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Cooling issue: Cracked head or Gaskets? Something else? Please help :(

Nigel77

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Hi guys, hoping to find a bit more information before deciding what to do with my car. Its a Series 2 SV6 VE commodore with 200kkms. For the record, I drive like a regular law abiding citizen always. Never had any major problem until now.

Short version: Engine got abnormally hot one day (no check engine lights or anything, just the needle spiked way above what it normally sits at). Drove it to a mechanic (who did/checked all the following). No water in the oil. Engine sealant has been applied. Water pump replaced shortly after. Radiator cap and various hoses replaced. No coolant leaking inside the cabin. Pressure tested twice with no problems. However, I'm having to top up the coolant every 2-3 days with about 100-200mls to get it to the minimum line on the coolant stick thingy. My oil is still fine since I've been checking it now. Sometimes when I get out of the car I think I can smell that sweet coolant smell. Otherwise, it's been running PERFECTLY fine for the past 6 months like this (radiator fans operating normally and temp needle is rock solid where it should be).

Slightly longer version: There is a decent chance I had been driving while low on coolant for a while before the car overheated. I generally don't check these things (yup, idiot). I noticed for a couple weeks maybe that there was some extra sound coming from the car (like an extra engine/motor noise) even though it was still driving perfect. After the car overheated that one time, I found out the extra sound I was hearing was my radiator fans kicking up a notch. I'd never heard them go that loud before so didn't recognize them. My guess is, I was driving while low on coolant and the car was compensating by blowing the fans harder, and then eventually overheating which is where the short version of the story starts.

So it comes to now and my mechanic is suggesting I need to do the gaskets (at great cost). I guess in researching this topic, I'm worried I've got a cracked head. Either way, not good as I'm assuming coolant is getting into the engine somewhere and combusting as opposed to leaking externally, but nowhere where it's able to get into the oil reserves.

Is there possibly anything we may have missed that could be the issue by any chance that would save me either spending more money than I can afford or ditching the car? Many thanks :)
 
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krusing

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Not sure selling the car is the go,
As you know the Car, and it has given you good service,
So its the Devil you know than the Devil you don't !
What's to say you sell it, and you buy another one, then have the same/similar issues, because that person has sold it because of the same, or other issues, then you are buying they problems, Its a catch 22.
Personally, I would get a second opinion,

The Water has to be going somewhere !
Two things you could do/check,
1. Get the system pressure tested, When its Cold
Because when its cold, everything contracted, so if the water is going to leak somewhere, it will do it now,
Because when it gets warm, and up to normal operating temp, its will appear drive normally, because the leak has closed with expansion.
Check all the Plugs if any of them are different colour, as that is a telltale sign of something not right,
But take particular notice to the Rear cylinders, because that is hottest part of the engine, and more likely to fail in that area.

2. Top the water up first thing in the morning,
Take the car for a drive, and then check to see if there is excessive much steam/condensation coming from the exhaust,
Keeping in mind, there is always a bit of condensation/steam the first few minutes of starting a car,
If it continues after a bit of run, chances it could be either Manifold Gaskets, and/or Head Gaskets.
I believe there is a [Radiator] water test that will indicate if there is Exhaust Gasses or Fuel is in the Colling system,


Yes it sounds expensive, but it can happen to anyone,
LIM and/or Head Gaskets are not as bad as it all sounds,
In the worst scenario a Cracked Head, or heads is a bit more expensive,
Its can happen any time, so your your alone,
They can repair alloy heads, and you would never know any difference,
So you probably wont need to buy new heads,
But if you pull it own that far, you would also do the Timing Chains,
that's where it start to get expensive, doing additional item when you have it pulled down.

On a side note,
I have a L67 and loosing water, and I know its the LIM Gaskets,
Drives like a dog when cold, but drives great when up to temp,
And its uses/consumes about 1/2 litre of water a week,
and it doesn't have a water leak.
 
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Bonus

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The brand new radiator cap that was put on by them, was it a genuine holden item? - aftermarket caps often leak and dont hold pressure well even when they are brand new - get a genuine cap from holden and try this first.

If you can smell coolant, its leaking somewhere. Can you see pink residue running down the front of the engine? Did the mechanic check around the rear of the engine to see if the thermostat housing was leaking?

I doubt very much you have cracked heads or need gaskets - sounds lke mechanic is just chucking stuff at it hoping it will fix it.

I take it this is the v6 engine?
 

syked

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Some good points about using a genuine coolant cap and getting it pressure tested in the cold.

You can also leave the pressure tester connected with pressure built up over a longer period. This will most definitely reveal an issue if one is present.
 

figjam

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You haven't mentioned whether the thermostat is OK. I would be getting that checked before committing to other work. PITA position to get at though.
As for filling the coolant reservoir, I would be checking if the coolant is low by taking off the radiator cap (when cold of course) to see if you are actually losing coolant. Radiator cap has to be correct type to suit filler neck, even Holden can stuff this up by fitting incorrect cap.
 

Nigel77

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Not sure selling the car is the go,
1. Get the system pressure tested, When its Cold
Because when its cold, everything contracted, so if the water is going to leak somewhere, it will do it now,
Because when it gets warm, and up to normal operating temp, its will appear drive normally, because the leak has closed with expansion.
Check all the Plugs if any of them are different colour, as that is a telltale sign of something not right,
But take particular notice to the Rear cylinders, because that is hottest part of the engine, and more likely to fail in that area.

