CarTalk.com Blogs Car Info Our Show Deals Mechanics Files Vehicle Donation

My 2004 dodge stratus giving me engine problems again

So back last year in the summer I had a problem with the car overheating and loosing coolant. I’ve had the thermostat and coolant sensor switch replaced by mechanic $500. It worked okay for about a 2 weeks and then it started to overheat. I was thinking about getting a new car but decided to not give up on since it is cheaper using this car for now.

My father suggested his cousin that works on cars to look at it. He said the radiator was cracked and he replaced it for $100 and I bought the radiator for $100 and It worked great, until last week. It was very cold 3am morning before I had to head to work. I noticed my air was blowing cold so I thought maybe once I drove off that it would heat up faster. As I drove for about 10 mins, I noticed the car overheating to the red mark. I had to pull over. I let the car cool off and started driving again but it kept overheating. I went to a Walmart and bought some coolant. Put it in, it continued to overheat.

So the next day everything was fine. My car didn’t overheat anymore and My heat was working again, but I noticed a slow leak leak but never saw any coolant on the ground. Now fast forward to today, I’ve checked my oil and it looked fine, but the coolant reservoir was low. So I topped it off and as I was putting coolant in it, there was a lot of coolant on the ground so im finally seeing the leak and I’m leak is bigger. Now I don’t really want to drive it anymore.

Do you think this car is done? Could the radiator went bad again? Could it be a water pump, I don’t think it’s been replaced, I mean this is a 16 year old car, but it only has 65k miles. Or do you think it could be something worse such a blown head gasket.

I’d have it checked for a blown head gasket myself. A mechanic ought to be able to determine that pretty quickly.

If it is a blown HG…or anything else more expensive… at that point I’d start considering whether the car is worth fixing or not. Have all the facts first, though.

Good luck.

1 Like

It could be something as simple as a loose hose clamp. You should check the radiator level not just the coolant reservoir. It is worth getting it checked out.

Ok thanks for the replies. My dads cousins (The same guy that replaced my radiator in September) said he will come over to my house to inspect and see if he can find what is wrong. I’ll ask him if he can determine if it’s a blow head gasket while he’s checking.

And also, this may sound dumb but how do I check the radiator coolant level? I don’t think this car has a part where you put coolant in the radiator. I only see the coolant reservoir.

See guys here is a pic of engine. Where is the radiator cap?

There isn’t a “radiator cap” on the radiator, the cooling system is filled though the reservoir.

Above the car’s right fender is the translucent plastic reservoir. The black hose goes to the radiator. If there is no cap on the radiator, take off that white cap to fill or top up the coolant.

Ok thanks guys. And I have another question. I’ve been suspecting it may be a blown head gasket for a while now. The only thing is this car has no symptoms of it besides the coolant leaking but that could be a lot of other reasons for that. But my question is, if it a blown head gasket, why would the repair be so expensive. I know blown head gasket repairs are expensive but why? I looked up a head gasket and all it looks like is a metal tray. Is it really that hard to replace?

This is how you check for combustion gases in the cooling system. Any decent auto parts store will have this tool in stock. It’s not very expensive and it’s very easy to use. Note that combustion gases in the cooling system don’t always point to a blown head gasket. It could also be a cracked block, for example

Because of the labor involved

Replacing a head gasket on a V-engine is generally more work than on an in-line engine

Replacing a head gasket on a transverse engine is more work than on one that’s longitudinally mounted

And you’ve got a transverse V-engine on top of that

Now imagine if you have to replace the head gasket that’s essentially under the cowl . . .

So get under there and tell us what’s leaking, please

As others have said, it could be something very obvious and easy to fix

If a blown head gasket(s) is confirmed, your diagnosis isn’t quite done yet. You still should use a straight edge to determine if the head(s) are within spec, or if they need to go to the machine shop to be shaved

image

Ok I went under there and I can see where it’s leaking from but idk what this part is called. I’m going to post a pic and see if you guys might know what is this part that is leaking?

That is the air conditioner compressor mounting bracket, it can’t leak coolant. The leak is from above that bracket, possibly from the water pump weep hole.

1 Like

The labor to remove and replace the engine head can be very time consuming. At perhaps $100 per hour, that adds up fast.

