The American V8 - Anatomy of a Hydrolock
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Northstar Engines and System Technical Discussion Discussion, The American V8 - Anatomy of a Hydrolock in Cadillac Engine Technical Discussion; Introduction and Background Hello All - first time user! I have continuously visited this forum for peace of mind and ...
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    Joey_Italiano is offline Cadillac Owners Member
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    The American V8 - Anatomy of a Hydrolock

    Introduction and Background

    Hello All - first time user!

    I have continuously visited this forum for peace of mind and advice ever since I purchased my 1997 Cadillac DeVille from a private seller on that fateful day 3 years ago. I read through thread after thread, my eyes growing wider and wider as I uncovered mystery after mystery. The pleasures and the pains of the delicate 275-hp aluminum flower that is the Northstar engine were revealed to me, often by experience. Here's the roller coaster of a relationship I've had with this land-yacht.

    History
    1. Purchased with 25,000 miles on the odometer and not a scratch on her and discovered early symptoms of blown head gasket in the first month. P0300 - random misfire caused by coolant leaking into the cylinders (buyer beware - feel my pain).
    2. Paid $3000 to have the engine torn out, cracked in half and studded.
    3. Still burnt oil so I decided to WOT and spun a bearing at 26,000 miles - oops!
    4. Never had an issue with WOT before, so I had a serious talk with the mechanic who did the head gasket. That was a fun conversation where I said words like "lawyer", "small claims court" and "better business bureau".
    5. Mechanic "felt bad" and took a little responsibility so he charged me $2,000 for a focused rebuild (block, rings, affected rods and bearings, etc. - a lot cheaper than legal fees!).
    6. Mechanic installed wrong sized rings - another rebuild and engine block on the house! (then he felt really bad!)

    Present Day

    Finally. the car runs like a champ for 40,000 miles! Still burns a quart every 500 miles even with frequent WOT. I blame it on aggressive honing by his machine shop. Here we are, at 70,000 miles. I thought my relationship with the DeVille had grown comfortable. I pour oil into her crank case and she keeps tearing up the asphalt. One day, it starts pinging and smoking EVERYWHERE. Up hill, down hill, coasting, etc. Bad gas? dirty sensor? Lean mix?

    So I clean the EGR, clean the throttle body (puked on with a quart of oil through the PCV every 500 miles), clean the MAF and change fuel filter... a whole lot less pinging but still on some hard 3000 rpm pulls.

    Anatomy of a Hydrolock

    This is where I got cocky and stupid - I figure, "why not try to steam-clean the engine by introducing water through the PCV line?". I've read that carbon accumulations can cause pre-ignition/detonation when they get hot. Water injection is a thing, even used by the US Airforce and some auto manufacturers! Seafoam seemed like a joke so I figured why not plain old water? I found a video of a man spraying a garden hose into his ford taurus' throttle body while revving the piss out of it. Of course, it was no northstar, but how could I screw this up? Here is exactly how I did it:
    1. Engine fully warmed and at idle.
    2. Use a tiny spray bottle to mist 400ml into the PCV hose - A little sputter and some white smoke - not much. Probably emptied the whole 400ml in about 3 minutes.
    3. Spray another 400ml over two minutes or so - where are the clouds of steam and soot?
    4. Quick rev to 2000 - oops.
    5. Dislodges water (presumably pooled in the intake manifold, it doesn't stall but it random misfires (code confirmed by OBDII) for about 5 minutes while the engine shakes in its mounts and plumes of smoke come out the tailpipes).
    6. Misfire ends and everything is back to normal
    7. Scary, but I figure no damage, right, RIGHT? It didn't lock up! No bent rods, no cracked block, no cracked liners, etc?
    8. I know, I should have kept the throttle open to 2000rpms to avoid pooling, but hindsight is 20/20.

    Conclusion/Cry for Help

    This is my problem, and I've lost sleep over it. How do I know if I did damage to that delicate flower that I have been showering with Benjamins? It is running well (arguably better and with less pinging than before). No mixture of oil and coolant (not even any water in oil from the "steam clean", no leaks (at least no NEW leaks).

