Car heater

I have a 1996 Ford Explorer XLT with 150,000 miles on it. The heater was not working (blowing cold air).I took it to my mechanic, he added some coolant and it worked fine for about two weeks. I took it back and he told me that it appeared to be losing coolant, but after pressure testing it, he could find no visible leaks. Yet it was low on coolant again. Once he refilled the coolant, the heater worked again for about a week or so. He believes that coolant is leaking through cracked cylinders and blowing out the exhaust. Since the fix would cost about $2,000, he does not recommend doing the work. Could something else be causing the apparent leak or is he right? And is he right that with 150,000 it’s not worhtn fixing?

Paul Kushner

If the mechanic is right, there should be white puffy smoke coming out of the tail pipe, and the exhaust will smell like coolant. There are lots of other areas leaks can develop that are far cheaper to fix. But, the coolant must be going somewhere. One thing I’ve always noticed is that leaks tend to leave green or rusty trails, depending on the condition of the coolant. The only exception is if it is being burned. And with an engine heated up, you can usually smell the leak from somewhere. This may help find the source.

You are suffering from a slow leak, however. These can be hard to find until they get bigger. You could try and put a tablespoon’s worth of black pepper into the radiator to try and plug the leak. It may get you by until the leak can be found. Spending $2000 on exploratory surgery would not be my first suggestion.

Thanks. I generally trust my mechanic, but he doesn’t seem to have his heart in this diagnosis. I was hoping to replace my 1995 G-20 nd hold onto the Explorer. But even with 158,000 on the G20 nothing apears to be wrng with it other than its age. I’ll try the black pepper.

Try to narrow down the source of the slowly disappearing coolant.

My gut is telling me (after reading your post) that if there is no visible leak and there is no white smoke coming out the tailpipe, then you MAY have a leaking intake manifold gasket.

The symptoms of this can be a number of things such as: a milkshake type light brown oil on the bottom of the oil filler cap; same showing inside the valve cover (Simply run a finger on the inside of the cover); You may smell coolant on the oil dipstick and you MAY also see the light brown sludge on the dipstick.

Immediately after refilling the coolant reservoir to the FULL COLD level, look for a possible leak at the container seam and the hose and fitting running from the reservoir to the rad.

Carefully check for a leak at ALL hose clamps and that includes the heater hoses.

NOTE** All these HOSE coolant leaks should be done with the engine COLD. Old hoses tend to contract when cold and leaks can start, especially at the clamps.
Others when the engine is at operating temps.

Words of caution: An internal coolant leak not repaired promptly will likely end up in an expensive engine rebuild.