You need to get the car on jack stands and roll under there on a creeper

Remove the tire and inner fender liner if you can’t get close enough to identify the cause of the leak

It could very well be the water pump . . . as already suggested

Personally, I think it’s more likely the water pump or a hose . . . versus the head gasket leaking coolant that quickly

Thank you all for then replies. So that part underneath where the coolant is falling from is actually the air conditioner mount and it can’t leak coolant, so you guys think it’s most likely the water pump? It’s funny because A few guys from my job(they aren’t professional mechanics but have worked on engines) also kept saying it’s either the radiator but when I told them I just got that replaced I. The summer then they all said it sounded like the water pump.

And I know you guys told me to jack up the car and get under there but I don’t have a creeper d plus it was dark by the time a saw you guys respond so I didn’t really want to do it in the dark.

I’m going to top it off and take it to this shop in a few hours. I have an appointment today and I’m going to see what can they find out. I’ll post back guys!

Ok guys. Well, it looks like this car actually does have engine damage and head gasket failure. It’s crazy because the car literally had zero symptoms besides the loss of coolant. The car did overheat a few times and I honestly did not know how bad overheating was for a engine. I knew it was bad but didn’t know it would completely destroy the engine like that.

The mechanic said an engine replacement would be around $5000-6000 because it was a 2.7v engine and it was hard to find or something like that. So yeah, the car did last 2 years, just a shame that the engine is toast at only 65k miles. But I guess I have to start saving for a down payment and get ready to pay a monthly note for a newer car.

But I have a question. I know the car engine is messed up but how much longer can I drive it before it completely dies? Besides the bad head gasket, the actual car feels good. I’ll only be driving it short distance from my job and home, and I’ll just rip coolant before each commute. Would it least last a month that way?I think I’ll the money for a newer car by then.

It will go all the way to where it want’s to die.

1 Like

This car, since you are not going to opt for an engine, could be a candidate for some “miracle in a can” head gasket sealer, seriously. There are brands available in stores. It could possibly buy you some time and save you some coolant.

I’ve never used the stuff, but I’m pretty sure you’ll get some recommendations of certain brands here.
CSA
:palm_tree: :sunglasses: :palm_tree:

I worked at a Chrysler/Plymouth dealer when these cars were being sold new. A lot of these engines didn’t make it past 50,000 miles, even with meticulous maintenance by the dealer. Even then, the mechanics there knew this engine was a defective design, and nowadays it is rare to find one that runs.

In fact, it is more common to see a 1987-1991 Toyota Camry on the road here than a Chrysler Sebring or Dodge Stratus, even though the Chrysler/Dodge is much newer and was sold in huge numbers. Interestingly, the 4-cylinder models are very reliable, and whenever I see a Sebring/Stratus in a junkyard, it’s always a 2.7L model.

Since it makes no sense to put anything more expensive than coolant (and possibly sealant) into this car, that is exactly what you should do! I would drain out all the coolant, pull the thermostat, drill a 1/8" orifice near the top to prevent combustion gases from collecting behind a closed thermostat, reinstall it, add coolant and a Bar’s Leaks type product. Then just keep the coolant topped off, and drive it until it won’t go anymore.

1 Like

It will keep running until it stops, and that could happen at an inconvenient time and in a bad place.

Btw if your credit is decent you can get a new car with 0 down quite easily. I never put any cash into the deal, just the trade in.

I don’t plan on keeping and I will be buying a newer car. But You know, it’s just crazy though. What I don’t get is if the car engine really is so messed up why doesn’t this car have any symptoms (well besides the coolant leak) of a blown head gasket? I do trust the diagnosis, the shop seems pretty legit with their testing, but I drove the car today for the 1st time in a few days and it did fine.

The heat worked great, the engine sounds smooth and isn’t shaky, the start up was fine, and oddest of all the coolant did not leak, the reservoir was still at the cold line before I drove it. and this was an hour of driving on the expressway and all! Also my car never had milky oil and still doesn’t, and the exhaust does blow steam but I think it’s only because it’s cold outside, I see a lot of cars with white steam coming out their exhaust and doubt they all have blown gaskets.

So my question is are their levels to blown head gaskets? I’m just wondering why my car isn’t really showing symptoms besides the external coolant leak which did not happen today? I’m sure the engine does have problems, and it may have a blown head gasket but I don’t believe the engine is as bad as the guy made it seemed. It can probably be saved but I’d rather buy a newer car.