Question about 1997 Pontiac Grand Am

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My son inherited his grandmothers '97 Pontiac Grand Am. He lives in Vegas, me in Hawaii. I want to help him, it's his first car. He says it always had an overheating problem. Constantly has to put in coolant. The other night it died on him. He can't get it to start. I was thinking the water pump or thermostat but just got an answer from here that it may be a blown head gasket. He said the oil doesn't smell burnt and no signs of water in it..

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  • Sharon Mar 25, 2011

    aren't there two gaskets? how can you tell which one? i told him to buy the Haynes manual. every repair I've ever done (all sucessful) was just by following that book, my auto bible. it's the first thing i purchase when i get a car. Chilton's too technical and confusing for me. I really appreciate your time. You're very kind. Thank you.

  • Sharon Mar 30, 2011

    Aloha Jeff,
    I don't mean to abuse your kindness but, I was hoping you might share your opinion once more with me. I'm sure you're busy and if that's the case I understand.
    For whatever reason, my son is looking into getting another car. Our relationship is fragile and he hasn't told me what he's done since giving him all of the information you gave me. He now is asking me what a fair payment plan would be for (get ready for this) a '89 E300 Mercedes Benz. He claims it's in perfect condition and his friend is asking $3,500. I don't feel this is a wise choice for a 20 yr old who is a bit on the rebelious side, nothing serious but,,,,
    Whenever he needs to repair or replace anything it will cost a fortune for one thing. Another is, I think when the police see a kid driving a Benz, in a neighborhood where that is not the norm, he will get pulled over for anything. I will be talking to him when he gets off work tonight to find out more about the car ie: milage, look at coolant ask to see all receipts for any repairs or maint. wk done, etc.
    If you have the time, would you mind sharing your thoughts? I would really respect and appreciate your input.
    Thank you Jeff and have a wonderful day.
    Mahalo,
    Sharon

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  • Pontiac Master
  • 8,125 Answers

Yes, if he's losing coolant but there is no apparent leak, it could be the head gasket. And if enough coolant gets into the cylinder, the engine will not turn over to start. Tell him to take out the plugs to see if one is wet. Please let me know if you have more questions, and thanks for using FixYa.

Posted on Mar 25, 2011

Testimonial: "Awesome to know there's someone willing to help others. Very grateful!"

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  • Sharon Mar 25, 2011

    jturcotte- thank you for your response. i'll ask him in the morning. i work on cars but, mostly restoration and just a novice. working on a 66 mustang but, haven't even gotten to the engine yet. i asked and he said definitely had white smoke from exhaust pipe with antifreeze odor. not good, huh! he can't afford to replace or rebuild engine. scrap it, sell for parts and buy another used car?

  • Jeff Turcotte
    Jeff Turcotte Mar 25, 2011

    Actually, if he has any skills, the head gasket repair is mostly labor. It's less than $50 for the parts. He will need standard tools and a torque wrench. I would do the repair myself and keep the car.

  • Jeff Turcotte
    Jeff Turcotte Mar 25, 2011

    He will need the intake manifold gasket and the head gasket. Not sure if there is an exhaust manifold gasket on this model. I agree with having a manual. I could paste the instructions here, but it's a lot nicer to have the book. He could always ask for help if the manual isn't clear. This thread will be here forever.

  • Sharon Mar 25, 2011

    thank you so much for your help and advise. i talked with him a few minutes ago on skype and he said the coolant boils out of the cap and all over the ground only when hot. so he's going to buy the haynes manual tomorrow when he gets paid and hit the troubleshooter. i told him better to change the thermostat just for the heck of it since its cheap and fairly easy and go from there. wish i could find the manual online just so i could walk him through things but, he's gotta learn anyway, right? just being a mother. : ) Thanks again jturcotte, you've been awesome!

  • Jeff Turcotte
    Jeff Turcotte Mar 25, 2011

    If he signs up for a free account at autozone.com, he can access most if not all of the instructions he would need. For example, the thermostat replacement is here: http://www.autozone.com/autozone/repairi...


