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J-Mac Radiator Blog

Salt Lake City, Utah Radiator Repair and Service blog by J-Mac Radiators. 3520 South State Street, Salt Lake City, UT 84115.

How to Troubleshoot Oil in the Radiator

Eric Flores - Thursday, October 16, 2014

Do you have oil in your radiator? If you do, we recommend you bringing your vehicle to J-Mac Radiator right away. However, if you would like to troubleshoot the problem and be able to tell us what’s wrong, there’s nothing wrong with that. Troubleshooting oil in your radiator is a difficult process and it’s not for the novice mechanic. So please be very careful troubleshooting on your own.

You’ll need several tools to troubleshoot having oil in your radiator. Here’s what you’ll need: your repair manual; a compression gauge; a vacuum gauge; a radiator pressure tester; a spark-plug socket and wrench; and an assistant. If you don’t have all of these items, then you need to skip the self-diagnosis and go ahead and take your vehicle to the helpful staff at J-Mac.

To determine if you even HAVE oil in your radiator, you first need to start your vehicle. Then immediately after start up remove the radiator cap and examine the condition of the coolant contained in your radiator and overflow reservoir. If there is oil in the coolant, it will look muddy brown and “frothy” with the consistency of a milkshake. Then you need to drive your vehicle for an extended period of time, so the engine heats to its normal operating temperature. After awhile, park the vehicle and read the temperature gauge. If the temperature gauge needle is reading “above normal” temperature limits and you saw muddy brown contamination during your inspection, you’ll also need to check your engine.

To inspect your engine, you need to use the following steps:

Step 1: Make sure your vehicle is turned OFF with your vehicle in park or neutral AND set the emergency break.

Step 2: Using the spark-plug socket and wrench, remove the spark plugs. Screw in the compression tester or use a hand pressure tester into the spark plug hole. Remove the high-tension coil or coil pack wire.

Step 3: Your assistant is now needed! Have your assistant turn the engine over (with the key) seven or eight times then stop. Each time read the pounds per square inch (PSI) on the gauge as well as for each cylinder. Record the numbers and note any deviations with your results.

NOTE: Any cylinder that reads less than 30 pounds will have a problem and could point to a blown head gasket.

Step 4: Hook up a vacuum gauge to a vacuum source on your engine. The best vacuum sources on your engine will come from a hose that leads from the intake manifold, carburetor or throttle body.

Step 5: Idle the engine. While the engine is idling, read the gauge and record the number. Use your owner’s manual has a guidebook for the correct vacuum reading. It will be measured in inches of mercury.

NOTE: Any number that is less than the manufacturer’s specification will indicate excessive vacuum entering the combustion chamber. A warped or cracked cylinder head or a defective head gasket could cause this problem.

Step 6: Turn off your engine and check your oil. Look for any light brown coloring or foamy substance on the tip of the dipstick.

NOTE: If you see any light brown coloring or foamy substance on the tip of the dipstick, this indicates that that a cylinder passage in the head or block has crossed an oil passage with a water passage. A warped or cracked cylinder head or a blown head gasket could cause this problem.

Step 7: Hook up a radiator pressure tester to your radiator cap inlet. Manually pump the tester to the pressure that is listed for your radiator (it will be written on the radiator cap). You can exceed the pressure, but only by a few pounds, without damaging your radiator system. So please be VERY careful.

Step 8: Wait for approximately five (5) minutes and see if the pressure slowly drops. Listen for any hissing noises coming from the area near or around the cylinder head.

NOTE: If you can hear hissing noises coming from around the cylinder head or the pressure is slowly dropping in your radiator, your vehicle may have a defective gasket seal and potentially an exterior crack in the cylinder head.

Q&A: Liquid Aluminum

Eric Flores - Monday, October 13, 2014

Our first question was: “I have a bottle of Bar’s Liquid Aluminum stop leak. Will the ‘Liquid Aluminum’ stop leak that I have work on my radiator if it is made of brass and/or copper?” Naturally, I sought the specialized team of radiator repair experts at J-Mac Radiator in beautiful Salt Lake City, Utah, for their advice on this topic.

 

After going in, I sat down with Mr. Mark McKenna, manager of J-Mac Radiator. We started talking about using ‘Liquid Aluminum’ and he strongly recommended just coming in and having a professional radiator technician examine your radiator.

 

“I would only under the most dire of circumstances encourage its [Liquid Aluminum] use,” he said.

 

When I asked why, he explained to me that it and most other “stop leak” products work in theory by circulating through the cooling system via the coolant. As the coolant escapes through the leak some of the product will be left behind thus clogging the leak. Sounded like a good theory to me. Then Mark explained that there were a few flaws with the theory.

 

1. “Stop Leak” products rarely work whether they are designed for a copper, brass, or plastic aluminum radiator.

 

2. “Stop Leak” products are non-selective. That means they flow through the ENTIRE system, plugging up passages into your heater cove and the radiator tubes. This can make your radiator problem worse by causing your car to overheat.

 

Mark said if you choose to use a “stop leak” product, to make sure it is only as a SHORT TERM SOLUTION. Again he cautioned that if your radiator has a leak, please take it in and get it fixed by a radiator repair shop.

 

Here’s an example, if you were to use the “Liquid Aluminum” and it stops your leak, but it also severely restricted your Heater Core. Now your Heater Core will no longer produce any heat and that means you’ll have to take your car in for it to be removed, repaired and possibly replaced. This would range in price from a few hundred to $1,500.

 

Another example…so you still used that “Liquid Aluminum” and it stopped your leak. Well, it also clogged up your whole radiator, which resulted in the overheating of your engine. Do you know how much a new engine costs? On the conservative side, it would cost a few thousand dollars.

 

So, I ask you, is using the “Liquid Aluminum” or other “stop leak” product worth the risk? Are you willing to put your car’s Heater Core and engine on the line for a quick fix? I submit (and Mark agrees with me) that it simply isn’t worth the risk.

 

“You are money ahead by having the leak diagnosed by a professional and then having it repaired,” he said.

 

Thanks to our friends at J-Mac Radiator for helping us out with this question today. I really hope you found it as interesting as I did and if you were thinking of using a “stop leak” product in your radiator, I hope you’ll think twice before you do. Stop by J-Mac Radiator for any of your car care needs, located at 3520 South State Street and online at www.jmacradiators.com.


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