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Car troubles: Just the cold or something more? -UPDATE- Definitely more.

AthenorAthenor Battle Hardened OptimistThe Skies of HiigaraRegistered User regular
edited February 2008 in Help / Advice Forum
(see post 12 for the update.)

Hey all. You guys have been really good so far regarding advice for my POS car, so I'm hoping you can help now.

For the last 2-3 days, when we've been at below freezing temperatures around here, I've been noticing something with my car when it idles: Steam comes from under the hood. A lot of steam. I call it steam because it isn't persistent, like smoke, and it behaves identically to what comes out of the exhaust of my car in this weather.

Now... Is this usual in cold temperatures? Could it be a symptom of something worse? obviously when I'm moving it doesn't happen, as far as I can tell, but once I sit still for 1-2 seconds it starts billowing out. It increases the longer the car is running, implying it is related to heat. When I turn the car off, it persists for 2-3 minutes, perhaps even longer.

My car is an OLD piece of shit, being a '93 Taurus. I know I need to get the transmission fluid changed, but I have no clue how much that costs. Something is leaking on it as well, either the radiator or the transmission -- or both. I've had to replace the gasket heads on her once, but this steam looks nothing like the smoke that billowed out when I had to do that.

The temperature needle isn't going any higher than it usually does -- sitting between 1/4 and 1/2 of the needle. If anything, this is warmer than usual for my car in these temperatures, but not by much.

So. You guys have been great about help in the past, so any advice is highly appreciated!

He/Him | "A boat is always safest in the harbor, but that’s not why we build boats." | "If you run, you gain one. If you move forward, you gain two." - Suletta Mercury, G-Witch
Athenor on

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    RuckusRuckus Registered User regular
    edited January 2008
    Does it start as soon as the car starts or after the car has been running for a few minutes?

    Ruckus on
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    AthenorAthenor Battle Hardened Optimist The Skies of HiigaraRegistered User regular
    edited January 2008
    Ruckus wrote: »
    Does it start as soon as the car starts or after the car has been running for a few minutes?

    Running for a few minutes. It won't happen if I just start up the car and let it warm up while I scrape the windows, either.

    Athenor on
    He/Him | "A boat is always safest in the harbor, but that’s not why we build boats." | "If you run, you gain one. If you move forward, you gain two." - Suletta Mercury, G-Witch
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    Sword_of_LightSword_of_Light Registered User regular
    edited January 2008
    Ever pop the hood and take a look? I mean, it could be condensation or frost ....sublimating.....(I wanna say, but its been a long time since climate class)...into the atmosphere as your engine warms, but if its got a specific source, then, no, I would say its something different.

    Then again, I'm not a mechanic.

    (Then again, I aint gonna charge you for an opinion)

    Sword_of_Light on
    "I say we take off and nuke the entire site from orbit. It's the only way to be sure. "
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    AthenorAthenor Battle Hardened Optimist The Skies of HiigaraRegistered User regular
    edited January 2008
    When I popped the hood, it was basically coming from all over, at least at a quick glance. It was coming from the undersides mainly. I know that I can hear a softhissing sound when I turn off the car, so it might be a leak in that nature. But that goes away really quickly (15-20 seconds) and the steam doesn't.

    Athenor on
    He/Him | "A boat is always safest in the harbor, but that’s not why we build boats." | "If you run, you gain one. If you move forward, you gain two." - Suletta Mercury, G-Witch
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    Sword_of_LightSword_of_Light Registered User regular
    edited January 2008
    Athenor wrote: »
    When I popped the hood, it was basically coming from all over, at least at a quick glance. It was coming from the undersides mainly. I know that I can hear a softhissing sound when I turn off the car, so it might be a leak in that nature. But that goes away really quickly (15-20 seconds) and the steam doesn't.

    The soft hiss might just be a compressor - I have no idea if the compressor to the ac runs whether or not you use the ac, but I've heard hissing and its useually that.

    If it were my car - and take my advice not with a grain of salt, but an actual salt lick - I killed my last car by overfilling the oil and blowing the oil pump.
    If it were my car, I would just say 'huh, a lot of steam comming up. Must be wicked cold today.' and leave it at that. But I am not a gearhead, cars do not come naturally to me. I wouldnt worry, but then I wouldnt worry until angry red lights started showing up on my dashboard.

