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Discussion Starter #1
Hi everybody
Yesterday my australian V6 alfa 164 1990 (150,000kms) broke down with a terrible oil burning smell coming from oil bleeding onto the back exhaust manifold. Prior to this she had no leaks as I just spent about 1200AUD getting the cam seals done. I reckon its the head gasket, as there seems to be oil leaking out of it. However the cause I think is low oil level, which I foolishly did not keep topped up, and therefore caused the head to warp due to excessive heat. Is this plausible, that due to foolishness I destroyed a perfectly good engine?
The lead up was that I was distracted by the observation that at low fuel levels the vehicle would run a little rough, which was consistent with other accounts on this forum, so that when she refused to start I filled up the tank with a jerry-can and after spluttering for about a minute she started up and limped home. The low oil light underneath the gauge (gauge wasn't working) was on intermittently, but not the "dipstick" light on the warning panel. Temperature was low as it was just a short trip. I ignored the oil light as I didn't think the gauge was connected, as it always shows zero. Finally she stopped completely.
What was the oil level? I don't know as I hadn't checked for about 500 km's and that time she was half full. But she hardly used any oil since I had the seals replaced about 2000 km's back. In hindsight the faltering and stumbling could have been due to the oil collector at the sump sucking in air, which feeds back into the ECU as low oil pressure, causing some sort of system cut-out.
And maybe the extra fuel changes the ride attitude of the car ever so slightly, enough to stop the oil collector from sucking in air.
This is not the first time, randomly a couple of months ago she also refused to start, just once, but I waited a few minutes and then she started and ran normally.
Now my question is: Should I just take off the head in situ, and hope to replace the head gasket? Or should I immediately pull the whole engine out and expect a total overhaul with machining required due to warping? Any support appreciated as I'm feeling pretty depressed.
-VARIS
 

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If you ran the engine with low/no oil, you may have trashed the bearings. You should note whether the engine will turn over. If not, then the crank is possibly seized. If it will, but there is low/no oil pressure, then you may have worn the bearings beyond usable limits, but may not have damaged the crank or big-ends. If you push it, then you will likely damage the bottom end. Or the top end if there is no oil pressure. What makes you think it overheated? The low oil light is not some thing EVER to ignore. It is usually much more reliable than the oil pressure sender/gauge.

On another note, 1200AUD for cam seals? I don't understand that, unless they pulled the heads to do it (which would be inadvisable). Or maybe they did the timing belt and water pump at the same time. Alfisto Steve posted some good help pointers to doing the cam seals in situ within the last couple of months: dropping the transmission to the sub frame to increase firewall clearance and clearance from the upper "dogbone" torque rod mount being one key thing.

I'd say you should invest the $15 that a mechanical oil pressure gauge would cost and plumb it into the system for a test run. But if your compression is not top notch, why not pull the engine for minor rebuild? A reasonable engine gasket set (Corteco) can be had for US$150 or less, similar US$150 for rod/main bearings, another US$150 if you want new rings and re-hone the liners, and about US$50 of bits and pieces (cleaners, sealers, hose clamps, crocus cloth for minimally polishing journals, etc). These numbers are what I think is absolute MINIMUM pricing, by the way, with no head work, but if you want to get another 100k kilometers (~62k miles) out of the engine it may be the only way.

Michael
 

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Low oil pressure light flashing on & you still drove it... Methinks it's going to be more than just a head gasket...

Where are you in Oz? maybe a local can point you in the right direction?

Recently I had a friend who did something similar & the "oil leak" was due to the piston binding in the liner, lifting it out of the block and warping the head.

His rebuild cost - A shade over AUD$9k. (although his was a 24V and parts for those are $$$$ here)
 

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There is a 12v 164 motor on eBay right now located in Perth. Not mine and no connection but might be worth a look if yours is cactus.
 

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Discussion Starter #5
Thanks guys
If I want to go through with this, where is the best place to get parts in Oz?
And what about the special tools? In the manual there is a list of about 30 different engine tools. Of course most can be replaced with generic tools, however I could easily get stuck, if I can't get some special obscure thingy tool.
I'm in Nowra NSW, the 1200AUD included 2 camshaft and 1 crankshaft seals plus hydraulic tensioner seal kit, plus timing belt and belt tensioner bearing. Also included was engine and transmission oil change and radiator and engine flush.
Yeah the whole episode is crazy and its really phazed me. I'm a trained aviation technician and we check oil levels on many places on helicopters every day. But I neglected to do the same on my own car! Sort of makes me lose trust in my own brain/senses/reasoning. If you can't trust your own mind, then what can you trust?

