Diagnosing white smoke in the exhaust

After a week or so of owning the car I realised that coolant was slowly disappearing. I couldn’t find a leak and the car was running ‘ok’. I would go for 5-10 minute drives around town and would notice that there was always ‘white smoke’ exiting the exhaust. For some time I told myself it was just condensation due to the cold engine. I changed the oil which did have a brownish tint….

I purchased a kit that tested for exhaust gases in the coolant (a bung & special chemical is inserted into the radiator cap hole). This seemed to show that there were exhaust gases present so I bit the bullet and started taking the top of the engine to pieces. I replaced the intake manifold gaskets but soon found that didn’t resolve anything.

The underneath of the carb/intake spacer was full of gunk (Water/oil sludge). On reflection this should have set alarm bells ringing.

Note the Garden Hose used as a vacuum hose!

I removed it all again, and this time took the heads off the car also. I had never done this before and I was worried that I would either screw something up or I would find a major issue. As soon as I removed the driver side head I found the reason for the missing coolant. As you can see from the pictures below, the gasket had failed between the cylinder and the water channel (there’s only a cm between the two) allowing a small amount of water to leak into the cylinder. Thank god it wasn’t enough to do some real damage!

You can really see the difference between the good cylinders and bad in Fig1

I ordered a gasket kit (I’ll add the part number here when I can) and started to clean up the engine block and heads ready for re-installation. I used a razor blade and wd-40 to get both surfaces as clean as possible. I filled the cylinders with rags to ensure nothing could get in whilst the heads were off. I then used some sanding disks attached to my drill to get them as clean as possible, being careful not accidentally cause any deep scratches. I was happy with the result.

After ensuring I had the gaskets on the right way around, I reinstalled the heads (using new head bolts from ACP). Once I had reinstalled everything I let the intake gasket seal cure and fired her up, rather nervously. To my delight, not only did the car fire and run fine, but I had solved the mystery of the missing water!

Not a job I would like to repeat, but glad to have done it.

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