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E36 (1991 - 1999)
The E36 chassis 3-Series BMW was a huge hit among driving enthusiasts from the first moment the car hit the pavement. The E36 won numerous awards over the years it was produced and is still a favorite of many BMW enthusiasts to this day! -- View the E36 Wiki

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  #1  
Old 07-16-2010, 08:37 AM
franksmyth franksmyth is offline
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Pressure in cooling system

Hello,

Lots of posts about similar topics here and elsewhere on the net but I haven't been able to find an answer to a couple of specific questions. If someone could help I'd appreciate it.

The story (bit of a saga):
Bought a cheap '96 316i and with a bit of work, got it through the NCT.
I was losing coolant but kept it from overheating by keeping it topped up.
A couple of weeks ago it overheated in traffic (I hadn't been diligent in topping it up).
I pulled in and found that the lower block connector had sheared off and was spilling water (I'm not sure if this was the cause or a result of the overheating)
Got that repaired and then the one on the front blew the next day (maybe it was damaged by the overheating too?). Repaired that myself and topped up and bled the system correctly.
I could then drive fine (starting fully topped up) but when the system heated and pressurized I would lose a load of coolant from the water pump. (I'm guessing a couple of overheats warped something).
Got the water pump changed and picked it up today.
I now have a leak free cooling system.

So the questions I have:
The hose that goes to the top of the radiator. When the car is hot, this hose has pressure in it. Should that be the case? When the car is cold it doesn't. I've read that BMWs have a pressurised cooling system so I'm hoping this is ok?
The radiator cap: should that not release this pressure? Mechanic said it should and I may need a new one.
(and the one I only kind of want to know the answer to)
Is my head gasket gone? Most of the posts I've read would suggest yes. The oil looks fine, no white smoke, I haven't done a sniffer test.
If the head gasket is gone, are we talking a remaining lifetime of days or months or is it just the luck of the draw. What problems will it cause?

Thanks,
-Frank
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  #2  
Old 07-16-2010, 10:35 AM
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hornhospital hornhospital is offline
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Yes, the cooling system has pressure in it when operating at normal temperature. It's designed that way. The pressure raises the boiling point of the water and makes the system more efficient at removing the engine heat.

It sounds like (1) you need to do a complete cooling system overhaul (radiator, hoses, thermostat, thermostat housing....you've already replaced the water pump) and (2) get the car checked by a competent mechanic to determine if the head gasket is leaking. I would say, no, it isn't. Reason? If you're no longer losing coolant (stays topped up) you're fine.
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Last edited by hornhospital; 07-16-2010 at 10:36 AM.
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  #3  
Old 07-19-2010, 03:04 AM
franksmyth franksmyth is offline
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Thanks Ken, appreciate the prompt response.

I have a bit of an update...

Took it for a decent spin over the weekend, 50 miles each way with no major problems.

It turns out there is still a small coolant leak somewhere (I haven't identified exactly where yet but I think its coming from the block itself)
But more worryingly in the short term, the pressure build up seems to be worse than I first thought. When the engine is hot, that upper hose to the radiator is solid. I couldn't tell you the pressure but it would be something similar to a bicycle tyre (~100psi??). When the engine is cold (next morning) the pressure is less but there is still plenty of pressure in it. When I remove the cap there is a long hiss and some gurgling which I've never heard before. It seems to me that if I didn't release this pressure it would continue to build and eventually something would burst.

Should my radiator cap be releasing this pressure?
I'm thinking of trying to patch the last bit of coolant leak using RadWeld. Any opinions?
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Old 07-19-2010, 03:18 AM
serayaE30 serayaE30 is offline
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where can i find the classifieds on the site?
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  #5  
Old 07-19-2010, 08:34 AM
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hornhospital hornhospital is offline
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The rigidity of the hose is completely normal when the system is working correctly. The pressure is nowhere near as high as you think. If the hoses are in good condition there is no worry about them bursting. If you have the correct cap, it's running about 15psi, it's just that the hose has a lot of internal area for the pressure to work against, so it seems like it's higher than 15psi would feel like. Radiator caps almost always fail toward lesser pressure, not higher. When they go bad they release at a lower pressure than what they're rated at, so it is very unlikely yours is running anywhere above it's rated pressure.

Why do you think the system is leaking? Do you see a leak? If so, from what general area?
If the system is holding pressure after it's completely cool the next morning ("long hiss and some gurgling" [normal]), it isn't leaking very much!

