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99 Neon Camshaft Seal Popped Out-Major Oil Leak

04-12-2007, 03:14 AM
My step daughter's used 99 Dodge Neon had its camshaft seal (SOHC) pop (or push) out causing a MAJOR oil leak. This is the seal behind the camshaft sprocket at the timing belt end, not the camshaft sensor at the transmission end famous for leaks. She never changed the oil for maybe 10K :banghead: since she got the car 8 month ago (of course now the oil is changed!). I read a comment that the main crankshaft seal can pop out from the pressures from blowby and PVC valve problems, a comment claiming that this seal pops out often, and a thread where a DIY eventually found this same seal popped out in his Neon.

Does anyone have experience with this problem with the Neon's and can give me some reasons or insight? When this happens, the car is virtually undrivable and it seems like a ridiculous failure along with all the other areas of oil leakage known with this car.

04-12-2007, 04:16 PM
I have experience with the problem, but I dont have an easy solution. I doubt the lack of oil changing had much to do with the problem. It would have more to do with increased wear on the lobes of the camshaft. It also might have something to do with how quickly after the car was started from cold that the engine was revved up high, and whether the oil used was thicker than the recommended 5w30 wt..
My daughter's Neon is a 97 with the 2.0 liter SOHC and auto transmission, about about 140,000 miles on it. In our case the leak was from the rear main seal, (a quart every 75-100 miles) so the engine had to come out to fix that. The other engine seals werent leaking yet. This March my wife and I drove the car down to our winter home from where my daughter lives in N. Virginia. I pulled the engine myself, being a retired guy whose hobby is fixing my own cars. Since the engine had to come out, I had decided I would replace all the things likely to need replacement in the next 100,000 miles - I hope anyway.
With the flywheel off, I could see that the rear main seal had slid out far enough to be rubbing the flywheel! Otherwise I suppose it might have fallen off. I was able to pull that seal out with my fingernails! The new seal went in nice-and-tight, so I am guessing the original seal had a softer coating on its outside circumference?
To replace the seals at the sprocket end of the camshaft and the 'front' end of the crankshaft, you have to remove (among other things) the motor mount bracket, the Vibration damper pulley, the timing cover, the timing belt, camshaft sprocket, and the timing sprocket on the crankshaft. As I had the engine sitting on a workbench, this wasnt very hard. The Vib. damper is a tight pull, but my Snapon 3 legged puller took it off. The cam sprocket I removed by wiggling it with a pair of screwdrivers. The timing belt sprocket on the crankshaft was pretty tight - and I worried about snapping the 3 screws I was using with my other puller - (I think the screws are M5 in size, not very big). So I gently drove a thin steel wedge in behind that sprocket in two places, the wedge bearing against the aluminum casting that houses the oil pump. Then I used my acetylene torch to heat it a little. Not enough to damage the metal or even the seal that was hidden behind this sprocket. Then it came off allright.
The seals themselves were okay, only showing slight signs of oily-ness; but having gotten this close, I was Not going to reassemble the engine with old seals! I was worried the seals would be hard to remove, since I dont have the 'special tool # j-xxxx' as shown in the my Neon Service Manual. They came out easier than I expected, which was both good and bad. I drilled a 1/16" hole in the front of the seal, and drew them out with a tool I made - a bent piece of 1/16th drill that I heated with my torch and bent to 90 degrees. The new seals went back in a good bit tighter than the old ones came out. I also used Permatex Ultra Black RTV on the outside circumference of the seals, in case I had scratched the bore where the seal would sit.
Since it was right before me, I also replaced the water pump - it might have been original and showed signs of leakage, though we hadnt noticed any coolant loss yet. And of course I replaced the timing belt, and the tensioner pulley. This 'kit' cost about $90, and should be good for another 100,000 miles. The water pump was about $25.
I also unbolted the intake manifold, so I could replace the two 4" pieces of 5/8th" heater hose that were hidden under that manifold. I may replace the gasket for the cam cover, as that is seeping oil at the front curbside corner.
The engine wiring harness showed some signs of abrasion and wires glued together from heat, so I am separating the wires, and splicing in some new pieces. The damaged portion was behind the engine and down low - really inaccessible when its in the car.

