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The gauge is supposed to move. Between 190 and 210 degrees. About a 1/16 to 1/4 inch movement with the needle. If it goes from middle(200 degrees) to hot(260 degrees) and back. Check the coolant level. Air pocket in the engine. Low fans come on at about 210 degrees. High fans come on at 225 degrees. High fans come on when the A/C is turned on. And it works.
The first hing I would do is confirm the engine temp with a scan tool. If the scan tool is reading a normal temp, 200 to 220 degrees with the fan coming on at around 220 degreese, and the gauge us reading much higher than the gauge is most likely bad.
If the fans are not coming on than you need to look into that. Fuses, relays, wiring, fan motors would be the basic things to check. If you need more help with figuring out the fans let me know.
If the fans are coming on, the temp gauge is reading the same as the scan tool data that there are a couple of possibilities.
Either the system has air in it from nepot being properly bled or the headgket is bad forcing air into the system. Air will cause the cooling system to lock up. If you are try ing seeing the temp gauge spike to 260 degreese the head gasket is likely to have or will fail soon.
Like I said if you have any further questions let me know and I'll be happy to help.
What's chances that the temperature gauge or sender itself is wrong?
Is the heat exceptionally hot? What temperature is the heater dicharge when the gauge reads 260?
I think that the sender is not expensive, try that. An auto parts store could get you an inexpensive dial gauge that you might be able to install in place of the sender.
It sounds like the coolant temperature sensor is beginning to fail. It is highly unlikely that the in-dash gauge is a problem. The coolant temp sensor inputs to the computer affecting everything from radiator fan speed, engine fuel/air calibration and a variety of other parameters.
Be absolutely certain to "burp" every bubble of atmosphere from the coolant system too. Air bubbles have the amazing ability to prevent coolant flow and will cause all sorts of problems, especially if the bubble wants to hang around the temperature sensor location.
Normal operating temperature is going to be around 210 F.
Most Autozone, Advance locations will read engine problem codes at no charge, so drop by one of those locations and let them read the problem code.
My guess will be the coolant temperature sensor. Then have the problem code reset, remove all air from the coolant and let us know how this worked.
The electric fans on some vehicles dont stay on all the time. If the radiator is not burningyou then i would suspect the guage is bad. The engine would throw a code if the fan was not working properly, so im pretty sure that your fan is working properly. I hope that helps you out.