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Head Gasket? Radiator?

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lonedad | 18:50 Sat 01st Sep 2012 | Cars
32 Answers
Apologies in advance for the long post

Hi, Ive had my Primera 2.0 SVE for just over a month now. Its a 2004 plate with 86k on the clock and a FSH. About 6 weeks ago my car was in the garage having the wheels realigned and a new tyre fitted. When I collected the car, the mechanic told me that it was overheating and in the red. I opened the bonnet to see that the coolant resevoir was dry as a bone. When I bought the car there was a max of coolant in the tank so this had emptied in two weeks. There was also a burning smell, I cant really describe the smell. I just smells like burning. Its not a sweet smell, if anything it smells like exhaust perhaps but from the engine.

I took the car to Halfords for a pressure test. No leaks were found. They then performed a sniff test on my coolant which showed nothing out of the ordinary. There is dripping from the exhaust but they say its nothing to worry about, there is also no coolant smell or dry white residue on the exhaust. I was told there were intermittent air bubbles running up to the opened radiator cap when they first tested but I was told these bubbles weren't consistent with a head gasket failure as it wasn't consistent. The mechanic said he felt it could be an air pocket so suggested that I emptied and flushed the coolant system. I agreed to do that but then asked them to do it. They say they've seen no air bubbles since the flush. He asked me to keep an eye on it and if it drops again then I should bring it back.

Since Halfords things were ok at the start. At first I had to top up every now and then but I put this down to Halfords not being able to fill up to the max with the engine being warm. Last weekend I didnt need to top up the coolant. I did about 40 miles. Some trips were a total of 4 miles from start up to switch off but I did also make the occassional 1 mile trip too. There was no drop in coolant levels from AM on bank holiday Friday to Tuesday, so about 4 days in total.

I had to top up the coolant in the bottle on Wednesday (1/2 litre) and decided to check the radiator level too. Upon releasing the radiator cap I noticed cloudy water. I dropped a finger in and it had a very greasy texture. The anti freeze in the bottle wasnt affected though and the oil is clear too. I drove my car home and when I got out the car I noticed drips coming from under the car. Under the car is a metal panel which is immeadiatly below the radiator. This is heavily corroded and the water was coming from there. I wasnt sure whether this was a pipe or the radiator. I also noticed that there was now no sign of any oil in the radiator at all and by touching the coolant between my fingers, it does not feel greasy. The dripping carried on right up to PM yesterday although it was not dripping as bad last night. All the levels are correct and now the dripping has stopped (just when I took it to another garage to have a mechanic check it out). He noticed the wetness around the radiator and said it was near a pipe that went into it but confirmed he couldnt see a leak. Ive just driven it 5 miles and there is no water dripping anymore and the coolant level is on the max. What is going on with this car!?

So all in all I have the following:

Loss of coolant about 1/2 ltr per day
Strange leak coming from under radiator/pipe that stops at will
Pressure test done on car with no leaks found
Sniff test done on coolant which showed no adverse signs
Exhaust emissions tested, normal
No smell of coolant in the car, engine or exhaust
Burning rubber/exhaust smell from engine when running
Exhaust dribbles warm clear water with black residue at times
No signs of oil in coolant or vice versa
Signs of oil/thick black mess around the engine block where I believe the seal of the head/head gasket is
No oil loss
No wet patches in footwell
Car runs smooth with no misfire or noises.
Temp gauge below mid range
Overheated once that I know of

Has anyone got any ideas?


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Question Author
Yeah Im a fully paid up member and cant get any answers. The P12 is a more Exec design than its predecessor. Its not a car you can mod
I do miss my P11 (and kinda half wish I'd replaced it with the genuine 16K millage 2000 P11 GT I found when looking for a new car a few months ago)

I may even buy a P11 GT as a track day car. (I know this isn't helping you to answer your question at all... apologies for that)
Halfords sell lightbulbs and accessories - they ARE NOT vehicle technicians.

It would appear that they left your car running whilst deaing with the tyres ?

You need to find where the coolant is going. It's either being burned, evaporated, or it's leaking. The spark plugs will show evidence of discolouration if it is eing burned. The leak test to which you are referring pressurases the coolant system to operatnal pressure. normally approx 20 psi max, this will force out any coolant to help you to physically 'see' any leaks. If the system is open to atmospheric pssure ( ie a leak ) it will boil at a significantly lower temperature and simply boil away.

The correct 'leakdown' proceedure will see the removal of the spark plugs in turn and a stethoscope used inserted in the hole to listen for headgasket / cracked liners etc ... with a tell tale * pssst *

Like i say - Go and buy your bulbs from Halfords....
Question Author
Thanks Harley.

The only garage I know of near me that does the pressure test is Halfords. They did a retest yesterday and came back to me telling me the leak is in the radiator but by then the leak was visiable. Formula 1 have quoted £210 to replace the radiator.
Unfortunately there isnt a radiator specialist by me so I dont really have many options
Hi Lonedad -
Th pressurisation test that they 'did' would have forced the coolant out of the radiator had they have done it properly.. i only get on my high horse occasionally when i see things not being done as they should. It's very easy to be mislead when it comes to fault finding... Anyways, as someone else has stated, you'll get a rad cheap enough ( with AirCon ) and it isn't that much of a job to fit yourself... but if you do get it done, make sure that they use O.A.T Coolant ( Organic Acid echnology ) as your cylinder head is made from Aluminium(plus other alloys) and normal cheaper coolant ( I.A.T ) will react with the Aluminium and cause your coolant passages to become furred up thereby not dissipating the critical heat from around the cylinders as effectively as it should..

- Just ask them what coolant they use ..... ( read the notes on google ref OAT/IAT/HOAT coolant...

Best regards
HarleyHusky, Nationwide Autocentres have been renamed Halfords, so they now do more than just sell bulbs.
Yes - I remeber the buy out now - my oversight.

It just reminded my of an argument i had with DEFRA regarding the implementation of the new Airconitioning directive meaning that myself and all of my technicians had to become certified... whereas Halfords were selling these self propelled aircon top-up kits to the public ....
I don't use their shops - far too expensive.
My Nissan Micra was fixed by a bottle of something like, but not Radweld.
I did this 6 months ago and haven't lost a drop since. It cost a fiver.
It's worth a try as a first route.
Question Author
Thanks guys.
My friend has highly recommended a mechanic to me and he is doing her test for me tomorrow. He has also said he will put it up on the ramp and run it to operating temperature to see where the leak comes from.
To be honest, Im pretty fed up of all of this. The MOT is up in 2 weeks and Im just nervous about paying for a radiator and then probably get stumped with something else on the MOT. Apparantely this car has a full service history thinking this isrubbish. The service handbook shows Nissan dealer stamps so Im ringing them tomorrow to see if the car ever went in there. I might just take it to we buy any car and just get a cheap run around
Question Author
Ok then. Its 100% the radiator and the head gasket is fine. He had a quick look round the car and says the only thing he thinks will fail the MOT will be the undercover as it has some corrision marks on it. He said he'll weld that for £30. The radiator had a bolt in it. He thinks this happened when someone worked on the engine. He also believes theres a new clutch on the car. I have a small oil leak which isnt a problem he said. He has suggested that I put the car in for an MOT as it is to find out whether the repairs are a viable option as this will pick up all the problems that exist. He also reckons my power steering pump may be on its way out which has made me think even more as to whether I should just cut my losses. Anyway, he has quoted £170 to fit a new radiator which is a massive difference to the near £300 I was originally quoted.
The trouble is your 'cheap runaround' may have it's own load of problems.

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