For serayaE30: click on the "bimmerfest - BMW Forums" near the top of this page, then when that page loads, scroll down to the "Everything Else" section. The classified are right in the middle.
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Old 07-19-2010, 08:55 AM
franksmyth franksmyth is offline
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So the last mechanic I had it with (who replaced the water pump) seemed to think the pressure was building too much and suggested replacing the cap.

A friend also has an E36 and his hoses build up less pressure and have pretty much none when the engine is cool. I guess its possible that his is the one with a problem but I assumed by their recent histories that the problem was more likely with mine.

I can see a few drips of liquid under the car after stopping. They're pretty black but I think its coolant coming out and mixing with some of the dirt/oil on the engine block. Also, I can feel some wetness on the underside of the engine block's front left.

Maybe there's nothing major wrong but after the last few weeks of not knowing whether it would make it down the road or not, I'm erring on the side of caution.
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Old 07-19-2010, 09:13 AM
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hornhospital hornhospital is offline
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There are ways of testing both the cooling system integrity and the cap. Simplest thing is to just replace the cap, certainly, but a pressure test of both the system and cap would give you piece of mind. A good mechanic's shop should have the testing equipment. It takes about 2 minutes.

I'm betting the liquid dripping off the underside of the engine is oil. Our older BMWs are notorious leakers.
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1995 318is "Bebe"; 1993 325is "Elvira" 1985 635CSi "Katja" 1984 633CSi "Sylvia"
HAVE I HAD MY MEDS YET?

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Old 07-19-2010, 10:13 AM
franksmyth franksmyth is offline
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Thanks for your advice. I'll check it out a bit further and post an update when I know more.
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Old 07-19-2010, 03:04 PM
serayaE30 serayaE30 is offline
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thank you
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  #10  
Old 07-19-2010, 05:48 PM
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Yer welcome.
__________________
Quotes to live by:
guessing gets expensive...drivinfaster
nothing is more expensive than a cheap BMW...c4harpe13
buying a ratty example (of a BMW) is a parasitic relationship.(and you ain't the mosquito) 7pilot

Ken Kanne, Silverhill, AL, E36 Forum Mod/Craigslist addict/Hoarder of all sorts of stuff
BMW-CCA #441426
1995 318is "Bebe"; 1993 325is "Elvira" 1985 635CSi "Katja" 1984 633CSi "Sylvia"
HAVE I HAD MY MEDS YET?

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Old 07-20-2010, 03:00 AM
franksmyth franksmyth is offline
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So the saga continues....

Last night I didn't release the pressure build up once the engine had cooled down. And I woke this morning to find a puddle of coolant under the car and a pretty constant dripping from the same place I mentioned yesterday.

Released the pressure (if that much had leaked why was there still so much pressure??) by opening the rad cap (hissing and gurgling) - and the level was still reasonably high so I just closed it up and hoped for the best. It made it the 10 miles to work without any problems but when I first started it the engine didn't seem as smooth as usual (imagination??....don't think so)

Then after the drive in I had another look, the pressure was up but there was no drip?

Is it possible that when the engine is hot it expands a little and closes the leak?

The attached picture shows where I think the leak is coming from (although the thermostat housing looks slightly different.)

Would RadWeld stand a chance?
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  #12  
Old 07-20-2010, 10:58 AM
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I'm just guessing here since it's a 316, but it looks like the same as the early 318 problem, the TCPG (Timing Case Profile Gasket). the BMW 4cyl bugaboo.

http://timthurber.com/tcpg.htm

http://www.mesaperformance.com/faqs/318tcpg.html

http://www.m42club.com/forums/showthread.php?t=6234

http://forums.bimmerclassics.com/3-s...-problems.html
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Old 07-20-2010, 12:05 PM
franksmyth franksmyth is offline
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Symptoms sound similar alright. Ouch....

Booked a pressure test (or the last rites) for tomorrow eve so I will update after that.
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Old 07-21-2010, 03:52 PM
franksmyth franksmyth is offline
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Just to close off this topic....

Brought it for a pressure test today and he didn't even bother doing it. Said it was definitely the HG after sniffing the coolant and smelling fumes, squeezing the hoses which were solid, and turning over the engine (bit wobbly at first).

A bit strange I thought that this wobble has only shown up in the last day or two, and it hasn't overheated in that time. Also, I never saw another drop from TCPG after releasing the pressure that time, and yet it was streaming out of there that morning.

Oh well.

Thanks again for all the responses.

-Frank
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Old 07-21-2010, 06:30 PM
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Not disputing your mechanic, but I'd ask to see the HG after it's removed. I think you caught it JUST in time if that's what it really is.