    But when does a hydrolock become a hydrolock? This is the thesis of my post.

    If my math is correct, each piston displaces 575ml. With a 10.1 ratio, 57ml at TDC. If I introduced 800ml of water, I know the potential for hydrolock is definitely there. It didn't stall, but did I crush a bearing or put a hairline crack in a sleeve?

    So - my main question. If the engine doesn't LOCK, is it a hydrolock? Can damage be done without a full engine seize? I'm hoping I just sucked enough water in slowly enough to make it miss a bit and no harm was done.

    Parting Words

    Yes - you can tell, I love this car. I am a slave to The American V8! These are the final years, fellow Kings of the Road. Electric cars are coming, gas is getting more expensive. I am proud to push this two-ton beast down the road with all my windows open, Creedence blasting, premium petroleum from the Cretaceous period exploding at 5500rpms, roaring by a Prius! You know why, cause this is AMERICA! And we drive CADILLACS! Be proud, Caddy drivers, and thanks for reading my story!

    -Joey

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    Ranger's Avatar
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    Re: The American V8 - Anatomy of a Hydrolock

    If the engine doesn't LOCK, is it a hydrolock?
    No. That's the definition of a hydrolock. Filling the cylinder with liquid and then trying to compress it. Can't be done and something has to give, usually a rod through the side of the block. You got lucky. I don't think you damaged anything.

    Used to use that water procedure many years ago on carbureted engines, but I would never try it anymore on one of these longitudinal manifolds.
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    Submariner409's Avatar
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    Re: The American V8 - Anatomy of a Hydrolock

    Introducing ANY liquid in any form into the Northstar manifold has the potential for disaster. I have often wondered how the gods look over someone who pours snake oils into the engine through the PCV dirty air line. (The smoke looks neat, but accomplishes little or nothing)

    See that bottom plenum-log ? Get "solid" liquid in there, suck some up an intake runner, and you get Ranger's picture - in spades.

    This manifold is upside down - the black flat rectangle is the lower distribution plenum - that will hold over a quart of liquid.
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    Ranger's Avatar
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    Re: The American V8 - Anatomy of a Hydrolock

    Quote Originally Posted by Submariner409 View Post
    I have often wondered how the gods look over someone who pours snake oils into the engine through the PCV dirty air line.
    Remember the old adage "God watches over fools and drunks"?

    P.S.
    No offense or insult intended Joey.
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    Re: The American V8 - Anatomy of a Hydrolock

    Doesnt sound like you Damaged your engine. But thank goodness you didnt!! quart every 500 miles is about what my DTS does and it leaks most of it so i dont know how you are burning that much oil without seriously ruining those sparkplugs, but on an aside note, pre 2000 Northstars are 10.3:1 compression.
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    Need parts for your Northstar Engine? www.northstarperformance.com

    Evrett, Sales Executive of the SureGrip™ Cylinder Head Stud Kit

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    Joey_Italiano is offline Cadillac Owners Member
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    Re: The American V8 - Anatomy of a Hydrolock

    Thanks for all the great info! Car is still running, but pinging again.

    I had it motor-vac'd (see also: fuel injection service) about 4,000 miles ago and the ping is creeping back when the car is running hot (196-220'F).

    By the way, if you ever get a fuel treatment done, make sure to drive the car hard afterwards. It was pinging worse after the treatment until I ejected soot all over the car behind me on the highway.

    4,000 miles between engine cleaning is unacceptable. I will try some more WOT's, I usually don't put it in 2nd since I spun that bearing a while ago, but maybe it is necessary to suck all that carbon out with back pressure.

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    Re: The American V8 - Anatomy of a Hydrolock

    Quote Originally Posted by Joey_Italiano View Post
    Thanks for all the great info! Car is still running, but pinging again.

    I had it motor-vac'd (see also: fuel injection service) about 4,000 miles ago and the ping is creeping back when the car is running hot (196-220'F).

