Alfa Romeo Forums banner

1 - 20 of 24 Posts

·
Registered
Joined
·
54 Posts
Discussion Starter #1
I've got a 1978 spider with 125k miles on it and no reason to believe her engine has been overhauled in her life. My mechanic, an Alfa Romeo expert straight from Italy, told me the car is "leaking oil from everywhere" - being a foolish man who finally learned engine compartments are supposed to be dry I remarked, "oh, is the engine compartment not supposed to be so shiny?". I did not know it was not supposed to be covered in oil everywhere in the engine compartment (thought it was good to prevent rust?!). Anyway he told me, just replace all the seals in the engine, in place in the car. I suggested I could overhaul the engine and he told me, no need to overhaul, no need to replace pistons or do a valve job, and no need to pull the engine. So I must ask, can every seal be replaced with the engine still in the car? Is this worth my doing as my big winter project? I expect the crankshaft cannot be removed so I could not replace the main seals, correct me if this is wrong (I would be glad to be mistaken on this for sure!)

Now, I could overhaul an engine and swap it in, but I've had one sitting in my "engine shop" in the garage for a few years now. It hasn't happened. Now I'm asking myself, is it worth putting in the time to replace all or most of the seals in the engine in the car, or am I just delaying a need for a major overhaul? I don't want to put 50 hours into re-doing seals when I could put that towards the 150 (making numbers up here) to overhaul an engine for complete replacement.
 

·
Administrator
Joined
·
16,550 Posts
It can be done without removing the engine. To R/R the rear main seal would require the transmission be removed from underneath (possible if you can safely raise it up high enough to work underneath) and then the clutch & flywheel removed (possible but somewhat awkward working from underneath the car).

All told, I think it'd be easier to remove the engine and work on it out of the car. Then you have to resist the 'while-I'm-at-its'.

Perhaps start with a thorough cleaning? Use a plastic scraper to remove thick build ups of crud. A few spray cans of engine degreaser - apply & scrub with an old kitchen scrub brush. Rinse well then use some soapy water with the scrub brush (dishwashing detergent works well) and rinse again. Once nice and clean track down the worst of the leaks and deal with them.
 

·
Premium Member
Joined
·
13,361 Posts
Good advice from Eric. If you have an air compressor then you can use one of these to blast kerosene spray into places that are difficult to reach https://www.walmart.com/ip/Oil-Engine-Cleaning-Handle-Solvent-Air-Sprayer-Degreaser-Car-Tool. I have a similar tool that used to be sold by Harbor Freight and it works great.
Kerosene is a good safe and effective solvent for cleaning greasy parts. After that you can use one of the purple cleaners but be more careful with them as they are corrosive and can cause skin burns.

The front crank seal is a likely source of oil leaks and it can be changed in situ. The rear main seal can also leak but that oil ends up on the transmission and underside of the car. It is hard to replace without removing the engine.

I would do a compression test and an accurate measurement of hot oil pressure before I made a decision about rebuilding the engine.
 

·
Super Moderator
Joined
·
10,096 Posts
Good advice from Eric AND Ed. To build on what they have already said:

A lot depends on where your engine is leaking. The term "seals" doesn't tell us much. A simple way to determine the source of the leak(s) is to thoroughly clean the engine (as Eric and Ed outline) and then to watch for oil accumulation in the first 100-or so miles. A more high-tech solution is adding fluorescent dye to the oil after cleaning and using a black light to spot the oil leakage. See products like:



Available on Amazon at: https://www.amazon.com/Tracer-Products-TP34000601-Fluorescent-Detection/dp/B000JFHNTM

As Eric and Ed wrote, the front and rear crankshaft seals are common points of leakage. Front can be changed in-situ, rear is more problematic. But Alfa engines can leak from other points, one being the head-block seam. Removing the head to replace the gasket & O rings is the solution to that and can be done in-situ. But while you have the head off, it makes sense to do a valve inspection and re-seating (particularly on an engine with 125K miles). But pretty soon, you are getting into "total rebuild" territory.

One question: How much oil does your engine burn? Of course, when the dipstick level falls, it's tough to know how much is getting burned vs. leaked. But do you see/smell white smoke from the exhaust?
 

·
Premium Member
Joined
·
21,303 Posts
I see it with German cars a fair amount that engines are described as "resealed." Like it was a easy, small job. I personally would not tear down an engine to that extent without doing bearings, rings, etc. Or at least examining them all closely. And once they're out, people really put back in worn parts?

