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Head Gasket Blown In Mexico

3068 Views 86 Replies 7 Participants Last post by  durk96
I previously survived two stress inducing incidents in Baja Mexico with Saabrina (Fan Temp Sender and Clutch hose failure). I was in Baja Mexico for Thanksgiving in my '89 Saab 900 Turbo and the car started to overheat on the drive back. I pulled over to find that the coolant reservoir was empty, I'd checked it before I crossed the border and it was a little low, but I did not think too much about it.

The car had been a bit difficult to turn over that morning and was running slightly rough at idle. As we drove on towards the USA border, I began to ponder the possibility of a leaky head gasket. My suspicions were confirmed when I could see steam and water drops coming from under the exhaust manifold and clearly, liquids were leaking into one of the combustion chambers. Three gallons of water and a short border wait back and I was relieved to make it home to San Diego.

Later that evening, I pulled the #3 plug and sure thing it was filled with some coolant/water. I ordered a head gasket kit, timing chain, exhaust studs, timing chain guides and new cylinder head bolts.

Questions:

1. Can the timing chain cover be removed with the engine in the car? Or can the guides be replaced without removing the engine? I replaced the harmonic balancer and seal 2 years ago and still have the modified socket.

2. Does anyone know a good machine shop in San Diego for cleaning up the head. From what I've read, the head can be milled, hot tanked and then gently lap the valves at home.

3. Do you think that the Swedish Dynamics ECU upgrade (which I love) 1yr ago hastened the demise of the head gasket that may be original at 250k.

Thanks!
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Discussion Starter · #41 ·
Thanks for all the advice! I tackled the head removal today and all went pretty well. A few hoses need some attention the exhaust was leaking a bit at the head. I found out that a majority of the coolant passages were blocked at the head gasket:oops:. The car had been sitting for 5 years when I bought it back in 2013, perhaps that is when all that blockage at the head gasket formed???? I can't tell if the head gasket is original or has been replaced at some point but, it was overdue for a new one.
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The gasket was leaking into the cylinder but the block and head surfaces are were not corroded from what I can tell and I don't see any cracks.

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I'm going to take the head to the machine shop and ask that the exhaust valves are lapped and not ground, is that correct? Also have the exhaust studs replaced. Any other advice?
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Hopefully the head is straight and can be milled if necessary.
 

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Discussion Starter · #43 ·
correct , lapped NOT ground , whats the guide (tensioner side) look like ?
The tensioner guide seems ok, one of side rails of rubber is starting to come off so I'll have to apply some epoxy. I'm going to disassemble the head today and get it to the machine shop Monday to get cleaned up and checked :cool:
 

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When I do my major "freshening" I am going to look into a coolant filter to try and cut out what you have.
Pulled truck engines apart with 1.3M on them and a sparkling clean water jackets.
Logical place would be in the bleed line from the radiator back to the res, best install would be out the block drain and back to the res.
 

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They aren't a replacement for good practice, but can remove stuff that flushing will not get, and keep it clean. Short of disassembly and hot tank they are the next best thing. There are also SCA that can replenish the anti corrosives in anti freeze, just be sure if you use them, they are OK for aluminum.
I've put them on engines that weren't properly maintained, and see marked improvement, even to the point filters plugged and had to be replaced between service interval. Flushing doesn't do much and dis assembly and hot tank is the only 100% sure way to clean a block, but a filter does more than flushing can ever do, and continues to work as the engine is run.
 

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But what problem are you trying to solve? I've been driving c900s for 30 years and never once seen much less heard of a motor that failed because something was goofy in the cooling system. It feels like you would have to be driving a lot more than the average 12k-15k annually to see a return on something like that. Flushes every 5 years / 150k it all it should take. I've not seen any indications that it doesn't, anyway.
 

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It removes any solids from the coolant, any rust, casting sand that has worked loose. I have seen what they can do, and will be putting one on. If I had the engine since new, and could be sure all the maintenance has been done, it would not be as much of an issue.
You must have pulled down engines that have been flushed and still found flakes and crud in the cooling system? Flushing is almost useless in my opinion, better to not allow the rust to start, but we don't often have that as an option,
I have a few that have 80 years of whatever done to the cooling system, flushing isn't going get them cleaned out.
Cheap to install, well they work I have seen. Just my opinion. I can't see them doing any harm.
 

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Here in the Northeast, where all our water is mineral-free and very slightly acid, we just don't have those clogging or scale problems if you just change the coolant every 2 years; and that's just with cheap glycol.
 

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I've got a 1940 Buda generator that spent the last 30-40 years driving irrigation pumps and whatever came out the ground went into the radiator. That one is going to take some work. It is a 62.5 KVA set that I can overheat running a small welder.
 

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Here in the Northeast, where all our water is mineral-free and very slightly acid, we just don't have those clogging or scale problems if you just change the coolant every 2 years; and that's just with cheap glycol.
Our water is very hard here, but I always used distilled water anyway. It's cheap insurance, and with most modern coolants offering at least 5 years, I always run out the clock. ;) Speaking of, both the SPG and the 9-3 are due for flushes this spring.
 

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Discussion Starter · #52 ·
Stripped the head and labeled all the valves and lifters while listening to some great Yacht Rock playlists. Headed to the machine shop tomorrow to get the head checked, cleaned up and exhaust studs removed. I need to install the new timing chain in the mean time.

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IIRC last time I had a head gasket on a Saab quoted was probably around '98 and it was a $700 job, and IIRC the shop I used was $65/hr. So, they were probably guessing six or seven hours of labor?

It takes me five or six if I am REALLY pushing it. But, I tend to clean as I go and I invariably find something else to fix or attend to along the way. It's pretty much a full day or weekend job when all is said or done.
AMEN! & something extra always pops up. I'd rather take my time, within reason, & make sure nothing is missed. If the job is rushed & something missed or done incorrectly its a 2nd time in & theres no money in that!
 

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Discussion Starter · #54 ·
I took the bare head to the machine shop to get the head checked for leaks, warpage and general cleanup. Also extract the broken exhaust stud and remaining two studs. Tomorrow I plan to get a friend to thread in the new split timing chain. Is the procedure to just get a motorcycle chain link tool and then splice in the new to the old and then save the universal link for the final connection of the new chain?

I took a look a the timing chain guides, the fixed one seems fine, the adjustable one seems a bit worn. From what I understand, the engine has to be pulled to get the timing cover off, correct?
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Usually you're gonna wanna leave the valves in the head for the machine shop, otherwise they can't pressure test it.

The engine does not have to come out to replace the timing chain guides. See the link I posted earlier. With the head off, it's a little fidgety but definitely doable.

Your guides look appropriately worn for the mileage. They will probably last a good whole longer but they are definitely due for replacement.
 

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Discussion Starter · #59 ·
Wow, cool tool! I used the old wooden tool w suction cups, worked well, just gentle lapping and they all cleaned up nicely. Putting the valve keepers back in was challenging, happy to report they are all back in. Today I will tackle the lifters and cams!
 
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