    By the way, if you ever get a fuel treatment done, make sure to drive the car hard afterwards. It was pinging worse after the treatment until I ejected soot all over the car behind me on the highway.

    4,000 miles between engine cleaning is unacceptable. I will try some more WOT's, I usually don't put it in 2nd since I spun that bearing a while ago, but maybe it is necessary to suck all that carbon out with back pressure.
    196 to 220 is normal op temp. No AC and cruising mine sits at about 196. Stop and go, AC on, hot day, mine sits at 206 to 218. Have you pulled codes on this car before? If the knock is back and you WOT the car frequently, it probably isn't carbon slap. Is the knock coming from one cylinder or all/random?

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    Re: The American V8 - Anatomy of a Hydrolock

    Quote Originally Posted by Joey_Italiano View Post
    4,000 miles between engine cleaning is unacceptable. I will try some more WOT's, I usually don't put it in 2nd since I spun that bearing a while ago, but maybe it is necessary to suck all that carbon out with back pressure.
    There is no way on earth to "suck out carbon with back pressure". There is very, very little benefit in engine cleaning potions of any style. There is also no reason on earth to "clean" and engine every 4,000 miles.

    Run a Top Tier gasoline, occasionally exercise the engine to its rpm limits in a couple of gears, keep it tuned and drive the car.

    I'll bet the farm that you have EGR flow problems. (The engine is not "hot" at 195 - 215...... it's right on design operating temperature.)

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    Joey_Italiano is offline Cadillac Owners Member
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    Re: The American V8 - Anatomy of a Hydrolock

    Thanks for your reply, submariner. I know engine braking is good for the rings at least. I use 91 or 93, usually from Sunoco. The motorvac treatment stopped the pinging dead in its tracks and the carbon that came out of the tailpipe was very impressive. I am positive the cleaning loosened up the really stuck on stuff that was potentially glowing and causing detonation when the engine gets thoroughly warmed (good to hear the temp is normal, but it never pings unless the engine is at operating temp for more than a half hour or so).

    Trust me, I exercise this car frequently. No point in having a V8 if you don't stomp the pedal

    Now, EGR flow. That's interesting. I cleaned the egr valve and passages about 1,000 miles ago. It was causing a code, but went away when I cleaned it. Any tips on egr maintenance?

    I also know the vacuum tank has a small leak in it, but nothing major

    Random thoughts: Fuel pressure regulator? Clogged cat?

    Your help is appreciated!

    ----------

    Quote Originally Posted by arctic_man View Post
    196 to 220 is normal op temp. No AC and cruising mine sits at about 196. Stop and go, AC on, hot day, mine sits at 206 to 218. Have you pulled codes on this car before? If the knock is back and you WOT the car frequently, it probably isn't carbon slap. Is the knock coming from one cylinder or all/random?
    Thanks, arctic! Very similar operating temperatures. That's reassuring! I check codes frequently, I cleared up an egr code by cleaning the valve and now there are no codes except for some tape deck nonsense.

    Knock seems to be one or two or more depending on how long I've been cruising. Seems to do it the most after a 1/2 hour of driving. Right in the 1700rpm - 2000rpm area. Only when the engine is very thoroughly warmed. Usually faint, but sometimes very loud

    Is it possible that carbon is glowing after running it for a while causing detonation vs slap? (It does have a cold start knock/slap for the first minute in the morning).

    The thing burns 1qt / 500 miles, I looked at the piston heads through the plug holes. Looks like BBQ crud.

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    Re: The American V8 - Anatomy of a Hydrolock

    Quote Originally Posted by Joey_Italiano View Post
    The thing burns 1qt / 500 miles, I looked at the piston heads through the plug holes. Looks like BBQ crud.
    That ^^^^^ information is a book in itself.

    OK, I'll eat half my "carbon" blurb. 500 miles/quart is way more than excessive. You have problems like severely stuck/broken piston rings and/or worn valve stem seals.

