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Liquid Fuel in 3 Intake Valves, Metal Flakes in 2

I have a '99 Malibu VIN M 3.1 that gave up on me about a year ago, and has sat in my driveway since. When I bought it 2 years prior, it was throwing a camshaft code, (got it at a great price), so I replaced the sensor, tried it 3 times. Each time, It’d go away for a couple weeks, and the code would return. Then is went out while driving home, it made a type of fluttering sound, and when it’d crank, it’d fire and jump all over the place before then stall out about 2 seconds later.

Fast forward to now, I decided to have a learning experience with my wife and kids. I pulled the engine and transmission in hopes of them getting involved with learning how and why things are done with engines. I removed tranny, sitting on the floor of garage, and put the engine on a stand. I pulled the oil pan, which has about 1/2 inch of sludge in on bottom. The engine exterior was covered with oil. Oil pan was missing a couple bolts to hold it in. I took off the front cover, the harmonic balancer bearing and race are good. Since it was throwing a camshaft code, the camshaft seemed the logical place to look. I rotated the engine around to the timing marks, and the engine is in perfect time. Timing chain has some very slight play, but according to the manuals, that’s about right. Slack goes away if you rotate crankshaft back and forth about 1" at the flywheel.

That led me to check the camshaft, maybe something went wrong there. So, I removed the intake, and with the engine in the timed position, it appears that every intake valve is closed, which may or may not be correct. But, the more interesting thing is on cylinders 1 and 3, there appears to be metal filings/flakes in the bottom of it, cylinder 2 appears normal, and cylinders 4, 5, and 6 have gas laying on the valves. I can see one of the camshaft bearings (I think) and it appears the edges might be chewed up slightly, which lends to a major concern. The other issue is when I took the rocker cover off, the pungent-hard-to-describe smell of gas/oil mix that makes your throat burn was present. The fuel on the intake appears that some oil might be in it also.

I’m kind of at a loss of where to go from here, I really don’t want to tear heads off to replace them, or replace a valvetrain (I have a problem mixing old with new, like new camshaft/old pushrods, if I have it apart, may as well replace it all, in my opinion. What I’m questioning is the diagnosis, and next steps if the diagnosis isn’t clear yet, I’m also trying to figure out what those flakes are in the intake valves, that aren’t full of some type of oil/gas mixture it seems…Attached are the pictures of cylinders 1 and 5. Cylinder 1 is the flakes, the other is the #5. Maybe this is normal looking, I don’t know. Oh, one last thing, where I can see what I think is the cam intermediate bearing the lobe there also looks like it’s been rubbed more than the rest, like sandpaper type thing, which may have been the ticking lifter. I should also mention that the lower intake gasket was in completely poor condition. Opinions/thoughts? Not looking to junk it, looking to learn about what I don’t know. Most of my limited experience involves diesel, which is a completely different animal.

Picture 1; What appears to be metal flakes is only deposits that have formed on the bottom of the valves. This is normal and nothing to worry about.

Picture 2; This could just be oil that ran down into those intakes when you removed the manifold.

You did say that there was a heavy odor of gasoline when you got the manifold apart. This would indicate that when this engine died, it ran so poorly because of a broken ring which allowed raw gas to pass the broken ring (s) and enter the crank case…saturating the oil with fuel.
The missing or rough way that this engine ran when you last had it running could have easily been the result of a broken ring (s).

Because their was so much sludge in the oil pan, a broken ring (s) and no compression test or leak down test was done while you had the engine in the vehicle, I would consider the engine as junk and get a used engine.

This thing is not worth the time and effort.

It sitting for a year also hinders any effort to diagnose much.



Agree with @Yosemite. Unless you do a complete teardown to find each and every problem this engine has, you are wasting your time trying to diagnose it.

Seems like you are treating this engine like a large OTR diesel engine - which makes sense, you are a diesel tech. Gas car engines are not designed to be easily repaired for major things. You can’t swap out a cylinder sleeve and a ring set. Treat it like 3 subsystems - the short block, and each of 2 heads. Pull the heads and check pistons, rings and bearings. Check each head for valve seat seal and valvetrain. Tally up the cost to repair it and fix it or replace with a used engine.

I’ll bet lunch that the prior owner had also pulled the pan. :grin: I can only imagine what he must have found in there. :confounded:

Clearly the engine is toast, short of a total rebuild… and ai wouldn’t even bet on that possibility without looking at the cylinder walls. But it’s now a learning prop for your wife (?) and kids, so its condition is really a teaching opportunity. If you’d like to try to get the old Malibu on the road, installing a boneyard motor would provide even another good learning opportunity.

I think you’ve already found the source of the metal shavings. The gas sitting on the valves can only be guessed at, but a leaky injector comes to mind as a good possibility.

Well, to update, I had an epiphany last night after posting this and going to bed. This morning, I got out and rotated the engine a little each way. I was thinking, having rotated the engine while it was out should have produced some type of valve movement, and if the valve moved, it should have drained into the cylinders. So, taking a guess at it, I rotated the engine slightly each way, looking for movement of camshaft. Yeah, camshaft stops any movement in front of the cylinders having an issue. So, it snapped a camshaft.

So, I’m guessing this isn’t an interference motor, so would I be wrong in attempting this, or am I still looking at a head job in order to check the heads/gasket at this time?

With a 1/2: of sludge in the pan which apparently has been off right before you bought it and continued cam sensor codes I’d say the entire engine is horribly sludged up with plugged oil galleys and not worth the trouble.

