1994 Saturn SL2 Overheating still after new radiator?

I wish I could claim I was drunk but while dead sober I just agreed to have my former Saturn dealer replace my radiator upper & lower hose for $307 the thermostat for $108 and they said my front brakes were “metal to metal” and needed new pads and rotors for $243.00. This kind of confused me because nearly every time I had the darn thing in a shop for oil change or whatever I asked the brakes be checked in order to avoid this and now suddenly the rotors are bad from really light driving.

I brought the car in because my temp gauge showed red while downtown and the water was a little low. I let it cool off and drove back. The dealer looked at it and said I had a “split seam” on my radiator. Well I had all the above work done and low and behold the temperature gauge did the same exact thing on the way home, work its way up to the “red” area and then settle down a bit. They showed me a radiator with a slight crack in the plastic side while I was there but being charged $88 for changing a thermostat when the radiator seemed a bit much - their labor 3 hours for all above seems to be $100 per hour I think they have gone up since my last visit.

I feel pretty bad since I just paid $700, more than what I could sell the car for probably but I thought the results would make worry free - far from it. They agreed to take another look at it but I am not sure exactly what attitude to take if any.

I meant $88 labor when the radiator had already been removed seemed a bit much.

It’s not particularly uncommon for a radiator that old to develop a seam split and need to be replaced. I had the same thing happen in my early 90’s Corolla a year or so ago. In my case the engine cooling fan had stopped working due to a corroded electrical connector, so both the radiator and the fan connector were replaced and never had a problem afterward. It’s common to replace there thermostat at the same time as the radiator in a car of this vintage. No worries there. As it is still overheating, something remains amiss. It could be that they didn’t get all the air out of the cooling system, and it just needs to be re-bled. I’m guessing though you may still have a problem with your engine cooling fan. Especially if it overheats in stop and go traffic, but doesn’t at freeway speeds. Next time it overheats, pull over and pop the hood. The engine cooling fan should be spinning like a banshee. If it isn’t, that’s at least part of the problem. There’s also a possibility - you aren’t going to like this – that your head gasket is leaking, for example allowing hot exhaust gasses into the coolant. A good mechanic has a variety of tests that can be done for determining if that is what is happening.

Remember in an overheating emergency you can help cool the engine by turning on the heater to full hot and the heater fan to high.

No way to diagnosis the brakes from here, but it’s pretty easy for a mechanic to determine if the brake pads need replacing or not. Any inde mechanic can give you a second opinion for a small fee. The prices seem within reason for a dealer shop. This kind of problem is usually better and less expensively addressed at an inde mechanic shop though.

" This kind of problem is usually better and less expensively addressed at an inde mechanic shop though. " Yep, I fell for the service guy saying “he would drop the diagnostic fee” If I had the work done then. My original intent was to just pay them to tell me what is wrong & use up a couple of Saturdays fixing it.

Maybe they will be able to fix it when I take it back. I did check the fan working, before and after taking it in for repairs. I never drove it over a block or two once the temp needle crept up near the red so warped heads or valve cover would not be a problem I would think.

Thanks for the response! I hope I convinced them during the wait that I can not afford a new car. :wink:


You got nearly 20 years out of your plastic/aluminum radiator. Mine never lasted that long!

$88/hr is quite fair, actually

$243 to replace the front rotors and pads also sounds fair to me, considering the “former Saturn dealer” did the work. I’m assuming they installed AC Delco parts.

How many miles on this car?

the odometer went bad on the instrument cluster about a year and a half ago so I think it has about 150.000 miles on it. I only drive around town less than 20 miles usually - I have a work vehicle that takes most of the damage on driving.

I just thought that once the radiator is removed the two bolts holding the thermostat in are not that big a deal, $88 with the radiator still in is ok because on a Saturn the darn thing is difficult to access. IMOHO but I am just looking for a couple of worry free years from this thing

It costs about $1,200 for a new head to be installed and some more for the new timing chain. That may not be the problem at all so check for coolant level before anything else is done because sometimes the system isn’t really full after a radiator gets changed. Three quarts low is not uncommon.

Now, they will have to diagnose the problem to try to figure out if your timing is off and if the timing chain has slipped. Make sure your plug wires are arranged like the photo of the engine that should be in any manual.

you could inspect your brakes everyday and that would have no impact on how fast they wear out. why do you think looking at pads will make them last longer? if shop said they were getting thin, would you just choose to use the brakes less? i dont know how anyone can drive a car and not use the brakes. maybe drive slow?

Checking back in thanks for the help and now to whine a bit more.

I did finally catch the fan not working when I looked at it while the engine was running hot [driving a couple of blocks to a store & one exit away on an interstate]. {fan is run by electric motor on Saturns}

I called the service manager who continued his mantra “there may be something wrong internally with your engine” that he repeats every minute or so [the engine sounds fine so far] and he said I could tap on the fan motor etc. when It was not running. I asked if they could stop running intermittently he said sure but sounded less than enthused. These guys have done great work in the past but I think there has been a change in personnel.

My original agreement was that they said they could diagnose whatever was wrong with the first bill. I wonder if I could take it back and they could have a look at the fan /motor etc. still under that bill payment - I guess I will ask. If any bad components are accessible maybe I could do it myself.

When paying the first time after the work was done the lady at the counter made me sign a statement I had never noticed or seen before and is ambiguously scary.

"The seller, hereby expressly disclaims all warranties, either express or implied,including any implied warranty of merchantability or fitness for a particular purpose .....any liability in connection with the sale of said products."

I am just annoyed that having to throw more money at this thing which would have made a good down payment on another vehicle. When given the original estimate, including diagnostics, I asked it the car would be “running fine” again if all the repairs were done and was told yes by the salesperson and although I never expected “like new” or any such I am still disappointed.

Stoveguy…My surprise was at the brakes going from “all fine” to metal on metal need to replace the discs - there was never any “pads are getting thin” etc. They work great now and did feel questionable before when I had them checked at various venues. I don’t think there is that big a conspiracy to sell me new rotors but I was wondering if they were actually checked in the past.

I thought I would give an update. I took the car back to the dealer explaining that it still ran hot and they agreed to have another look since they had signed off on the diagnosis. I was told that:

 >The fan was working and started within 4 degrees of when it should
 >One mechanic said that the temperature gauge reading at the 3/4 mark was normal
 > A "manager" said he could replace some kind of control system for $140 but would not     elaborate or show schematic of what when I asked and would not explain if that was necessary to make it function correctly [nothing was in writing].

I was also made uncomfortable when it seemed a light needed to be flashed in my eyes whenever I wanted to ask follow up questions or read the forms put in front of me to sign. The car now has the temp gauge go up to the “3/4” mark and over to near the red before coming back down and does so repeatedly while driving. I think I am done with the former Saturn dealer I bought the vehicle from [used] unless they offer a solution for no extra charge.