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Old 01-23-2015, 10:04 AM   #1
Mitja
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White smoke

Hi guys,

a '92 3.8l Trans Sport owner, 165 miles on it (if I can trust the previous owner), have this vehicle for 4 years now(I owned 2.3l version before - not to recommend). I constantly follow-up this forum as some of you guys are really great and with a LOT of knowledge for this specific vehicle - the best car on earth. Unfortunately, I haven't contributed with my advices yet, but I would if LMP and other guys wouldn't be faster and better
Now my Trans Sport has a problem and I hope you could help me. At cold start, it starts without any problem, maintains the RPMs as it should and doesn't produce any white smoke. But when I start it when it's warm(or hot, doesn't matter), the car in a lot of cases won't be able to maintain the RPMs and die. If I apply some throttle for first 2 seconds, it will be ok and it will continue to run normally without any pedal assistance. From time to time this assistance causes a very rough start and it will miss on 1 cylinder until it warms up a bit(15 second - 3 minutes). Regardless the way of starting(assisted or normal) it will start to produce a white smoke, when I wait at stop light for 30 seconds or more and idle becomes very rough and slowly starts to miss on one cylinder. When I continue to drive, it's ok after a few seconds, until I idle again. My mechanic told me, it's the head gasket, but as nobody in the whole world does not complain about head gasket failure on 3.8l GM engine, I'm a bit sceptical and wouldn't want to invest money on something the car does not need. People mention the intake manifold failure is common for this engine, could that be the case?
Car slowly loses the coolant(1l in 2 weeks), no leaks, water pump has just been replaced, smoke was present before replacement. Ignition is OK, new spark plugs, 1 year old cables, 2 years old ICM, first coils, sparks on all cylinders.

Please, help, as I would really like to keep this technical masterpiece running for another few years.

Thanks and keep on posting to keep this forum alive!
Mitja
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Old 01-23-2015, 01:22 PM   #2
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Re: White smoke

When the engine is cold it is running a little richer, and if there is a vacuum leak, the richer fuel mixture will not affect the idle much.
As the engine warms up, the engine runs leaner, and the vacuum leak is enough to cause an engine miss.
With the loss of coolant, I would suspect failing intake gaskets. I replaced the upper plenum and lower gaskets as well. Some coolant did get into the intake runner of #1 cylinder. If you car has not had the lower intake gaskets replaced, now is the time. The upper plenum can warp and cause issues withe sealing coolant as well. I replaced it with a new Dorman plenum.

You can check you radiator for bubbles in the coolant as it gets warm. If this is the case, you may have a failing head gasket.
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Old 01-23-2015, 01:45 PM   #3
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Re: White smoke

There is a big difference between the 3.1 and the 3.8....yes, the 3.1 was known for lower intake gaskets, but not the 3.8.....not saying you can't have a problem with the 3.8 lower intake gasket, but it was not as prevalent as the 3.1.....

I would be leaning towards a head gasket also.......you can do a coolant pressure test on a warm engine, and then the next morning, remove the plugs and disable the fuel and spark......have someone crank the vehicle....observe if coolant comes out of one of the spark plugs holes....if it does, you have found the suspect cylinder, and that is usually a head gasket....
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Old 01-24-2015, 09:00 AM   #4
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Re: White smoke

TechII have you ever seen a failed 3.8L head gasket that was not due to overheating? I only work on my own vehicles for the most part.

On 3800performance.com, on stock vehicles, the only ones I hear or troubleshoot on, are when I suspect that they overheated their engines and probably warped the heads as well...
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Old 01-24-2015, 10:09 AM   #5
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Re: White smoke

To tell you the truth, I have never run into a head gasket problem on a 3.8.....not that it can't happen......I mean, there is overheating and there is overheating.....
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Old 01-25-2015, 07:46 AM   #6
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Re: White smoke

My wife and son came home last year telling me that the car smelled funny.
The smell was like asbestos burning. The connector for the cooling fan was melted. The fan had shorted out. THe wiring was fried too.
They drove the van not bothering to look at the temp. I think it was triggering the very high temp fan for a long time. When I opened the hood, it was like a blast furnace. I was thankful that I had done the plenum and lower intake job earlier, and that I did not have a blow out.
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Old 01-28-2015, 01:15 PM   #7
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Re: White smoke

Hi 500hpgtx and Tech II,

thanks for your suggestions.
I checked for the bubbles in the coolant, there weren't any, except, when machine couldn't maintain the RPM in idle and there was as sudden drop of RPM, then a bubble came.
But I noticed a smoke coming out of open radiator, so I tested it with gas analyzer and there is a CO presence. I guess, this confirms the head gasket, hopefully not a cracked head?
Could you suggest which gasket set should I buy as there are a few with head gasket included, but not all contain the same gaskets. Is there anything more recommended to replace at this stage of repair?

