Did we win the battle, but lose the war?

About three weeks ago, the timing belt snapped on my 1998 Volvo V70 as the the key was turned to shut off the engine. The car has 135,000 miles on the odometer. My Father-in-Law and I changed the timing belt and water pump at 65,000 miles, so the belt that broke was was the second one in the car.

The interference engine did not disappoint, and interfered rather swimmingly. Eight of the 20 valves were damaged. The shop where I took the head removed all the valves; inspected the head; ground, lapped,and replaced the damage valves; and sent me back to our garage to rebuild the engine. The pistons suffered small half-moon dents from the valves, but were not broken. We were told the head was free of cracks, and proceeded to rebuild the engine. We bought a head kit, new head bolts, replaced all the gaskets, and even put the hydraulic lifters back in the original positions. Everything was done to Volvo specification for torque and degrees of stretch on the head bolts. Of course, the engine also got a new timing belt and water pump. We changed the oil, turned the key, and won the battle; the car was not dead. In fact, it ran beautifully. After a minute or two, the lifters quieted down, and we sent up a cheer!

For the next few days afterward, I diligently checked for leaks; spots on the ground or garage floor. I even went so far as to put down a piece of plywood to easier spot and trace dripping fluids. I did find a couple of hoses that were a little loose, tightened up the clamps, and all was right with the world. That was, until I checked the oil. On the dipstick, rather than reading the lovely golden-colored 6.1 quarts of 5W30 Penzoil I had put in just 150 miles earlier, was coated in a thick, gooey tan material akin to butterscotch pudding. My good mood waned as I called my Father-in-Law to report that coolant had infiltrated the oil system. He too was deflated.

I have been reading several hypotheses as to the presence of said goo on said dipstick. Some say it is moisture from cold, wet weather (I live in northern Illinois). Some say it is a leaking oil line inside the radiator. And yet some others say (God forbid) it is a broken head or leaking head gasket. I need your expert(?) opinion. Is my beloved V70 toast? I can take it. Tell me the truth: did we win the battle, but lose the war?

Oh my. The time to abandon ship on a 1998 Volvo was right after the timing belt broke.

Others will know better, but kind of depends on how much was on the dip stick. On my old 59 Pontiac, I always had residue on the dipstick no matter what I did but it was mainly along the edges of the stick and at the very bottom. So if its from the cold, it probably shouldn’t be that much. As far as the cooler goes, you might be able to pressurize the line and look for bubbles in the radiator. Don’t know if a leak down test or not on the engine can verify a head gasket leak or not. I haven’t used Pennzoil for over 20 years though, not even in my lawn mower.

I would drain the oil and see if you really have coolant in it, or if you’re just getting condensation that’s appearing on the dipstick.

One thought that comes to mind: Did you reconnect the PCV system? This might be all that is wrong. I put new distributor points and spark plugs in the first car I ever owned–a 1947 Pontiac. It wouldn’t fire up and I had no spark at the plugs. However, I could flip the points open and closed and get a spark at the coil wire. After fooling around for an hour, I found the trouble–I hadn’t put the rotor back in the distributor. Sometimes the simplest things will get you.

If this is the first time you’ve seen the goo (after several years of ownership) then I’m afraid it’s likely a coolant leak, likely a bad head gasket. But do as suggested, drain the oil and take a look.

Did the dipstick read over full? If yes coolant leak, if no, you could be ok. Is there oil in your radiator?

Wow! Thanks for all the responses! And so quickly! I will try to respond to them in line so far.

My first thought was to abandon ship, but the car is (and has been) paid for, so we figured we’d take the risk. Plus working side-by-side with my Father-in-Law is always a treat.

There was a lot of goo on the stick. A. Lot. Way over the full line, encroaching up to the top of the dipstick tube.

I have not had a chance to drain the oil I just put in. The car is parked in the garage and hasn’t been driven since my discovery last night. I normally use Castrol in my Volvo, but the Penzoil was on sale. I know, now’s not the time to cheap out, but I’ve dropped about $1000 so far into this bucket of bolts with this repair, so cost saving is an issue. :slight_smile: I think a compression check on each cylinder is next up on the docket.

I do not see signs of oil in the filler bottle, but have not drained the radiator again. That will be the acid, or in my case, jack-acid test.

As far as I can tell, we attached and plugged everybody back into their respective receptacles and sockets. We will go over every connection with a fine-tooth comb once more, though.

Yes, I’ve owned this car since 2001 (about 46,000 miles), and there’s never been anything but oil on the dipstick.

Yes, the dipstick reads way past full. I think I’m sunk. Ho hum…

Yep, that sure sounds like coolant contamination. Does this car have an engine oil cooler integrated into the radiator?

Off the oil topic: Did you do anything about the damaged pistons? Those little divots will collect carbon, which will then retain heat and probably cause pinging.

"Some say it is moisture from cold, wet weather "

In only 150 miles of driving?

