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Evaporative fault leak in an '03 PT Cruiser. Fix it or trade it?

Last week I heard a rattle from my engine area and my check-engine light came on, so I took my PT Cruiser (65,000 miles, automatic, touring edition) to the dealership to get checked out. The car hadn’t been riding roughly; the temperature wasn’t abnormal; the oil pressure was fine; no pulling in either direction; no super-high RPMs. I had passed my emissions test just a couple weeks earlier, so I assumed the muffler and exhaust systems were fine.

I was told I have an “evaporative fault leak,” which, the service tech told me, is like a gas-cap leak, but not the gas cap. They checked the pressure on my cooling system and had to replace a half gallon of cooling fluid. There is no external leak, so the service tech said his crew assumes the problem is the water pump and quoted me $735 for labor and parts. I’ve called around to independent garages, and it sounds as though the estimate is not entirely out of whack (about $550 for labor, $70 for the pump, plus tax).

This is an '03 that I bought in '05 in a sort of shotgun wedding; my Ford Explorer’s transmission had blown, and I needed a car off the lot that day. I’ve never loved the PT, but it’s been good to me, particularly providing safe passage during a late-December week-long relocation from Northeast Ohio to the Pacific Northwest.

I’ll suck it up and do the repair if that’s the best decision, but I’m wondering if I should take this opportunity to trade it in. The trade-in value will still leave me with about $3,000 on my loan, which would be added to whatever new loan I financed. Not ideal, obviously, but not unheard of.

I’ve read through many other threads on this site about the PT and done a little research about the car’s reliability, and it seems consensus says it’s about the same as any other car, which contradicts all the “conventional wisdom” I’ve ever heard about Chrysler, in general, and the PT, specifically. I already know that several maintenance benchmarks come up for repairs around 90,000 miles, which will be just about the time I pay the thing off.

Do I want to pour $700 in it now, knowing I’ve got a few more hundred dollars in repairs (at least) coming in two years? Will I have a car that’s paid off, but a lemon and/or with virtually $0 trade-in value? Am I freaking out unnecessarily?

I appreciate any and all insight.

The Evap fault leak, and the coolant leak maybe unrelated, However if the water pump is leaking, and needs replaced then the timing belt, and tensioner should be done at the same time for little additional cost. This will take care of most of the 90,000 mile maintenance, killing two birds with one stone. You will then be good to 150,000.

I would get a second opinion at a good independent shop first.

from everything you posted i believe you need to find a new mechanic.

you state: “the service tech says his crew assumes its the water pump”

well, for starters, the water pump is NOT related to the evap system.

so find a new mechanic. NOT a dealership!

by any chance do you normally try to get just that little extra in the tank when filling up? this evap problem is usually related to either a faulty gas cap (or an improperly installed gas cap) or the charcoal cannister is plugged up with gas from overfilling the tank.

but it is NOT from the water pump goin gbad.

personally i suspect the dealership was having a slow day and is trying to get a waterpump job out of you.

in all likley hood the gas cap was not on tight, they tightened it and now want to ream you for a waterpump.

gheeze… it doesnt sound like i hate dealerships does it???

Thank you both for such fast responses! It’s interesting to hear that the water pump and coolant leak may not be related. That’s definitely not what I understood from the service tech. Doing the timing belt and tensioner at the same time as the water pump makes sense if I can absolutely trust that something else won’t go wrong until 150,000 miles, but of course there are no guarantees. It’s good advice, though, and I’ll certainly consider it.

I do often pump a little extra gas when I’m filling up, but only because I hate random change amounts. I know it’s silly, but I just can’t stand spending $39.07 when I can pay $39.25. Chalk it up to OCD. I never considered that what I was doing was as bas as topping off, but I guess it could be. I don’t think the problem the gas cap, though, because I replaced the gas cap just last year and have had no check-engine light come on until now.

I also have a huge mistrust of dealerships. As a woman, I go into a dealership expecting to be fleeced. I realize that’s an enormous prejudice, but because I don’t know cars beyond the little I’ve picked up as a driver over the years, I always feel very vulnerable at service centers - whether the technicians there are honest or not.

Thanks again for your insights!

“I do often pump a little extra gas when I’m filling up, but only because I hate random change amounts. I know it’s silly, but I just can’t stand spending $39.07 when I can pay $39.25.”

As cappy said, this problem with the evaporative emissions system very possibly could have resulted from putting that extra gas into the tank over an extended period of time. It is really not a good idea, and with the possible $$ consequences, I am confident that you won’t do this anymore.

But, if you don’t want to have to pay an odd amount of money for your gas purchases, all you have to do is to use a credit card. The exact amount of each purchase is not really relevant when you will be writing a check or doing a direct debit from your checking account when the bill comes due. And, by using the correct type of credit card, you can get a 5% rebate on your gas purchases. In this era of astronomical gas prices, getting an automatic 5% discount is pretty good, IMHO.