Thanks again,
Mitja
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Old 01-28-2015, 07:49 PM   #8
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Re: White smoke

Head Gaskets along with intake gaskets and plenum gasket ..I would consider a new er style reinforced plenum...check out Dorman ...yours is the first head gasket failure on a 3.8L on a stock engine. Was you van ever overheated?
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Old 01-29-2015, 09:54 AM   #9
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Re: White smoke

I know, that the guy who sold me this car (ex official GM distributor and mechanic for Slovenia - the only one) got it as an overheated vehicle and he repaired it for himself. He used to have it for a few years(2 years of driving and 2 years of sitting) and then eventually sold it 4 years ago. Van initially after the purchase had no problems, it started to "drink" coolant about a year ago, but it never got overheated, as I kept maintaining the coolant level. 2 months ago I saw a first smoke and then it got worse every week.
I'd say, that the head gasket failure occured because of an overheated engine from 8 years ago. He was a rare GM mechanic in Slovenia, so I believed that the repair was done correctly. And he repaired the van for his own use.

500hpgtx, thanks for your advice,
Mitja
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Old 01-29-2015, 02:41 PM   #10
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Re: White smoke

Our van was using coolant, and it was entering cylinder #1. This was due to the the lower intake and plenum leaking. It is still difficult to get coolant into a Series 1 3800.
I knew our van was never over heated. Amazing how people will keep driving with the HOT light on for miles..I bet TechII has seen that a lot as a tech mechanic.
I also wonder about the rings and cylinder walls being scorched from overheating. I guess you would have told us you were burning oilo and loss of power even.

You should strongly consider getting the heads re-conditioned if you are going to keep it. I am not certain if they will have to magnaflux the heads for cracks, but they will have to be checked for warping and be re-surfaced. It may be easier to get heads already done.
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Old 01-30-2015, 07:06 AM   #11
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Re: White smoke

Hi,

oil consumption is OK and there is no power loss, so I guess rings and cylinders are OK.
Yes, head will be checked and resurfaced. American cars are not typical for my country, so it's hard to get a spare head. I'd say, 20-30 Trans Sports drive across Slovenia, mostly at the end of their lifes, finding a spare GM 3.8L V6 or its parts is even more difficult.

Thanks,
Mitja
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Old 01-30-2015, 08:11 AM   #12
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Re: White smoke

Surprised Pontiac hasn't opened a franchise over there, they are all closed over here....
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Old 01-30-2015, 08:55 AM   #13
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Re: White smoke

Luckily, internet saves (car's) lives, I bought the gasket set(Fel-Pro) and bolts(Victor) for 150$ from ebay.com, including all import charges and shipping.

There are some Chevy dealers around here, but these are not the real Chevys, a Chevy in Europe could easily fit under the bonnet of US Chevy
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Old 04-22-2015, 03:36 AM   #14
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Re: White smoke

Hi guys,

finally, I received the gasket kit and my mechanic has time to do the repair. Head is cracked(guess, because it got overheated 10 years ago), so I need to replace it with a used one. I found '95 head, but my engine is '92, does somebody know, if this would be the right head? Rockauto has 2 different heads for '92 and '95, but visually they look the same. Camaro '95 head doesn't fit, I guess, as it visually looks a bit different?
I would be very thankful if somebody could reply today.

Thanks,
Mitja
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Old 07-22-2016, 09:01 AM   #15
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Re: White smoke

Hi guys,

I tried to maintain it for as long as possible, but eventually I had to say:
"Goodbye Trans Sport and thank you for the ride!"

So, my Trans Sport '92 3.8l V6 (check attached) has been sold for 250, still working, but with some things that needs to be done to make it reliable. Main issues are noisy main bearings and slippery or slowly engaging 1st and reverse gear.

It performed great, it ran on LPG(consumption compared to a small sized car), in the summer it's been converted into a 2 person stealth-camping minivan, it hauled a boat, it transferred 7 persons including all sailing gear (with a help of roof box, of course), it had a touchscreen car pc, reverse parking sensors, heated seats, back seat head restaints... It was simply the coolest all purpose vehicle I could get and still looks like from another universe after 25 years.

It's replaced by a '06 2.8L CRD Chrysler Grand Voyager (T&C), which has, I can't believe it, 15" longer cargo area than Trans Sport. And stow'n'go seats are great. However, gasoline V6 engine from Trans Sport was nicer for such car, as it's more quiet and smoothier.

This forum helped me A LOT, so thank you guys for all the info, you're great! LMP, respect!!!

Hope this forum stays alive for a long time and hope your Trans Sport will give you as much pleasure as mine gave to me!

Cheers from Slovenia,
Mitja
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