-VARIS
 

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Best place _might_ be the post office, but I couldn't be certain about that. Any chance that the low oil level was because of an underfill (granted, you might have noticed by reading the dipstick or seeing the low oil pressure light flash) by the shop? They won't be as interested in completely filling the 8 liter sump in an Alfa as they might be.

One doesn't always make even some of the useful transferences between work and home. Others live in their work 24 hrs a day. It takes all kinds to make a world. You might not have to tell any of the helicopter pilots that you let your engine run low on oil....

Best wishes,

Michael
 

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Before you bet yourself up to bad over this we all have had those kind of times where we forget to check the oil but sump holds 8 on deep sump models and 7ish on later models. Even if no oil on stick you can still have 4 quarts in sump. You never did say what stick showed after oil leak/smoke occured so what did stick show and did you add a quart (.946L) or two to see if oil would show up on stick?

In retrospect will you agree it is best to repair/replace defective sensors/senders or hook up a direct reading gauge to verify you have oil pressure.

You said you had work done not did it yourself so did they pull rear valve cover off, forget to install cam cover gasket, forget to hook up oil vapor cannister drain hose or what? Bad head gasket will not drain oil onto exhaust manifold , coolant yes not oil.

Did engine seize up? Will it turn over with starter?

Please report your findings so we have a better idea of problem.
 

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Discussion Starter #8
Actually the receipt from the workshop shows 6.7 liters of oil added, after changing filter etc. I checked the oil a few times after that and it didn't seem to change, even after about 1500km. Probably thats why I neglected it later. I just said "hmm great engine, doesn't burn oil at all..." The speedo shows 150k's, but as I don't know the history as I just bought her second hand, I said "maybe she's been overhauled".
After the engine stopped, I didn't check the oil but immediately added about a litre. I suppose I sort of panicked, after I added the oil I saw the oil burning and bleading around the head gasket back and front. I said "better tow this away".
I will check the new level later today.
It seems she did not seize, but sort of quietly snuffed out. Not violent at all. She just stopped, as if fuel run out.
 

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Standing by for more details!
 

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Discussion Starter #10
About checking whether she cranks over. I'm not sure, as I'm afraid to try with the starter motor. Maybe if I took out the spark plugs and tried turning over by hand somehow. Is there an easy way to do this?
 

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About checking whether she cranks over. I'm not sure, as I'm afraid to try with the starter motor. Maybe if I took out the spark plugs and tried turning over by hand somehow. Is there an easy way to do this?

1 5/8" (41mm) socket and ratchet on front crank pulley and turning engine CLOCKWISE ONLY. Remove right front tire and front inner fender liner to access front of engine front pulley.
 

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Discussion Starter #12
Not so stupid as thought

Checked oil level today, and to my great relief, it shows up to full mark (cold of course). So earlier after my disaster, I added about a litre, so it seems it could not have been at a very low level as I feared earlier.
I put her up on stands, and looked her over (and under).
First thing is that there is oil dripping out of the exhaust connection where the catalyic converter branches, where the oxygen sensor resides. The oxygen sensor shows oil on the outside.
Would this have caused the original starting problems?
Otherwise the engine is clean, ie the belts etc are all clean. There is however lots of oil in the centre of the V where the intake manifolds meet the head. This time I couldn't see around the back of the head gasket as the car is too high being on stands, however I remember that there was oil at the back of the engine head gasket also. The oil looks like its flowing along, as if there is a seal blown somewhere and the oil is just oozing along that ledge where the head gasket is.
I don't have the huge socket and ratchet to turn her by hand, but I will borrow one soon and see what she does.
-VARIS
 

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I'd check the oil pressure senders for leakage. Anything that can be checked and ruled out is a plus. And if you find the leak, that's all the better.
 

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The oil looks like its flowing along, as if there is a seal blown somewhere and the oil is just oozing along that ledge where the head gasket is.
I don't have the huge socket and ratchet to turn her by hand, but I will borrow one soon and see what she does.
-VARIS
That's good news - that the oil wasn't as low as you feared :)

I think you should now go to SuperCheap and 'invest' about $10 in their cheap aerosol cans of degreaser (over here, they're just $2.30 each!) and give that engine a total clean. I know there are people who would prefer not to hose the engine down (I do, and then I take the distributor cap off and dry out...) but I reckon the only way you're going to find the leak is if you clean the engine up and get it running again - if it's leaking badly, it won't take you long to spot it.

Otherwise the problem is that oil runs a LONG way around the engine and appears to drop off all sorts of places. I learned this the hard way many years ago when I changed a sump gasket (after removing the subframe, not a 164 but a similar car), only to find that didn't make any difference, because the leak was actually the cam cover (a much simpler fix), and the oil of course ran down the engine and dripped off the sump flange.

