2001 Pontiac Grand Am LOW COOLANT

I have a 2001 Pontiac Grand Am with 135,000 miles. My low coolant light started flashing on 11/13. Yesterday while driving my car the low coolant light stayed on for the duration about 25 miles. This morning I went out to check the coolant level and saw it was low, but also noticed some brown sludge at the top of the resevoir. It did not appear that it had mixed with the coolant. I am pretty sure, but dont want to hear the bad news as this would be the second time that I need my Intake Manifold Gasket replaced. For now, is it ok to just top it off with some more Yellow Coolant, or do I need to get this sludge problem fixed right away?

Check the condition of the motor oil. If it has an appearance of chocolate mocca the coolant is contaminating the oil and causing engine damage. If this is the case, the problem should be addressed immediately.


I just had my oil changed last week, I think that any visible sings would now be gone.
I will still check though and let know. If this is not the case, then it should be ok to just add the coolant?

I checked the oil and it was pretty much an Amber color and though it looks as though it may be tinted a little bit, I couldnt be sure. Any advice?

Have you had the coolant replaced? I would do that at least every 5 years no matter what the manual says.

Does the sludge smell like motor oil?

Do You Have A Pressure Cap (Radiator Cap) Or A Plastic Cap On The Coolant Resevoir? How much Coolant Was Needed To Bring It To Full Mark?

As others have advised, you should have coolant changed soon.

However, if you’ve got a plastic reservoir cap and it’s been weeks / months since you’ve added coolant, it didn’t take much to bring it to full, and you don’t have other symptoms like an erratic coolant gauge, no heat, overheating, eetcetera, then it may be normal.

Non-pressurized coolant resevoirs can evaporate off some coolant. Also, when the weather turns cold where I live, you would fee a little drop in coolant, naturally. It’s in your Owner’s Manual. Plastic cap means you’ll have to give it a sip once in a while.

I just wonder if you’re “once bitten, twice shy”.

Cap type?
Approximate amount of coolant added?
Time elapsed since checking/adding. previously?
Other symptoms?
Has it turned cold recently?


1)My coolant was replaced when I had my Intake Gasket changed in June 2006.
2)It is a plastic resevoir/cap
3)Checked approximately 4 months (4000 miles) ago, added maybe since June 2006 though not positive.
4)My car over 1 day did not have any heat blowing for approximately 10-12 minutes, then all of the sudden it kicked in. This was about when my car was 7/8 the way to normal running temperature. Other then that no other erratic symptoms that I have noticed.
5)It was cold recently, and I was waking up to my windows fogged up.

I have not added any coolant yet (have to go buy some)
The smell of the sludge reminds me of seafood and not at all like the oil which I also smelled to compare.

Any advice or just stick to my guns and try adding some more coolant?

Thanks for the help

The oil was an amber color? Yellow?

So, when the coolant was replaced, Dexcool was not used but some other type, right?

Don’t be lulled into thinking the replaced intake manifold gasket is failsafe.

Yes yellow. I am not sure what type of coolant was used, though it says on my repair slip, Global Extended Life Coolant.

Would it be easier to just have my coolant system flushed/refilled and if so what would the approximate cost be?

Ok, if it was yellow, Dexcool was not used which means the Dexcool was flushed out.

No problem there, but just for chuckles, look on the bottom of the oil filler cap. What covers it?

Clean or a little brownish oil or something like a light brown milkshake?

Caution: check the temp of the valve cover by hand before checking the oil.

After looking at the oil filler cap, wipe your finger on the upper inside of the valve cover…

IF your finger comes out looking like the light brown milkshake you may have another failed gasket.

Doing this test with a cooled down (but not cold) engine will give a better reading because you will find a normal discoloration in the oil first thing in the morning as that will be the condensation left as the engine cools down.

Since I Can’t Ascertain How Much Coolant Was Lost Over What Period Of Time, I’m Not Going To Conclude That You Have A Problem.

Is the resevoir empty, near empty, half way between full and empty, or how would you describe it?

You mean there’s a chance that little or no coolant was added since June, 2006? This system will lose some coolant over time without anything being wrong. It’s in your Owner’s Manual.

Ordinarily, cars won’t blow much heat until they reach operating temperature, usually in just a few minutes of driving from a cold start. What isn’t ordinary is when the air blowing from the heater turns cold all by itself after the car has been running at operating temperature. That can indicate low coolant, air in the cooling system, bad thermostat, internal leaks, etcetera.

Why not follow your plan and get some coolant right away and fill the resevoir to full. Measure approximately how much is required and let us know.

Carefully monitor everything for several days / weeks. Driving the car with an existing problem is not good. Much more damage can result.

One more thing. This is important. Some cooling systems have a resevoir with a pressure cap and although they are metal and fit onto a metal neck, they could have a plastic top portion and appear to be plastic caps. Other resevoirs are not pressurized (they have a pressure cap on the radiatior instead). These caps are all plastic. Some just snap on and off. Can you tell which system you’ve got?


