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  #1  
Old 07-17-2015, 12:21 AM
weildish weildish is offline
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Default Probable Coolant System Issue -- But I'm Stumped

First off, I've lurked at this forum for some time and found a lot of help with other things for my truck. So thanks. However, this issue I just can't figure out, so I've finally registered here.

Forgive me for how long this is.

Anyway, I've a 1997 2.3 liter 4-cylinder RWD manual Ranger. If it was a 6-cylinder 4WD, I would have no complaints, but alas-- I need to make this last until we can afford to upgrade.

The truck has been running fine since I got it in 2012. Minor maintenance. New battery. New alternator. However, just a couple of weeks ago we took it up one of the canyons around here, and she couldn't make it. She kept losing power the farther we drove up until she eventually just gave out and shut down altogether-- what appears to be overheating, except that the temperature gauge hadn't gotten any higher than normal operating temperature.

I had been meaning to flush the coolant system, so I assumed this was the problem. I had already waited too long as it was. Once she cooled off, we coasted down the canyon and drove on the freeway home 20 minutes or so without any issues whatsoever-- normal behavior, no overheating. I flushed the coolant system, and boy, was it nasty-- it took a lot of work before I finally got more than a few drips at a time out of the pet****-- it was gunked up quite a bit, but I eventually got all the gunk out and could drain it as normal.

I filled up the coolant system with cleaner and water, ran it for ten minutes and then for another ten with the heater on, and drained. Did this I think three times, and then filled it back up with coolant. Bled the air out of the system.

Then we took the truck back up another canyon, but she seemed to overheat more quickly this time, and this time the check engine light came on and has not gone off since. Now, it's possible there may have still been a bit of air in the system, but not very much.

The air conditioning worked all right before this, but now it only blows warm air. The heater still works great.

What confuses me is that my temperature gauge will slowly go up to just below the middle of the range as the truck reaches operating temperature and then stops-- it has NEVER gone higher than this exact spot since I've been working on this problem.

This leads me to believe that the temperature sensor may be malfunctioning-- except that from what I've studied, there's a temperature SENDER, which sends controls the gauge you see, and then there's a temperature SENSOR, which is independent of the sender and gives a temperature reading to the computer, which would still be the correct reading despite the sender being bad. I suppose both could be malfunctioning at the same time, though that's less likely. I've found the location of both of them, but I'm hesitant to do anything as both will require removing hoses, and right now I just don't want to deal with more antifreeze all over the place when I'm not even sure this will resolve the issue.

I actually took the truck to a mechanic who said he was having trouble with it because the computer wasn't giving him proper information-- I don't have a reader, so I don't know what codes if any it was giving him. He couldn't get it to overheat because he never drove it up a canyon-- it works just fine around town and on the freeway. He said he really didn't know what the deal is. I thought out loud that maybe it's a temperature sensor or something, and he said he could charge me $130 to replace the sensor and hope that the problem was resolved. Well, I knew I could replace a sensor for $20 or so, so the truck's back with me.

But I still don't really know what the deal is. The pump seems to be working fine-- I don't see any leaks, and I can see the coolant moving down when I take off the radiator cap. I think the thermostat is working, though admittedly my tests were brief and only tested that all the hoses are hot to the touch-- none of them are cool, which means (from what I read) that the thermostat has opened. Not a very scientific test, though.

Also, the coolant still gets murky pretty quickly. I'm using the green stuff, but it's fairly brown again since July 3rd-- when I flushed it. I think my radiator is just old, and maybe no amount of flushing will get it clear again.

So does anyone have any pointers to help me out here? Does this sound like the sensors, the coolant pump, the thermostat, or something else? Will I ever be able to drive up a mountain (or pass inspections, for that matter) again?

Last edited by weildish; 07-17-2015 at 12:44 AM.
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  #2  
Old 07-17-2015, 06:27 AM
SB03Ranger SB03Ranger is offline
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Default Re: Probable Coolant System Issue -- But I'm Stumped

sounds to me like your radiator is dirty and possibly causing it to gunk up and over heat. A properly maintained vehicle shouldn't have as much gunk as you described. i would look in to replacing it and checking the rest.

low/empty coolant level
broken auxiliary fans or malfunction
broken hoses that result in coolant leak; and
broken/damaged or dirty radiator
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Old 07-17-2015, 08:39 AM
weildish weildish is offline
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Default Re: Probable Coolant System Issue -- But I'm Stumped

-Coolant level is good-- it's remained more or less the same since I refilled it a couple of weeks ago (around the cold start line)
-Hoses are good as far as I've been able to tell so far. No leaks whatsoever

I've been wondering about the radiator. I knew I was overdue for a flush, but I didn't think it was quite as bad as it ended up being. When I performed the flush, after each of the three times the water I put through the system was a little brown when I drained it but got better each time. However, like I said before, the coolant has become fairly dirty again. Maybe a dying radiator and a malfunctioning temperature sender at the same time?

