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Bubbles in Coolant After EJ25 Swap (Long Post)


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14 replies to this topic

#1 the_bard

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Posted 04 August 2005 - 04:02 PM

Maybe I'm just psych'ing myself out over this "new to me" EJ25 engine, but I'm feeling kinda nervous... here's why:

I picked the car up from the dealer late Monday afternoon. Drove it around a bit, didn't notice anything wrong at all, until Tuesday night. I popped the hood, making sure everything still looked ok, and noticed a bit of coolant sitting next to the coolant reservoir. Didn't think much of it, since I've been watching the temp. gauge like a hawk, and hadn't noticed it overheating. Figured it might've just burped (*shrug*).

Today, Thursday, I was driving back from work. I pulled up to a stop light, looked down, and noticed the temp. gauge starting to run upwards quickly. I signaled to get over into the right lane, moved over, and started to pull off into a parking lot, as the temp gauge stopped about 3/4 of the way up the scale. As I parked, the temp. settled back down again to where it's been sitting for the past couple days when the engine was warmed up ('bout 1/3 of the way up? Just under half, anyhow).

I popped the hood, noticed what looked like fresh coolant sitting outside the reservoir... opened the coolant reservoir, and noticed a steady stream of bubbles. Watching the temp. gauge, I drove home... never overheated.

I let it sit for a bit, and just went out to fire it back up again. After it idles for a minute or two, the bubbles start up. They appear to be coming from the "coolant return hose", the line coming from the top of the radiator, near the radiator cap, to the coolant reservoir. I pull that hose out of the reservoir, and the bubbles stop.

This has me a little irritated and nervous... when I first picked up this car, the engine in it had been overheating. On the "test drive", iut belched white steam out the rear end like one of those military signal smoke cans... not good. The dealer stated he had attempted several repairs on the engine (replacing thermostat, radiator hoses, one headgasket but not both, etc.) and would replace the engine as part of the purchase price.

I didn't see the engine being replaced myself, but I did see the car physically in the garage... I gotta go with the assumption that the engine was swapped).

I did notice a placard on the engine bay that stated that there's an air vent plug on the top of the radiator, that's meant to be removed during coolant changes, in order to prevent pockets of air forming within the coolant. I could see where the garage hadn't done this, and air is in the coolant... but there seems to be an awful lot of it. This hose bubbled for a few minutes just with me idling the car. I can't imagine it taking that long to burp all the trapped air out of the coolant.

Which leads to my final question: Is this likely to be the start of the infamous head gasket problem on the EJ25s? If it is, I figure I got a bum engine when the dealer swapped it, and I'll go back and talk to the dealer. That might go over well, or it might get nasty. I'll have to look up the exact details on what that limited warranty NY forces the dealers to provide...

#2 blitz

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Posted 04 August 2005 - 04:37 PM

On the "test drive", iut belched white steam out the rear end like one of those military signal smoke cans... not good

It sure appears like a head gasket.

Pulling the plugs to look for sign of coolant washed appearance would be a prudent move to tell if youve got a gasket and would also indicate which bank has the problem.

Is it a DOHC or SOHC?

A cooling system pressure test may also be in order.

#3 the_bard

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Posted 04 August 2005 - 04:45 PM

Keep in mind, that big belch of white smoke/steam was before they swapped the engine. Even I, in my limited experience, could've guessed that was bad... er... bad. At that point, if he hadn't stated he was willing to swap the engine, I was going to.I haven't seen any white smoke/steam puffs since I picked the car up, just this one episode of the temp gauge acting up, and the bubbles.

I just went out and took another look, after the car had cooled down for a bit. The coolant level in the reservoir was farther down, but still above the full line (at the time of the previous post, it couldn't have been more than an inch from the top of the reservoir itself). I opened up the radiator cap and the plug on the left hand side of the radiator... couldn't see any coolant in either hole. Idled the car for a few minutes, no coolant appeared, and the temp gauge stayed constant. Popped the cap and the plug back in, and no bubbles *shrug*. I'll probably take it for a drive tomorrow morning, and see what I can see.