Look at the positive side of this....HE gets to bleed the system this time!
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Old 07-21-2010, 09:32 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by franksmyth View Post
squeezing the hoses which were solid,
Isnt the cooling system on our cars pressurized? I mean like my rad hoses are pretty solid when in operating temperatures.
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Old 07-22-2010, 03:12 AM
franksmyth franksmyth is offline
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But mine are still solid when the engine is cold, meaning that the extra pressure is coming into the cooling system from somewhere.

If it was a closed system as its meant to be then they should be pressurized when the engine is hot but then return to unpressurized when it cools again.

Ken, when you say I caught it just in time do you mean before it does any further damage? I'm still driving on it while considering my options. Is that a bad idea??
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Old 07-22-2010, 08:58 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by franksmyth View Post
But mine are still solid when the engine is cold, meaning that the extra pressure is coming into the cooling system from somewhere.
No, that means your cooling system is NOT leaking. If it still has pressure when cool, where's the "extra" pressure coming from hours after it was shut down?. If we go on the theory it's because the HG is leaking cylinder pressure into the cooling system, that "extra" pressure stops the second you shut down, and the leak should allow the pressure to drop by the same pathway (into the supposedly leaking cylinder). IF there is a leak, I don't think it's acting as a one-way valve, but I guess it's possible. If so, why isn't the coolant level dropping each cycle?

Quote:
Originally Posted by franksmyth View Post
If it was a closed system as its meant to be then they should be pressurized when the engine is hot but then return to unpressurized when it cools again.
Again, not really. It will stay pressurized for quite some time even when cool. This is normal. You'll never know if the pressure is within "normal" range until you get the system AND CAP pressure tested. There's no way to determine what the pressure is in the system by squeezing hoses. My contention is that IF your cap is operating correctly, the system can't be running above normal pressure (~15psi) or it would be venting the excess pressure AND COOLANT. You aren't having to add coolant, so where's the 'excess' pressure manifesting itself? See what I mean?

Quote:
Originally Posted by franksmyth View Post
Ken, when you say I caught it just in time do you mean before it does any further damage? I'm still driving on it while considering my options. Is that a bad idea??
IF (and that's a real big IF) the HG is leaking combustion gasses into the system, it's on the verge of doing real damage, like a catastrophic failure. You need to have it tested by (1) pressure, (2) an exhaust gas detector in the cooling system, and (3) a coolant vapor detector for the exhaust. Those three tests will tell you definitively if you have a leaking HG. No 'sniffing the expansion tank' or 'hose squeezing' can do that.
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Quotes to live by:
guessing gets expensive...drivinfaster
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1995 318is "Bebe"; 1993 325is "Elvira" 1985 635CSi "Katja" 1984 633CSi "Sylvia"
HAVE I HAD MY MEDS YET?

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Old 07-23-2010, 03:28 AM
franksmyth franksmyth is offline
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Haha.....shows how much I know!!

Here was my (novice) thinking....if there is an internal leak and its letting exhaust gases into the cooling system the system becomes over pressurized while the car is running. When the car is off these gasses stop being produced but the excess pressure has nowhere to go because the cylinder is still sealed except for this pathway that is full. There is no external vent for the pressure to release through?

By the way, I am losing coolant....Lots of it. Sometimes I can see it (big puddle under the car), other times I have no idea where it can be going but I am regularly having to top up by a couple of litres!!

Still no white smoke, or dirty oil, but I'm now thinking that there is probably very little coolant left in there (last couple of top ups have been mainly water).

I've taken it off the road now until I can get those tests done.

Will post the results when I get them.
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Old 04-02-2014, 04:03 AM
GazamTi GazamTi is offline
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And of course, several years later and no posted results.

I'm interested in this discussion because I'm having a similar issue with my '97 Ti - had slight overheating issues, found three cracked and worn plastic parts, then my radiator or expansion tank starts leaking, radiator was installed about a year or two ago, then I have a new leak... seems like from the expansion tank lower part or at radiator somewhere or maybe the cap is releasing overflow and leaking coolant, anyway...

Hornhospital provided some good knowledge about coolant pressures and so on, but at the end after franksmyth said he'd taken it to the mechanic and all that mechanic did was sniff the coolant and squeeze the top hose and it was solid stiff and instant head gasket conclusion!

And then hornhospital doesn't say, what he said at the end there - go back and have "have it tested by (1) pressure, (2) an exhaust gas detector in the cooling system, and (3) a coolant vapor detector for the exhaust. Those three tests will tell you definitively if you have a leaking HG. No 'sniffing the expansion tank' or 'hose squeezing' can do that."!!!

