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Discussion Starter #1
yesterday after I parked, I noticed a lot of white smoke coming out of the engine, upon opening the hood, I realized lots of coolants were dripping onto the ground, towards the driver's side; so I'm thinking the white smoke as coolant was getting onto the engine, so my first guess was that the radiator is bad; had it towed to home and this morning I was able check it more and I'm quite sure it's the radiator being cracked. but I also saw a lot of oil sludge around that area, lots on the engine cover; and I came upon this thread:


that mentions it's very likely that my head gasket is blown and that's what's causing all the pressure built-up and eventual cracking of the radiator.

I did see some oil sludge about a year ago but I kinda ignored it.

so my main question is, if I replace the radiator, would some of you experts know how long the radiator will hold up? I know of course there's no certainty but if I get a good sense that w/out repairing the head gasket (because this one I know I can't do myself for sure) that this will hold up for a year or a year and a half, I'll be happy to replace the radiator myself.

thanks in advance!
 

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Discussion Starter #3
Are you sure that a coolant hose or the reservoir aren’t leaking?
actually I'm not sure. I know prior to this incident, when I fill up my windshield wiper reservoir really full, some water would leak out.

I know when I pour water into the reservoir tank, it immediately leaks. and it's dripping on the driver side corner of the radiator. isn't the lower radiator hose connected on the passenger side? I can't tell if it's the reservoir tank; I tried to trace the line but it's so tight in there.
 

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Evaluate the easiest and most clear-cut things first - rule them "IN" or "OUT". Replacing a radiator is definitely a job you can DIY, and you can search on that. BUT the things that I would do would be:

1) Like Steve12955 said, definitely remove the serpentine belt shield that cover the RH side of the engine (crank pulley end). Clean and dry the coolant mess as well as possible, add a little water (for testing - good coolant only after after fixing). Do a simple coolant pressure test (search 'cooling pressure test'; UncleMiltie has advice on this), but stay under 10 PSI. See where the coolant leaks. You may find more than one place, so inspect carefully.

2) invest a few $$ in a compression tester or rent one from an auto parts store. Search 'compression test'. If your compression values are all even, you probably don't have a head gasket problem, so replacing a radiator could make sense, if yours is bad. BUT if you have a severe issue with the head gasket, you might ruin a new radiator quickly and waste your time an money.

By the way, if you can add the year, model, and mileage, others can better focus their responses. I assumed a 2.3L engine.
 

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Yes a coolant system pressure test will speak volumes but you would have to have an intact radiator/cooling system to do it.

A leak down test or compression test will yield lots of information, I'm guessing you have a head gasket issue given the over pressured system symptoms you describe.

It's unlikely a new rad would be damaged by a head gasket issue that you are figuring out while not actually driving the car.
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I think you're ahead of the diagnosis of a head gasket, at least for now.

What you first need to do is find out where the system is leaking and fix it. The easiest way to do this is to (1) fill the system with water and (2) pressurize the cooling system. If you have a compressor the easiest way is to take the small hose that runs across the top of the radiator off of the cooling tank, connect that to your compressor and hold your thumb over the disconnected port on the coolant tank. ~5-10PSI should do the trick. (if you don't have a compressor, get someone to help you with a bicycle pump to provide the pressure)

that will surely show you where things are leaking. Fix the leak and then you can start to think about a head gasket. The "usual suspects"for a leak will be:
  • the coolant bypass valve behind the engine on the firewall
  • the radiator end caps cracking
  • one of the hoses has spring a leak somewhere
  • the coolant reservoir
Find the leak and fix it. If it's the radiator you're going to need to replace it anyway so go ahead and do it. The job is not that hard.


Now that you've gotten the leak fixed and the system holds pressure, you need to figure out if you have a head gasket issue. Typically a leak between the cylinder and the cooling system will provide too much pressure on the components of the cooling system and cause them to fail. So you might fix a hose this week and then the bypass valve fails next week, then the radaiator, etc. There are really two good ways to find a HG leak into the cooling system:
  • Check the pressure in the cooling system. Seal the system up, let the car idle and get warm. remove the cap on teh reservoir to let all of the expansion that has come from the water getting "bigger" as it warms. put the cap back on and then squeeze the upper radiator hose. it'll be hot. Remember how much pressure you feel in that hose. Now rev the engine a few times, repeat squeezing the hose. If the pressure is higher you have an issue. Now take the car for a short ride around the block and stand on it for a few times to get the turbo to boost. stop and feel the hose. if it's much stiffer you definitely have a head gasket problem.
  • Or if you don't want to do that, go to the auto parts store and buy a kit that tests for combustion byproducts (hydrocarbons) in the coolant. If you have them, you likely have a bad head gasket.
If you've got a bad head gasket you will continue to see cooling system failures as it over pressurizes the cooling system. And as the gasket fails more you will start to see more and more pressure issues. So you're going to have to fix it.