    "He said I'd blown a seal. I said, just fix the damn car and keep my personal life out of it."
    -Kip Adona "Wet Dream"

    Sword_of_Light on
    "I say we take off and nuke the entire site from orbit. It's the only way to be sure. "
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    FatsFats Corvallis, ORRegistered User regular
    edited January 2008
    What's it smell like? It sounds like exhaust to me, probably leaking under the engine. When you're headed down the road it dissipates under the car, when you stop it just floats up. When it's idling, is anything coming out the exhaust pipe at the back?

    Only other source of steam would be burning coolant, which smells like someone shat in a cotton candy stall and then lit it on fire. Very distinct, you'd know if that was the case.

    Fats on
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    AthenorAthenor Battle Hardened Optimist The Skies of HiigaraRegistered User regular
    edited January 2008
    Fats wrote: »
    What's it smell like? It sounds like exhaust to me, probably leaking under the engine. When you're headed down the road it dissipates under the car, when you stop it just floats up. When it's idling, is anything coming out the exhaust pipe at the back?

    Only other source of steam would be burning coolant, which smells like someone shat in a cotton candy stall and then lit it on fire. Very distinct, you'd know if that was the case.

    There's stuff coming out the exhaust normally.

    There is a slight smell, but that could just be the heating system, which is really old. It doesn't smell like shit, but it does have a slight sweet taste to it. And I know I have a coolant leak somewhere, because I'm constantly having to refill the radiator reservoir.

    Edit: The sweet might just be my mind imagining things.

    Athenor on
    He/Him | "A boat is always safest in the harbor, but that’s not why we build boats." | "If you run, you gain one. If you move forward, you gain two." - Suletta Mercury, G-Witch
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    FatsFats Corvallis, ORRegistered User regular
    edited January 2008
    Athenor wrote: »
    Fats wrote: »
    What's it smell like? It sounds like exhaust to me, probably leaking under the engine. When you're headed down the road it dissipates under the car, when you stop it just floats up. When it's idling, is anything coming out the exhaust pipe at the back?

    Only other source of steam would be burning coolant, which smells like someone shat in a cotton candy stall and then lit it on fire. Very distinct, you'd know if that was the case.

    There's stuff coming out the exhaust normally.

    There is a slight smell, but that could just be the heating system, which is really old. It doesn't smell like shit, but it does have a slight sweet taste to it. And I know I have a coolant leak somewhere, because I'm constantly having to refill the radiator reservoir.

    Edit: The sweet might just be my mind imagining things.

    Nah, if you've got a coolant leak somewhere you're probably smelling sweet. You'd be going through gallons of coolant to make billows of steam constantly, though, so I still think this is the exhaust.

    When you get around to having the transmission fluid changed (I'm guessing $140), mention the smoke/steam and have them poke around underneath it while it runs. It's not a problem that immediately (or at all) needs fixing, though.

    Edit: Good on you for keeping up on that coolant leak, too. :^:

    Fats on
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    AthenorAthenor Battle Hardened Optimist The Skies of HiigaraRegistered User regular
    edited January 2008
    ... $140 to change the transmission fluid?! Good God!

    Athenor on
    He/Him | "A boat is always safest in the harbor, but that’s not why we build boats." | "If you run, you gain one. If you move forward, you gain two." - Suletta Mercury, G-Witch
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    FatsFats Corvallis, ORRegistered User regular
    edited January 2008
    That's just a guess, but yeah, I wouldn't be surprised. Call around, though.

    Fats on
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    AthenorAthenor Battle Hardened Optimist The Skies of HiigaraRegistered User regular
    edited January 2008
    Well fuck me.

    Today was the first day I've needed my car, and the first above-freezing day I've seen in a bit. So I head to school.


    The car seizes up while I was coming down an off-ramp. I manage to get it to the side of the road, but it is already smoking. After quite a few attempts to get it started (most of which would get the engine started in idle, but not in drive or reverse), I put in a quart of transmission fluid that I had bought in case of emergency. It did the trick, and I managed to get her started and gingerly get her back home.

    Smoke was just pouring out. My car is a front wheel drive Taurus, and the smoke was mostly coming out from where the drive belt was. The drive belt, thank god, didn't look any worse for wear. But my guess is that the smoke was coming from the drive wheel itself.

