Hello board! I’ve been listening to CarTalk for a bit over two years since discovering it on the WHYY/NPR stations in Philadelphia and have found the advice meted out invaluable and hilariously enlightening. I finally come online to the community to ask for your expertise in helping track down the source of a vexing engine coolant leak that has been a thorn in my side for a month and a half. Any help or direction is greatly appreciated. Here’s the story:
I own a 1999 Pontiac Grand AM SE (v6 3.4L). It was a generous gift given to me a by a family member who unfortunately can no longer drive. The vehicle had been involved in a flood (which reached the engine and steering wheel) in the earlier part of 2000, but the insurance company refused to junk the vehicle. I took possession of it two years ago and it has been nothing but a headache since. Recently, I developed several problems with my cooling system. In October, i suffered overheating and coolant loss that was traced to a cracked sidewall in the original radiator. I suffered through the cost of replacing the radiator and at the same time decided to replace the upper and lower radiator hoses and the reservoir and overflow hoses as well. All was fine until January when I experienced a plume of white smoke coming from my engine while driving down the road.
At first I thought the smoke was a blown gasket. However, after the smoke reached the cabin, it smelled sweet. I pulled over and noticed that my lower heat core hose connector had completely severed in half. Having been on my way to work, and unable to repair it myself due to the urgent need to have it repaired ASAP, I had it towed to Pepboys. I knew exactly what was wrong and instructed them to replace the connector, the clamps, and the lower heater core hose. They did a pressure and dye test on the coolant while repairing the issue and was unable to see any other leaks. The pressure test remained steady for 30 minutes during testing after the repair and a top off of my coolant. The second I drove it off of the lot I started to smell antifreeze when running my heater. At first I thought it was residue burning off from the failure. I let it go for a few days but noticed that my reservoir was completely empty (even though my vehicle was not indicating an overheat or moving much off of center line). I could not see antifreeze markings at the overflow spout or a leak coming from anywhere. I added more fluid but the coolant kept leaking from somewhere. I called Pepboys back and they took a look at the work they had done.
They said they inadvertently used a bent heater core hose instead of a straight one which was causing a kink and overpressure in the system. The connector they had placed was showing a leak during the pressure test. They replaced the hose with the correct one and replaced the connector again under original labor warranty. Once again they pressure tested the system with a dye and no leaks!
I drove off… but three days later noticed I was starting to line over center for engine heat and could still smell antifreeze when running my heat. What’s worse is that I could smell antifreeze outside of the car while it was running now and antifreeze when running cold air as well. I still had a leak somewhere! I contacted Pepboys again. They took the vehicle back and told me that this time the upper heater core hose connector was leaking! Rather than argue, I had them fix it, this time at additional cost to me. Furthermore, they used Ford connectors for my GM and said it would not be an issue. This was three days ago.
I’ve been starting to push beyond half for engine temperature the past day and pulled my coolant cap and noticed my reservoir was completely empty! As far as I can tell there is no crack in the reservoir. I am still leaking from somewhere. I have heat so I do not believe it’s an air bubble trapped in my system. I also do not think my heater core is leaking as I have strong heat in the car. I further do not believe it is a manifold or gasket leak because I have constant power and steady RPM, no sputtering or white smoke from the tailpipe, and as far as I can tell, no mixing of oil and coolant.
Is it possible I am still leaking from these supposedly repaired FORD connectors or could there be another problem in the system where I am leaking from that would not show up on a pressure test?
I’ve put a lot of money into this car, especially on the coolant system recently, and Pepboys has been unable to tell me anything besides their believe it’s the connectors…two of them… within two weeks of each other…
Once again, thanks!