Maybe it's time to just replace everything in the cooling system one at a time starting at the radiator until it runs correctly again. The truck probably isn't worth more than $1800 when running well, though, if that-- it was involved in an small accident on ice in 2014; auto shop said it would cost something like $2000 to fix the cosmetic damage to the front right side. Maybe it's time to put Scout out to pasture (Scout is my Ranger-- named after the protagonist in "To Kill a Mockingbird").
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Old 07-17-2015, 08:53 AM
Greasemonkey51 Greasemonkey51 is offline
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Was wondering did you ever check to see if the hoses were collapsing. And the clutch for the fan working correctly or the water pump doing its job. Just some food for thought. Then again could be just the sensor.
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Old 07-17-2015, 09:04 AM
GSF1200S GSF1200S is offline
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Default Re: Probable Coolant System Issue -- But I'm Stumped

How much gas was in the tank when the truck died? Maybe the fuel pump got fairly uncovered (would have to be one steep canyon) and overheated causing the fuel pressure to drop, power to drop, and eventually the engine to quit running?

It is a hallmark of a fuel pump to fail when they get hot once they need to be replaced.

I mean, you could have a bad temp sensor/sender, but usually they fail by not working or being erratic, etc. Have you ever tried to confirm the engines temp with an infrared thermometer or even just popped the hood to check how much heat was radiating from it?

It is interesting that it does it going up the side of a hill- that usually indicates a cooling problem since the engine is working pretty hard. Just trying to throw out other possibilities.

----------

Quote:
Originally Posted by Greasemonkey51 View Post
Was wondering did you ever check to see if the hoses were collapsing. And the clutch for the fan working correctly or the water pump doing its job. Just some food for thought. Then again could be just the sensor.
Ahh very good advice as well- the fan clutch. If youre crawling up a hill and the fan clutch isnt working, theres nothing the cooling system can do as it isnt pulling enough air through the radiator to cool it off. This could very well be the problem and would explain why it runs fine in town. Good idea
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Old 07-17-2015, 09:26 AM
SB03Ranger SB03Ranger is offline
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Default Re: Probable Coolant System Issue -- But I'm Stumped

Sounds like that could be it as well since it is fine in town not under a heavy load such as the canyon. I just replaced my radiator due to a crack. Cause of that the thermostat failed and stayed shut causing the radiator to over heat and to go. I would check the thermostat as well.

The radiator is like 100 bucks and honestly if its as dirty as you stated I would replace it cause it will give you problems down the road.
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Old 07-17-2015, 11:35 AM
weildish weildish is offline
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Default Re: Probable Coolant System Issue -- But I'm Stumped

@Greasemonkey51: Didn't think about the fan clutch. Just took a look at it: while cold, it's not freely spinning when pushed by hand-- it moves but stops spinning within half a second of when I stop pushing it, which points to it still being good from what I understand (I am obviously not the most well versed in these things, though, so correct me if any of what I've said is wrong). I also know that the fan is always running whenever I've opened the hood. I don't think any hoses are collapsing at least when I've looked at them after starting the truck cold and letting her warm up at idle, but I didn't specifically check for that either-- something I'll watch out for.

@GSF1200S: Pretty sure we had around half a tank when the engine died. The canyons we were in when she overheated (Big and Little Cottonwood canyons in Utah, if anyone is familiar with them) are more or less your average incline-- nothing really too steep.

As for the radiator-- yeah, I agree that it's probably time to replace it regardless of what the problem actually is. I'm becoming more and more hesitant to make replacements, though, since the truck isn't worth very much any more with its age and its front body damage. And we just don't want a 4-cylinder or RWD anymore. We're actually now looking into purchasing a 4.0 liter / 6-cylinder 1991 Ranger today. If it checks out, it'll be a pretty good deal with 60,000 fewer miles on it than my 1997 4-cylinder. Anyone want an ailing 97 Ranger RWD?

Well, regardless of whether we get this "new" Ranger, if I am able to get to the root of the problem and resolve it, I'll post it here for posterity's sake. Any other thoughts are welcome, of course.

Last edited by weildish; 07-17-2015 at 11:48 AM.
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Old 07-18-2015, 08:33 AM
Tyler46 Tyler46 is offline
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I don't think your truck is overheating. Ford designed them to thermosiphon, just like the Model T. When the water heats and cools, it will work its way through the radiator. Not to mention your oil does a good job of that by itself. The again, a clogged radiator will hinder both of those processes.

A coolant temp sensor or sender will definitely throw a code, a simple $30 code reader at autozone will tell you "coolant temp sensor malfunction" My girlfriends family has one and occasionally if I get a code I'll borrow it. It's a cheap little thing but it works, it's always a good tool to have.

But without that code, there's only so much we can do here.
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