Can a Bad Head Gasket Cause Overheating?

Can a Bad Head Gasket Cause Overheating?

Postby tedanderson [OP] » July 28th 2010, 5:10pm

My office neighbor is an Astro owner so he felt comfortable asking me for some mechanical advice yesterday.

He said that he is having issues with the van overheating and that his shade-tree mechanic said that it's a head gasket problem. He does not know anything about cars, however, in his mind, that didn't sound right to him. So I started asking him some of the various diagnostic questions to the limits of my ability and spent some time riding in the van with him as well as standing in the office parking lot over his open hood looking for some possible ideas and here is what I came up with:

1. The van overheats only in stop & go traffic and/or when the A/C is running. The temperature is normal with highway driving.

2. No smoke, no milky oil, no anti-freeze smell from the exhaust.

3. The thermostat is a year old and the water pump is 4 years old. At 260,000 miles on a 2002 model I am guessing that the pump has the better part of 80,000 miles on it.

4. I let it cool down, pulled the radiator cap and then warmed the van up to the full operating temperature. Coolant was flowing across the top of the radiator so I am assuming that the pump and the thermostat are working properly.

5. The coolant level was visibly a little low so I added some while the engine was running and noticed air bubbles coming out of the top.
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Re: Can a Bad Head Gasket Cause Overheating?

Postby LEVE » July 28th 2010, 5:14pm

Yes, a blown head gasket can cause overheating... usually it's coupled with loss of coolant. Otherwise, no.

I'd be looking at the coolant pump, the fan clutch and the radiator (it may be plugged/plugging up). Does it have a mechanical or electric fan? If it's got an electric fan, the sensor may be bad.

In any case start with cleaning out the cooling system with a good Prestone Backflush kit.

Also a plugging cat converter can trap heat in the engine/exhaust manifold and cause havoc... should be able to tell by the dull red glow at night of the converter or the manifold
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Re: Can a Bad Head Gasket Cause Overheating?

Postby joshcloud9 » July 28th 2010, 7:03pm

Check or replace the radiator cap.
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Re: Can a Bad Head Gasket Cause Overheating?

Postby LWright » July 28th 2010, 8:34pm

The FAN is responsible for cooling at slow speeds. The fan clutch turns free on a cool engine to save gas when driving, it gains resistance as it warms to pull air thru the radiator to cool the engine at slow speeds. With the engine warm, the fan should have resistance to being turned by hand(engine off). Also with a warm engine the fan should not continue to turn when you shut off the engine.
The description of the symptom sounds like a bad fan clutch.
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Re: Can a Bad Head Gasket Cause Overheating?

Postby LEVE » July 28th 2010, 10:10pm

Check or replace the radiator cap.
This would route coolant back to the overflow bottle, unless the tube's free to the atmosphere. Then there'd be a loss of coolant. Look inside the radiator and see if there's any scale building up, and if you can look into the core tubes. If there is scale building up, then the ability of the radiator to cool is compromised. At 260,000 miles, that is a distinct possibility.
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Re: Can a Bad Head Gasket Cause Overheating?

Postby Gary » July 29th 2010, 3:27am

tedanderson wrote:My office neighbor is an Astro owner so he felt comfortable asking me for some mechanical advice yesterday.

He said that he is having issues with the van overheating and that his shade-tree mechanic said that it's a head gasket problem. He does not know anything about cars, however, in his mind, that didn't sound right to him. So I started asking him some of the various diagnostic questions to the limits of my ability and spent some time riding in the van with him as well as standing in the office parking lot over his open hood looking for some possible ideas and here is what I came up with:

1. The van overheats only in stop & go traffic and/or when the A/C is running. The temperature is normal with highway driving.

2. No smoke, no milky oil, no anti-freeze smell from the exhaust.

3. The thermostat is a year old and the water pump is 4 years old. At 260,000 miles on a 2002 model I am guessing that the pump has the better part of 80,000 miles on it.

4. I let it cool down, pulled the radiator cap and then warmed the van up to the full operating temperature. Coolant was flowing across the top of the radiator so I am assuming that the pump and the thermostat are working properly.

5. The coolant level was visibly a little low so I added some while the engine was running and noticed air bubbles coming out of the top.


It is interesting that you saw air bubbles and the question is was the coolant system just burbing(sp) it's self or is a blown head gasket or cracked head pressurizing the coolant system.Might want to tell him to pull and read the spark plugs.All this reply is about is what to look for if it is a gasket or head issue.

The other suggestions with a clutch fan or plugged rad giving it just overheating in stop and go I would think would be more likely.
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Re: Can a Bad Head Gasket Cause Overheating?

Postby 979roadrunner » July 29th 2010, 3:55am

I would deffinately look at the opperation of the fan clutch and / or electrick fan, if so equipped
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Re: Can a Bad Head Gasket Cause Overheating?

Postby 'cudapaul » July 29th 2010, 7:05am

Can you say CLUTCHFAN?
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Re: Can a Bad Head Gasket Cause Overheating?

Postby tedanderson [OP] » July 29th 2010, 4:16pm

Gary wrote: It is interesting that you saw air bubbles and the question is was the coolant system just burbing(sp) it's self or is a blown head gasket or cracked head pressurizing the coolant system.Might want to tell him to pull and read the spark plugs.


Good idea. I'll probably pull the plugs for him to see. I thought that the bubbles/burping was interesting because the system had not been opened except maybe from the cap to top off the levels. The van is equipped with an electric fan but I am assuming that it is an auxiliary fan for the transmission cooler.

I haven't checked the fan clutch but that could be a possibility. Now that I remember, it's also missing the top half of the shroud so that could be a factor as well.
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Re: Can a Bad Head Gasket Cause Overheating?

Postby Duster776 » July 30th 2010, 4:45am

I have one of these, when I have an overheating problem , this is the first thing I grab...unless it is obviously something else.
It detects either carbon monoxide or carbon dioxide in the cooling system (forget which), fluid changes color from blue to green to indicate combustion gases in cooling system...all for like $80 bucks from Snap-Off

http://buy1.snapon.com/catalog/item.asp ... ir=catalog
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Re: Can a Bad Head Gasket Cause Overheating?

Postby Gary » July 31st 2010, 1:18pm

Duster776 wrote:I have one of these, when I have an overheating problem , this is the first thing I grab...unless it is obviously something else.
It detects either carbon monoxide or carbon dioxide in the cooling system (forget which), fluid changes color from blue to green to indicate combustion gases in cooling system...all for like $80 bucks from Snap-Off

http://buy1.snapon.com/catalog/item.asp ... ir=catalog



Very cool.I forgot about those.Dam senior moments.Wonder if you rent one from a parts store??. :think:
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