It's DOHC, Phase 1, btw. If the temp. gauges & the bubbles continue, I'll take a look at the plugs. What's cooked coolant on the plugs look like, anyhow?

#4 blitz

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Posted 04 August 2005 - 05:08 PM

Well, maybe I'm not the sharpest tack, but if the dealer was so willing to swap the engine, why was he so willing to try to stick you with the blown one? (p.s. the guy is a shyster). He's such a swell dude that he'll not screw you over if you happen to bust him in the process of screwing you over. :confused:

It's DOHC, Phase 1, btw. If the temp. gauges & the bubbles continue, I'll take a look at the plugs. What's cooked coolant on the plugs look like, anyhow?

It looks "different" from the other three.

A H/C sniff test of the overflow would substitute for a system pressure test.

#5 the_bard

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Posted 04 August 2005 - 06:51 PM

I'm not quite certain that he's trying to pull one on me yet, to be honest. I seem to remember seein' a blue gasket material sticking out a ways on the intake on the previous engine... there ain't one there now. 'Course, that doesn't mean that he didn't/did swap the engine. Could be he just pulled the engine from god-knows-where, in the same condition, or just swapped components around to the point where I can't recognize it. Can't see the point of that, though... be just as easy to swap the engine, wouldn't it? Unless he couldn't find one... erg. Lots of speculation there.

On the other hand, I undid the cap & the plug, filled the radiator to the brim of the air vent hole, screwed the cap & the plug back on, and took it for a quick drive. I may not have driven it long enough, just five minutes or so, but it was already at operating temperature. Stayed there, too. Coolant level in the reservoir stayed where it was, above the fill line by quite a ways.

Funny thing was, when I stopped the car, there was no bubbling in the coolant reservoir... it needed to idle for a minute or two before it would start up again. Now if it was a blown headgasket, wouldn't it be bubbling more after I ran it a bit?

Maybe I'm just getting worried over it burping air... *shrug*. I'll keep an eye on it, maybe have it undergo an H/C test just to make sure.

#6 Meeky Moose

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Posted 05 August 2005 - 09:04 AM

what happens is the air bubbles get pumped into the cooling system, which in turn pushed the antifreeze out of the coolant resivoir, when the coolant gets low enough it fills the heater core with and air pocket, then the car overheats..

#7 The Dude

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Posted 05 August 2005 - 11:10 AM

Sorry, but if you have the infamous 2.5L DOHC engine, AND bubbles in the expansion tank, you can almost bet the ranch on having blown head gaskets. It's a fact, just accept it. IF the dealer installed a replacement engine, he probably installed one with blown head gaskets. Where did he get the replacement engine? Can he produce documentation for the replacement engine. ACT NOW. Because this has the potential to really get really ugly. Get anything the dealer promises in WRITING. I hope you got his promise to the swap the original engine in writing.
I hope the dealer is an honest guy, and takes care of the situation. But I have a bad feeling that the dealer may try to stick you in the middle. Get a book on Small Claims Court, and read up. Hope for peace, but prepare for war.
BTW, I had dealer try to stick me with a bad rebuilt engine. I ended up taking him to small claims court. You'll know real soon if you'll need to do the same thing. The dealer's tactic will be delay, delay, delay, promise, nothing written, delay, delay some more, and hope that you get frustrated and just go away.

#8 the_bard

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Posted 05 August 2005 - 05:10 PM

Same thing happened this morning, on my way to work. Bubbles in the coolant, coolant spillage. I even heard the heater core gurgling... that convinced me. Sure wasn't what I wanted to hear, especially since I had talked myself into this car. I had originally been looking for a '96 OBS for the noninterference EJ22, couldn't... tried finding a '97 OBS (I'd settle for the interference EJ22), couldn't... finally settled for the '97 OBW. Doh.