That job is a LOT more work. It's not unmanageable if you have some wrenching skills and a good torque wrench. The parts aren't a horrible amount of money, but the labor to do it will be. Figure ~10 hours of work so if you're paying someone else to do the job figure $1200 in labor. I've done a few of them over the years. Make sure that if you're doing this that you really clean the block deck good, that you seal up the timing cover joints well and that you get the head measured for flatness. Also, remember that with the cams in the head at least one set of valves will be open enough that if you drop the head on its face you will bend them. Get a couple of short pieces of wood and set the edges of the head on them to keep the face off the floor.


Good luck
 

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Uncle Milty has it right! Follow his procedure.

I have to say that it is my experience that the plastic tank radiators fail. My son had the whole side of his radiator blow off on the drivers side. I have seen 3 other radiators that were leaking at the seam on the driver side tank.

Solution is to replace with a new one.Nissens is the standard replacement and I thinkg OEM. $125 USD or so from esaabparts, parts Geeks, Roack auto etc..

You can also put in an all aluminum radiator from eBay made in China. These are very good. I had one in my 2001 Aero and now have one in my 2000 red Aero wagon [REDSLED] They are very well made and very reliable. These are like $235 with free shipping. GPI racing is what I have.

Plastic tanks are just not as good as all welded aluminum. It mioght be worth the extra $100 for piece of mind.

Also replace the upper and lower hose while your are disconnecting them. They are cheap, and you gotta take one end off anyway.
 

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Uncle Milty has it right! Follow his procedure.

I have to say that it is my experience that the plastic tank radiators fail. My son had the whole side of his radiator blow off on the drivers side. I have seen 3 other radiators that were leaking at the seam on the driver side tank.

Solution is to replace with a new one.Nissens is the standard replacement and I think OEM. $125 USD or so from esaabparts, parts Geeks, Roack auto etc..

You can also put in an all aluminum radiator from eBay made in China. These are very good. I had one in my 2001 Aero and now have one in my 2000 red Aero wagon [REDSLED] They are very well made and very reliable. These are like $235 with free shipping. GPI racing is what I have.

Plastic tanks are just not as good as all welded aluminum. It might be worth the extra $100 for piece of mind.

Also replace the upper and lower hose while your are disconnecting them. They are cheap, and you gotta take one end off anyway.
 

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Discussion Starter #12
thanks all you guys for your expertise and writeups and opinion. I'm not all that savvy at these things... I asked the question wondering if I should replace the radiator if the head gasket is bad. sounds like I need to do this first. I was able to get a saab mechanic to look at it and he said the radiator needs to be replaced, and also the valve cover gasket (I guess that's definitely different from head gasket because he said even I can do this) is bad. anyway, he quoted me $300 for labor (radiator and valve gasket) so I think I'll take up his offer especially when he came over to my house to look at it. but I hope replacing the radiator is all I need for a while.
I know I could have done the job since some said it's easier than replacing the cabin air filter and I was able to do that. but sometimes it's just easier to have someone to do it, and I can also watch and ask him questions and learn from him.
thanks again !!
 

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once he replaces the radiator remember you need to see if there is over-pressure in the cooling system. And if there is you need to deal with it or something else is going to fail in short order.

Do the second half of what I wrote above. Start car, let it get warm, let the pressure out, then drive a couple of times and check the stiffness of the upper hose. If you have a bad HG you'll know pretty fast since you'll be able to tell the difference when you squeeze the upper radiator hose.
 

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Discussion Starter #15
once he replaces the radiator remember you need to see if there is over-pressure in the cooling system. And if there is you need to deal with it or something else is going to fail in short order.

Do the second half of what I wrote above. Start car, let it get warm, let the pressure out, then drive a couple of times and check the stiffness of the upper hose. If you have a bad HG you'll know pretty fast since you'll be able to tell the difference when you squeeze the upper radiator hose.
got it. thanks so much for all your help!! but I'm hoping it's just the valve cover gasket that's bad, and it is, I can see it's all oily in front of it;
 

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Discussion Starter #16
My Saab garage (great bunch of guys) tell me they charge 20% extra if you watch and ask questions and 50% more if you help. ?
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wow! well, he'll be at my house doing this and he's cool; I have no doubt he'll let me watch and ask questions.
 

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I replaced my radiator about 2 years ago. Got an all aluminum one through either E-baye or A'zon. The price was very reasonable, I tihnk much less than OEM
 

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OEM (Blackstone, on my cars) are expensive, but Nissens radiators aren't too horribly priced. A well-made all metal radiator does sound appealing, though...
 
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