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99 L 5MT
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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Today I ran my car for a few minutes, shut if off and looked under the hood and my coolant overflow was full to the top, with my radiator looking very empty again. When I opened the radiator cap some coolant shot out of the reservoir, scared the crap out of me but it was barely even warm, I really don't understand what happened. I drove it about 30-40 miles earlier in the day.

About a month ago one of the main cooling fans died and the car did briefly overheat but since I've fixed that it hasn't at all, even though the radiator seems empty (& overflow full) after every time I drive. I end up burping the coolant and carefully placing it back in the radiator a lot but even when I don't it never overheats.. I really don't know what to think. I've even been trying to run it a little hard lately to see if it will overheat or if there's some kind of flow problem, today I blasted the AC and drove in low gear for a bit & I kind of noticed the temp gauge move up just a hair but nothing serious at all. It seems like it's doing the actual cooling part just fine still but I know this isn't normal.

Any advice or things to test?
 

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2016 and 2020 Foresters
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1,501 Posts
How did you fix the results from overheating? The heads warp really easily in EJ engines. My bet is they did when you overheated and you now have air getting in the system since the head gaskets no longer seal.

Or possibly a thermostat issue...?
 

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2017 Forester XT Touring
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367 Posts
That sounds exactly like the symptoms of a blown head gasket. Combustion gases are getting into the coolant, over-pressuring it, and it's going into the overflow tank.

Your engine it probably overheating every time you drive, and the sensor for the gauge isn't picking it up because of air in the system. You aren't "doing the actual cooling part just fine" at all.
 

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2012 Forester X Auto
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2,349 Posts
Any advice or things to test?
I'm with @OutbackJon as there is obviously pressure in your cooling system.
A blown had gasket is the usual culprit, allowing the high pressure gas from combustion into the coolant.
That would account for only warm coolant and pressure in the system causing overflow..
Coolant can be checked for the presence of exhaust gases to confirm.
The head gasket repair is expensive at a shop, but less expensive than replacing your engine.

The good news (if there is any) would be that you don't have coolant in your oil (does it look milky?) or oil in your coolant (do you see an oil film in it?).
You may also have other issues, like air in your cooling system, a bad thermostat, etc.
An important safety tip:
NEVER open a radiator cap on an engine that isn't cool.
 

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99 L 5MT
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112 Posts
Discussion Starter · #6 ·
Well the engine was only ran for literally like 3 minutes, I doubt it even opened the thermostat/cycled.. I know it's risky to open it but the engine was still on 'C' on the temp gauge. I don't see any oil in coolant or coolant in oil. I tested the thermostat recently (put it in boiling water) and it did open up just fine as expected. How do I check the coolant for exhaust gases?
 

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2008 LL Bean (4EAT)
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I'm with @OutbackJon ... The head gasket repair is expensive at a shop, but less expensive than replacing your engine...
A 1999 Forester is only worth about $2,500, so I don't think it is even worth doing a typical head gasket replacement, much less replacing the engine with a used one that may soon need head gaskets. The typical replacement is done using OE gaskets while the engine is in the car, costs around $1,200 and often does not last more than a few years a few years or tens of thousands of miles.
In 2016 I traveled to have my 2008 head gaskets preemptively replaced, before they could fail, by an expert shop that used MLS gaskets and removed the engine to do the job right. It cost $2,000. But my Forester was pristine like new back then, and still is.
 

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2012 Forester X Auto
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vintage42
I'd leave the what it's worth decision to the owner.
The car's worth depends a lot on mileage, condition and location.
Other than that the car is in LA, where car prices are very high, there was no other info shared about those other factors.
It might or not be worth what you say, but try to find a car in good condition for $2500 that doesn't need work and you could be looking for a long time.
If the car is in otherwise good condition, it might, or might not be worth investing some money in it.

How do I check the coolant for exhaust gases?
You can buy a tester for about $25 from Harbor Freight or an auto repair shop can do it.
If it is the HG, you are looking at a pricey repair unless you can do the work yourself.
I'd suggest you shop around at some well rated shops and you can make an informed decision at that point.
 

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vintage42I'd leave the what it's worth decision to the owner.The car's worth depends a lot on mileage, condition and location....
The value is determined by the mileage, condition and location, as you say. And to an owner, a car may be worth more than its value, which you are also saying.
I used KBB.com for a 1999 Forester, and I estimated 150,000 miles, Zip Code 90001, Very Good condition and Private sale. KBB said the value was $2,271 so I rounded up to $2,500.
 

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vintage42
I'm not disagreeing with your numbers. The question to repair or not has some other factors.
Buying a used car with unknown issues for $2500 doesn't mean years of happy motoring compared with a car that has a known issue and where repair costs can be estimated.
Taking your numbers, what the OP could get for a car with a serious engine issue would be considerably less, as it would be considered in poor condition.
That means capitol outlay likely far in excess of his/her current vehicle's worth.