Anyway, I stopped by the dealership this afternoon after work. I ran the symptoms past the owner and stated that I feared it was the headgasket. He said he'd get in touch with the guy he got the engine from, and "get the story behind it" from him. He asked me to keep an eye on it, and if keeps exhibiting these problems, to get in touch with him and "he'd take care of what needs to be done" (an exact quote there). His manner comes across pleasant enough, not antagonistic. We'll see.

I'm tempted to take it on up to my normal mechanic, the guy who does all the stuff I can't do since I'm living in a downtown apartment. He said he could run a h/c test for $57, which would guarantee it's the headgasket.

I did get the original engine swap written on paper... it's listed on the invoice that the bank required for the loan. Assuming the condition of the problem doesn't change over the weekend, I'm going to stop by Monday morning and suggest either:



  • The headgaskets be swapped, and the heads checked, with paperwork stating that it had been done.
  • The engine swapped again.
All of this had better be covered by him, not me. I don't believe I'm covered under the NYS guaranteed limited warranty, since the chassis has over 100,000 miles on it, but I haven't had any proof that the dealer's actively trying to pull one on me. He's still covered under reasonable doubt... it's possible the engine he installed had bad headgaskets, and he didn't know. As long as he's good on his word to "take care of what needs to be done," I won't get nasty. If he does... I have that h/c test done and bring the results back to him. If he continues to refuse to resolve the situation, there's always small claims court, the Dep't of Consumer Affairs, the Better Business Bureau, and whomever else I can complain (loudly) to, in order to get things done.

Worst case scenario, I imagine: I end up replacing the head gaskets myself. This means a three hour drive to my parent's place - not counting any time sitting on the side of the road refilling the coolant reservoir so I don't overheat, or waiting for the engine to cool down before driving it further (I don't plan on overheating it and damaging it). Using my family's equipment and help, I swap the headgaskets, assuming I can get a hold of a manual that describes the process. We may not have swapped the hg's around on an automotive engine, but we've torn down enough tractor engines together that we ought to be able to work our way through it with the help of a manual.

I just don't want to take the time off from work to do it, nor put the money into the parts when (in my opinion) the problem should've been taken care by the dealer, since that was the point of the engine swap.


By the way, where's the sender for the coolant temp. gauge? What with the exhaust gas getting into the coolant lines, am I going to be able to trust at the gauge is giving me a relatively accurate guess at what the engine temp. is... i.e., that the gauge is telling me everything's peachy keen, and the engine isn't overheating. I don't want to be blindly trusting the gauge...

#9 blitz

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Posted 05 August 2005 - 08:19 PM

Bard, one thought comes to mind, there are some suspect radiator caps out there.

The return-flow "button" in the center of the cap doesn't seal, so the system won't build pressure. The problem is the spring that holds the button valve closed is too weak.

I had this happen with a couple genuine Subaru Fuji caps. Might wanna check that before you go ballistic on the dealer ...'cause there's no return once you embark on that route.

Yet the fact remains, the guy initially let you test drive a car that had coolant steam coming from the exhaust. That's NOT insignificant.

#10 the_bard

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Posted 06 August 2005 - 07:04 AM

The return-flow "button" in the center of the cap doesn't seal, so the system won't build pressure. The problem is the spring that holds the button valve closed is too weak.

So the cap doesn't seal the line into the coolant reservoir, and when the engine attempts to build up pressure, all it does is force coolant & air into reservoir, causing it to overfill. That makes sense. At some point, is it possible that it would allow air past it, accounting for that intermittent stream of bubbles?

Yet the fact remains, the guy initially let you test drive a car that had coolant steam coming from the exhaust. That's NOT insignificant.

Heh... funny you mention this. The dealer didn't quite do that... well, he did, but he told me before we ever started it up. I did have a dealer do it when we were looking at a '98 OBW, though. We had just been looking at it, the dealer asked if we wanted to see it running, "yeah". We started it up, and it just starts puffin' white/grey steam/smoke out the tailpipe. Dealer didn't say anything at all, we didn't say anything, just stopped the car and handed the keys back. Us - "Sorry, not interested." Dealer - "Ok." Um...yeah.

