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trapped air. When temp needle climbs to 1/4 way, loosen coolant temp sensor to bleed off trapped air in cylinder heads. Air is gone once coolant starts to stream out, but only open slightly at a time. May have to do in increments as trapped air will cause rapid overheat
the first thing to check is to feel if the radiator is hot, if the radiator feels hot and the engine is also hot the coolant is circulating ok then the problem is more than likely electrical, the temp gauge gets its signal from the engine control module the coolant temp sensor sends coolant temp signal to engine control module for engine managment purposes then passes it to instument pack/gauge, if the sensor was at fault you would have engine running problems also,with poss fault codes logged, if the engine and rad are cold/only warm after the engine has been run for 15 mins or so it sounds like the thermostat is stuck open but you have changed that. i have had faulty new ones in the past and have had to test them in a pan of boiling water, hope this is some help to you.
I would check that the circulating water pump connected to the radiator is working properly. Why else is the temperature fluctuating? Get a computer read on that engine- a free diagnosis from the service department at the dealer should take about two minutes and tell you everything. Only the dealer can pull up the total diagnosis, because certain codes can only be recovered by the brand equipment. NOT Autozone
it could very well be a bad gauge. when it shows the engine to be overheated or at the least very hot, check the actual temp at the water outlet where the upper radiator hose attaches to the engine. use a non contact thermometer to check the temp so as not to get burned in the process. if the thermometer reads way different than the gauge, the gauge is bad.
i wonder if possibly a defective thermostat, that it is sticking open. to bench test thermostat place in a pot,if you have a candy thermometer all the better ,place in cool water and bring to boil checking temp.it should open alittle at a time until being fully open at what ever temp it is rated at then slowly add cold water and it should close in a similar fashion
the check gauges light means exactly that, look at your gauges, there is something wrong, look all the gauges when the engine is running, usually the temp gauge is to high, is the vehicle overheating, is the check eng. light on, make sure all the gauges are reading normal, the check gauges light is there to get your attention, see what it wants.
I had a similar problem with a 2001 Saturn. We checked every fuse and they were all fine. We finally did a 'reset' on the car's computer by disconnecting the battery and reconnecting it a few minutes later. Everything was back to normal after that.