Incidentally my thoughts after reading your original post is that you have a fuel pickup problem (pipe in tank, filters, or pump failure). However, I can't reconcile this with the oil disaster other than perhaps lean running leading to an overheating condition. When you mentioned that it 'quietly snuffed out', that's what made me suspect a fuelling problem rather than ignition or engine mechanical failure. But I may be well off the mark. Others here have a lot more experience of non-running problems than I do, so I suggest you give them all the info you can and they'll pinpoint the fault. (e.g. see if you can do a compression test with a suitable tester and spark plugs removed, throttle open, that may prove if you have a broken piston ring which would pressurise the crankcase and blow out oil).

-Alex
 

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Discussion Starter #15
oil on oxy sensor

Will she start with oil on the oxy sensor?
About degreasing, I have the alfa in a shed on a rural property, with only tankwater. Is there another way? With a compressor?
What if I put something like vermiculite or kitty litter on the oil, wait a while, and then suck it off with the vacuum attachment on the compressor or a wet and dry vac. Areas which are more accessible I could just wipe it clean.
 

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you probably want to avoid kitty litter because if you cant get it all cleaned up you may very well get some bits in your timing belt circuit and have it jump a tooth. You could blow it off with compressed air but it will be messy, as you probably are aware... if its pooled in the V you could use a vacuum pump like a mightyvac to suck the majority of it out, then spray with solvent and blow off the rest with air.
 

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Discussion Starter #17
distributor guilty

In the mean time I bought another 164 for restoration or parts! As if I'm not already up to my neck in s**t! She drives nicely, but cosmetically a bit more worn out.

The dead alfa, however is looking hopeful, as I have discovered the fault.
I took alfisto steve's advice and turned the engine over with a 41mm socket and ratchet, and she turned over very smooth.
Therefore:
1.No seizing.
2.I removed exhaust and checked for oil, no oil inside exhaust, just outside.
3. Oil leak seems to come from oil pressure sensor, removed it and noticed bottom of distributor covered with oil
4. Opened up distributor very slight oil, seems to have entered small hole in bottom of distributor.
5. Interior electrics of distributor totally fried, button fused onto rotor, signs of arcing. Distributor unservicable.

Funny thing is I checked my other alfa 164, and it also has heaps of oil on the bottom of the distributor on outside, and a little bit on inside through small hole. Is there some seal that needs changing?
My theory is that maybe the seal is gone and the distributor is designed to sling the oil out of the little hole, which blows it with force onto the oil pressure sensor, and then it flows further along.

-VARIS
 

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Discussion Starter #18
Just browsing on ebay looking for a new distributor cap and rotor, I found this item no: 250054760287.
It looks like the same as on the Alfa, allthough its meant for BMW.
 

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The dead alfa, however is looking hopeful, as I have discovered the fault.
4. Opened up distributor very slight oil, seems to have entered small hole in bottom of distributor.
5. Interior electrics of distributor totally fried, button fused onto rotor, signs of arcing. Distributor unservicable.

Funny thing is I checked my other alfa 164, and it also has heaps of oil on the bottom of the distributor on outside, and a little bit on inside through small hole. Is there some seal that needs changing?
My theory is that maybe the seal is gone and the distributor is designed to sling the oil out of the little hole, which blows it with force onto the oil pressure sensor, and then it flows further along.

-VARIS
If shaft oil seal item 7 failed maybe that is where oil came from. Outer o-ring rubber seal 5 can leak too but oil will be outside.

Note: Rotor item 3 same as one used on many BMW's, Dodge Monaco, Eagle Premier. Dizzy cap fits those cars, too.

Don't overlook oil pressure light sensor item 4 in last pictue in head under dizzy and for possible source of a leak, too
 

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There is a seal on the distributor shaft which can be replaced readily if you have a new one in hand. I bought one this summer from DiFatta (close to me here in the US).

Check out Steve's info posted here:

http://www.alfabb.com/bb/forums/164-168-1991-1995/15843-164-12v-distributor-parts-breakdown.html

I have had multiple distributor related faults on different high mileage cars. One had a rough center button on rotor which ate away the center pin, followed by arcing damage to cap and rotor. One had a rotor failure (aftermarket unit, non-Bosch). One distributor cap cracked all the way across and exposed electrical contacts to give arc-induced firing confusion. One simply got dirty inside and when warm spark would ground across inside of dist. cap and provide no spark, but car would start and run when cold. Really frustrating. Left me on the side of the road one day waiting for a tow truck.

As a result of these experiences, when owners have failure to start, I now recommend that they look into the distributor internals almost first thing. You'd reported a seized engine from running with low oil, as I recall, so this was not clearly an option applicable to your case. I've been similarly confused in troubleshooting before, so don't feel lonely. But distributors are high on my troubleshooting list now.

Michael

okay -- so Steve beat me to the "post" button by a minute.
 
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