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Guest Message by DevFuse

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Head Gasket or not?

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7 replies to this topic

#1 Raindrop


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Posted 03 October 2012 - 11:47 AM

I've got a 91 Legacy L that I bought from my brother for $20. It's got 170k miles and is running like a champ for me. Here's my problem though:

Back when my brother was driving it he didn't get all the air out of the radiator or something and he thinks he blew the gasket. The car would overheat for him. Since then I have replaced the radiator cap and that's pretty much it. I've never had it overheat on me, but I haven't driven it more than 20 miles at a time. (scared it might overheat)

I'm just looking for advice as to know whether the gasket is really bad or not. I don't know very much about cars.. so please take that into consideration for any explanations :)

Thanks! Awesome help from the forum so far. :headbang:

#2 1 Lucky Texan

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Posted 03 October 2012 - 01:02 PM

do you know if it has a DEALER sourced thermostat? Most aftermarket t'stats won't work in soobs. Stant XACSTAT may work - there could be a NAPA part that will work - most will NOT. They fit, but will lead to weird overheating events.

there is a chemical HG test from O'Reilly's and parts places like that - but it needs to be bubbling exhaust gasses thru the radiator so, you will probably need to actually drive it and monitor the temps. i suppose, if it has leaked a lot before, old coolant might look bad or there could be excess 'grunge' in the overflow tank.

plan a road trip, with a buddy following in his car (buy gas and lunch for him), travel prepared for overheating and make sure, in a severe emergency, you could get the car towed or a ride to safety.

Edited by 1 Lucky Texan, 03 October 2012 - 01:06 PM.

#3 Raindrop


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Posted 03 October 2012 - 02:22 PM

At what point would I be able to decide (without any chemical tests, just driving for a while) that I was good to go?

#4 1 Lucky Texan

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Posted 03 October 2012 - 03:15 PM

At what point would I be able to decide (without any chemical tests, just driving for a while) that I was good to go?

very good question, there's a point at which you would just assume you had no worse chance than with any old car. I'd say if it was hot weather, and the car is somewhat loaded, at operating temp. and maybe cruising up/down some hills. The typical HG failure can be a little weird. some folks say they see the temp spike under load, others when engine braking along the exit ramp. Montor the o'flow bottle for extensive filling or overflowing. Defienitely bubbles would be weird. You want to confirm the fans are working too. Just search here for info about any system you have questions about.

if it's stock - I think you have the EJ22 engine which is widely regarded as extremely durable. Worth fixing even if it does need headgaskets.

Again, if anyone has changed the t'stat, and cannot confirm to you it's OEM, then you should consider just changing it.

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Edited by 1 Lucky Texan, 03 October 2012 - 03:20 PM.

#5 wtdash


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Posted 03 October 2012 - 04:04 PM

If your brother nor you ever 'burped' the cooling system do a search on here on 'how to' and do it....may need some coolant/anti-freeze.

But, yes, check your thermostat 1st otherwise you're @ risk of overheating issues. You'll need to drain the system and re-burp it to change it out.

Afterwards, let the car idle 'til warm where the temp gauge should be just below 1/2. Go for a drive and find a hill or just drive it hard - LEGALLY - for 10-15 minutes, and see if the gauge budges @ all - it shouldn't move.

I have read about people who have a car that only overheats after driving for longer distances - 50 miles - but that's usually on the 2.5's (yours is a 2.2/EJ22), which have their own headgasket issues.

You can also check your overflow tank for oily residue and bubbles (after it's warmed up from driving), which indicates a head gasket issue.


#6 Fairtax4me



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Posted 03 October 2012 - 04:11 PM

Entirely possible the radiator cap was the whole problem to begin with.

Basically head gaskets don't usually cause problems on the 2.2 engines. They can, but usually they're trouble free for the life of the car.

If the head gaskets are leaking the coolant level will slowly drop over the course of a few weeks or months. Keep a close eye on the levels in the radiator, and the overflow, check it in the morning before you start the car.

Overheating typically isn't a problem until the coolant level gets significantly low. This could take days or weeks, or even months depending on the severity of the leak. Going X amount of miles before overheating is usually only a sign of a severely bad head gasket, since the leak would be bad enough to fill the cooling system with air in a short amount of time.

Another sign of bad head gaskets is little or no heat from the heater. This usually happens if the heater core gets airlocked due to excess air/gasses in the cooling system. This can occur either by compression and combustion gases being forced into the cooling system through the failure point of the head gasket, or simply by the level becoming too low due to a leak elsewhere.

And that brings us to the next thing to consider, which is external coolant leaks due to leaking hoses or seals. Coolant tends to have a sweet pungent smell, so if you notice steam or smell something weird after driving take a peek under the car and look for coolant dripping onto the ground, or drops still on the bottom of the engine.

I would keep an eye on the coolant level. Drive it around for 45 minutes to an hour at a time in various conditions and see what gives. Keep an eye on the temp needle, if it gets up near the H pull it over and pop the hood to let it cool before continuing.

#7 Raindrop


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Posted 03 October 2012 - 05:01 PM

Excellent. I know how to "burp" it now, it was just back when he first got it that he didn't know. I'll talk to brother and see what he knows. About a year ago just before I got the new radiator cap the heater stopped working and the radiator was almost empty (had water in it, brother was poor). Since then it's got the antifreeze in it and I just put more in last week and it was still almost full. Based on what your saying I'm wondering if it's just a small leak somewhere? Since I got the new cap I've never seen it go past the running temp, even climbing up some hills for 20 minutes.

Once I have some time I'll do some "harder" driving and see if I get any of the signs mentioned.

Thanks everyone!:)

Edited by Raindrop, 03 October 2012 - 05:06 PM.

#8 davebugs


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Posted 03 October 2012 - 05:12 PM

No better time to start a fresh burp than when you check/replace the thermostat.

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