Low Coolant

The “Low Coolant” light in my Buick Regal is on. The engine does’nt overheat but when I turn on the heater, water leaks from underneath my dash. I topped off my radiator with water and filled the Engine Coolant container with water also. I did not have any anti-freeze at the time so I used water instead. I cna also smell anti-freeze when I turn on the engine. What is going on? Could this be my heater coil or frost plugs or something else?


If water is leaking from underneath the dashboard, then that is a very sure indication that the heater core is leaking–badly. This repair is a classic case of a relatively cheap part and VERY expensive labor. Be prepared for a repair bill of…maybe…$700.00–maybe more.

Until you have the repair done, bear in mind that water will lead to further deterioration of the entire cooling system, since it doesn’t have the rust inhibitors that are contained in antifreeze/coolant.
Also, the vehicle will be subject to overheating if you are in stop and go traffic, due to water being inferior to antifreeze as a coolant.

Okay, So right now the funds to get this fixed are low. So the best thing I can do for now is flush the water out of the engine and radiator and replace it with anti-freeze. Would it be okay to drive the car to work and back? It’s about 30 miles one way and a straight shot with few stops.

If you need to put this repair off for awhile, here is what you should do:

Drain the heater core, and disconnect the coolant hoses leading from the engine to the heater, and from the heater back to the engine. Take the hose that feeds coolant from the engine to the heater, and re-route it so that it feeds the coolant back into the engine.

In other words, instead of the coolant going through one hose into the heater, and then through another hose out of the heater and back into the engine, just “loop” the one hose so that the coolant is making a fast return to the engine, rather than going through the heater first. If that isn’t a clear enough explanation, perhaps someone else can explain it better than I can.

And, drain the cooling system of the water that is currently in it, and replace that with a 50/50 mix of antifreeze and water.

This “work-around” will get you through the warmer months, so that you don’t have to replace the heater core until next fall.

Can you think of any car this is not a good temporary fix on? I can’t.

I’m just not sure if my explanation was clear.
Do you think that it was a clear-enough explanation of what to do with the hoses?

Thank you sir, you could not have explained it any better. I will disconnect both hoses. One from the heater to the engine and the other from the engine to the heater. Than I will take the hose from the engine to the heater and loop it over to run back into the engine, thus bypassing the heater completetly. But first I need to drain the heater coil. Replacing the anti-freeze is no problem, I’ve done that before. I’m pretty good at mechanics so this sound relatively simple. Again, I thank you for your advise.

VDC’s advice is perfect.

After you get that done you might consider sometime between now and fall - since you’re pretty good at mechanics - picking up a repair manual for the car. You can get a Haynes or Chilton’s for about $20, or even better a factory shop manual (but that is much more $$. Oldschool keeps talking up good prices at a website called www.books4cars.com or something like that). Figure out how to change out the heater core yourself. Its not a “hard” thing to do in a technical sense - just lots of disassembly and reassembly. Get familiar with the procedure, pick up a new heater core, and pick a nice few days when you can get by without the car. Then you spend your own labor instead of $$.

You are very welcome. I’m really glad that I was able to explain it properly.

Incidentally, I would recommend that you cut the hose to shorten it a bit. Otherwise it may “kink” and that would cut off coolant flow.

Just remember–“measure twice, cut once”!

I always thought that Chilton’s were reliable manuals. I had one for my old car and it gave me a lot of useful information. I’ll try the website and see what they have to offer. Any $$ I can save these days the better. Labor costs are outrageous but I don’t blame the mechanics for that. That’s just economics. Most of the good mechanics out there have spent a lot of time and money on education in order to keep up with the technology and they just want to recoup some of their mony. I can’t blame for that. I don’t have a problem paying for labor when I can afford it.

to shorten VDCs response:

the heater inside the car is leaking.

there are two hoses which lead from the radiator to the firewall. they go through the firewall to the inside of the car. you find them and either cut or unfasten them. the auto parts store has the appropriate sized ‘hose barb’ fittings (most likely 1/2" or 5/8") you reconnect the hoses you removed fastening them with hose clampsand that lets the fluid totally bypass the leaking heatercore.

now for my advice:

the down side is you will have NO heat or warm defrost inside the car. BUT this is a cheap way to keep on trucking. (as it were)

if you do live in a cold locale, then you may not want to do this, but if money is an influence, then you may have no choice.

the antifreeze comment is right on the money too. with out proper antifreeze/antiboil protection you risk frying the engine.

Thank you for your advice. I live in a cold climate (upper Midwest) but it will be spring here in a couple of days so the days are getting warmer. I figure I have about 5 monthe before it starts to turn cold again. That should give me plenty of time to work on it. I have a second vehicle available just in case.

“there are two hoses which lead from the radiator to the firewall”

I have to admit that I am not intimately familiar with the Buick Regal, but I believe that the hoses in question actually go from the engine to the firewall, not from the radiator to the firewall. Otherwise, how would the heater get hot water?

If I am correct, your “clarification” will only serve to confuse the issue for the OP. Would anyone else care to comment?

I understand where the hoses run from and where they go to but thank you for trying not to confuse me.

I have not ever looked at them or used one, but I have seen little 12V electric heaters for cars. You plug them into the lighter socket, and I believe they are targeted to people who can’t handle waiting for their car to heat up in the morning. You might use it temporarily to avoid freezing.

Here’s the kind of thing I’ve seen:

i was trying to grossly simplify it. sorry. no insult or bad intention meant, or implied. the key words there are ‘firewall’ and ‘two hoses’ and “hose barb”.

a novice may not realize the disconnect and leaving the heatercore out of the loop. you and I may have been there/done this but others may have not.

No insult or bad intention taken. Thank you for your advice.