Sportrak overheating


New to the forum, and would appreciate any advice. I bought a second hand 1995 Sportrak ELXi with a good amount of MOT a few months ago. Delighted. The vehicle was exceptionally clean and drove well. Fitted towbar and dual electrics intending to tow 14ft 2 berth caravan over to home in Czech Republic. Noticed slight overheating just a few miles after setting off going down M5. Vehicle overheated totally going up hill onto Cotswolds near Air Balloon roundabout. Caravan not overloaded and well within manufacturer's limit. Cap blew off radiator bottle just at top of hill. Cooled down in layby and returned home, stopping several times. When back from CZ a couple of months later vehicle failed MOT on emissions, but did not overheat unless at high speed on motorway (no caravan attached). Carbon monoxide content after 2nd fast idle very high. Garage observed catalytic converter and lambda sensor both fairly new which squares with receipts supplied with vehicle.

Any advice or suggestions gratefully received. All I get from friends is "Get rid, cut your losses" but I really do like this vehicle and I would like to keep it if I can get the overheating problem solved and the emissions in control.
Could it be that the two problems are linked?
Grateful thanks. Mark.

Sportrak overheating

Hi mark,

I have owned my sportrak since August and it seems to have a very similar issue to yours.
It is a 1996 ELXi with 90,000 miles on the clock and not in bad condition for its age.

I bought it to travel across Scotland and the outer hebrides through September and gave it a full check over before we went.
Half way across the top of Scotland it appeared to overheat - the guage was nearly over the line and in the red but luckily i spotted it and we pulled over. I was lucky as the RAC cover is quite good up there and the chap suspected it was simply the thermostat sticking. He did a temp repair by cutting a hole in the middle of the thermostat (it was a Saturday evening and we needed the ferry 8am monday so no hope of a replacement part).

Now I thought this had cured the problem as the engine ran a lot cooler but never seemed to overheat, however I checked the coolant header tank (plastic bottle connected to side of radiator) and realised that over a long time (roughly 2 hours) this would slowly fill up until I started loosing coolant out of the overflow. I think thats what your referring to when you say it blew the cap off.

I found a temporary but annoying fix for this by using a simple squeezy water bottle to suck the coolant back up then would dump it back via the radiator cap once I had let the pressure slowly out, also depressurising it seemed to help which made me wonder if the system was overpressurising due to a leaky head gasket. The car would be fine for short runs (about one to two hours) but any real hard driving for long distance (uphill on motorways at 80) would result in the header tank filling again and i soon got used to the squeezy bottle regime.

We made it around the islands and mainland without a further hitch but that was not to be the last of my problems.

Since returning I replaced both the radiator cap (they can wear out and stop the radiator pressurising which is one reason for the header to keep filling up) an aftermarket one can be found on eBay for £5 so a quick and easy fix.
I also replaced my thermostat (about £23) and the car appeared to stop doing the overheating trick, however I recently went on a long trip from Leeds to Northumberland and on the return trip (just over 2 hours) it did its trick and I saw the heat guage start to rise.
The header tank was almost full again but after doing my thing with the squeezy bottle and topping it up a little the car was fine.
Now whenever I have done a really long run and the header has partially filled up i was convinced (although it could be in my head) that I could smell exhaust gas in the header tank and radiator.

After this I was convinced this was the head gasket and so took the car to a garage and they sniffed the cooland but found no trace of exhaust gases. The car also has no sign of water contamination in the oil so its not a typical headgasket failiure and ive done about 2000 miles since without any catastrophic failiure. The only thing is that I would have liked to have get it "sniffed" after a long run to be 100% certain, as it almost feels as if there is some strange leak from part of the engine which slowly builds up pressure over time but seems to be all one way (no water getting to oil).

Now im rather confused as to what it could be, the garage said its likely the radiator could be full of dirt or partially clogged up so I am going to do a full coolant flush and refill.