Nah... the dealer for my '97 was up front and honest from the beginning. I had first taken a look at the car when he wasn't around. First time I stopped by, a mechanic told me that it had had overheating problems, work had been done on it, and they were giving up and swapping the engine. Second time I stopped by (still no dealer), a different mechanic told me that they fixed it and it didn't overheat. Third time I stopped by, the dealer voluntarily (without me hinting) explained that it had been overheating, and they planned to replace the engine. He claims he had picked the car up at auction, attempted the repairs, couldn't get it to stop overheating, and would replace the engine if he found a buyer (if not, he was going to send it back to auction). He also mentioned it had been sitting for a couple months. The battery was dead, so I stopped by later. I wanted to make sure the tranny shifted fine, so we did take it for a test drive... rest of the car seemed fine (and still does), so I decided to take the chance.

I thought about replacing the cap last night... it's only $7 or so, so I'll give it a chance. Not keepin' my hopes up, though.

#11 blitz

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Posted 06 August 2005 - 04:38 PM

So the cap doesn't seal the line into the coolant reservoir, and when the engine attempts to build up pressure, all it does is force coolant & air into reservoir, causing it to overfill. That makes sense. At some point, is it possible that it would allow air past it, accounting for that intermittent stream of bubbles?

Yes exactly, but just so it's clear: the problems I had weren't with the main pressure spring and seal, but rather the little reverse check-valve and seal. The spring had too little tension, and the rubber seal material was too hard and irregular.

One cap I had would sometimes "catch hold" allowing the pressure itself to hold the check-valve closed (the same way pressure holds a tire bead against the rim), but other times it would just boil away and froth-up the overflow tank.

The other brand-new cap I bought to replace the "iffy" one, refused to build build pressure at all, and for the same reason.

I'm wondering how many of these caps are out there contributing to boil-overs?

#12 the_bard

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Posted 06 August 2005 - 09:33 PM

Picked up a new radiator cap this morning, and ran the car down to work (12 miles). The reservoir was still bubbling when I pulled into the parking lot. Same thing on the drive home. The coolant level does drop in the reservoir as the car cools. The temperature gauge hasn't wobbled from it's normal position, excluding that one episode.

At this point, the only thing I've got to take to the dealer in evidence is the bubbles in the reservoir. When I stopped by yesterday, it was bubbling when I popped the hood and showed him. Since then, I haven't been able to replicate the spiking of the temperature gauge.

The way I see it, the only way I have to conclusively prove ('less one of y'all can tell me different) that there's a headgasket leak is a hydrocarbon test... which is $57 that I could be putting towards another bill or three right now. I suppose I ought to bite the bullet and get it done, though. If it proves a headgasket leak, it'll give me something on paper to bring back to the dealer and lends some weight towards getting the engine swapped again.

If it doesn't, then I'll have to assume that the radiator cap isn't sealing, or air is entering the system in some other way. So far, it hasn't proven detrimental to the engine... still running like a champ.

I'd just hate to have the symptoms handed to me, and for me to ignore them, and discover a few weeks from now that I should've listened.

Edit: I had a thought this morning, while I was checking out the new radiator cap, which I had forgotten about 'til just now. Where the rubber seals on the cap contact the radiator, there appear to be some sort of o-ring-like-material. I didn't get a good look at it this morning, but what're the odds of this being in bad condition, and causing problems?

#13 The Dude

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Posted 07 August 2005 - 06:37 AM

Get the coolant tested for exhaust gases. The longer you stretch this out out, the more wiggle room the dealer will have if things go sour. Chances are you're going to need some independent "proof" to get the dealer to do anything for you anyway. You think your "out" is replace the head gaskets yourself. Well, what do you know about the engine in your car? Has it been overheated? Does it have warped heads or a cracked block. Has anti-freeze gotten to the crankshaft bearings. Let me tell you, once YOU work on the engine the dealer is going to disclaim any responsibility for it. Hopefully the dealer is a sraight up guy, but if he isn't everyday you drive that car gives him more opportunity to say, "The car was running fine when I sold it to you. You must have done something to it. How do I know how you drove it once you left here?".
Since you're kicking about $57 for a coolant test, I'm going to guess that you wouldn't feel too good about getting stiffed for a $3,000 engine swap. The clock is ticking, I can hear it from here.

