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Ford Freestar losing coolant

My wife has a 2004 Freestar and a few weeks ago it all of a sudden went to red on the temp gauge and there was some steam. So I checked the reservoir and it was too low on coolant. I added the coolant but it still had a tendency to run towards red but turning on the heater full blast made it go down drastically (below 50%). ALso, the heater was blowing cold air. So I changed the thermostat and watched it. It continued to inch up to 70%-80% and then finally drop back down to 40%.

I also had to start adding coolant every other day. I took it in and had a flush done. It eventually blew the reservoir cap off and all the coolant out while my wife was on the highway. I had it towed to a shop and the mechanic said he couldn’t find anything wrong with it except the cap. He did a pressure check with the old cap and it wouldn’t hold. He replaced the cap and it held pressure. He assumed that was the problem. That was a week ago.

Today it ran up to 80%-90% and then all of a sudden it dropped down to 40%. When we got home I let it cool for 4 hours and then checked the level. It was at the bottom of the reservoir roughly 3-4 inches below the fill line.

We don’t see any signs of leaking on our driveway. What could the problem be? I checked the oil to see if it may have coolant in it but didn’t see any sign.

It needs to be evaluated for a head gasket leak. There are plenty of ways they can leak and some of those don’t involve coolant in the oil. The most straightforward thing to do is to check the cooling system for combustion gases. That’s done with a block tester. The cooling fan/s also need to be checked for proper operation.

I agree with cigroller, and these engines are known for head gasket problems.

Thanks guys. I have it at a shop that specializes in cooling systems now and they say they can’t find anything wrong with it. Says it is holding pressure and not over heating.

The thing is, I have added 2 gallons of coolant to it over the last 6 days. So I know it’s going somewhere. This is two shops now that haven’t been able to find a problem. Would they check the head gasket routinely?

The temp. spike is a classic head gasket trouble sign. I think they need to look closer. Are you seeing white smoke coming out of the exhaust? I had a Windstar that had these same symptoms and it was a head gasket.

We haven’t noticed any smoke at all coming out. The more research I do the more I keep seeing head gasket. Anyone know a ballpark for replacing the head gasket on a Ford van?

Rough ballpark guess-$1500. :frowning:

That’s what I was thinking. I wouldn’t put more money into it but we just spend nearly $3000 last year on a transmission. This thing is a money pit.

Its a minivan. Minivan transmissions tend to have low life expectancy. So I wouldn’t pin that on this van. “Minivan” has been a misnomer from the beginning. A traditional full sized van is basically a “truck.” These weren’t “shrunken” to make them smaller. A minivan is really more like a “maxi-wagon” - a station wagon made big. Most manufactuerers use the same drivetrain in their full sized sedans/wagons as they do in the minivans. Thus there’s a chronic tendency to have auto transmissions that are just undersized for the job. The engines are a different story since they tend to lean toward the overpowered size for many cars. They also work differently so its just different.

So, if the system is holding pressure…could it still be the head gasket?

Yes it can still be a head gasket. I’m not sure what they say is holding pressure. The cooling system at full temp will only hit about 16 psi (as dictated by the radiator cap).

But a cylinder can be blowing exhaust gases into a cooling jacket at more like 150-200psi.

What they really need to do is a use a block tester to look for signs of combustion gases in the coolant.

@oblivion - the 3.8L was known for head gasket issues, but the Freestar used a 3.9L or 4.2L V6. Same family of engines, but the design was tweaked and they aren’t “known for head gasket problems”… the more common issue with them was cracked intake manifolds.

Just got a call from the shop…said it is the radiator output hose leaking. I’m hoping that’s all it is…but I have my doubts.

Another call…they now say the radiator is clogged up and needs replacing.

Cheaper than a head gasket if so!

Yep…if that’s it then I’m happy. $400 is the total.

Let us know how it turns out.

Update.
Replaced the radiator and the problem that didn’t fix the problem. Still running hot and losing coolant.

Now they say the coolant reservoir has a crack in it. Shouldn’t they have caught that before?

The mechanic says he did not see the crack in the reservoir before. Is it possible there was a small crack and over the last week or so the pressure has caused it to expand?

Could a crack in the reservoir lead to the problems it’s having?

This thing is driving me crazy. BTW…$190 to replace the reservoir.

Seems to me you would find coolant on the driveway as much as your losing if it was the reservoir.

The one catch that might explain a lack of coolant on the driveway is that the coolant tank is pressurized on this vehicle (as in many Fords/Mazdas). So you can have a cool tank that is under no pressure, then as you drive around, the pressure might be able to open up a hairline crack and dump some coolant, but the crack closes up again as the pressure drops as you turn the engine off (and it will drop pretty quickly with the system effectively cracked open)… and the coolant might simply evaporate off of hot surfaces.

I never noticed any coolant on the ground when the tank on my 97 Taurus cracked. But I also didn’t have anywhere near as much coolant loss as @theoryofben.

$190 for the reservoir seems extreme, but I guess it depends on your part source. Mine cost $20 and it was an easy DIY job.