I have been doing all of this work outside, in our yard in Mercedes TX, my workbench being a car trailer. I buy tools as I need them, and only had to buy one tool for this job; a 5/16th six point socket. This was in lieu of a six point 8 mm socket, which the local hardware store didnt have. There are many 8 mm bolt heads on this engine. My hoist is a cheap 1 ton fence-tightener, hung from a homemade wooden A frame - that looks like a large saw horse. 9 ft wide and 9 feet high. I could not do my work in the shade, since the shade here is all from mesquite trees, and in hot weather they drip a sap that has the consistency of hardened epoxy. I hope my daughter is grateful for my exertions!
I have the Chrysler published 97Neon Service Manual (got it from ebay for $40), so I have all of the torque specifications, and the remove/replace instructions. The manual said the engine and tranny are removed as a unit, by lowering them down and raising the car up. !! Someone on this Dodge forum said you can remove the engine by itself, by hoisting it up. This is true, and it wasnt even problematical. The only shortcoming is that the motor doesnt have any lifting eyes attached to it. I used the big bolt in the motor mount for one support, and wrapped a good clothesline 5 times around the stuff at the 'rear' of the block for the other. This gave me ten strands of the rope. I used my digital camera to take pictures as I took every part off, and I wrote down the things I did, in the order I did them. I will reverse the order when I put the motor back into the car.
Good Luck
P.S. My neighbor here has a 96 Plymouth Neon that needs a head gasket and water pump, etc. When Im done with my daughters car I can help him with that one, having had the crash course in Neon repairs.

04-14-2007, 07:02 PM
Thanks for the detailed and valuable reply. I have already done the replacement of the seal but found the work more difficult than other cars where I just replaced the timing belt. The combination of the peculiar and diifficult to squeeze hydraulic tensioner, the removal and installation of the force fit crankshaft sprocket (initially thought the leak might be there), the warning of not turning the camshaft or crankshaft because of the interference engine, a slightly seized alternator tightener bolt, the tightness of working between the engine and the right body frame, and having air conditioner pipe and power stearing hose constantly in the way made the repair a nightmare.

Looking at your report and my experience with the crankshaft sprocket, when the seal pushes out it is stopped from coming out all the way by the sprocket (a guess) or the flywheel due to the close proximity of these parts to the engine so the seal does not leak as fast. The camshaft sprocket is farther from the head and allows the seal to slip out completely. There is an oil jet streaming oil on the seal and camshaft for seal lubrication so when the seal separates completely from the head, the oil leaks out at maybe a quart in 5 or 10 minutes. Needless to say since the car wasn't towed after this oil leak started and the engine light was on, this car was run without oil for quite a while. Right now it sounds OK.

Looking at your experience, I have deduced the following. I have only worked on seals for grease packed brake drums, trailor axle wheel "things" for mounting tires, and a rear differential pinion seal a long time ago and all the seals were metal rings making metal to metal contact with the well that it is force fit into. The Neon camshaft seal is a metal ring with a neopreme rubber coating with gripping ridges molded into neopreme rubber where the seal sleeve is force fit into the well it sits in. After 5 or 10 years, this neopreme coating apears to squeeze flat losing its grip allowing the seal to inch out. Having never worked on any other engine seals, modern or old, I don't know if other seals are constructed this way and have the same weakness.

All cars models seem to have their problems and once you get experience fixing one model's problems, you know nothing about the next. I guess where other car have nuisance oil leaks over time, the Neon,s leak oil profusely from the headgasket and slipped off seals as one of their model's problems. This should be considered a disgrace to Chrysler but all the old Neon car owners just live with it.

04-15-2007, 03:00 PM
I agree with the term 'nightmare'. When we bought my daughters car 3 years ago, I undertook to see if the timing belt and idler had been replaced, as the car had almost 100k miles on it. I had to remove or hold out of the way most of the things you mentioned. I didnt try to replace any seals at that time. The limitations of working in the gap between the motor and the side of the car was what prepared me psychologically for pulling the motor if the time came when further work was needed.
I had not thought about those seals having an outer rim coating of rubber. Some seals do and some do not. All of the seals I got for this Neon did have the rubber coating on the outer rim, but the seals I got for the mopar V8 in our 1972 motorhome did not. The apparent weakness of the seals is a reason I will use only the recommended 5W30 oil in it. (If it were going to remain here in Texas I would use 10W30, but its going back up to N. Va.) And if the car is still running in 7 or 8 years, it might be time for another set of seals? A pre-emptive repair.
The alternator adjuster bolt was also stuck on mine, but....with the engine on the bench, it was easy to remove the upper alt. bracket and de-rust the adjuster threads with a die.
While most all cars have their problems, I have worked on French, Italian and British cars. They are much worse.

Charles (in GA)
09-19-2009, 09:07 PM
Just finished replacing the rear crank seal in my '99 Breeze 2.0L. What a pain. Pulled the transaxle, left the engine in place. flexplate was scored by the seal so bad that I replaced the flexplate. Was doing an internet search to see how common a problem this is, when I stumbled onto this web site, thread.

Car would not be worth it if you had to pay to have this done, would be worth more in scrap.


09-20-2009, 08:49 AM
You are right about that, and its a reason its still easy to get Neon parts in the salvage yards; there are so many of them getting junked.

But on the other hand, if you are able to do the repairs yourself, its easy to get a Neon in decent shape bodywise for a low price, when the cars shortcomings discourage the non-mechanical owners.

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