Why didn't hornhospital tell him that before?!

Anyway, researching possibilities for any issue with our 90's BMW's can be such an adventure. Please provide, if you're still active, a fix or solution to the problems franksmyth.
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Old 07-08-2014, 07:05 AM
rdomingu24 rdomingu24 is offline
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Pressure in cooling system

I own a 1995 M3 with 190,000 miles I purchased for mostly track use as a second car. Not long after my first track event in January I also encountered some over heating. Weird as it was, it did not occur during the event but when I was one day driving the car spiritedly and breaking hard for fun. The temperature gauge ran all the way into the red before I caught it and let the car cool. After inspection I noticed the my fan switch had failed. BTW the car has an Aluminum radiator with a Spall electric fan and a pusher fan delete. I thought, great problem solved. Nope it over heated again on a test drive to work (stop and go traffic with several trips to the red). Yes heater blower was on full blast and this in Miami in the summer. Drive to work is about 20 miles. I wasn't pulling over to do the sensible thing. I use Redline 15-50w oil. Well, at this point I thought I had cooked the engine I would be in for HG repair soon, but first I would try the Thermostat.

This is where it get interesting. I changed the thermostat and refilled with coolant mostly a 30/70 % combo of BMW blue to distilled water and followed the instructions I found on this forum of letting the car idle as I filled the expansion tank. After a couple of test drives where the car still overheated and I add more distiller water, I finally reached a equilibrium and the car no longer overheated. Great, but after driving I would get the check coolant level message. Sure enough the coolant was low and it stayed low until the next morning when I would proceed to open the cap and then have pressure release some gurgling and then the coolant level would rise sometimes over spilling obit then settling back to midline. Combustion Gas! Blown HG I thought. To confirm I bought a block tester from Napa and yup the blue liquid turned green/yellow. I did a compression test and my cylinders measured 1. 210 2.195 3.200 4.200 5.200 6.205. Spark plug on 4 was a bit oily. Ok compression is good. The car despite my assumption of HG no longer overheated and when I changed the oil later that week the oil looked fine, even put a sample in a jar to see if it would separate and nothing.

But still could not understand why the gurgling. Finally in an act of desperation and a month after changing the thermostat and cap and adding distilled water frequently I finally just filled the expansion tank to the brim and wouldn't you know - the next morning after driving her hard the coolant level is at normal and has stayed normal at midline. No overheating.

So you may think its combustion gasses and a failed HG but in the end it may just be a bitch of an air pocket. As for the head blocker test. I was later told by mechanic that if it touches coolant it also can cause the changing in color.
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Old 07-21-2014, 04:56 AM
rdomingu24 rdomingu24 is offline
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This is a further update since I wrote the last comments.

I took the car to a track event this weekend and after five laps of hard redline running with the thermostat gauge marking midline the car overheated and broke a hose coupler. I let the car cool down and fixed the coupler with a new one a friend was able to get me and refilled with distilled water. Took her out on the track again and the same thing happened about the 5th lap - the car overheated. Same friend, who is a mechanic and brought a compressor and testing tools to the track, pressure tested the cooling system and confirmed it doesn't hold pressure.

Refilled with coolant and drove the car home about 20 miles with temp gauge marking midline.

We think it may be a slight tear in the headgaket that is allowing combustion gas to get into the cooling system. It may be small enough that it doesn't affect city driving (yet), but when on the track enough of the escaping gas heats up the coolant causing the motor to overheat and then loose coolant to through the expansion cap.

We will perform a leak down test to further confirm before taking the head apart. .
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Old 07-21-2014, 05:41 AM
rdomingu24 rdomingu24 is offline
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One other thing I failed to mention which is boggling me.

Where as before there was gurgling in the morning (cold engine) when I would open the expansion tank along with a pressure release. Now this does not occur. Initially it was this gurgling that had sent me down the path of the HG assuming hydrocarbons. A block test still confirms gas in the coolant but why the change for the better in that department? Was it the broken hose coupler that was letting gas into the line when it began to break? It was BMW plastic. That's the only thing I have change?
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Old 10-25-2014, 04:56 AM
rdomingu24 rdomingu24 is offline
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Just an update to my last post. I took off the head and determined it was a faulty head gasket. Fortunately it was not a cracked head. Before removing I did a compression and a leak down test. The leak down test confirmed the suspect cylinder as being number 5.
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Old 10-25-2014, 09:33 AM
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Did you have the head checked for warping and/or have it machined?
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