If it's burning a lot it's probably rings. You can get a fair amount of smoke, but not that much actual oil loss, from valve guides. Of course leaks can be pretty big too. A clean engine and close watching of where the drips end up...

Andrew
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
54 Posts
Discussion Starter #6
Your helpful replies are making me feel a bit more assured... the fact that it's leaking at all came from my mechanic so I expect if I had bad compression he would have mentioned - but this will be the first thing I will check in my free time. Then I will vigorously scrub the engine compartment. As for how much, I brought the car to him for an intense checkup before going on a road trip in July. I drove 3000 miles and at about 2500 miles in to the trip, the low oil pressure light started blipping occasionally. I believe when I brought the car back to him after my vacation, he said he added 3 quarts of oil - but I could be very off. It was then that he advised to "just replace all the seals in the engine".

Now I have some ideas from the info I've gathered here, I have been thinking of replacing the head gasket for good measure - while I'm there, as it goes, I see no reason not to replace the piston rings. Those tasks I am already well practiced in (took a class that covered that). Valve inspection and re-seating would be beyond my knowledge - how easy is it to do inspection or reseating at home? I'd hate to do it poorly and end up having a problem in the unforeseen future. Alfajay, what o-rings in the head are you referring to?

Then what remains is to of course replace the front crank seal which I will have to learn to do. I learned my lesson about my own ability to remove the transmission at home (probably because I don't have a lift) - so f there is a leak in the rear seal, it will have to wait to be given attention by a mechanic, or just left alone until someday I replace the engine. My question then is, if I do all this work and have a nicely running engine, suppose the rear seal is / does develop a leak - how bad is this? I have no trouble on my next road trip keeping 5qts of oil strapped to my head or wherever I can fit it in the car :ROFLMAO:.

I've never seen white smoke, at least, there is not enough smoke for me to look at and say hey, isn't that a lot of smoke coming out of the tailpipe? It really looks like very little so this may or may not mean I don't know what I'm looking for.
 

·
Super Moderator
Joined
·
10,096 Posts
I drove 3000 miles and at about 2500 miles in to the trip, the low oil pressure light started blipping occasionally. I believe when I brought the car back to him after my vacation, he said he added 3 quarts of oil
Uh, shame on you if you drove your Alfa when it was down three quarts and the warning light was flashing! You really don't want to allow that to happen; check the oil level every morning on a long trip, and top it up when it gets down ~ a quart.

I have been thinking of replacing the head gasket for good measure - while I'm there, as it goes, I see no reason not to replace the piston rings.
To replace the rings, you really need to pull the engine, put it on a stand, and thoroughly disassemble it. Replacing the front and rear seals will be easy while it's apart. You should also check and probably replace the bearings (especially after running them without oil pressure).

Valve inspection and re-seating would be beyond my knowledge - how easy is it to do inspection or reseating at home?
Once you pull the head to replace the head gasket (and yes, the O rings), you should take it to a machine shop to have them inspect it for straightness and deck the sealing surface. They can disassemble the valves & springs and check the seating. New valves and/or seats may be needed, but the shop can assess this. Note: Find an Alfa knowledgeable shop for work on Alfa heads.

Alfajay, what o-rings in the head are you referring to?
There are six, small, neoprene O rings that go into holes in the head gasket (and yes, aftermarket viton O rings are probably better). These seal the passages that bring oil up to the cam bearings in the head. If those O rings fail, oil can leak out the head gasket, which could be the source of your leak.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
54 Posts
Discussion Starter #8
Uh, shame on you if you drove your Alfa when it was down three quarts and the warning light was flashing! You really don't want to allow that to happen; check the oil level every morning on a long trip, and top it up when it gets down ~ a quart.
Oof, I accept this harsh reality - I am, at times, not a smart man. I endeavor to redeem myself and know better next time, to check the oil level every morning.... I offer my own buffoonery as explanation, though I don't think it was as bad as I made it sound. Fresh oil change was completed the day before the trip, at 2500 miles in, the low oil pressure light started blipping on a bit at very low speeds, on the highway where 490/500 of those remaining miles were made, it was off - if it was on I would not be driving, though beyond this, shamefully it did not dawn on me that the light probably indicated oil consumption. I brought it to my mechanic who then found out it was missing three quarts and hit me with "how do you not know how to operate the dipstick, dipstick". I have so much learning to do.

