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04 Grand Am Leaking Coolant

My car has had issues with the “low coolant” light coming on for over a year. No one could ever find a leak, the coolant level was always pretty good, and I never had a puddle.

Recently, my mechanic suspected it was the heater core. Since I earn early childhood teacher wages, I couldn’t afford to have it fixed. As a temporary solution, he bypassed the heater core in order to buy me some time. Now, I have no heat or defrost, in northern Indiana, YAY! But also, the leak has gone out of control! I have to put coolant in daily, and I always have a puddle under my car when I am leaving work at the end of the day.

My car’s newest trick is smoke, coming from under the hood, and the fresh smell of burning coolant. However, temperature is fine, at least that’s what the gauge says.

What is going on!?! And is there a cheap fix for it? I mean besides running it off of a cliff? I’m poor, and I need my car!

Thanks anyone and everyone with some words of wisdom!

Chances are that your mechanic already checked the simple stuff, but then from what you say the problem has changed recently, ie, after he checked it. There may well be a “cheap fix” - something like a bad hose somewhere, and there’s a reasonable chance that’s it.

Even if you are not mechanically inclined, this is one thing that you could troubleshoot yourself with some accuracy. If there’s an Autozone near you, they have a tool lending policy for providing testing equipment to customers. Other auto parts stores may have something similar, never hurts to ask. You pay for the tool, then get full reimbursement when you return it. Ask to “borrow” a cooling system pressure tester", it’s basically a hand held pump and a pressure gauge.

This is used when the engine is cold, DO NOT REMOVE THE RADIATOR CAP ON A HOT ENGINE.

When the engine is cold, remove the radiator cap and attach the tester to the spout where the cap goes, and pump it to the specified pressure as written on the cap. Then look for water leaking - you may need a flashlight. It could be any number of things, but think good thoughts and maybe it will turn out to be a radiator hose or a heater hose, or even just a loose hose clamp. Good luck and please report back.

Thanks! I will!

What’s going on is you have a leak and its not the heater core. That leaves the hoses, radiator, water pump, or some other exotic problem. Shouldn’t be hard to find now that its gotten worse. The guy can reconnect the heater at the same time.

It is being looked at this afternoon, but so far, everyone I have asked says it is NOT the heater core! Even my aunt who pointed out that I would have smelled the coolant INSIDE the car. Duh, Lisa!

If you have the V6, odds are your lower intake gaskets are leaking. This is a common enough problem that I can still replace them in my sleep, and I have been out of the auto repair profession for nearly five years. If this is the problem, request improved gaskets such as Fel-Pro PermaDry or similar, which will have steel frames instead of the OE plastic ones. They cost more, but are well worth it since you won’t have to deal with it again. Unfortunately, it’s not a cheap fix since it takes about six hours to replace these gaskets. Regardless, if your mechanic cannot find this leak, you need to find a new mechanic.

Mark said it perfectly.
And get that new mechanic immediately! Continuing to operate the car like this will lead to warped heads and disaster.

Meanwhile, remove your rediator cap WHEN IT’S COLD (or you’ll scald yourself) and fill the radiator to the brim repeatedly with coolant mix. Your engine is probably very low. You cannot rely on the temp gage right now, because it won;t read properly unless it’s immersed and it may not be.

I support Mark9207’s theory and would also like to point out that if continued leaking is allowed, the coolant could be leaking into the oil and causing more intrnal damage than just superficial coolant loss and the mess you see outside the engine.

I can’t believe I completely forgot to update this!

So, it was a combination of a “sticky” thermostat and surge tank cap that wouldn’t tighten properly. Replaced both and the car is fine!

My cousin is the one who ultimately figured it out. Why a professional mechanic couldn’t is beyond me.