Unfortunately, whoever told you that this was the result of driving in cold, wet weather either didn’t know all of the facts or is woefully misinformed. Instead, this has to be the result of coolant contamination of the motor oil, and that is…not good.

Now the trick is to track down the source of that infiltration.
Personally, I wouldn’t spend much more time or money on fixing a 16 year old car, but you may have a much greater appreciation for old Volvos than I do.


I hope you see this because it is never a good idea to put your full name and where you live on an open web site. Please edit your post.

NYBo: Yes, I believe there is an oil line that runs through the radiator in this scenario. We’ll be looking there too. As for the dents in the tops of the pistons, we left them alone. We hedged our bets and are (were) hoping for the best.

VDCdriver: I agree with you and don’t think this is a simple case of condensation. That answer was, as Tom and Ray say, B-O-O-O-O-O-O-O-O-G-U-S! As far as appreciating an old Volvo, yeah, I guess this V70 has a soft spot in my heart. But the real reason we tried to win this was because I’m also an incredible tight-wad and don’t want to pick up another car payment. :slight_smile:


What about the coolant reservoir?

Does the coolant in there look like nasty coffee?

My guess is this is a head gasket problem. Since it is presumably a new head gasket, here’s what I can think of

  • The wrong head gasket; i.e. the wrong part number was used.
  • It’s the correct part number, but it was put on in the wrong orientation, backward, reversed, etc.
  • It’s the correct part number, in the correct orientation, but simply misplaced from where it should be in one spot, or was damaged during the installation.
  • The head bolts were not torqued as tight as they should be, or were over tightened, or were not tightened in the correct order, or didn’t follow the recommended incremental increasing in torque values during the head bolt tightening sequencing.

What to do? I’d drain and replace the oil, new oil filter, see if the problem returns. I’d also check the coolant for signs of oil floating on it. And I’d check the automatic transmission fluid – if applicable – for signs of coolant contamination. If the problem of coolant contaminated oil returns, next up would be a cylinder pressure leak-down test and probably some kind of smoke test.

If the test confirmed a head gasket leak, I might try re-torqueing the head bolts, see if that helped. Not over-torqueing, just re-torqueing to specs.

If it is the head gasket, and the re-torqueing doesn’t work, since everything that broke is new and the head is all milled straight and true now, best option is just to redo the head gasket. Make sure to follow exactly what the factory service manual says , the instructions given there on how to install it.

I should add there is some possibility there is other damage involved. When a valve hits a piston, it can damage the piston below the top surface, and that could in turn damage the cylinder wall. This could be investigated by removing the oil pan and doing a look-see from below.

Thanks for more input, guys! I really appreciate it.

db4690: The coolant reservoir is not contaminated. I just installed a new bleeder hose to it, and the coolant coming up from the thermostat housing was clean and green too.

GeorgeSanJose: I feel very confident in our rebuild. We checked, re-checked, and checked again, so unless we were both wrong all three times, the head gasket was oriented correctly. It came out of the box and went right on the engine; no languishing exposed on the bench, and no damage to the gasket. New head bolts were installed and torqued in the required two stage sequence in the correct pattern, then stretched the required 130-degrees in the correct pattern. I agree with you about the valve hitting the piston potentially causing damage to the cylinder wall. On visual inspection, there was no damage, and you can still see the cross-hatching on the sleeves. The engine was very clean and sanitary, but we’ve obviously missed something. I really do appreciate your input though, and will look at the ATF too (I hadn’t thought to look there).

Did you have the head resurfaced?

Some engines have a little tube that goes from the block to the head where the oil line is. Does your engine have one of these and if it does, did you put it back?

Does your engine have an engine oil cooler that mounts to the oil pan? It would be facing the rear of the car, have two 5/8" coolant hoses going to it and it bolts directly to the oil pan. If I remember it would be slightly outboard and upward from the oil drain plug. Since this part has both coolant and oil in it I wonder if it was somehow damaged while jacking up the engine to access the t-belt?

A friend of mine with the exact same model car had the same thing happen, timing belt breaking and trashing the engine. The initial repair estimate of $1000 or so turned into over $3000 by the time it was all said and done. And even then, further problems led her to get rid of the car less than a year later.

Volvos tend to be money pits. Hopefully you’ll buck the trend, though. Good luck.

Here’s an update, if anyone is still following this thread. As of last night, we have narrowed this down to a PCV issue as the rubber-glove-test-over-the-oil-filler shows the engine is producing pressure (glove filling up) instead of vacuum (glove deflating). There is also smoke emitting from the dipstick tube. Based on these two tests, either a new Pope has been elected in my engine, or the PCV system is not functioning correctly. We still need to do a pressure test on each cylinder to verify a good head/head gasket. However, with the minus zero air temperature we’ve been experiencing for weeks now, and a dubious PCV system, we are led to believe, as an earlier poster surmised (and I egregiously dismissed as bogus), that this is a condensation issue in the dipstick tube. This is further supported by the oil topside (at the camshafts) being clean and clear as the engine is running. Thank you all again for your input and comments. I really appreciate them.