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Need advice .. maybe head gasket?

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Just got my wheels (1993) back on the road today and another problem said "hello".The low coolant light came on and I had someone pull up beside me on the highway and kindly let me know that my car was leaking something. Looked at my guages and oil temp had hit 90 degrees and water was at 115 ( I know, I wasn't paying attention. I'll slap myself later.) After pulling over and letting the car cool down I found that my coolant expansion tank was empty. I had the car towed home, after washing and waxing it (usually fixes most problems :) ) I refilled the coolant tank and started the car. The car seemed to idle fine but I did notice white smoke coming from the tail pipe, not a lot but enough to get me very concerned. I kept an eye on the temp and it kept at 90 degrees. I would love some advise on how to diagnose the correct problem, I was thinking maybe the head gasket, the head itself or the turbo. Any help would be appreciated.

Thanks, Steve

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Was the smoke from the car when the car was started from cold or was the car already at operating temp? If cold, this isn't abnormal as the car will run richly when cold and some vapor will burn off. Does the smoke persist or subside once the temp of the engine gets closer to normal? Smell the exhaust smoke, if it smells sweet, then you are burning some coolant. If the smoke continues or blows under hard acceleration, it could be the turbo oil seals, but this will be quite apparent to you on acceleration, you'll see a plume behind you. Coolant temp at 240 is hot but not earthshattering. Also, you can peak into the overflow tank or header tank and see if you see some oil bubbles floating around(crud is okay) but if there are more than a few small droplets of oil then you may have a head gasket problem.

89 White Esprit SE

...a few little upgrades....

93 RX7.....Silverstone

....slightly modded...Muahaha...

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1990 300ZX TT......Hmmm

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Damn, your quick Artie :)

The smoke is still present when the car warms up. I would love to let you know what it smells like however I have a head cold right now and can't smell a thing. There does not seem to be any oil in the water nor anything on the dipstick and the smoke does increase a little when I rev the engine. not steam engine bad but VERY noticable.

Thanks for the quick reply Artie

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You can use a cold mirror at the exhaust to catch the steam and condensate it. If it doesn't condensate than it's fuel, car is running rich. If the head gasket leaks to the cilynders, you will get the cooling system pressurised. When you shut down your engine. The pressure will return to your cilynders and fill one or more up with water ( if there is still enough water) , then leaks down the cilynders in the oil reservoir. If you run the car at iddle at home and you remove the cap of the colling water tank, Does this give you exhaust bubbles. (The cilynder will pressure exhaust gasses in the cooling system)

Watch it this system will get hot after a while!!!



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I'm curious about the fact you say someone saw something leaking out of the car.. Normally if a head gasket goes, water loss is internal.

If something is leaking then I suspect more likely that you have a leak somewhere.. The white smoke may have always been there, but you've only just noticed as you're looking for it.. if you get my meaning.

As you say you don't seem to be getting oil/water cross contamination, I would be more tempted to be looking at a leak externally. Unfortunately loads of places the leak could be coming from!

Smoke can often be classified by colour.. yellow for excess fuel, white for water and blue for oil.

If it's humid in CA at the moment you could get more white exhaust smoke from normal.

I had a head gasket go, and it wasn't a huge leak... but it made clouds and clouds of white smoke! If it's only a bit of white smoke, you may be ok.

My moneys on a pipe leaking. Take the undertray off, let it get hot idling on your drive, and see if you can see any leaks on the floor.

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Thanks guys,

The advice is invaluable. I started the car this morning and still had a little white smoke, but not to the extent that I would expect from the head or head gasket. I think (or hope) that Troy and Glen are right. Thanks Artie and Bosbon after reading your post I checked what you mentioned and was able to sleep last night with less worry :devil: . I'll run a compresion test this week and see what it says, and check for leaks. Could just be the car was upset that I let a couple of corvette's pass by. Maybee I'll change the oil a little earlier to say sorry.

Thanks again, Steve

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Just a thought but did you check that youir overflow tank(lefthand side back of boot) wasnt full after being empytied into by the main expansion tank?mine did this to me last year and then overflowed onto hot exhaust underneath (helped by airflow) i only sussed this out after noticing that the overflow tanks vent was dripping onto floor,i put it down to the expansion tanks cap getting stuck it hasnt done this sice then.Also when my turbo died it completely drained the system,causing a rather impressive "Red Arrows " display team type thing :devil:


Nick S4s

Simplest things first.

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you could have had a cooling problem, i.e. fans not working etc . . . and the water could have been escaping somewhere else on the car, but when overheating, you can actually cause a head gasket leak as the internal temps get too high and the pressure gets too high. But if the thermostat is open and the fans are running . . . does the car still overheat at speed? If the therm failed and did not open then the car could have overheated and caused your head gasket to leak . . . so many variables . . . Usually with a head gasket leak the car will blow the white smoke much more when first started since the water will leak into the cylinder and set until you start it. Does your car have a water cooled turbo? . . . could be there as well . . .

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Hey guys,

Thanks for the help, it is most definatly the thermostat. Drove fine this morning 80 degrees water 60 degrees oil. Parked the car for 20 minutes and made another trip within 4 blocks the water started to shoot up (water 115 oil 80). while I pulled over the temperature suddenly dropped to 70 degrees. I had the car sitting outside during some big California rain storms (clutch master cylinder died) it must have got a ton of water in the exaust. I'll do a compression test just to make sure, but I think everthing is great....... Did find a nice pool of oil around the plugs.... I guess it's another small job to look forward to :devil:

thanks again, Steve

Almost forgot..... Does anybody know a good lotus parts supplier in the USA.

Thanks again


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I sure do! Jeff at JAE Parts...

Modifying esprit's.. now that's fun..

PS... I AM NOT A CERTIFIED MECHANIC.. I Have chosen to help those in need, in the past and must not be construed as being a certified technician.

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If you join Club Esprit you'll get a discount at JAE too, Jeff is a member of LEF :D

88 Esprit NA, 89 Esprit Turbo SE, Evora, Evora S, Evora IPS, Evora S IPS, Evora S IPS SR, Evora 400, Elise S1, Elise S1 111s, Evora GT410 Sport

Evora NA

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jeff supplied me with a thermostat when my car was not warming up . . . 15 minute job . . . just make sure you have a socket with a universal angle swivel on the end, and watch the bolts, they can fall into the area under the manifold . . . trust me . . . this is a pain in the A______ to get them out. But overall, took about 30 minutes for me from start to finish and car runs much better when the temps are where they are supposed to be . . . . good luck . . .

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Spent some time with that phenomenon ! Replaced the gasket the struts, only to find out that one of the liners was in place off the tolerances! As they are glued in, this CAN happen !

So if you go for the gasket and head, have the liners measured as well, my engine was taken apart two times !

Olaf S400 project



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