2. Top the water up first thing in the morning,
Take the car for a drive, and then check to see if there is excessive much steam/condensation coming from the exhaust,
Keeping in mind, there is always a bit of condensation/steam the first few minutes of starting a car,
If it continues after a bit of run, chances it could be either Manifold Gaskets, and/or Head Gaskets.
I believe there is a [Radiator] water test that will indicate if there is Exhaust Gasses or Fuel is in the Colling system,
Does it matter if I have to drive 5-10min to get to the mechanic? I dont know how to pressure test it myself at home (not to mention I dont have any equipment).

During some cold days I thought there was excessive steam coming out of the back while I would wait for a coffee in the drive thru. But, I kind of just figured it was cos it was cold. I will aim to get out and check again after my next drive, but I believe I did actually look for myself a couple times over the past 6 months and couldn't notice anything untoward.

The brand new radiator cap that was put on by them, was it a genuine holden item? - aftermarket caps often leak and dont hold pressure well even when they are brand new - get a genuine cap from holden and try this first.

If you can smell coolant, its leaking somewhere. Can you see pink residue running down the front of the engine? Did the mechanic check around the rear of the engine to see if the thermostat housing was leaking?

I doubt very much you have cracked heads or need gaskets - sounds lke mechanic is just chucking stuff at it hoping it will fix it.

I take it this is the v6 engine?
Sorry, yes it is the V6 engine. I'll edit the post.

I have looked for the pink residue and can't find any. I don't know if I should be looking specifically anywhere in particular, but I don't see any. Neither does my mechanic (he's had it checked externally at least a couple times). I do know what it looks like though as I've spilled a little around the container where I'm topping it up so I try keep an eye out for it.

The thermostat is an unknown at the moment because he alluded to it being it in an awkward spot and would require a lot of work to get out. I have googled this before and seen other people complaining about the same thing and while some say you can get it out without a lot of work, I've seen people getting quoted quite a bit of $$$ for it too.

The mechanic is definitely "just chucking stuff at it" as you say. We both know this. So far, I've only paid for sealant application and water pump and we've been keeping an eye on things without having to spend any more money until something conclusive presents itself.

Some good points about using a genuine coolant cap and getting it pressure tested in the cold.

You can also leave the pressure tester connected with pressure built up over a longer period. This will most definitely reveal an issue if one is present.
Apparently, the coolant cap didn't need changing. But he changed it along the way (for free) when he kind of ran out of obvious ideas. I don't know if it is genuine for sure, but in the past, he has pointed out that he was using genuine parts for this and that when required. Not that it means he didn't use a genuine on this time. Just that in the context of the conversation we had, it didn't come up. It was kind of a "oh, and I put a new radiator cap on just in case it was that". I don't know if I can tell if it's genuine or not, actually, I don't even know where it is.

One of the times he pressure tested it, he allegedly "left it on all day".

You haven't mentioned whether the thermostat is OK. I would be getting that checked before committing to other work. PITA position to get at though.
As for filling the coolant reservoir, I would be checking if the coolant is low by taking off the radiator cap (when cold of course) to see if you are actually losing coolant. Radiator cap has to be correct type to suit filler neck, even Holden can stuff this up by fitting incorrect cap.
Yep I left out anything about the thermostat because it hasn't been physically looked at due to its position. But it's something I would have changed out if it comes to agreeing to replace the gaskets as he's suggesting is my next step since I guess the engine will be out/disconnected whatever (I'm assuming).

I will attempt to find the radiator cap and open it up today to have a look inside. I have briefly looked for it but I didn't see it in an obvious place (I was looking at the radiator and I don't see any cap lol.

THANKS EVERYONE FOR THE HELP SO FAR
 

figjam

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I will attempt to find the radiator cap and open it up today to have a look inside. I have briefly looked for it but I didn't see it in an obvious place (I was looking at the radiator and I don't see any cap lol.
Yes... green circle, it is not really a 'radiator cap' as in old school. And it is a bit confusing to remove first time, unscrew, then pull up. The attached rubber O ring can be a firm fit.

 

Nigel77

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Small update:
Had a few minutes before I have to go out so just did my usual quick coolant check. My dipstick thing was pretty dry but fbefore I topped it up, I found the radiator cap.

https://imgur.com/a/zvSMPcz

It's not a genuine radiator cap according to my googling. Though, it seems it's acceptable as it's the same rating and from a reputable manufacturer (CPC). See Photo #1.

Photo #2 shows the level of coolant after opening up the radiator cap. Don't know if this is good or bad.

Photo #3 is after I had screwed the cap back on. Note the little stopper I've circled. Now, when I first undid the cap, the cap was in an upside down orientation. When I screwed it back on, it is in an upright orientation. I didn't know about the little stopper thing before, but given that the cap has ended up in a different orientation than before, I suspect it wasn't on all the way? Granted it's REALLY hard to screw on after a while. This is as far as I could manage to get it. I hope that's ok.
 

Nigel77

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Yes... green circle, it is not really a 'radiator cap' as in old school. And it is a bit confusing to remove first time, unscrew, then pull up. The attached rubber O ring can be a firm fit.
Hey. Thanks! I just found it and was in the middle of posting as you posted this. It's in the same position, just had to remove the engine cover off.
 

figjam

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Not impressed with the colour of your coolant, should be a nice bright green, nor the cruddy filler neck. Time for a flush and refill ?
Don't know about the position of 'stopper' or how you got something upside down. The cap should not come apart.

Edit …….. not 'green' coolant, red. I've got my cars mixed up.
 
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