CarTalk.com Best of Deals Car Reviews Repair Shops Cars A-Z Radio Show

Replace radiator hoses and flush the coolant?

I went to a routine oil change at Goodyear a few weeks ago. They told me that I need to replace the radiator hoses and get my coolant system flushed out with their machine… I have a ford taurus 2003 with 141,000 miles. The repairs will cost me about $400. I didn’t think anything was wrong with my car. Is this really necessary??

If the coolant hasn’t been changed, then the Taurus is at least 4 years and 41k miles overdue. At 9 years it might not be a bad idea to change the hoses and the thermostat too. I prefer to drain and refill the coolant myself as opposed to a flush. Get a second opinion from a trusted independent mechanic. Ask relatives, friends, and neighbors for a recommendation

My 2000 Blazer with 126k miles is due for it’s 4th coolant change. I replace the coolant every 3 or 4 years.

Ed B.

You are not talking about repairs, but you are talking about maintenance. If you have the original coolant, you are well past due for some maintenance. The question is what maintenance should be done on your car now.

 I suggest you start by looking for that owner's manual that came with the car.  It should list maintenance that should be done and when it should be done.  

 Repairs fixes stuff that no longer works, maintenance is work that you do to avoid damage caused by not getting the maintenance done when you should. 

 If you are still on the original coolant and hoses, I would bet you are well past the time you should have had the maintenance items done. <b> It is a lot easier and cheaper to do the maintenance before something is damaged.</b>

Good year may not be the best place to have the work done.  I suggest you check with friends and neighbors to find a good honest shop to do the work.

It is preventative maintenance. It probably needs doing at this point but at Goodyear?

Don’t get it done there. Find an independent mechanic.
Chains like goodyear, firestone, pepboys, jiffilube, etc strictly employ morons and they make up things that need doing or break things so they need doing.
Don’t go there, not even for an oil change.

Yes, these items are routine maintenance. If the cooling system has never been refilled with fresh coolant and you still have the original hoses, I would definitely do this work. This can lead to major problems if not taken care of. Yes, I would also replace the thermostat if it has been this long. Those can fail from getting gunked up from neglected coolant.

As for the chain shops, I don’t know much about Goodyear but I have had experiences with Firestone. The Firestone near where I grew up has an excellent reputation among the community. My parents take everything there and they are an honest and competent shop. There have been MANY times they could have told my parents their cars needed some kind of other work that wasn’t needed but they never have.

On the other hand, I wouldn’t set foot inside the Firestone shop where I now live. I have hear horror story after horror story. They even dropped one of my friend’s cars off the rack or it slipped, doing several thousand dollars worth of damage. Their excuse was he ran over something and then brought it to them with the intention of blaming him for the damage. This is just one of the worst stories but not honoring “in house” tire warranties, among other things are quite common with them.

So, you can’t say all chains are bad and just out to rip you off. A couple other tire places in town are good and others are notorious for trying to replace front-end components everytime you bring a car in, especially if it is for an inspection.

Conor

I actually have experience with my dad’s 1997 ford taurus. we didn’t change the coolant for quite a while due to being lazy and testing the antifreeze factor with the little bubble test. Because the bubble test showed enough balls in flotation, it meant the anitfreeze/coolant was still in good range.
So we didn’t change even though the years were past due. We never had a cooling problem, but we did have the famous (heater coil being clogged/corroded) problem.
This means that you get no heat and need to replace the heater coil. The coil is stuck deep in the dash and requires hours to pull you dash and replace.
Kind of a pain. So do change the fluid based on recommendations. It is only $20 worth of fluid if you do it yourself.

The only thing you need do is drain the cooling system and refill it with fresh coolant. Some folks also like to change the thermostat out, but I never have and have never had a problem.

You can do these things yourself. Just besure you use the coolant that the manufacturer spec’ed and be sure you purge the air. Purging air is actuallly quite simple if you remember that air rises to the high point(s). For most systems, there’s one high point at the fill hole that all air flows to. For others there’s high spot where air would tend to form a bubble, and in those cases there’ll be a a “purge valve” to help get the air out. Pick up a repair manual at the local parts store if you feel the need.

“Purging”" with a “machine” is only for a system having problems. In your case, it’s being used to generate revenue.

@cwatkin, therein lies my point: chains don’t have standards of behavior and quality. You can go to two different places of the same chain and get different service.
That’s why you don’t go to chains.

They’ll hire anybody. One week you may have a good guy working on your car, one that may take his time and do the job right. The next week you’ll have some clown working on your car that forgets ‘lefty-loosy, righty-tighty’. Some of these guys have no common sense, seriously.
The good guy, the one that actually is looking out for you, will likely be told to upsell the customer on stuff they don’t need, work faster, spend less time doing it right, etc.
The clown won’t.
The work will be substandard by definition because they don’t have a standard.

