool it?

I'd just replace the radiator. Best thing you could do to tell at the moment.




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