As cappy also said, the coolant situation is not related to the evaporative emissions problem. Yes, you may well have a coolant leak, but the two problems are not related. I agree that you probably need a new mechanic.

a leak, or loss of coolant does indicate a problem with the coolant/waterpump. BUT; the “evap fault” problem is NOT related to cooling.

BUT, your original question was about an evap leak, and that has been ignored.

the water pump MAY be needing replacement. BUT, think back to why you went to the service dept in the first place.

was it because the ‘low coolant’ light was on? NO… it was the CEL on which they told you was “evap fault leak”

out of curiosity did you fill up in the last couple of days? i would bet the CEL was triggered by a loose gas cap.

Did the car pass the pressure test? Why can the service dept. only “assume” there is a water pump concern? When you say “no external leak” do you mean while system is under pressure no fluid reaches the floor? I dont know this engine, is it possible that the pump leaks and fills the timing cover and the cover is so well sealed that no fluid leaks out onto the floor? how much fluid can the cover hold? So on this engine pump leakage is determined by coolant loss,failed pressure test,no sign of leakage anywhere else?

Holy smoke, I’m not exactly sure how to answer most of oldschool’s questions. When the service tech told me about the evaporative fault leak, his exact words were, “We ran a pressure check on the cooling system and had to replace a half gallon of fluid.” So, to be honest, I don’t technically know if the car passed or failed the pressure check. I would assume it failed, but that’s purely speculation on my part.

In terms of there being no external link, those were also exact words from the tech: “There’s no external leak, which means you’re losing fluid over a long period of time.” I can also add to that there there has never been a pool or puddle, or even a drip, beneath the car when I’ve parked.

I fill up my gas tank once or twice a week, so chances are good that I filled up just before or shortly before the check-engine light came on, but I honestly don’t remember.

“I do often pump a little extra gas when I’m filling up, but only because I hate random change amounts. I know it’s silly, but I just can’t stand spending $39.07 when I can pay $39.25.”

You can set the gas pump to deliver the exact amount of money, that is if you know about how much gas you need.

Or, you could just use a credit card, and not worry about the specific number of cents involved in that purchase!

Truthfully, in this era of very high gas prices, anyone paying for gas with cash must be either carrying a large amount of cash at all times or wasting an incredible amount of time running back to the bank or an ATM on a regular basis to replenish their cash. By using various credit cards for EVERYTHING other than car washes, lottery tickets, and a cup of coffee, I collect well over $500.00 per year in rebates, and I only visit the bank on rare occasions for cash.

If you think about it, in addition to getting those nice rebates, by visiting the bank only rarely, I am also using a lot less gas!

I agree with all them other guys that the situation with the water pump, right or wrong, is unrelated to whatever caused your check engine light to come on, due to the fact that the EVAP system is fuel-related and has nothing to do with the cooling system.

I disagree that topping up with gasoline led to your denouement. Most cars are totally immune to any bad effects from overfilling, and I have reason to believe your PT Cruiser is one of this majority. That doesn’t solve anything but it might make you feel better.

So what should you do? First, you need to find out what’s really causing that check engine light to come on. You need to have the computer scanned for its trouble code(s). Some auto parts stores such as AutoZone and Advance Auto will do this for free. Get the code(s) and report them back here for further advice.

There is no urgency here. The car is quite driveable. It is indeed possible your problem may be nothing more than a defective gas cap.

“Am I freaking out unnecessarily?”

Absolutely. You have a good little car that will last reliably for many years. An occasional expensive repair job is what every car owner must go through. When the time comes, get the 90K service and plan on keeping your car until you simply grow tired of it and get that ol’ new car fever.

What do you mean no urgency.She was told her water pump was leaking,this needs to be clarified

i seriously doubt the water pump is leaking. in fact i would be willing to wager that the dealer just reset the CEL, snugged up the gas cap and was looking for a way to keep the mechanics busy for the afternoon.

sorta cheesy IMHO.

she was told the dealership “assumed” the water pump was faulty. a pressurized leakdown test showed NO leak. what would a professional think? no leak = NO LEAK.

however: busy work = dealers profits!

itafac the reasons for NOT filling up the tank to past the auto click off fill is that the charcoal vapor cannister can get soaked with gas, thus mimicking the code you got. it all probability this is what your problem is, but this dealership cant even be honest with you about a NON leaking coolant system; so i would NOT let them try to diagnose anything else.

you MAY indeed have a leaking water pump. but until you see further evidence of it, don’t rush to replace it. first get the immediate problem rectified (the evap fault")

