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I have a 01 Chevalier 2.2L, 146k miles. Last week as I was getting off the highway the temp gauge spiked indicating overheating. Took it to the garage. They said it was a bad thermostat. They replaced it. They also replace the coolant extension tank cap. I ran the car for half a day on my normal runs after picking it up and it stayed at the 190 - 195 range. Pretty normal for LA traffic in the Summer. Well on the commute home after about 20 to 30 mins the temp gauge started to climb and began floating between 225 and 240. This would spike higher if I was stuck crawling along in traffic and drop if I was cruising, the air from travelling at 65 to 80 mph obviously cooling the engine down, but it still runs hot. After about 40mins to an hour of this, it peaked in the red at around 260 and the indicator light would come on. It did the same thing on my way into work the following morning. After turning the car off and sitting for a while the temp would drop to manageable levels. Its still hot, but not red lining. When there isn’t much traffic I can make it home, which about 15 to 20 miles depending on which route I take, it will not go over 240. The garage wanted to check the water pump to see if there is dirt in the or replace it, which would have costed about $500 to $600. I told them I would do it myself. If it is the water pump I can replace it myself. They also said it could be that the radiator is bad (They were not specific about that), but I should start with the water pump. I would rather not just start throwing parts at it without knowing for sure, which is what the garage wanted to do. I’m trying not to spend money I don’t have to.

A few detail about things I’ve ruled out. I am not losing any power, nor is backfiring, no white smoke or dripping from the exhaust so I no for certain that it is not the head gasket. The garage confirmed this with a compressor test. While idling, the radiator fan does turn on when the A/C is turned on. Heater does blow hot air. I idled it for 15mins and the temp gauge climbed to around 220, but never went over. The radiator fan did turn on at this temp. I checked it and it was not blowing any hot air anywhere, only cool air, even while idling, so likely not a clog. However, temp gauge did not drop when fan came on. I have not seen any leaks anywhere, other than dripping from the A/C when it has been running for a while. Coolant is full and has the level has not gone down.

Somethings I noticed while driving other than previously mentioned. Driving with the A/C on while sitting in traffic makes it heat up faster. Without it on, the temp gauge climbs slower. I also noticed that if I have to brake hard, the gauge dips down 5 to 10 degrees. I’m not sure what to make of that. Anyone got any ideas to narrow this down so I’m not spending money and time on parts I don’t have to? Any help would be appreciated.

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it sounds like the radiator is getting plugged up and reduces that area that it can cool the engine. if you raise the rpm up it will circulate more coolant through the part that can cool it down. Gotta go with the flow.

If it was a head gasket problem you would have a coolant loss problem. either coolant loss through leaking into the engine or the cylinder pressure pushes into the cooling system and pushes coolant out of the radiator cap. Then when the engine cools down you will be low on the coolant the got burned in the engine or pushed out of the cooling system.

Here's the thing though, once you over heat the engine you have to aware that head gasket damage may have already happened. Even if you only overheated one time. It may take a while to be noticeable. Some times it may take months to appear. Gradually it will get worse and signs will show up. Slight miss in the morning when you first start up. Goes away right away. Eventually takes longer and longer to go away. That's coolant dripping into the cylinder and it misses until the coolant is burned off the it runs okay.

white smoke out of the tail pipe after the engine and exhaust are all heated up. Gets worse and your car becomes a smoke machine.

coolant loss without any external signs of leakage. the coolant loss becomes more and more troublesome until you see smoke coming out of your tail pipe. Then you know where it was going...

If it does turn out to be the radiator, get a new cap to go with the radiator.

something you can check is after you have run the car and it starts to get hot, stop and park somewhere safe. check the radiator for cold or hot spots. Don't get burned. If it;'s too hot don't touch anything. But, if it not burnable temp, see if you have cold spots on the radiator. Cold spots will the plugged areas not allowing the hot coolant through. This is where a thermal imager works wonders. Take a shot of the radiator from the engine side and see if it's close to the same temperature throughout the whole radiator.

anyways, that would be the place to start.

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