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From: (George B)
Subject: Re: Was driving with some water in oil - how bad is it? Need advice...
Date: Sun, 07 Jan 1996 01:41:05 GMT wrote:

>Folks, I need an advice. Recently I noticed that the oil in my
>'88 VW Fox has somewhat unusual color - a little whitish when cold
>and turbid-looking (although not dark like regular old oil) when hot.

You are definately getting some moisture into the oil.  Head gaskets
are ONE source but I like to try to eliminate others before suggesting
a head gasket replacement.

>- Is there any way to make sure that it really is a gasket that
>causes the problem and not something else  _before_  starting the
>repairs? Is any testing procedure available?

Consider that the leak is internal. Since you can not see through the
mass of engine metal, you must rely on some other indicators to find
out the exact source of the leak. Yes, there are a few things that you
can do to narrow things down. I will go into them in a bit.

>- I was not driving a lot lately, maybe just a few miles a day, one or two
>miles at a time. I live in cold climate (Buffalo). Could it be related
>to the problem?

Yes, this CAN have something to do with it. Coupled with a clogged or
otherwise malfunctioning PCV system, the oil can accumulate a GREAT
DEAL of moisture on cold startup. This accumulation would be
aggrivated by the short trip driving pattern. The oil may not get hot
enough for a long enough time to drive the moisture off and it builds

>- Assuming that I was driving for the last month or two with this
>condition, was the damage (to the bearings, etc.) already done?
>The oil still feels oily and does not really smell like antifreeze; the
>oil level has rizen but not much - maybe by 1 cm on the dipstick. 

Oil contaminated with a small amount of coolant sometimes gets a
reddish color and can sometimes feel sort of grainy. Grainy is the
wrong word but is the best in my toolbox at the moment. Oil that is
grossly contaminated will look like chocolate milk.  

>There is no white smoke during start-up.

Good. That is an indication that it may not be a head gasket leak to
the combustion chamber.

Try this. Allow vehicle to sit undisturbed over night. The next day,
open the oil drain plug and allow a small amount of the oil to run
into a container. Try to quickly replace the plug. I know this is
messy and uncomfortable in Buffalo in winter but it can give very
important information.

Oil is lighter than water. Overnight, the moisture will settle to the
bottom of the oil pan. If you see green antifreeze, there is
DEFINATELY a leak SOMEPLACE to the cooling system. If the water is
clear, it is condensation of combustion moisture.

Assuming that you found antifreeze in the oil, we want to find the
source. First, remove all of the sparkplugs. See if one or possible
two that are adjacent look different than all of the other plugs. I am
looking for a plug that is SPOTLESS. That is an indication (but not
PROOF) that there might be a leak to that cylinder.

Using a cooling system pressure tester (it is a hand pump that goes
onto the radiator where the cap goes) pump the system up to the
pressure marked on the cap. Wait a minute and tap the gauge. If the
needle drops, wait a min. and repeat. If it drops again, there is
definately a leak somewhere. Inspect the engine for any external
leaks. Check also for white stains that are the result of antifreeze
evaporating away leaving a silica deposit.  After the pressure is
allow to leak halfway down, disable the ignition system to prevent a
fuel/air explosion, crank the engine and see if antifreeze spews out
of a sparkplug hole. If so, you have located WHERE it is leaking but
not WHAT is leaking yet.

If there was NO leakdown of the pressure but you definately got
antifreeze out of the oil pan, the leak may only occur after warm-up
when parts are expanded slightly. In this case, I would bet it is a
head gasket.

In cases of antifreeze reaching the combustion chamber, the cylinder
head is USUALLY the case. It is almost always a gasket but can be a
crack in the head. It can ALSO be a leak at the intake manifold on
vehicles with a water heated intake. There is no way to easilly
distinguish a head gasket leak from an intake manifold leak without
removing parts. You will probably get a new intake gasket as part of a
set of gaskets for the head (sometimes called a valve-grind set).

The head should be sent to a machine shop to check for warpage and
have it corrected. A shim or thicker head gasket should be used if the
head is shaved to square it up. This maintains compression ratio and
prevents problems with pinging later. Send the valve stem seals that
come with the valve grid set and have them installed while the head is
at the machine shop.

This procedure is MUCH better than simply installing the gasket
because a warped head may cause another gasket failure in short order.
I try to use only Felpro or NAPA gasket sets. I have found other
providers such as McCord to be of lower quality. Felpro is more
expensive but they are worth every penny in my opinion.

If the problem is combustion moisture, check the PCV system. Even if
you are getting vacuum, the system may be restricted and not drawing
the VOLUME of air required. You will feel no difference in vacuum if
the PCV hose manifold port is even 70% restricted. 

George Bonser

From: Dave Baker
Subject: Re: Coolant in the oil
Date: Tue, 18 Jan 2005 22:27:20 -0000
Message-ID: <>

I have a (hopefully) interesting experience with water in the oil over an
extended period. Many years ago a friend was tuning his Ford Escort with 1.6
CVH engine. He found some pistons from an Alfa engine that would fit and
give the right CR but they were 84mm and the std bore is 80mm. 4mm is a hell
of stretch for an overbore on a small 4 pot but the engines are cheap as
chips over here and no great loss if it didn't work out. I did him a big
valve head and cam and he already had a pair of 45 DCOe Webers knocking
about looking for a good home. With an offset ground crank he squeezed the
capacity up to about 1.8 litres.

It certainly went like shit off a shovel. Never got onto a dyno because he's
a dab hand at setting up DCOE's by feel but 130 to 140 bhp was a safe bet.
Eventually it started using water though and the dreaded mayo appeared in
large quantities. To keep mobile he took the rad cap off and drove it
unpressurised (and fairly gently) which reduced the coolant loss to
manageable proportions. He kept it going like this for a hell of a long time
with the occasional sump drain to get rid of the water and putting something
a bit more viscous in.. Over a year I think, maybe even two, and a
50 mile round trip into work every day. When the car got pensioned off (it
was only an old POS) he took the engine apart for curiosity's sake and I
went round to have a look. One bore had sprouted a tiny hole where a glitch
in the sand casting has been uncovered at rebore time. Or at least it must
have come to within a couple of thou and broken through in service because
it was fine to start with.

The most interesting bit is what happened at assembly time. He's an
experienced CNC engineer and generally all round handy at fixing cars but
doesn't built engines day in day out like I do so he didn't quite hit the
optimum build procedure. Instead of fitting the pistons and rods to the
bores and then fitting the big end shells he did it the other way round and
two shells got knocked out of position as he tapped the pistons in, got
squished when he put the rod caps on and the crank locked up. He spotted it
immediately and asked me to get another set of shells. The first set were OE
spec Glacier ones but I couldn't get those again at short notice and we
ended up with a cheap set of King shells made in Israel. So it finally went
together with Glacier on two rods and King on the other two.

When it came apart after maybe 20k miles on primarily water the two pairs of
Glacier big end shells were toast and down to the steel backing and the two
pairs of King shells looked almost brand new. Glacier use the normal
lead/tin white metal and King use aluminium. From then on I started putting
King in race engines and they've been good as gold. Everything else in the
engine would have carried on running at a pinch. The piston skirts were a
bit scuffed but the main bearings had just about survived and the cam was
ok. The valves and valve seats were trashed but that was because there was
no room for an air filter with the DCOEs and the seats had been grit blasted
for 20k.

It isn't the recommended way to run a car but no big money had gone into it
and he knew exactly what he was doing in keeping it running on water. Made
for an interesting tale for the grandkids anyway.

Dave Baker - Puma Race Engines (

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