    What's more, now that the temperature was above freezing, I could see where my engine was actually overheating. I got home before it got too high, but the needle was heading, quite rapidly, towards the upper quarter of the thermostat. It never made it that far, thankfully. When I opened up the hood to take a look at the smoke, I could hear a hissing/sizzling sound coming from the engine, really faint. I don't want to think about how hot it was in there.

    My car's manual said that the car takes 12 quarts of transmission fluid. I thought that must've been a typo or something wrong, but I'm now suspecting that it's the truth, and my running it dangerously low has been wreaking havoc on my transmission. I think it's unavoidable that I need to take it in to get the transmission looked at.

    Also, I breathed in a few breaths of that smoke. I assume it's toxic for me, yes?

    Athenor on
    He/Him | "A boat is always safest in the harbor, but that’s not why we build boats." | "If you run, you gain one. If you move forward, you gain two." - Suletta Mercury, G-Witch
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    wunderbarwunderbar What Have I Done? Registered User regular
    edited January 2008
    ya, don't be sucking that stuff in in any great quantities. I'd also get the tranmisison looked at, but have it towed to the shop, don't try to drive it. Running dangerously low on fluid in the tranny might have killed it. Hopefully not, I actually drove an old POS car for an hour with no Radiator fluid in it with no real damage. It was winter, so the engine didn't heat up nearly as fast. But still, I'm lucking the Radiator didn't come out any worse for wear. You may get lucky.

    Also, a bit off topic, but it makes me laugh every time someone says "ooo, it's below freezing, it killed my car" Try living somewhere with a real winter. -43F here this morning. Cars work no problem.

    wunderbar on
    XBL: thewunderbar PSN: thewunderbar NNID: thewunderbar Steam: wunderbar87 Twitter: wunderbar
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    DaenrisDaenris Registered User regular
    edited January 2008
    Athenor wrote: »
    Fats wrote: »
    What's it smell like? It sounds like exhaust to me, probably leaking under the engine. When you're headed down the road it dissipates under the car, when you stop it just floats up. When it's idling, is anything coming out the exhaust pipe at the back?

    Only other source of steam would be burning coolant, which smells like someone shat in a cotton candy stall and then lit it on fire. Very distinct, you'd know if that was the case.

    There's stuff coming out the exhaust normally.

    There is a slight smell, but that could just be the heating system, which is really old. It doesn't smell like shit, but it does have a slight sweet taste to it. And I know I have a coolant leak somewhere, because I'm constantly having to refill the radiator reservoir.

    Edit: The sweet might just be my mind imagining things.

    Just to clarify, how often do you have to refill your coolant? Because you say constantly, and if you're refilling it all the time I'd suspect a coolant leak, which explains the smell, the smoke, the overheating, and the sizzling sound from your engine (escaped coolant spraying onto hot metal... good times).

    Daenris on
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    AthenorAthenor Battle Hardened Optimist The Skies of HiigaraRegistered User regular
    edited January 2008
    Well, my car is an aluminum block, so if it overheats I'm fucked. In fact, I already had to have the car repaired once for that, which ended up being a 3 month long ordeal.

    If I do drive it again, I'll be putting 2-3 more quarts of transmission fluid in it.

    Athenor on
    He/Him | "A boat is always safest in the harbor, but that’s not why we build boats." | "If you run, you gain one. If you move forward, you gain two." - Suletta Mercury, G-Witch
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    AthenorAthenor Battle Hardened Optimist The Skies of HiigaraRegistered User regular
    edited January 2008
    Daenris wrote: »
    Athenor wrote: »
    Fats wrote: »
    What's it smell like? It sounds like exhaust to me, probably leaking under the engine. When you're headed down the road it dissipates under the car, when you stop it just floats up. When it's idling, is anything coming out the exhaust pipe at the back?

    Only other source of steam would be burning coolant, which smells like someone shat in a cotton candy stall and then lit it on fire. Very distinct, you'd know if that was the case.

    There's stuff coming out the exhaust normally.

    There is a slight smell, but that could just be the heating system, which is really old. It doesn't smell like shit, but it does have a slight sweet taste to it. And I know I have a coolant leak somewhere, because I'm constantly having to refill the radiator reservoir.

    Edit: The sweet might just be my mind imagining things.

    Just to clarify, how often do you have to refill your coolant? Because you say constantly, and if you're refilling it all the time I'd suspect a coolant leak, which explains the smell, the smoke, the overheating, and the sizzling sound from your engine (escaped coolant spraying onto hot metal... good times).


    I don't monitor it as frequently as I should, but it usually ends up being that it pools at the bottom of the overflow container in a small amount. I would say I have to refill it every month, if not more frequently. Lately, though, I've been noticing the liquid stains on the concrete under my car getting larger, faster, so I suspect that whatever leak is present has gotten much worse.

    Athenor on
    He/Him | "A boat is always safest in the harbor, but that’s not why we build boats." | "If you run, you gain one. If you move forward, you gain two." - Suletta Mercury, G-Witch
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    DaenrisDaenris Registered User regular
    edited January 2008
    Athenor wrote: »
    I don't monitor it as frequently as I should, but it usually ends up being that it pools at the bottom of the overflow container in a small amount. I would say I have to refill it every month, if not more frequently. Lately, though, I've been noticing the liquid stains on the concrete under my car getting larger, faster, so I suspect that whatever leak is present has gotten much worse.

    You say you don't monitor it, doesn't your car have a sensor and indicator light for low coolant, or is that not working?

    Daenris on
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    AthenorAthenor Battle Hardened Optimist The Skies of HiigaraRegistered User regular
    edited January 2008
    Daenris wrote: »
    Athenor wrote: »
    I don't monitor it as frequently as I should, but it usually ends up being that it pools at the bottom of the overflow container in a small amount. I would say I have to refill it every month, if not more frequently. Lately, though, I've been noticing the liquid stains on the concrete under my car getting larger, faster, so I suspect that whatever leak is present has gotten much worse.

    You say you don't monitor it, doesn't your car have a sensor and indicator light for low coolant, or is that not working?

    My car is a '93. as far as I know, it has never had a light for low coolant. I do know that there is a cable hanging around that side of the car that is not plugged into anything, though. So for all I know, that might be it.

    Edit: Also, my service engine soon light has been coming on and turning off, but putting in more transmission fluid seemed to have stopped that until the last time I drove the car. My car does not have one of those universal plug thingies for reading out the computer error messages, though.

    Athenor on
    He/Him | "A boat is always safest in the harbor, but that’s not why we build boats." | "If you run, you gain one. If you move forward, you gain two." - Suletta Mercury, G-Witch
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    DaenrisDaenris Registered User regular
    edited January 2008
    Athenor wrote: »
    My car is a '93. as far as I know, it has never had a light for low coolant. I do know that there is a cable hanging around that side of the car that is not plugged into anything, though. So for all I know, that might be it.

    Edit: Also, my service engine soon light has been coming on and turning off, but putting in more transmission fluid seemed to have stopped that until the last time I drove the car. My car does not have one of those universal plug thingies for reading out the computer error messages, though.

    I have a 93 escort that has the light, so that may be that disconnected cable. In any case you really need to check it more often than once a month if you don't have an indicator light telling you when it's low. Especially if it's just pooling at the bottom of the overflow tank every time you check, which means that it has completely run out in between checks. Last summer we were having problems that sound similar to yours and it was a coolant leak that started out small but ended up ruining our water pump and blowing the head gasket.

    Just another thought of what to have looked at in addition to the transmission that others have suggested.

    Daenris on
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    AthenorAthenor Battle Hardened Optimist The Skies of HiigaraRegistered User regular
    edited January 2008
    *nods* We replaced the water pump back in the end of 2006.

    But I'll have them take a look at that too.

    Athenor on
    He/Him | "A boat is always safest in the harbor, but that’s not why we build boats." | "If you run, you gain one. If you move forward, you gain two." - Suletta Mercury, G-Witch
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    DaenrisDaenris Registered User regular
    edited January 2008
    Athenor wrote: »
    *nods* We replaced the water pump back in the end of 2006.

    But I'll have them take a look at that too.

    Yeah... our water pump was actually like... 6-8 months before the head gasket had to be replaced... it was a progressively worse problem that all ended up being linked to the same problem.

    But good luck getting this checked out.

    Daenris on
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    AthenorAthenor Battle Hardened Optimist The Skies of HiigaraRegistered User regular
    edited January 2008
    Daenris wrote: »
    Athenor wrote: »
    *nods* We replaced the water pump back in the end of 2006.

    But I'll have them take a look at that too.

    Yeah... our water pump was actually like... 6-8 months before the head gasket had to be replaced... it was a progressively worse problem that all ended up being linked to the same problem.

    But good luck getting this checked out.

    As I said, we replaced the head gasket back sometime between 2000 and 2002. I wouldn't be surprised if this problem comes back, but the idea is to get this car working until I can get a new one.


    ... and at this point, I'm thinking I may just need to go ahead and find a new junker.

    Athenor on
    He/Him | "A boat is always safest in the harbor, but that’s not why we build boats." | "If you run, you gain one. If you move forward, you gain two." - Suletta Mercury, G-Witch
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    FatsFats Corvallis, ORRegistered User regular
    edited January 2008
    Athenor wrote: »
    ... and at this point, I'm thinking I may just need to go ahead and find a new junker.

    Yeah.

    Fats on
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    Lord YodLord Yod Registered User regular
    edited January 2008
    Athenor wrote: »
    Well fuck me.

    Today was the first day I've needed my car, and the first above-freezing day I've seen in a bit. So I head to school.


    The car seizes up while I was coming down an off-ramp. I manage to get it to the side of the road, but it is already smoking. After quite a few attempts to get it started (most of which would get the engine started in idle, but not in drive or reverse), I put in a quart of transmission fluid that I had bought in case of emergency. It did the trick, and I managed to get her started and gingerly get her back home.

    Smoke was just pouring out. My car is a front wheel drive Taurus, and the smoke was mostly coming out from where the drive belt was. The drive belt, thank god, didn't look any worse for wear. But my guess is that the smoke was coming from the drive wheel itself.

    What's more, now that the temperature was above freezing, I could see where my engine was actually overheating. I got home before it got too high, but the needle was heading, quite rapidly, towards the upper quarter of the thermostat. It never made it that far, thankfully. When I opened up the hood to take a look at the smoke, I could hear a hissing/sizzling sound coming from the engine, really faint. I don't want to think about how hot it was in there.

    My car's manual said that the car takes 12 quarts of transmission fluid. I thought that must've been a typo or something wrong, but I'm now suspecting that it's the truth, and my running it dangerously low has been wreaking havoc on my transmission. I think it's unavoidable that I need to take it in to get the transmission looked at.

    Also, I breathed in a few breaths of that smoke. I assume it's toxic for me, yes?

    It sounds to me like you may have a leak in the transmission cooler/radiator.

    And yeah, with the blue book value of a 93 Taurus, I'd definitely be looking into a new (to you) car at this point.

    Lord Yod on
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    AthenorAthenor Battle Hardened Optimist The Skies of HiigaraRegistered User regular
    edited January 2008
    Isn't the Blue Book, like, $300?

    Athenor on
    He/Him | "A boat is always safest in the harbor, but that’s not why we build boats." | "If you run, you gain one. If you move forward, you gain two." - Suletta Mercury, G-Witch
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    a penguina penguin Registered User regular
    edited January 2008
    Lord Yod wrote: »

    It sounds to me like you may have a leak in the transmission cooler/radiator.

    And yeah, with the blue book value of a 93 Taurus, I'd definitely be looking into a new (to you) car at this point.

    This was going to be my guess. It's an automatic transmission, yes? (sorry if you already said it, I skimmed the thread in a hurry).

    I second the advice of looking for a new junker. I'm honestly amazed it started up for you again after the freeway shennanagins. It sounds like you have a sizeable leak in a rather nasty place.

    Heh.

    a penguin on
    This space eventually to be filled with excitement
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    AthenorAthenor Battle Hardened Optimist The Skies of HiigaraRegistered User regular
    edited February 2008
    Yup. Just to finish up with this saga, I just went out there today with 5 quarts of transmission fluid and some leak repair stuff.

    I didn't even get past 1/2 of the quarts. I tried cranking her, and while the starter and everything else worked, it wouldn't catch and actually start. I managed to get it going once, and I heard a couple dull thuds before I turned it off, and smelled something burning.

    This is probably beyond my scope to fix. So... yeah. whee.

    Edit: Just to clarify, the thing would turn over, and I heard the engine fire when I started it the first time, and then it just died on me after a second or two, fading out into nothingness. The one time I managed to get it going longer was when I smelled burning and heard the clanking.

    Athenor on
    He/Him | "A boat is always safest in the harbor, but that’s not why we build boats." | "If you run, you gain one. If you move forward, you gain two." - Suletta Mercury, G-Witch
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