The OP states “I dont know if the car passed or failed the pressure check,but I assume It failed but that purely speculation on my part” Where did you read a pressurized leakdown test showed no leak. The OP states the Dealer saw no “external” leak. I agree find a second opinion. The Evap concern is the non-urgent issue.Never saw a car on the side of the road due to a Evap fault. I dont mean to be disagreable

just from my experience, a half gallon down in the reservoir is not unheard of. the system keeps pressure indicating no leak. the OP stated no drips spills or noticeable puddle at normal parking spot.

this sort of indicates (to me at least) the water pump is a non issue. at least at this time.

the stealership received this car with the CEL on. it threw a code. the code was “Evap fault”. yes, i wish the real code was posted, but, you know how that goes.

how did that morph into needing a waterpump?

there has never been mentioned: leak, overheat, antifreeze, water temp. etc etc etc.

there is NO leak. the words from OP are: service writer said, " There is no external leak, so the service tech said his crew assumes the problem is the water pump and quoted me $735 for labor and parts."

where in this statement is there a leak? the word ASSUME jumps out at me in a big way. sounds like dealership doublespeak for unneeded repairs and profits.

as said from the beginning, i feel this poster would benefit from going to get a new mechanic and have another appraisal of the situation. something is rotten in denmark.

if someone told you your antifreeze was low a half gallon, would you expect the next statement to be: “you need a new waterpump?” i know i have driven many miles with the expansion tank lower than i should have. does that mean i need a new water pump? NO

in the OPs situation i would bet not either. especially with only 65k on the engine. 80 or 100, yeah, but 65 is low.

i have been under enough cars to see a leak, leak residue, or evidence of a leak to know it. any mechanic knows this too. unless this has a head gasket problem (NO im not saying that itafac!) where you can’t see the leak or there’s oil in the water i doubt this diagnosis.

i was aware that the OP was confused over EVAP and cooling system. (not knowing the difference or even if they were connected.) after a while she may see the disconnect. i believe the service writer was taking advantage of this confusion too.

i have been around enough waiting rooms to hear the BS and drivel coming form the service writers to be skeptical of the system. i am an equal opportunity doubting thomas. i have not found ANY dealerships who i trust. not even with the OP’s money!

As others have mentioned, the evaporative emissions system is not related to any coolant loss or alleged water pump problem.
With the evaporative emissions it’s possible to drive for decades without a noticeable problem; other than not toeing the Federal line on emissions or possibly failing an emissions test.

I’m not too keen on the “assumed to be a water pump” problem. You could top the coolant off, drive it for a few days, and then recheck the level.
Considering the timing belt is at or close to 6 years old my feeling is that the timing belt, tensioners, and water pump should be replaced. You do not want an aged belt to break so replace the water pump when this is done.

If I were in your shoes I’d fix the car rather than trade it in. If you change the oil regularly and (most important part here) do NOT drive the car while it’s overheating then it should last a long time. If the car ever overheated on you pull over, shut it off immediately, and then consider what to do.

Fixing this car will be a far sight cheaper than trading it in. You’ll lose more in interest money than what it cost to repair the car. JMHO anyway.

Don’t change parts. Change mechanics. The mechanics sound as though they are inept, rather than dishonest, or biased.

First off, I agree with most of the answers here. DO have the timing belt changed at the required interval, or you may regret it. In the meantime, try a little easy maintenance. Get a gallon of distilled or de-ionized water and a cheap turkey baster from the grocery store and go to an autoparts store and get a bottle of coolant system stop leak (I can heartily recommend “Bar’s Leaks”). When your engine is cold, remove the radiator cap and then remove enough coolant so you can safely add the stop leak. Top up the liquid level with the distilled water. Replace the radiator cap and start the engine until it is warm, this will spread the stop leak around the entire cooling system. Check the coolant overflow bottle and add water as necessary. The brand of stop leak I mentioned also is a water pump lubricant. This could buy you a few thousand miles more of trouble free driving.

As for the evap leak.  Has your Check Engine Light come on again?  If not, it was probably the gas cap.  If it has returned, it could be any one of a dozen (or more) vacuum hoses spread around the entire car. The repair for this will be cheap in parts and expensive in labor, as it takes a lot of tech time to find the  cracked hose that is causing the leak.  As for the charcoal canister, this is a last resort.  I can't believe that adding enough gas to round off your bill has done any damage, however habitually filling the entire gas filler tube until gas spills out WILL cause the canister to fail and the evap problem to surface.  This could develop into a very annoying problem, but the consequences are that your car isn't running as "green" as it should.  The loss of efficiency will not even be noticeable in your gas mileage.
 Lastly, yeah, find an honest mechanic for the timing belt change.  Tell them about the water pump issue and see if you can get a better price for getting it changed along with the timing belt.  If you read up on these things, they probably will think you're mechanically savvy and won't try to B.S. you.

I hope this helps.

Have you guys heard of a “smoke machine”? it created a very visible vapor (looked like white smoke) We pumped it in the evaporative emission system,where the smoke came out theres the leak. Really cut down on diag. time