#14 the_bard

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Posted 07 August 2005 - 06:20 PM

I'm going to start looking around for a '95 EJ22. Regardless of whether the dealer swaps the EJ25 or not, I don't feel comfortable at all with a replacement EJ25, considering the trouble I'm having, and the trouble a lot of other folks are having. I wanted a '96 OBS for the noninterference EJ22 to begin with... couldn't find one, so I settled for the OBW.

I'm gonna take it back to the dealer, find out if he'll do the h/c test. If he says it comes up negative, or refuses to do the test, I take it to my normal mechanic for a second opinion. We play it by ear after that.

While all this is going on, I start finding a replacement EJ22.

#15 the_bard

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Posted 24 August 2005 - 08:24 PM

Yeah...soo... I'm kinda pissed off at the moment. So far, I've been the nice guy from the country, who takes people's words at face value 'til he starts getting burned by them. I may not be getting burned at the moment, but the temperature's rising, and I'm not comfortable.

Dropped the car off yesterday morning to have the dealer take a look at it. Only left a quarter tank of gas in it, so the dealer said he didn't have much time to drive it around, but it didn't overheat during the time he did. Looks like he went through a 1/8 of a tank of gas during his test drive, plenty of time for it to heat up. Kinda hard to tell though, honestly, once it starts getting close like that.

So I picked up the keys in the middle of appointments (I work as a Double Agent for Geek Squad, driving 'round to people's houses, fixing computers), and let the dealer know I was going to pick it up tonight. He let me know the above, and also stated that the oil leak was caused by a plug in the block that hadn't been tightened down. Incidently, anybody know of a plug in the block that will leak oil if it's not tightened down? I don't know of one, but I haven't stripped down an EJ25, either.

Anyway, I walk back to the GS Bug while the wife starts the OBW and drives it to the gas station. I wait 'til she passes, and notice... (wait for it... c'mon, you know what I'm gonna see...)

STEAM. Lots and lots of STEAM. Out the tailpipe. Can't miss it. Rather like a smoke bomb. Very similiar to what the previous engine underwent, actually (gotta wonder if that's merely coincidence) Surprised the wife isn't opening the door and diving out (albeit, into oncoming traffic), thinking the car's gonna blow up or something.

The steam dies off by the time we drive the two tenths of a mile up the road to the gas station, but it's still pretty obvious. Park it, get gas, drive it back to the dealer, and park it. I'll talk to him tomorrow morning.

Incidently, I'm going to end up doing some side work for him by installing a wired network so his two shop computers can share the same repair data, etc., and so he'll have a data backup on a regular basis (he just had his system in for service through one of his kid's friends, who managed to toast the data on the hard drive, and wipe it clean. 3 years of records gone, no backup, no reasonable method to retrieve them. Doh). Now it's going to be very dependent on how the conversation tomorrow goes.

If he agrees that there's a pretty big problem, and he'll take care of it right away, I won't have any problem continuing my generosity. If he puts up a fight, I'll offer to get the network set up in return for him swapping the headgaskets and getting the heads milled (equal work/cost, I figure). If he refuses... well, I'm gonna be one pissed off... whatever. Pissed. Livid. Angry. Mad. Erg.

I'm still willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. There's always that chance that, up 'til this point, he's missed all the signs that I've been seeing. Assuming it steams up tomorrow morning when I start it up (it'd better), he'll have the evidence right in front of him and me. He wants to start beating around the bush then, and I'll have an issue with that. I don't like issues. If he wants to take care of it, then I'll feel better. More relaxed. Calmer.




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