To replace the rings, you really need to pull the engine, put it on a stand, and thoroughly disassemble it. Replacing the front and rear seals will be easy while it's apart. You should also check and probably replace the bearings (especially after running them without oil pressure).
I have failed to pull an engine without hitting the chassis innumerable times, so I am avoiding this outside a parts car until I'm competent at it. The only difficulty I foresee in replacing the piston rings in-situ is getting under the car and removing the two bolts retaining each rod - I don't see this being difficult with a helper and the parts are so cheap I wouldn't cry about doing it again in an engine outside the car to overhaul and put in "whenever it's done".

Once you pull the head to replace the head gasket (and yes, the O rings), you should take it to a machine shop to have them inspect it for straightness and deck the sealing surface. They can disassemble the valves & springs and check the seating. New valves and/or seats may be needed, but the shop can assess this. Note: Find an Alfa knowledgeable shop for work on Alfa heads.

There are six, small, neoprene O rings that go into holes in the head gasket (and yes, aftermarket viton O rings are probably better). These seal the passages that bring oil up to the cam bearings in the head. If those O rings fail, oil can leak out the head gasket, which could be the source of your leak.
To double check, the o-rings are the ones described here? Now I have a new homework assignment, to find a machine shop with Alfa knowledge. To my knowledge the shops local to me all deal in mainly ford/chevy, maybe my mechanic will know a machine shop he sends heads to.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
54 Posts
Discussion Starter #9
I took some pictures this morning, still haven't cleaned the car, but they do seem to suggest oil is leaking from the head gasket region. I know better than to find this conclusive without a thorough cleaning followed by some miles on the car, but it does sort of show a possible source of the leaking problem.

IMG_20191219_1215163.jpg IMG_20191219_1215379.jpg IMG_20191219_1215483.jpg IMG_20191219_1216110.jpg
 

·
Super Moderator
Joined
·
10,096 Posts
The only difficulty I foresee in replacing the piston rings in-situ is getting under the car and removing the two bolts retaining each rod - I don't see this being difficult with a helper and the parts are so cheap I wouldn't cry about doing it again in an engine outside the car to overhaul and put in "whenever it's done".
Well, it's OK with me if you want to try it that way. But there's no question in my mind that the job will be easier, take less time overall and have a better outcome if you work standing up, with the engine on a stand that allows it to be rotated.

Before you do decide on how to attack the problem, crawl under your car (and get comfortable under there - you'll be spending a LOT of time in that position if you chose to do it the hard way) and observe the location of the cross member relative to the oil pan.

To double check, the o-rings are the ones described here?
Yes. That thread is about a GTV6, but this detail is similar on the 4-cylinder engines.

Now I have a new homework assignment, to find a machine shop with Alfa knowledge. To my knowledge the shops local to me all deal in mainly ford/chevy, maybe my mechanic will know a machine shop he sends heads to.
It has been my experience that ford/chevy machine shops are fine for bottom end work (crankshaft regrinding, piston sleeve honing, etc.) but fail miserably with Alfa heads. Getting the valve stem tops positioned so that commonly available shims can be used seems beyond their ability. So yes, do ask your mechanic.
 

·
Premium Member
Joined
·
13,361 Posts
The only difficulty I foresee in replacing the piston rings in-situ is getting under the car and removing the two bolts retaining each rod - I don't see this being difficult with a helper and the parts are so cheap I wouldn't cry about doing it again in an engine outside the car to overhaul and put in "whenever it's done".
Try this and I guarantee that you will regret it.
 

·
Push hard and live
Joined
·
9,131 Posts
My first Alfa (in about 1971) was a 1959 2000 Touring. The shop manual has an entire section on "Overhaul without removing the engine". Thus, my first impression was that this was normal for Alfa Romeos.

Not long after that, I became impressed with how the Alfa engineers seem to take care in making their cars, and engines in particular, convenient to work on. Bolts, nuts, etc were placed where they were easily accessed. Some time after that, I realized why they made their fasteners easy to remove and replace.

As the years went by, I owned other, later model, Alfas. The general reliability improved over the old 2000, but the engine bays became smaller and more full of odd components whose function was increasingly inexplicable, and sometimes nominated by me as optional.

I have finally realized that attempting to short cut a repair on an Alfa will NOT achieve that goal. The engine and trans power units (on four-cylinder cars) are relatively easy to remove as a set. Well, the second time you do it will be easy. The first will be an education. Thus, anything to do with the engine, trans, or clutch should generally begin with removing the lot and hanging it all on a good quality stand.

I'm reminded of the F104 pilot's operating handbook. It was said that the emergency procedures were the shortest of any military aircraft. It boiled down to "if something goes wrong, leave the aircraft".