However, the car just went in for MOT and has failed its emission test, its a little over what it should be on idle with carbon monoxide!

So It sounds like we could have a very similar if not the same issue.

My advice to you would be to change your radiator cap and coolant as its the cheapest option and certainly wont harm anything.
I have also seen posts on here about different types of thermostat (diff lengths for carb and injection model) and some causing overheating but you would likely need someone else to offer advice. Thermostat isnt hard to change if you know what your doing but its a faffy job if you dont have the correct tools.

Im sure this is not the first time I have seen posts similar to this problem on here but your case is certainly the closest to my problem so If i do find a solution I will let you know and hopefully vice versa.

After 2000 miles I know my sporty wont let me down but it is a small annoyance on long trips having to carry a 2 ltd bottle of water "just in case" and do the "2 hour bottle squish".


My problem too!

I have a 93 Sportrak (EFI) with exactly the same problem. Drives fine just running around - put it on the motorway or drive it hard and it gets hot. I don't believe it is catastrophically hot - the engine does not seem to radiate sufficient heat given the high reading the gauge suggests.

My thermostat is being swapped this weekend and I will flush the whole cooling system.

The fact that lamda sensors are new does not mean that they are working!! - Certainly this could be the reason for the CO levels

Any break through - please post back here


Any success, Jon?

Hi Jon,
My '93 acts exactly as you described and I've tried everything short of pressure-testing for a leaky head gasket (or cracked head) or replacing the water pump or rad' cap..
Held a new radiator cap in my hand today (8 euros!), but the guy behind the counter convinced me to get the system pressure-tested first as I'd told him that my current cap "looked" okay (no cracks or breakage). Kinda' wish I'd just gone ahead and bought the damned thing now...
Just curious if you found a solution for your/our problem.
Please let me know if you did.
Steve, in the NL's

The problem could be one

The problem could be one thing, or a combination of things so here goes.

Begin by draining the cooling system with the heater set to the hot position to ensure the heater matrix empties, and will fill without air locks.
Flush the entire cooling system with clean water using a hosepipe, remove as many coolant pipes as possible and flush everything both ways to remove anything loose.
Drain thoroughly then refill with neat water, massage the bottom hose to remove any air locks as it is filled, and fill slowly. Refit the removed pipes as water drains from them, this will help prevent airlocks, then drive the vehicle for about 20 miles to warm it thoroughly, at high and low speeds.

Drain this water and flush again with the hose, refill with water and cooling system cleaner and follow the instructions for cleaning the system with the cleaner.

This will thoroughly clean the cooling system of nearly any sort of contamination, it is long winded but does the job properly as well as putting right any previous neglect.

Replace the thermostat as a precaution, and fill with a 50/50 mixture of anti freeze and water as antifreeze prevents internal corrosion.

While you have the hose out and the bonnet up. Working from inside the bonnet flush the radiator through its cooling fins, this will remove any debris from the front of the radiator giving maximum cooling.

Check the water pump, if the cooling system is heavily contaminated it may have caused the water pump fins to corrode and erode. This means it will pump less water around the cooling system, leading to normal operation while driving on road, but when towing or off roading it will not be able to cope.

sporty overheating

Hi all i had a similar problem to yours at low speeds ok but 50mph and above it went into the red and gurgling from engine this went on for the best part of 3 years and many miles,to cut a very long story short i finally changed the thermostat and its perfect now. Its not a bad job if the bolts dont snap off!!!! if you wanted a low cost trial just remove the thermostat completely and see if its runs ok(just cost you your time) then if it does you can make you mind up if you want to put a new one in.or if doesnt fix it it hasnt cost you a lot.
good luck


1. Change the thermostat - get the CORRECT TYPE. Take care not to wreck the bolts. 5lb/ft max or the thread rip off. Use sealant.
If that fails;
2. Suspect problem with cylinder head gasket. Probably leaking into the coolant channels under compression.