1997 Saturn SL1 – Engine Overheating

Reader Question: I have a 1997 Saturn SL1. In 2004, I had bought it used and for replacing an alternator, it never had any problems.

In the last 3 months the following symptoms appeared:

1. The car overheats – by engaging the heater the heat dial would come down, however if I put ac on (which should bring down the heat gauge) it did not do that and the arrow stayed close to red zone.

2. Many times the fan would stay on even after I turned off the engine- for up to 5 minutes.

3. Had problem opening the oil cover and had to top off engine oil even though I had a complete oil change recently.

5 weeks ago had thermostat and antifreeze (red antifreeze as Saturn recommended). It did not resolve the heating problems at all.

Please advise.

Hey there,

It sounds as though your cooling fan is cycling on and off as it should when the engine temperature gets hot. It shuts off when the engine temperature decreases. Therefore, you probably do not have a cooling fan issue.

I would check inside the radiator and make sure the radiator is full to the top with antifreeze, do not just rely on the plastic overflow bottle on the side of the engine for proper antifreeze level.

If the radiator is low on fluid, you probably have a leak somewhere and need to get a cooling system pressure test on the cooling system to locate the leak.

If the radiator is full of fluid I would suspect you have a restriction inside the radiator itself which is limiting the flow of antifreeze throughout the system. Best thing to do is use a laser heat gun and check all cooling system components under the hood with the engine hot to find a restriction.

With the engine hot, you can also run your hand along the top middle section of the radiator moving down to the bottom of the radiator. If you notice a drastic temperature change between the top and bottom of the radiator, you probably need to get a new radiator.

Here is more about overheating:

Engine Overheating Problem

Austin Davis

Reader Follow Up
Dear Austin:

Thank you for your reply.

I agree with you, it sounds like I need to replace my radiator. I have had a horrible experience today. Please read it if you have time. I went to a radiator shop in the Bronx.

I was attracted to the radiator shop because the man sounded eager and honest and told me 99% of the time you do not need to have your radiator replaced. This is usually the opposite of what I would expect to hear so I thought- gee he sounds honest.

When I got there I noticed that the shop was empty. That should have been a red flag.

They wanted to take my old radiator and flush and clean it.

However they noticed corroded connections and they said that they would not remove my old radiator because:

1) It looked clean inside and they will clean outside with a water hose.

2)The rusty connections are too close to the transmission so I would definitely need a new radiator.

I told them don;t do it, just replace the radiator- they said no.

After they cleaned the radiator the car still overheated.

Now they said. Its your thermostat.

I said, please replace the radiator. They said no.

They were going to replace the fluid with green antifreeze and I told them Saturn only recommends red one, they said it makes no difference, but they told me they would do it for $12 extra- I agreed plus $40 for thermostat.

1/2 hour later was told car was ready and was told the car is fine and I owe $60 for labor, $52 for thermostat and antifreeze. I paid but the owner told me they had no forms and could not give me a receipt.

I drove and 2 minutes later the car overheated. Brought it right back and the owner told me I need new radiator and he feels bad and will charge me only $110 for a new one, but I have to come back on Monday cause the factory/ part store where he gets it closes at 3 pm (it was 3:05 pm).

Austin, are these people for real? They said to me they tried to save me money. I insisted they replace my radiator from 11 am when I got there.

Now I had to cancel my doctor’s appointment for Monday morning cause I am afraid to drive the car far and I have to bring it back to the radiator place.

I am scared of those people. Maybe they will screw it up more and if they cannot give me a receipt for my money what do I do?

Thanks again!

I honestly suggest you do not visit these guys again. Just cut your losses and find another shop that knows what they are doing, because I don’t think these guys do.

I still feel your radiator is probably the culprit, but a good mechanic should be able to test it for you before they just replace it. There has to be a better repair shop in your area than these guys!!!!!!

You might be able to buy the radiator yourself from the local radiator shop or auto parts store and then pay someone to install it for you, it will save you some money doing this.


Austin Davis

Posted in: Over Heating

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