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Anon, If temp. gage is showing normal and you are seeing steam, chances are there is a leak in system or maybe something as simple as a bad rad cap. Take vehicle in to a good shop where they can pressure test cooling system and diagnose and give estimate for repair.
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If the steam is rising from the radiator and not from the overflow tank or hose then you do have a leak.. in the radiator. check for a cracked tank or fitting where the hoses connect. If it is making steam the guage is probably defective. Find out where that steam is coming from ! If the car is making steam the rad fan should probably be running.. I do not know about your particular car but some times the secon fan only comes on with A/C use or extream heat.
As it runs and arrives at normal temperature and higher, does the radiator fan kick on? (Check that AC is off first.) This should be very obvious with the hood open. If the fan does not kick on, that would explain the over heating.As it gets into the red, turn on the AC, this should kick on both rad fans. If one or both does not work, that is the place to look. If one works with the AC on, it should be enough to drive to a shop. The biggest problem being while standing still. (As you move forward, 40 mph or more, enough air is forced through the rad that you don't need the fan.
While running with the rad cap off, you saw many small bubbles?
Did you see any sign of smokiness coming from the open cap.?
In this case it is possible that the head gasket has failed and is leaking exhaust gasses into the cooling system, forcing out coolant through the overflow.
CAR OVERHEATING FIRST CHECK FOR LOW COOLANT IN THE RADIATOR COOLANT OVERFLOW JUG.IF COOLANT LEVEL IN OVERFLOW JUG LOW REFILL ADD COOLANT BACK TO THE FULL COLD MARK.PUT RADAITOR CAP ON COOLANT OVERFLOW JUG START ENGINE LET IT IDLE UNTIL IT OPERATING TEMPERATURE.MAKE SURE TOP RADIATOR HOSE GETTING HOT WHILE ENGINE WARM UP.IF TOP RADIATOR HOSE DONT GET HOT WHILE ENGINE IDLING YOUR THERMOSTAT COULD BE STUCK CLOSE CAUSING CAR TO OVERHEAT.IF TOP HOSE IS GETTING HOT.CHECK FOR COOLANT LEAKS CHECK TOP RADIATOR HOSE AND BOTTOM RADIATOR HOSE FOR LEAKS.CHECK FOR LEAKS AT THE RADIATOR CORES AND PLASTIC SIDE CONTAINERS.IF ALL IS GOOD ENGINE OVERHEATING WHILE IN A LONG TRAFFIC LINE, COOLANT FANS NOT COMING ON.COULD HAVE FAULTY ENGINE COOLANT TEMPERATURE SENSOR OR BLOWN COOLING FAN FUSE OR RELAY.COULD HAVE PCM FAULT.MAKE COOLING FAN ELECTRICAL CONNECTORS AND WIRING NOT DAMAGE OR BROKEN.
That's probably coming out of your coolant return bottle. With rad cap off & engine cool, look at your level in the rad, if necessary top it up to an inch or so from top. Start engine, turn heater(not defrost) on and let it run until up to normal operating temperature. Keep an eye on temperature gauge & rad level. When it's at normal, watch for good flow going through rad when thermostat opens. after flow slows down,(thermostat closes) top it up if needed. If you watch 2 or 3 times for flow, and gauge doesn't go over normal, then put cap back on, then fill bottle only to mark for warm or hot engine, with coolant. If gauge goes up over normal from there, replace thermostat, and I'd get a new rad cap too. If that has electric cooling fan, make sure it comes on shortly after you see thermostat open & coolant flowing through rad.
You say it gets hot and overheats, are you losing coolant when it overheats? If it isn't boiling over, you seemed to cover everything that could be wrong, the fan is working, if it is not boiling over, just registering hot on the gauge, I wonder if it's just a temp. sending unit that's bad, indicating a overheating problem when there really isn't one. The water pump is bad when the shaft bearings go bad, and it will leak at that point. So, let me know if the car is actually boiling over (steam visible, exiting the cooling system)
Start with engine cool. Remove rad cap, top up coolant, start engine, & turn on heater (not defrost). let it run until up to normal operating temperature & radiator fan comes on, then shuts off. Let it do this about 3 times before you put rad cap back on & top up return bottle to proper level. Every once in a while, rev engine slightly for a few seconds while your doing it, to speed up bleed by increasing flow. Keep an eye on temperature gauge for too hot, and fan not coming on, if so, shut it off.