Head Gasket?? Mystery steam/smoke? - Ranger-Forums - The Ultimate Ford Ranger Resource


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Old 08-30-2017
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Head Gasket?? Mystery steam/smoke?

First post, looking for some help. I have a '90 ranger, manual, and the previous owner put radiator stop leak in the coolant, which I didn't know about until I started running higher temps (still in the normal) through the death valley in CA, and boiled a ton of coolant out the reservoir when I pulled into a gas station.
Before this I have not had any problems with my ranger running hot. Anyways, tore apart the cooling system and found out that my radiator was decently clogged with pieces of almost sand grits from what I assume to be the stop leak, or pieces of the water pump. Replaced all lines, water pump, radiator, thermostat, and flushed the system 5-6 times. I idled the car to operating temperature multiple times on my driveway, flushed the cooling system a couple more times, and the car was running much cooler than it used to, with the gauge now never making it to the "r" in normal.
I then took my ranger to the gas station (about 10 mins away), and when I pulled into the gas station, a decent amount of steam was coming out of the passenger side somewhere! I checked my lines, water pump, and thermostat for leaks, but couldn't find any. So I started assuming it was possibly a head gasket leak, and tested my cooling system (glove over rad cap) for exhaust gasses, but there was no bubbling, and the glove didn't bob, so I'm pretty sure there are no exhaust gasses in the cooling system. There is also no steam coming from my exhaust. I did a compression test and all my cylinders are 115-125 PSI. I don't have coolant in my system currently, only water so I can't really smell to see if coolant is coming from anywhere.
Anyone have any ideas where this steam could be coming from? Am I in the clear or is it still possible I have blown my head gasket? I'm going to drain the oil tonight and check for water. Any ideas would be greatly appreciated.

EDIT: I ran it for about 15 mins on my driveway today, brought it up to operating temp, and there was no steam now? I have leaky valve covers so maybe I have oil dripping on the manifold or something? There's a smell from the passenger side that doesn't specifically smell like burning oil, more like burning plastic/rubber almost.
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Old 08-31-2017
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I'm not sure what the compression is supposed to be for the 2.9 litre, but those numbers seem a bit low for 1990 _ probably needs a valve job, it's pretty old.
Put about a table spoon or a little more oil in the combustion chamber, if the compression goes up, then you have a ring problem, if it stays the same, then you have a valve problem.
Make sure your throttle valve is open fully when doing a compression test.

There is a line that goes from the rad cap area to the over flow tank, check that line for small wear holes, it can chafe on the metal parts of the rad.

Head gaskets don't fail on their own, the engine has to be overheated for them to fail.
The heads expand, crushing the head gaskets when an engine over heats.
It may have been over heated at one time, but at this point, not bad enough to crush the head gaskets _ at least from your symptoms, it doesn't sound so.

Don't know what the burning smell of plastic/rubber could be.
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Old 08-31-2017
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Check Core plugs(freeze plugs) on passenger side, one is probably rusted thru and is leaking coolant/water

Check lower intake at the rear passenger side where it meets the head, that is a water passage, and the gasket can corrode there


Stop leak can't clog rad or heater cores, popular myth
Rads and heater cores clog up just fine on their own if coolant is not changed every 2 years and system flushed
Also reverse heater hoses at the firewall each time you change coolant, it back flushes, reverses the flow in the heater core so debris is less likely to build up in the smaller passages

Last edited by RonD; 08-31-2017 at 09:19 AM.
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