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Auto_Enlightenment
Auto_Enlightenment, ASE Certified Technician
Category: Car
Satisfied Customers: 237
Experience:  ASE Master Certified Technician
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79 fiat x1/9.. it is losing coolant..radiator shop..head gasket..leaks

Resolved Question:

I have a 79 Fiat X1/9.. it is losing coolant .. I had a radiator shop check it out and couldn't find anything including checking the the head gasket, its okay. There is no vapor fog when it starts, no drips/leaks, no oil in water or water in oil nor does it over heat... any ideaas?
Submitted: 2 years ago.
Category: Car
Expert:  Auto_Enlightenment replied 2 years ago.

Auto_Enlightenment : Thank you for using Just Answer. I am a Master Automobile Technician and I can help with your Fiat. First, sorry to hear you are having trouble. I'd like to start by asking some questions so I can get a better feel for the situation. Has the temp ever gotten hot? Do you ever experience long cranking starts after you have driven it then parked it and let it sit for a while?
Auto_Enlightenment : How much coolant are you losing and over what period of time?
Auto_Enlightenment : Do you know how the shop checked for a head gasket leak? Did they pressure test to check for external leaks or was it just visually checked?
Customer:
Customer:

Yes it has gotten hot.. last yyear I blew a radiator hose but caught it in time.. Midas replaced all the hoses, beld the system...


 

Customer:

Never a problem to restart.. give a little pedal and it kicks right over..


 

Customer:

Coolant loss appears to be by number of trips rather than how many miles I drive.. can lose a pint or two after six or eight short trip over a week's time


 

Customer:

I had Bucky's a local chain.. do a system flush, drain and pressure check.. they let it idle for an hour with no overheating or leakage..


 

Customer:
Customer:

the only thing I could come up with was the pressure cap losing coolant while I drive.. bought anew one (13 lbs) but didn't fix the problem...


 

Customer:

As I said there is never any coolant on my driveway after a trip... a guy told me that there is a valve on X 1/9s that if defective can let coolant into the intake manifold when it warms up... haven't been able to verify this.

Customer:

Always starts right up in the morning too... no noticable vapor...


 

Customer:

One more thing.. the system always seems to be pressurized even after sitting for a few days/weeks.. if I release the lever on the cap there is a sound of air leaving the system.. that's why I changed caps from a standard cap to one with a relief lever...


 

Customer:
Auto_Enlightenment :

Were there signs of leakage at the cap you replaced? Any coolant leakage woudl leave a crusty residue.

I honestly believe you have the beginnings of a very slow head gasket leak which can be very difficult to detect until it gets worse. I've seen cars with suspected slow head gasket leaks which showed no signs initially until they got much worse. These types of cars may go a year or two before developing into a leak large enough to detect. Also, if a system sits and idles for an hour it may not show because it is not under load. The fact that your system stays pressurized even after sitting is a good indicator that you have a head gasket leak. As the system cools it should loose any pressure that was built up while the system was hot. The system should only have pressure when the coolant is hot and expanded. That is the first thing I check on a suspected head gasket leak. If the car has set for a while and is cold, if I hear pressure bleed off then it is most likely pressurized by combustion gas which has leaked into the system. This combustion pressure will not decrease as the engine cools because it is not a liquid which changes pressure with temperature. The second thing I check immediately after removing the cap from a cold pressurized system is the smell coming from the radiator. If it smells gassy like hydro carbons then it is a very good indicator that you have a head gasket leak. Coolant should always smell sweet. If it smells gassy at all then you definitely have a head gasket leak. Next I would rund the system with a coolant funnel attached where the cap would normally be. You fill the funnel with coolant and run the vehicle until it gets hot. Then hold the throttle at 2-3k rpm for a few minutes and watch for bubbles to start coming up through the coolant in the funnel. Once you start seeing bubbles, snap the throttle open to 4-5k rpms a rew times then hold again at 2-3k rpm. Do this back and forth for a bit once hot and if the bubbles increase or get worse then you have confirmed a head gasket leak. Sometimes you will even notice vapor/gasses comeout of the bubbles when they pop.

Regarding the valve you referenced, I will have to look into that possibility.

Customer:

No signs of leakage around the cap.... and there is no odor of gas when the cap is removed.. nor is there any sign of petrolium product in the coolant.. how about re-torquing the head or would that cause more problems? One other thing, I never hear the cooling fan come on after I turn off the engine when it's hot.. could that be a clue? I can visually see on the temp gauge the fan kick in when I'm driving.. could a defective thermal swtich or relay be the problem?


 

Auto_Enlightenment :

You will not always get coolant and oil mixing when the head gasket leaks it just depends on where the leak is. There are a bunch of coolant and oil passages between the head and block and if the leak does not occurr at one of the adjoining oil & coolant passages then no mixing would take place. Often times you see no mix because the coolant leaks directly into the combustion chamber.

To be sure we are on the same page, when I say gassy smell I do not mean the smell of fuel but rather the smell of combustion gasses/hydrocarbons of burnt fuel. If it smells diiferent then the sweet smell of coolant then we may have a leak. The key indicator though is the pressure that your cooling system maintains when cool. We are probably dealing with a very small leak. I've heard of some shade tree mechanics putting off complete head gsket failure by torqueing the head bolts down a quarter turn. I don't know that I agree with that but I have heard of this being done.

Did your fans normally run when the car is off? Some cars are equipped with this feature but not all are. I would need to check to see if your Fiat is designed to do this.

Customer:

The fan will run if and when the ambient air temp is above 70 or so... we have had a very cool Spring so haven't heard any fans after it's shut off... I also have a 124 Spider and that fan often comes on after I turn it off but it also ran a little hotter until I had the hood louvered... I will check the smell again but I'm sure it has a sweet odor like antifreeze...


 

Auto_Enlightenment :

Yes, the engine must be hotter then preset temps for the fans to run when it is off so maybe yours just hasn't been hot enough to run the fans.

It's best to check the smell after its been sealed up a while and run a few times. Wait until it cools then just after its been opened see if you smell anything other than the normal sweet smell of antifreeze.

Auto_Enlightenment :

I just stumbled on an interesting article which may address your situation here. I will post it momentarily.

Auto_Enlightenment :

Here is one possibility for your coolant consumption. Keep in mind that not all symptoms mentioned in this article will be present in all cars. Your engine can consume small amounts of coolant in the combustion process which is hard to detect any smoke from and you will not always get coolant & oil mixing. With that said, this thermostat gasket issue may be worth looking into as a possible cause of your mysterious coolant consumption.

Click Here for the Article

As a general rule, if it is not leaking externally than it must be leaking internally . In rare instances coolant can also leak into transmissions with coolers but usually you will see oil in the coolant.

Customer:

I'll perform those checks over the next few days and get back to you...


 

Auto_Enlightenment :

Ok, sounds good thanks.

Customer:

Oops.. forgot to mention that a compression check showed 140 psi in all 4 cylinders...


 

Auto_Enlightenment :

That sounds good for compression but a compressoin test will not show a leaking head gasket. They would need to perform a cylinder leak test and even then it still may not show on a slow leak.

Auto_Enlightenment, ASE Certified Technician
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Satisfied Customers: 237
Experience: ASE Master Certified Technician
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