    Even that engine, with decent rings and tight valve stem seals, should get way over 2,000 miles/quart. Magic potions are not your answer. Serious engine mechanical repair is, and if the engine mileage is at or near 100,000 you're also looking at 32 hydraulic cam followers ("lifters") - the hardening eventually wears off the faces and you begin to eat cam lobes.

    AhHah !!!!
    Your first post - "aggressive honing by the machine shop" - You DO NOT hone Northstar cylinders to install new rings (find Ranger's pictures of a Northstar block with 130,000 miles)........... and, almost a liter of liquid poured into the intake is almost a liter too much. You got problems. The sudden onset of oil usage and smoke was the telltale right there. I wonder if piston ring #2 is upside down on each piston ? They're tapered face scraper rings - install them upside down and they form a very efficient oil pump.
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    Joey_Italiano is offline Cadillac Owners Member
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    Re: The American V8 - Anatomy of a Hydrolock

    Quote Originally Posted by Submariner409 View Post

    AhHah !!!!
    Your first post - "aggressive honing by the machine shop" - You DO NOT hone Northstar cylinders to install new rings (find Ranger's pictures of a Northstar block with 130,000 miles)........... and, almost a liter of liquid poured into the intake is almost a liter too much. You got problems. The sudden onset of oil usage and smoke was the telltale right there. I wonder if piston ring #2 is upside down on each piston ? They're tapered face scraper rings - install them upside down and they form a very efficient oil pump.
    I figured the guy didn't know what he was doing, but it was too late by the time he installed the wrong rings the first time. Had to let him try and make good for it. I can't believe he re-honed it when he shouldn't have, but it's right on my invoice. Any easy way to check if the rings are upside down? Lol. All cylinders are pretty cruddy so maybe the hone is the culprit. He said he replaced the valve stem seals. Maybe the improper rings screwed the ring landings?

    Now the confusing thing to me is, it's been running fine for 35,000 miles before the carbon really got to it. If I give it a good clean, shouldn't it run fine until it builds up again? I know potions aren't the answer, but the improved performance after the fuel injection/top engine service was promising. I can't afford and don't really care about another rebuild. At this point, a jasper engine or maybe a brick on the pedal by the river is in order.

    Maybe I'll just WOT it until the bottom end explodes.

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    Re: The American V8 - Anatomy of a Hydrolock

    Where are you ??? (Shop locations)

    I hate to spend your money, but if the rest of the car is in decent or better condition ......... a bird in the hand........ Talk to Jake or Evrett at www.northstarperformance.com. Even if you are up to your ass in alligators right now, the car/engine can be saved.

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    Joey_Italiano is offline Cadillac Owners Member
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    Re: The American V8 - Anatomy of a Hydrolock

    Ha! I'm located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. My mechanic (not the guy who flubbed the rebuild) won't touch the engine unless it's to replace it. It's a daily driver and driving is essential for my job. I miss my Buick. I'll talk to northstar performance, hopefully they can recommend some brave shops in my area.

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    Re: The American V8 - Anatomy of a Hydrolock

    Quote Originally Posted by Joey_Italiano View Post
    Maybe I'll just WOT it until the bottom end explodes.
    Better have a lot of patience (and gasoline). When the Northstar was being tested they ran it at WOT for 12.5 days. Then shut it down and opened it up for inspection.

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    Re: The American V8 - Anatomy of a Hydrolock

    Joey, One of these quiet summer days you need to come down 13/301 to Kent Island. We'll tell lies, sea stories and swill a few beerz. I'll alert Charlie (The Transmission Man) just up the road and we'll put the beast up on a lift and take a look. (I'm not in the Northstar business - Olds 455s and GM 454s are my engine build work.)

    Your first post - Electric cars - the ongoing progression to dumbing down Americans to the desired Lowest Common Denominator. I foresee the creation of yet another huge, crawling, amoebic government agency: The Office of Handicapper General - through which all Americans are drug and physically restricted to a certain level of capability so NO ONE is "better" than anyone else. Think about it. Worry. (Kurt Vonnegut ?)

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