Ill check tomorrow. My car hasent been run all day and it is too late to let it warm up and cool down. For now I guess I will run without adding coolant as I still have some in the resevoir, but will continue to monitor its level. Will update probably tomorrow evening.

After work, I’m going to stop at a parts store and pick up some coolant to add. I thought that the 20 dollar temporary fix would be better then no fix and hurting something else.

http://alturl.com/h6hq -shortened url for brevity sake, but points to part in Autozone
It is a plastic resevoir with a plastic screw on cap.
As for the level, it is near empty with maybe 1/5 of normal level…I think.
I guess I should say a little above the ridges lining the bottom of the resevoir.

Is there any type of coolant recommended, or just add a 50/50 mixture of Yellow Coolant.

Is this even the right place to be looking, or should I be more focused on the Radiator…sorry a little confused now that Im looking more at my car.

Does Your Car Have A “Radiator Cap”? (Some Cars Do Not Have A Cap On The Radiator.)

You will want to add the 50/50 mixed yellow coolant.


If my car does have a radiator cap I do not know where it would be. I added the coolant and it took approximately 1/8 of a gallon. (1/8th of the jug). I looked at the oil cap as well and there was no sludge there. I wiped that and the inside with a papertowel and instead of feeling like oil, it almost felt burnt (Lighter to slightly dark dried) but now creamy as a milkshake. Also, the oil that I saw still looked fine.

Should I just continue to monitor it for a little bit, checking for loss or what is recommended at this point?

Two Cups Of Coolant In A Cooling System That Holds Several Gallons Isn’t Much.

It could be significant or not significant. Without being there to look, I still can’t ascertain whether this car has a coolant resevoir that is “closed” (sealed from the atmoshere) and pressurized with the cooling system or is of the type that is “open” and not pressurized and has a cap and vent open to the atmoshere that makes it susceptible to evaporation loss.

I didn’t get the answer I was searching for regarding the type of resevoir cap. I wanted to know if it snapped up and down or screwed on and off. Also, is the neck on the resevoir that the cap attaches to, plastic or metal? Is The part of the cap that contacts the neck, metal? Are both contacting parts (of the neck and cap) metal? Do you have to push down on it and turn it in order to remove it?

Also, I still can’t tell how long it’s been since the coolant was at the full mark in the resevoir. I mean, if it hasn’t had coolant added since the intake manifold work, who knows? Sometimes the coolant could be put to the full mark after a repair like that and by trapped air bubbles naturally “burping” out of the cooling system the level can drop a little in the resevoir. Also, we don’t know how long it’s been low, correct? It was at the full mark when you checked 4,000 miles ago?

I think you would admit that you don’t know all there is to know about your car’s cooling system, right? Do you have a mechanic who could look at it and explain it a little, and listen to your description of what’s going on? That person could advise you.

The coolant level varies with engine temperture. You should do all your checking with a cold engine (not run for several hours) for comparison. Besides, hot engines and particularly hot coolant under pressure is dangerous!

Any more information would be helpful.


The cap and entire body of the resevoir is plastic from a brief inspection. I do not see any metal besides the brackets holding the tubes in place on the resevoir/cap.
To remove the cap all that needs to be done is simply to unscrew it.

As for when it was full, I am not sure. I know 4000 miles ago it was checked and the slip didnt say they added any, so I am assuming it was full at that point.

For the mechanic I just moved to the DC area and have not picked one out yet. Perhaps when I return to my hometown over the Holiday I can have him check it.

My thoughts on it at this time is that it may just have been that it didnt have enough coolant and that I just needed to add a sip. The gunk in the resevoir is due to the fact it hasent been changed in 40000 miles or so and that I just need this car to get me by for a year or so more before I will be able to afford something different. :smiley:

I am not adverse to spending money on it now, but I am trying to do certain things on my own to #1 Develop a new hobby and #2 Learn more about what I rely on daily to get my places.

Thanks again for the help on this and maybe I was just overreacting, but man my car has been a money dump usually when I cannot afford it too.

You’re Welcome. Don’t Stop Learning. Also, It Sounds Like Your Cooling Resevoir Is Open To The Air (Vented To The Outside) And Subject To Evaporation Loss. Also Colder Weather Can Cause The Level To Drop A Bit.

Stick to your plans to monitor it when the engine is cool, talk to your mechanic, and think about changing or flushing the cooling system at some point. Your Owner’s Manual contains helpful information, too.

Good Luck,
CSA, Pontiac Bonneville owner/operator

Yah, I will.

Other news of note, I was driving home from work today and received the Low Coolant light once again. I am waiting for my car to cool down completely and check the level. I figure that maybe since my car was still 1/4 warm it may not have been as full as I thought. Otherwise I have a large leak somewhere.

Anyways will update later. Will probably just add more fluid tonight and see if the same happens once again. Also, you said something about it can hold a large amount of coolant, is there somewhere else I should be looking besides the coolant resevoir?