Actually, that’s why I do all my own work. I don’t trust anybody out there but that may not be for everyone.

So this is what the OP should do:

This isn’t an emergency repair but will need to be done. You don’t want a hose to blow as that will at best leave you stranded, at worst do damage to your car. You do want to replace them.
You can take a bit of time and shop around for OEM parts so you’re saving yourself some money by not buying parts from a $tealership.
Buy a bottom and top radiator hose, a thermostat and the recommended coolant for your car. There may be online dealerships that give you a much better price than local. Since the coolant is heavier, find out what kind your car needs (some cars are picky) and perhaps buy that locally.
Then go to an independent mechanic (suggested on this site, again shopping around) and ask whether he’d replace those items for you.
Since you’ve already bought the proper parts, he won’t have to charge you for them and won’t have to run around for them. Labor will therefore also be cheaper.
You’ll be in and out within an hour.
It won’t cost you $400 and the job will be done right.
You will also have created a relationship with a consistent mechanic that will look out for you.

I did miss th hose comment in my response. Yeah, at 9 years old and 141K it’s a good idea to replace them. It’s inexpensive insurance. Again, it’s a good first timer DIY project.

I don’t think anyone mentioned radiator cap…it’s cheap and replacing yours is no harder than opening a jar of salsa and closing it again. Just be sure to let the engine cool for several hours before you remove the cap. That’s for your safety.

@Remco has suggested a sensible middle ground to getting the work done at a modest cost. I’d only suggest that you find a local parts store where you feel comfortable asking questions. Local prices may be comparable to what you’d pay ordering online, and it’s easier to get info and help making choices when you are speaking face to face with someone who recognizes you. Sometimes a few extra bucks spent on parts is easily compensated by good suggestions from a knowledgable person at a parts store.

The bottom line is that the coolant does need to be changed periodically for the wellbeing of the system components, and hoses should be replaced as prevention from an inconvenient problem…think late for work, or a dark night far out of town, or stormy weather…etc. Preventative maintenance is cheaper than towing and urgent repairs.

If you decide to launch into this as a D-I-Y project, and if you need help doing so, you’ll get it here on and from the people at auto parts stores on how to do it. Don’t hesitate to ask…

Good Luck!

I’m going to join the chorus here.

First establish a working relationship with a reputable independent mechanic. An oil change may cost you a little more but he will save you more money in the long run.

Check the coolant, if it is brown, it needs to be changed immediately. If it is cloudy, it needs to be changed soon, if it is clear (colored but clear), then you probably have had it serviced in the past and you just need to stick to the schedule.

If it needs to be changed (brown or cloudy), then a simple drain of both the radiator and the block is needed and then refill with fresh coolant, preferably a universal long life coolant, any brand.

As for hoses, they could go anytime after ten years so if you are planning on keeping the car for a few more years, then the next time you are due for a coolant change, have the hoses done too, but include the heater hoses as well. You could also have the thermostat done at that time too, but you cannot predict when it will fail and most of the time, they fail open, so they won’t hurt anything, you just won’t have heat and your gas mileage will drop until you get it fixed.

Yes, I will say $400 is a little high for the costs. The parts/chemicals are likely going to cost around $100 depending on what you need. As someone indicated, this is good beginner DIY project. Harder than changing the oil but not by much… I always run a bottle of 10 minute flush through. I see some people do not suggest this and I have been told that this can cause a weak water pump, radiator, etc. to start leaking. My opinion is that it will expose the weakness when you are looking for it and not out on the road somewhere when it decides to let loose.

One thing is for sure… If it leaks, NEVER use stop leak as a cheap fix. This is an act of desparation if you are broken down in the desert but not something you would want to do to a car you wish to keep. Mechanics I know tell me this stuff should be against the law to use unless you sign a form stating that you will be selling the car for scrap metal when you get rid of it. Sure, it stops the leak but also starts plugging other things.

Conor

You’re probably not looking for an education here, but…the “anti-freeze” portion of your antifreeze/coolant is almost irrelevant unless you live in extreme weather conditions. Do you expect temps below 0? If not, your antifreeze protection is probably fine and will be forever since ethylene glycol–the stuff that keeps it from freezing–never wears out.

However, the other components of your coolant do wear out over time. More important than testing for freeze protection is testing the pH level. As the fluid ages the coolant can turn acidic and damage components from the inside out.

If you’ve never had the cooling system serviced, you’re well overdue for this maintenance. If you’ve never had the cooling system serviced I’d recommend replacing the hoses because they may be deteriorating from the inside, and it’s more convenient to do it when you can plan for it rather then when one blows on the freeway.

BTW, for cars that have had all scheduled maintenance and that I have a history on file for, I no longer recommend replacing any hoses based on age or mileage. If the cooling system is clean they should last the life of the car. I have many customers with over 200,000 miles on original hoses.