Thought I'd throw this out to the experts so I can try and move toward a diagnosis.
Basically I bought a cheap 1996 Legacy 250T (N/A 2.5L DOHC). The car itself I have been very happy with until recently when the engine light came on going up the mountain. I checked oil and coolant, and everything looking ok I headed down the mountain a few hours later. No engine light came on but towards the bottom of the mountain the temp gauge started to climb up to 3/4.
At this point I switched the car off for 10 minutes and let it cool down, switched it back on and it was back down to normal, so I drove it steady back home which was a 10 minute drive.
Next day I took it to the shop. Dreading a cracked head gasket, I passed on all this info to the mechanic. I basically got my car back the next day saying they checked the cooling system and besides an almost indetectable imminent crack in the radiator, they couldn't find any other signs of the head gasket leaking. They did a TK test and found no contamination in the radiator.
The shop said they could charge me a lot more to get to the bottom of the problem but I declined, preferring to save my money for now since I paid over $100 for them to tell me they're not quite sure (but that HG is a possibility.)
So, since then I have done one run up a smaller mountain and a few trips to and from town (3km milk runs). I have not observed any overheating on the gauge however some white smoke seeps out of the hood when I'm stopped - not a large volume just a bit. It does this every couple of trips. Last time I saw it I opened the hood to take a look. It seems to be coming from the bottom of the engine, particularly the front, but really it appears to be coming out of many places.
Fluids are still OK and heat is still OK, according to the gauge.
So I'm at the point where I don't feel confident using it but don't know what to do with it.
Obviously I've got a leak of some kind, but the question is, what can I look at to establish what it is? Given it hasn't overheated since, what does that tell me?
Above all, what would you fellas do if it were your car (assuming you didn't have mechanical ability and were on a budget).
the smoke could be coolant burning off from being sprayed onto hot parts. i would take a look at the radiator, hoses and thermostat housing to see if there is any water markings. if theres a leak, should be easy enough to spot and replace the offending part.
Start off with what twisty said. Little leaks can dropping on hot parts can cause it to smoke.
If your car is just slightly over heating. You may have small air bubbles in your system. I would try to burp them all out.
Possibly a water pump.... Its located in the timing belt cover, and if its leaking/weeping from the bearing snout it could be the cause....
Location? If you're in NJ I'd come help take a look...
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