  • Jeff Turcotte
    Jeff Turcotte Mar 25, 2011

    And in this link I explain how to check for a blown head gasket: http://www.fixya.com/cars/r5929960-s_the... among other things.

  • Jeff Turcotte
    Jeff Turcotte Mar 26, 2011

    Sorry, I missed one of your questions. If he has the V-6, he can tell which side has the bad gasket by checking the plugs for wetness. No need to change the gasket on the other head. I'll be happy to answer any questions for him once he gets into it.

  • Sharon Mar 26, 2011

    How do you know all this? I was looking at your previous fixes. It's awesome. My ex husband wouldn't even change his own spark plugs. You would've been handy to have around the house. lol. That's how I learned how to figure things out on my own. I guess it was a blessing in disquise. : ) I will let my son know and forward the link to him. My boss brought up a point that you may have an opinion about, actually two; he said the trick is to be careful not to disturb the timing what so ever, as it is a nightmare to rectify on this particular motor and also, there is the possibility the heads may need to be resurfaced. His suggestion was to put the money towards a down on another used car and junk the grand am. I'm not sure how mechanically inclined my son is. If he takes after me, he'll figure out what to do with the manual. If he takes after his father..... better off getting a car more easy to work on. lol

  • Jeff Turcotte
    Jeff Turcotte Mar 26, 2011

    I cheated a little to know what I know. I came from a blue collar family, but I have a PhD in mechanical engineering. God also gifted me with good mechanical insight. That makes working on cars a lot easier.

    Your ex is right about checking the head for warp and having it resurfaced if warpage exceeds spec. That is in the procedure, but it isn't really that expensive to do.

    If this is an overhead cam engine, then yes, the timing chain will have to come off. You can disturb or not disturb the valve timing--getting it back together right is still a challenge to overcome. I've never seen one I couldn't get on right within an hour or so, but a novice will have to be patient. I always warn do-it-yourselfers to have a real mechanic check the timing chain BEFORE putting the cover back on.

    My theory on cars is that it's almost always cheaper to keep the car you have. A 97 isn't really that old, unless it has high mileage, body and/or interior issues. I drive a 2000. I go back to this: does he have the time and skills to do this? If he gets it apart and then has to pay someone to put it back together, then it was probably a bad decision. You and your ex know him best. I'm happy to help and can even take phone calls or whatever I can do from this range.

    You're a good Mom. You'll figure it out together.



    Jeff

  • Jeff Turcotte
    Jeff Turcotte Mar 26, 2011

    Sorry, I was referring to your boss as your ex--big mistake I'm sure. My apologies.

    Jeff

  • Sharon Mar 27, 2011

    LOL! You have no idea! HaHa! Thank you, Jeff! I'll keep you posted. I will find a way to return the kindness you offer so graciously. If you ever plan a trip to Hawaii, let me know, I'll keep you from all the tourist traps and will tour guide you and your party. : ) Sharon

  • Jeff Turcotte
    Jeff Turcotte Mar 30, 2011

    Never too busy for you, Sharon. So I really like Mercedes, but 1989? Kelly Blue Book prices this at under $3K retail, even in excellent condition. And yes, maintenance could be expensive. I don't know about how the local police would look upon him driving this car. I haven't been there since the late 70s, but I do like the new 50 show on TV. :o)
    How do you get thru to him??? Do you have Clark Howard on the radio out there? Maybe you could get thru to him on a phone call, or go to his website for advice on cars. Or check with other auto advice sources--since Clark is not really an auto expert. I doubt you can find anyone that would recommend buying such an old car, though you may find a lot of folks that don't like the Grand Am either. If he can afford $3500, he can easily fix the Grand Am or trade it for a much newer car. The 3.4 liter engine was a real dog, but a GM with a 3.8 liter is more reliable and a lot cheaper to repair, when necessary. You might want to check craigslist.com for alternatives. You are doing the right thing to help him make better choices. I caved in and let my daughter get a mini cooper, and it's been a pain in my rear ever since.

    Jeff

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