Same line of thinking with most of the Alfas.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
54 Posts
Discussion Starter #13
Try this and I guarantee that you will regret it.
Please satiate my infinite curiosity before I have a terrible day trying, what can go wrong? I have replaced rings on an engine outside a car before, it doesn't seem so tricky to remove them. In my mind I think, "unless you can't lower the piston into place without dropping it" but have one person on the top end holding the piston assy. with a ring compressor, and one person underneath with a hand supporting the connecting rod, and this shouldn't be a problem. Of course this is all up to my wildly optimistic imagination.

DPeterson3, this is sound advice. I don't believe my engine is in so much trouble that it requires a complete overhaul, but certainly a complete overhaul on an engine stand, swapped in, along with an overhauled gearbox, is the best move forward for the car's health. I am not trying to avoid that reality, rather I aim to keep this engine running while simultaneously looking ahead to the future expecting that plan will be needed. I don't want to attempt a complete overhaul until I have some practice with more standard efforts.

Alfajay, I'll continue reading up and planning, getting comfortable under the car again before attempting anything. With my last Alfa I spend many hours under the car and became quite comfortable, the only challenge is I now desire to be more comfortable and so must secure better ramps+floor jacks.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
3,732 Posts
Steve, you come across like an intelligent man but not someone who is very mechanically inclined. So your mechanic 'noticed your engine is leaking some oil'. It doesn't look that bad, unless there is a huge puddle of oil under the engine that I am missing. Apparently it runs well and does not smoke like a crop duster. Others have wisely suggested cleaning the engine first and even using fluorescent (or visible) dye in the oil to help find the leaks.
That is where you should start. The exhaust nuts look like new so it is possible the head has been worked on more recently than you know.

Perhaps whoever did the oil change, before your recent trip, left your engine a couple quarts low. Not many little four cylinder engines hold 7 quarts of oil! I would not suggest jumping ahead into a full bore rebuild. It is likely that pistons and rods will not clear the cross member if you attempt to 'drop' them with the engine in the car and you'll end up frustrated, having to pull the engine after all and doing a lot of work! I recently spent about $2000 just for parts to rebuild my Duetto engine and did all the work myself. It only took a 'few months', working long days to get it the way I wanted it but I thoroughly enjoyed the process. You can buy a lot of oil for what an engine rebuild costs!

Life is short, enjoy it while you can.

Mark
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
11,807 Posts
An Alfa engine that does not use a bit of oil is one that has not been started.

Pete
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
7,542 Posts
If you look at the photo 1 you see oil filling the hole for the bolt that is screwed under the head at the front, so above the head gasket...that suggests to me the leak is higher, so oil perhaps leaking from filler gasket or cam cover gasket (both items easy peasy to replace)
A leaking filler cap would leave some oil in the spark plug wells, especially cyl 1 or 2...are there signs of oil there?

Are the two small headbolts at the front of the head even there?...hard to see in the photos (see red arrows)

I'd proceed thus:
clean the engine of all muck/oil
use the leak dye and run the engine and look for the tell tale signs of oil leak with the UV flashlight in the dark.

you might get away with a couple of gaskets and even if there is a small oil leak from the head gasket, a proper one-nut-at-a-time retorque might get rid of that.
the two little bolts at the front of the head, going in from underneath, can be removed one at a time and put back with some sealant.

I agree new brass nuts on the exhaust means someone has been doing work somewhere.

oil.jpg
 

·
Premium Member
Joined
·
323 Posts
I feel like this is getting blown out of proportion..... The oil leaks you are chasing are ones that you haven't noticed, no puddles on the floor, or even a tight grouping of dripping? You added three quarts after a road trip but you also don't know how much was in it before you left.
Your engine is kinda dirty but it doesn't look caked, in fact in one of your pictures that shows the front of the engine the nose of the water pump and below could be called shiny clean.
The advise above is bang on. Clean the engine and drive it. Or not, just drive it. Check the oil before every trip until you get an idea if you are loosing any quantity over a given distance. If anything, as Dom has said, your valve cover could have new gaskets, between the head, at the cap and at the vent on the front right. If there are a lot of scratches, etc on the surface of the cam cover that mates with the oil cap and the gasket to the head, then those gaskets can't deform enough to fill the void and it will leak anyway.
If you just want to tear the engine down because you want too, then cool, it can be a fun journey. On the evidence so far, seems unwarranted.

Cheers,
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
416 Posts
I am not a top mechanic, but living with my Alfa I have learned a few things. My thoughts are free so take it with a grain of salt. I purchased my 1984 Spider with 110,000 miles. Had a starter problem and took it to a Alfa mechanic the frist week I owned. He replaced the started and said he also add 3 quarts of oil. The engine bay was clean when I purchase the car but after a few 1000 miles it was coated with oil. I ask the Alfa mechanic about it and he said the engine needs to be resealed (this mechanic retired after working on my car). I had the engine steamed cleaned and the oil leak was coming from the front main seal. I had it replaced. This was my second mechanic. Alfa was still burning oil and the second mechanic told me he did not have time to work on my car and referred me to the third mechanic. There was oil in the inside hood and coating the top and side of the engine. The third mechanic did a compression test and number 3 piston rings were broken. Low compression (yes spark plug was oily). At that point I just did a engine swap from a wrecked spider that this mechanic had been maintaining. My swapped out engine has 120,000 miles on it and runs great!
Bottom line - check the health of the engine first by a compression check before you decide what to do.
I am not a top mechanic, but living with my Alfa I have learned a few things.

Good luck with your 1978 it is a great model year for Alfa Romeo Spiders!
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
54 Posts
Discussion Starter #19
The mechanic who found it was 3 quarts low on my return was the same guy who did an oil change before I left on the road trip. So I trust it must be leaking or burning oil somewhere. Second, I was the one who put in the new exhaust gaskets and nuts - PO I suppose didn't tighten them enough, and I started to find them missing one at a time. Strangely one head stud on the last cylinder was also missing - I never noticed this and after several years of ownership the cylinder 4 exhaust gasket finally broke. By the way, I have never drove without an exhaust gasket, and do not want to again... after installing a stud from a donor engine, whadya know, the car is way quieter than when I first bought it.

Steve, you come across like an intelligent man but not someone who is very mechanically inclined.
Mark, I appreciate your analysis and might I state the following: mechanically inclined, perhaps, but mechanically experienced, nope :). I'm a little too young to have lived through the days where it was normal to maintain your own car and so much of my idea of maintenance, as many here note, is excessive replacement of parts. My inspiration for this in the opening post is, I was stranded several times on a 3000 mile road trip over the summer. We are planning another equally long trip this summer and I don't want that to happen again. In the absence of true knowledge of the car's history and years of feeling out how the engine should perform, I don't know any better (yet) - but am very eager to learn.

I have taken a class in engine rebuilding and we pulled the pistons through the top of the cylinder - I imagined crawling under the car, removing a conrod, pushing up a bit, and having my lady friend grab the piston from the top. Maybe I should ask a better question first - I was under the impression that replacing piston rings would be an excellent idea, to ensure there is no exhaust blowby or oil leaking - so if not strictly necessary, on an engine of this age and getting up there in miles, would it not be a good idea (just for good measure) if I'm pulling the head off to have a valve job done and am replacing the head gasket? I'll have the head exposed for at least a few days while the shop is replacing valves anyway.

Are the two small headbolts at the front of the head even there?...hard to see in the photos (see red arrows)
Checked last night, they are indeed - though there is oil around that area. I'm fairly certain the head gasket was replaced by the PO and perhaps not torqued so perfectly, so a replacement I believe is a good place to start. Required after a valve job anyway. In addition I have one of those silicone cam cover gaskets and it's suffered leaks before, I intend to replace with a non-reusable fabric gasket.

Compression test incoming, over the weekend I discovered my compression test gauge is broken so I had to order a new one. Measured up to 30 psi then dropped to 0 on two cylinders, but the engine fires up without hesitation (beyond regular SPICA sluggishness).

Life is short, enjoy it while you can.
Wiser words have never been spoken.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
4,604 Posts
All is great advice posted.
Let's say you and I were having a conversation over coffee, and my first question to you would be, "Do you want short term or long term solution?" Followed by, "How many miles on the engine?" You can go the short solution by replacing the head gasket, front and rear seals, valve cover gasket/seals". If you remove the transmission, you could find yourself needing a clutch plus any machine work to the flywheel. Taking the head off to fix the orings there will get you into a valve job. Things start to pile up quickly. What if the injection pump is leaking from underneath? Then you will follow that trail to resolve that one.

Long term solution, spend the money and rebuild the engine. You get a reliable engine and a fun car to enjoy. You only rebuild engines once unless you drive a lot. " While you have the trans out you can have that rebuilt as well back to like new again. So I would say, "Why skimp?
 
1 - 20 of 24 Posts
Top