There are no camshaft bearings. The cam rides on the saddles in the cylinder head. The chewed up edges you see is the cylinder head. See above note about plugged oil galleys and not worth the trouble.

I believe the cam rides in the block in this OHV engine.

My question: Why would a camshaft break??

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Good question. In an overhead valve engine a broken pushrod jamming up the works between the cam lobe and the rocker perhaps?

Yes, my bad, The mind was wandering and I was thinking 4 cylinder for some reason.

Why did the cam break? Probably because an oil galley got sludged or coked up and shut off the oil supply to a cam journal. At some point part of the cam will seize while the other part of the cam and rest of the engine keeps rotating.

Further research into this reveals that this particular engine series had a problem with the intake gasket, fixed in the 2002-2003 era, and a lot of issues with cooling. A few other sites revealed that having a bad lower intake gasket is the probable cause for camshaft failure.

So, after examining the ports and everything else I can see and think of to check, I’m inclined to repair this motor. The engine is not an interference engine, the ports are clean, a previous response confirms that what initially felt were metal flakes were normal deposits. The unit appears otherwise unscathed, other than catastrophic camshaft failure. I guess it’s the 14 Liter diesel side coming out, but I think it’s repairable. The other deciding factor is my wife and kids have spent most of the day cleaning it up, and are somewhat excited to see this unit come back to life. The parts to fix the unit are somewhere in the $300 range right now, everything included, so it’s worth it to me. Even if it dies after 10 minutes, it’ll be a huge accomplishment to see my kids when it fires up and they worked on it. Obviously, running longer is a plus, but confidence builder, nonetheless… Besides, only things left on the block is heads and lower rotating train, I think I can mostly flush out all the ports and make it go again.

Even Yosemite, who made that suggestion, also said in his post that the engine is toast. I agree with his other conclusions, making that one moot… short of a total teardown and rebuild, the engine is toast.

I applaud your optimism, and tip my hat to your use of this experience as a learning experience, especially with your wife and kids (I HIGHLY applaud that), and I support your continuing the adventure, but I would recommend not putting too much money into it before pulling the heads and examining the cylinders and valvetrains. You might even want to flip it over, pull a few connecting rod/crank bearings, and take a good look-see. And if you’re going to do that, you’d be remiss in not pulling the pistons… and replacing the rings… which would be foolish to do without checking, measuring, and at least honing (if not boring) the cylinders.

At least pull the heads. Let us know how you make out.

Yeah, I realize the usual protocol in this situation, since it’s pull apart this far. There’s a limit to funds I’m willing to put into it, and sending the heads out to a machine shop for work, new valves, etc, while a great learning experience as far as how to remove them, doing that much is currently beyond the scope of this project. What we’ve decided to do instead of saying the engine is toast, given the run time after the failure, and the possibilities related to it, is to replace the camshaft, bearings, lifters, and completely clean out the block down. I know, the possibility of metal shavings in the crank bearings, etc. The crank has no evidence of any metal entering, and it’s limited on the camshaft to the area around the camshaft. Researching this out, the probability of the lower intake being the cause of the failure is most probable, as the oil was changed at regular intervals prior to failure…I just never bothered to deal with the problematic issues, as I figured it was a junker anyway. So, for now, I’m sticking to this plan, all in all, including the price to buy the care, if this is a total failure, and never starts again, it’s still only about $800 into the car as a total, excluding regualr maintenance. That’s acceptable to me. But, if it starts up and runs, and I miss a piece of metal, and it lasts 10 minutes, 10 months, or 10 years, well, the gamble worked, and it’ll pay off. I’ll know more when I pull the camshaft, but at this moment, I’m not pulling the heads or crank out. That’s more work, time, and just waiting around than what I feel is currently necessary, in my opinion, at this time. Gotta remember, this car is from 1999, LOL

The rewards of doing this with your wife and kids will far, far outweigh any expenditure you might make. I’ve always been extremely family oriented, and I cannot tell you how happy this thread made me.
An occasional update would be sincerely appreciated. Never have I read a post that I supported more than yours.

Sincere best.

If the block is sludged or coked up the only thing that will cure that is vatting it out at the auto machine shop. With a plugged galley anywhere it’s not going to run long.

I’m a pessimist on this issue as I’ve never been a gambler; especially if the house odds are stacked heavily against me.

Not much to add except outside of all the sludge, I suspect the reason for shut down is electrical and not mechanical. Too late now since you’ve got the thing pulled out and apart. But my experience with cam sensors is they don’t shut the engine down when they fail. A crank sensor will but a cam sensor will allow the engine to run until shut down and then worn’t start again. Plus it can also be a problem with the sensor circuit and not the sensor itself.

This sounds like a fun project. Of course I get to read about it, I don’t have to actually do it … lol … but it seems to me you’ve done the hardest part already, or at least the most unpleasant part, you’ve got the engine and transmission out and the engine on a stand and from what I can tell your wife isn’t complaining there’s no place in the garage to park her car.

If that’s all the case, take the heads off. What you got to lose? That the best way to figure out what’s wrong.

Well, after messing around a little, looking around for parts, repair costs, and found some damage to the bearing races… I started looking for parts, and found out I can put a 3.4 drop in replacement in for $250 and repairing the engine with the broken camshaft, just parts would cost over $400… well, I see why now the camshaft is the death sentence of a block especially when the center bearings spin and self destruct… lol, thanks for the help guys!

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And sincere thanks to you for taking the time to post back. It’s always great to hear of a successful project and a happy ending.

Happy motoring… LOL, although in this case it may be interpreted to mean installing a motor… :grin: