99 Taurus with coolant leak - advice, anti-ripoff strategies needed

Hi! Clueless newbie here… I am just a female computer geek who can fix computers (when I’m not too sick) but I can’t fix cars. I am also a breast cancer patient who can’t afford much because what little money I do have goes to medical treatment.

I live in southern Nevada, near Sunrise Mountain for anyone who knows the local area.

Might as well get advice from the experts before trying to get my long-suffering '99 Ford Taurus fixed.

A year ago, the car started leaking coolant from under the front bumper. Some guy working at a Midas poured some radiator stop leak and also poured a second bottle with a label that said gasket-something (stop leak for gaskets?) into the coolant system for free. The nice mechanic had a relative who also had breast cancer and he just wanted to help. I was perfectly aware this was a “chewing gum and duct tape” kind of fix, but still, I was very, very grateful.

To my surprise, that excuse for a fix worked for a whole 8 months. I knew the time would come when it would finally fail. That time came around the end of January of this year. The engine light went on one evening, then the next day there was a nice puddle right under the front bumper in the driveway. Car has been sitting there in the driveway ever since.

So I called the local Pep Boys to see what I was up against. They recommended replacing the whole darn radiator - even if it had no holes - because this is Southern Nevada after all.

As they said: this #$%@ hot desert location “eats coolant systems for lunch” in the summertime. According to them, that means I might as well get a whole new radiator anyway. It cost 600 bucks for the replacement, they said, “because you have to take the whole front end off to do it”. The current radiator is as old as the car.

It has taken 4 months for me to FINALLY gather the 600 bucks for this fix. I hope to have it towed into the mechanic via AAA within the next 2 weeks. I cannot handle being outside in the heat very much while in chemo, so I am looking forward to being in a nice, air-conditioned car again before the summer-heat-from-hell finally hits Nevada.

Some smart person told me about this forum and recommended that I ask for advice here first before taking the car ANYWHERE to be fixed. “Maybe they can help you save some money and help you not be ripped off - in case there’s a ripoff about to happen here. Hey, you never know, but this forum definitely will.”

Hmmm… cool.

Well then, all you smart people: hello there!

What should I know? What should I be asking and who should I ask? What should I be wary of in this situation? Any good advice, ideas, constructive criticism, bring it on… anything that helps improve my quality of life here is appreciated. I have confidence in you guys.

I thank you all in advance. :slight_smile:

The cost for a proper fix, if it is indeed the radiator alone, is reasonable. The radiator on my little Nissan Sentra was $535 at the dealer and $325 for an aftermarket one, and that’s just the part. You will likley also need some new hoses because of that #$%@ hot climate and the age of the car.

Just make sure the mechanic is both competent and reliable. This fix is not rocket science, but it must be done right!!

Good luck, and God bless!

The fact that the engine light came on worries me. I hope you didn’t overheat the engine. $600 is the going rate for a new radiator installation these days, but I think you might be able to do better. My experiences with Pep Boys have not been good, so I think if you can find a good independent mechanic to do the job, you might be able to get it done for less than $500. In any case, I have personally found the people at Pep Boys to be either incompetent or dishonest, so if you go to a chain operation like Pep Boys, try to find one with a better reputation. If they insist on pressure testing the cooling system before they install the radiator to make sure there aren’t other problems with the cooling system, it might be a good idea, but make sure they are willing to waive the diagnostic charges if you have the repair done at their shop. This way, if nothing else is wrong, other than the radiator, you can still get the car running for $600.

$600 is not too bad a price for a radiator for your car, and yes, much of the front end of the car does have to come off to replace the radiator. If you call around, you may get a better price. I would also recommend new radiator hoses with the replacement radiator. I also recommend the cooling system be pressure tested prior to repairs to verify the diagnosis and ensure that is all that is needed. I do hope all goes well for you, with the car and the chemo. Good luck!

"I have personally found the people at Pep Boys to be either incompetent or dishonest"
You aren’t the only one, but I would change the “or” to “and.”

Here’s the FIRST thing I would check:

Under the hood, there’s a coolant expansion bottle. That’s where your “radiator cap” is on this vehicle - there isn’t one on the radiator itself. The bottles on these Tauruses were prone to cracking, and that is by far the most common failure in their cooling system, if the coolant is properly changed regularly. If the bottle cracks where mine did, coolant will run down the metal of the inner fender, and can easily run to the front right corner of the car and drip from there. My leak was small and I only noticed it because the coolant level was just ever so slightly low (and the 2 dead bees in the dried coolant also tipped me off). That leak was intermittent - definitely not constant, believe it or not.

If you’re lucky, that may be all that is in need of repair - the part is about $25 and it isn’t hard to replace. I put ZERO faith in Pep Boys, especially since they haven’t even looked at your car in this case. Their quotes are often outrageous, IMO. I bought Monroe Quickstruts from them once for my Camry, and got a quote for them to do the installation, just to see if it was worth it to pay them instead of taking the time myself. The thieves quoted me $900 for LABOR ALONE for JUST 2 QUICKSTRUTS! I did the replacement myself (first time I’d ever done that job) and it only took me 1.5 hours. Now I can do that same job in under 1 hour, using just hand tools.

As far as the repair service I agree with you guys, but the parts counter people at pep boys, and the prices of the stuff they sell over the counter are just fine, as is the returne policy.

The information you have not provided concerns any codes related to the Check Engine Light and whether the car has suffered any overheating due to the leaking radiator problem.

This sounds like one of those deals where a radiator may be replaced and you are expecting that repair to cure every ill the car has.

The first thing to do is isolate the source of the leak. It could well be the overflow, or it could be a leaky hose. If it is indeed the radiator, just where on the radiator is the leak comming from? If it can be seen are reached, it is possible to fix a leaky radiator with two part epoxy, but the surface must be very clean, degreased, and wire brushed. That would cost you less than ten bucks if it can be done. But pepboys wont do it, wont even try. A local mechanic might be able to save you some major bucks. good luck dear.

So if it is a radiator leaking you guys are all saying that $600 is a reasonable price to replace one?

I find that hard to believe but maybe I just live in my own little world.

A quick search comes up with a new radiator for $110 shipped. Something tells me I can come up with someone to install it for less than $490 even with coolant thrown in.

Geeklady, do yourself a favor and call around some more, have someone actually test the system to see where the leak is. Check with your local parts store and see if they have customers that are mechanics but don’t work for a shop who they can recommend.

One of the best mechanics I knew was unaffiliated and worked out of his garage. He didn’t advertise and all his customers came from word of mouth.

Please clarify about the engine light that went on.
What kind of light was that? How much longer/how many miles did you drive the car after the light came on? Etc, etc…

How many miles on this car?
Automatic or manual?
Are you the first owner? If not, are you familiar with its repair/maintenance history?

First and foremost, make sure that it is INDEED your radiator the one who’s leaking. You can easily do this without being a mechanic, or even mechanically inclined. See eraser1998’s post. Take a strong flashlight and lean over the engine looking at the radiator and the 2 big hoses (upper and lower hoses) that feed in and out of the radiator. Try and locate the green dried traces engine collant leaves on the areas where it is leaking from.

I would only take my car to Pepboys if they were the ONLY shop in a 150 mile radius.
Try to find a local, independent shop. That means one which is not part of a national chain (pepboys, city garage, meineke, midas, AAMCO Transmissions etc, etc.)

Use the “Mechanics Files” section (linky below) to locate a shop/mechanic (you can read recommandations, etc, etc) or just crack open your local Yellow Pages book, although the interweb these days is much better at gathering information. For comparison’s sake call a few Ford Dealers and see what do they charge for this. Also call a few shops and enquire about the cost for this repair. A lot can be accomplished while in your jammies and with a phone.

You could go to AutoZone’s website and register (free) and can see exactly what is necessary to be removed in order to get to your radiator. Alternatively you could check out for free a Chilton or Haynes manual for your year and model Ford at your local library. Many of them do have these manuals available. In those books/website you could study a few pages and find out what is done to remove a radiator…this way you’ll know and avoid being taken for a ride when time comes for the repair.

If the radiator is indeed faulty, make sure you also replace the upper and lower radiator hoses at this time (they need to be removed anyway) as well as the thermostat.

I’d say $600 might be “reasonable” if at a dealer. Ford lists a radiator for this car at $307.35 MSRP. They’d probably want to replace the lower and upper radiator hoses at the same time (to eliminate return visits), and those go for $59.51 and $32.16. Add in some coolant ($20), and you’re at around $420 in parts alone. That leaves a little room for environmental disposal fees, shop fees, and then roughly 2-2.5 hours labor.

On this car, you don’t really have to disassemble the front end like Pep Boys told the OP - but it isn’t the fastest job, either. You have to:

  1. Disconnect and remove the battery and its splash tray
  2. Disconnect the constant control relay module and move it aside
  3. Uncap the overflow bottle (ok, that’s trivial)
  4. Raise the vehicle and remove the radiator splash shields (easy, but a ridiculous number of screws)
  5. Drain the coolant
  6. Remove the radiator mounting bracket
  7. Remove A/C condenser retaining bolts and bracket
  8. Remove upper and lower radiator hoses
  9. Remove transmission cooler clips, mounting bracket, and disconnect the transmission cooler from the radiator,
  10. Remove radiator bolts and then slip the radiator out the bottom of the car.

Basically reverse the procedure for reinstallation.

So, yes, $600 certainly seems fair if you’re paying for dealer service.

Now if you went to Advance Autoparts, for example, the parts and coolant would run $173 or so - a savings of $250, bringing the replacement cost significantly lower.

Agreed. As a parts store they are pretty good.

$600 is in the ballpark of what I was quoted to replace the radiator. I know it seems like a lot, but it included pressure testing and new radiator hoses. In my 1984 Mercury Marquis, the radiator was pretty easy to replace. In my 1998 Civic, you have to do a lot more work to replace it.

I am currently really tired, will try answer a few questions now, get some sleep and finish the rest tomorrow.

Checking Google Maps, I went 8.9 miles home (by residential streets only, going slow to be smart) when the “check engine” light went on. I kept an eagle eye on the temp level and it didn’t rise during that trip.

I drove 0.75 miles to the nearest McDonalds the next morning for some dumb reason. There I saw the leak happening in the parking lot. I filled it with water and drove home again. Decided no more driving to neighborhood McDonalds or anywhere else.

The puddle grew under the bumper in the driveway over the next couple of weeks.

Mileage - a whole bunch… stand by for exact number tomorrow.

Only one owner. Last repair was replacing the serpentine belt at Pep Boys.

Automatic transmission, completely replaced about 4-5 years ago.

I am going to check the Mechanics Files.

More responses from me tomorrow. Thanks for the warning about Pep Boys. That warning seems to be consistent accross the whole 'net.

For the record, I am not afraid of dirt or shoving myself under the car to check stuff if or when necessary. :slight_smile:

I have a 98 Ford Taurus SE stationwagon and back in Nov had to have my radiator replaced. It didn’t cost me anywere near $600, in fact for new radiator and installation only came to about $280. Also i wouldn’t drive across the street to have Pep Boys service my car, last time and only time i went to them for new tires they put the wrong type on, put them on wrong and then took forever to fix the problem. Also when my radiator let lose and it did, I got no engine light, just a huge puddle under my car. Check local parts stores for cost on a radiator and talk to them for possible local shops that will install, that is how I found my guy. See if they can read the code also for the engine light.

OK… we got the mileage… poor thing is about 130,000 miles.

All my info before talking to you guys came from Pep Boys. Question: They rationalized a whole radiator replacement due to the age of the car and the fact that I am in the freakin’ desert now and the radiator is as old as the car. If it’s just a hose or something simple, is that enough of an excuse to replace the radiator anyway?

I am checking the Mechanics Files for good references.

I also decided to consult with one of the oldest, smartest, independent, non-chain auto parts places in this town. (Charleston Auto Parts on Industrial Road, if anyone in Southern Nevada wants to know.) I asked them for some good, independent auto mechanic shops which have been around forever. They gave me two names. I will talk to those folks and see if what they have to say makes sense. :slight_smile:

I am glad I have time to do the research right before taking this thing anywhere. I am glad to be talking to you guys.

Tomorrow I hope to be able to pour some water into the system and crawl under the car to see where the leak actually is.

I have the manual somewhere. Before this gets touched by ANY mechanic, I am going to have fun learning about Taurus cooling systems and learn how to talk in auto mechanic language about it. Despite my usual low energy level, this actually could turn out to be fun. I love learning new stuff. :slight_smile:

Thanks for your patience and help, folks. Seeya again in a bit. :slight_smile: