2009 PT Cruiser overheats, 4 garages have no clear idea why

Two weeks before Xmas, on my way to visit family, after driving for half hour car overheats (steam, temp light on). My rescuer (Dad) puts water in coolant tank and I get home (another half hr drive) before it starts again, but I get it to Garage No. 1, which replaces the thermostat. Drive off toward home and in half hr it overheats again (didn’t make it home). Towed to Garage No. 2, which replaces a hose/pipe going to the coolant tank with a hole in it (looked like a dent to me). Gave me old hose to show Garage No. 1. Drive ok for 2 weeks but car starts poorly first thing in morning (subsequent starts later in day fine). Car runs “rumbly,” but doesn’t overheat. Make long drive (over hr and a half) and on return (less than 4 mi from home) car overheats again. Garage No. 3 guesses head gasket but they don’t do those and it is transferred to Garage 4, a Chrysler dealer with a diagnostic computer. They don’t think its a head gasket on Day 1. Day 2, they actually get a better look and say they can’t make the car overheat (they drove it around, but not for a half hr total any one time), and they can’t tell what is wrong. Day 3 is tomorrow and they want to tear apart the head to get a better look (maybe it IS the head gasket). I have been told by separate source that it would be overheating all the time if it is the head gasket, and that having them open it up is just going to cost money, it is something else, most likely. I don’t know what to think. Any ideas?

“they want to tear apart the head to get a better look (maybe it IS the head gasket).”

If they do a compression test and a leak-down test they don’t have to “tear apart the head”.
All they are going to do is to pad the bill to an incredible extent by doing it this way.

Demand that they do a compression test and leak-down test. If they don’t know what you are talking about, or if they refuse, have the car towed to another shop.

NO-WAY-JOSE…THAT is NOT the correct diagnostic procedure AT ALL… Has anyone suspected the Radiator here? Unless you have head gasket symptoms…and so far I haven’t heard any…it isn’t the head gasket.

By using a simple handheld Infra-Red thermometer you can aim it at the small vertical coolant “runs” in the radiator…and see what temp they are…if you find a few or more Cool ones…then your radiator has lost the ability to shed heat…and you just replace it. It happens…radiators actually DO go bad. You can aim it also at key engine components to get readings…to see what temps certain things are.

Unless you are getting an overpressure issue in your coolant system and seeing coolant being pushed out of the rad…OR constant Steam out of your tailpipe…or a mysterious loss of coolant…Then you don’t have a head gasket problem…and you don’t tear the engine down… You DEFINITELY DO NOT tear it down to “CHECK” on the gasket…EVER…NEVER EVER…


These PT-Cruisers are extremely particular about the coolant that is used. My niece had one, and her ‘know-it-all’ husband used conventional green to do a coolant change. This was with at least two labels and a coolant reservoir cap that all warning to only use the correct fluid. The engine was constantly over-heating, and she was at her wit’s end. My BIL and I spend $30 on the correct dealer-supplied coolant and a thermostat just for good measure. Completely flushed the cooling system, inlcuding the heater core and re-filled with the proper stuff. Stopped overheating. We even drove it to a steep grade to try and get it to overheat and nothing.

I’m saying this, because you never mentioned if there was a proper flush and fill done to get the coolant back to the proper concentration and if the wrong coolant was maybe used. As I said, these engines are very picky about their coolant.

Does it do this while the cabin mode control is in certain positions? The mode control being the A/C, heater, vent, defrost control of course.

I’m wondering if you have an intermittently working cooling fan on the radiator and tearing apart an engine to check for a failed head gasket is asinine. Avoid a shop that tells you something like this. There are a number of tests that could be used to determine a bad head gasket.

When the hose/pipe was replaced, I was told by Garage No. 2 that there was no coolant left in the coolant tank. I do not know what kind of coolant they replaced it with, but apparently they had to completely refill it. I had put an incorrect coolant in it just before Garage No. 2 only because the correct kind was not available in the closest store when it overheated the 2nd time (I just chose one for Chrysler vehicles of an older make) and I was trying to get it to the 2nd garage (it did not make it 5 miles and I had to pull over and call a tow). I would like to think the 2nd garage filled it with the right stuff, replacing the wrong stuff.

I am uncertain whether the position of the heater or defrost or vent had an effect. On the first overheating the heat had been on but suddenly stopped working before the first overheating occurred (about 10 minutes before).

These past two weeks the car has been running rumbly, as if it could stop at any time when idling, the heat has worked and the coolant has not been fiddled with in any way. In the past two weeks it was run short distances every day and one weekend run 1.5 hrs and back without overheating (left this out accidentally from previous statement); 2nd weekend a trip of the same length it did overheat but not until the end. Uncertain if steep hills had any effect (but seemed to be when trouble started each time) and did note when it was failing that stopping at lights was worse than if I kept moving.

I could not comment on why, if the problem was a leak fixed by Garage 2 that it would run for 2 weeks (rumbly, with bad morning startups) and then heat up again after 2 somewhat long trips (1.5 hrs each way). I am going to call Garage 4 and stop them from opening the head and ask if they have done the tests mentioned. I am considering finding a different garage entirely, however.

Does the check engine light come on at all?

I wonder whether these clowns didn’t burp the car when they replaced the thermostat and it now has an air bubble in the cooling system someplace. Temperature sensors are often located towards the top of the engine, where there’s now an air bubble and it thus measures the wrong temperature, making adjustments accordingly and causing the car to run like crap.

Park the car with the front going uphill*, open the radiator cap. Let it run, periodically running the engine speed up a bit and dropping it back to idle. Be sure the heat is on. Watch for the air bubbles show up in the radiator’s filler neck - you’ll likely need two people with one running the engine up and watching the heat and the other watching the bubbles.
As you see bubbles and the level drop, add some coolant. Be sure the car does not overheat - that’s always bad.
Eventually, you’ll not see bubbles and no coolant level drop and the system is considered ‘burped’.

  • a road incline or steep driveway will do fine. If you have access to ramps, use them instead.