You may be right that the car isn't worth the investment, or maybe not.
If it's a clean, relatively low mileage vehicle with just the HG problem, the vehicle the OP ends up with could be more valuable to him/her as a reliable car rather than a gamble on a low priced used car.

On the other hand, if it's a high mileage beater in poor condition with other issues, I'd agree with you, but neither of us knows the facts.
 

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99 L 5MT
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Discussion Starter · #11 ·
@sneefy When it started overheating I blasted the heat & tried to get home using the lowest RPM's I could, once I noticed that the temps went right back down once I hit 35ish mph I just tried to constantly go at least that fast & shut my engine off at every single stop/light. I was able to get home within about 5 minutes and immediately shut it off but it never got to the red section on the temp gauge, of course I have no idea how hot any of it is..


Looking back the fact that it got better when I went faster is really the only indication I needed that it was a radiator fan issue but I didn't realize that at the time and in trying to troubleshoot I took out the thermostat to test it by putting it in almost boiling water. It worked fine of course. But on Sunday it started overheating AGAIN, this time I pulled off to a gas station because I was about 10 miles from home. I waited for about an hour to even check but the radiator was barely even warm! The engine of course was super hot, I let it sit for another hour before opening the rad cap but I could tell by squeezing the upper rad hose that it was totally empty again. I filled it up with distilled water, bled it a bit & drove the 10 miles home without it overheating at all.

I'm really perplexed by the fact the radiator wasn't hot - I've been thinking about it a lot and my idea is that maybe I somehow totally screwed the thermostat install and the coolant on the engine isn't flowing at all so it eventually starts boiling, goes into the overflow & just keeps boiling until there isn't any left, then the engine starts overheating?

I checked the hell out of my coolant and oil after all this. I don't see any mixing, of course I know that doesn't necessarily mean there isn't already a small HG leak. But the fact that I didn't have any symptoms & now all of a sudden every time I drive the radiator is totally empty (& cold?!) makes me hope it's not. I just got the chemical combustion gas detector thing in the mail, I wanna double check my thermostat install and I'll check for that very dreaded color change... Ironically I also got the cylinder #4 cooling mod I ordered before I realized I had all these problems, lol
 

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Discussion Starter · #12 ·
Well I just checked it out, was hoping to find something obvious like the thermostat installed upside down but it looked ok to me. Is there any tricks I should know about to installing this that I'm missing? Just thinking that if the radiator is cold while the engine overheats it must not have flow..

I guess next I'll fill it back up and use that combustion checker thing. I'll be checking the temp of the radiator as I go - is there any other common blockage points? Maybe water pump?
 

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Discussion Starter · #13 ·
Surprisingly great news - I don't think this thing has a head gasket leak!! My testing fluid stuff is still blue, if anything it's a tiny bit green but definitely not yellow. First run I saw it turn very green and my heart dropped but it had just sucked up a bunch of coolant. I did it a few times, the last time I did it for 3 minutes (instructions say for just 1) & still didn't see much of a change in color.

The bad news - I don't know what any of this means, I could not track down an issue with my coolant system. While the car was running the radiator got super hot. I have a laser thermometer that I was playing around with the entire time and the lower hose was getting just as hot as the upper hose. The fans work, and cycled. It didn't overheat. I guess my next move is to just drive it and see if coolant overflows (or obv if it overheats) again?

What would you guys do? I'm totally not confident in this but everything I can think of to test is checking out..
 

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Sahuarita, AZ 2018 Forester Limited
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Have you replaced the radiator cap? If it's not holding pressure it can result in overheating and weird issues like you are having. Happened to me once. I swore it was a thermostat but it was a defective radiator cap.
 

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Discussion Starter · #15 ·
@ForesterBill At this point I'm just grateful for any ideas! I'll try it out. I drove it a bit today and it seemed fine, no overflow & no overheat. I'm just hoping that I did something to fix a blockage when I took out/reinstalled the thermostat again but not confident that I actually did. Would the next step here be a leakdown test on the radiator?
 

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Discussion Starter · #16 ·
Well, i've got a new cap on & just emptied the reservoir and bled the system again... not feeling confident though. Playing around with the IR thermometer while bleeding it i'm seeing some variation of temps in my radiator. Could a blocked rad be causing my issues? What do you guys think about those places that clean them out?

Edit: worth noting it seems to be fine to drive as long as i keep the radiator topped up.. if i go to long without refilling it (seems to be several hours of driving) it starts overheating. I think my overflowing overflow actually killed one of the fans (not the main - drivers side thats only on when AC is on) but i'm sure this was happening even when it was working
 
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