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Saturn 1996 - Coolant Leak and Squaling

Hi guys. I think my car needs some major help and I’m trying to figure out, “how much” help it needs since I’m strapped for cash while awaiting a new gig (and money) to kick in. Basically it’s a coolant leak problem for my 1996 Saturn SL1 Sedan. Here are the details of the problem…

About 6 months ago my Saturn started leaking coolant. It was very minor, I’d have to add a pint or so every 1 hour worth of driving or 40 miles (I experienced these early stages of a coolant leak before with a 1997 Buick Century). The problem very slowly increased 4 months ago and at about this time I noticed coolant residue on some of the engine parts. Using logic I determined the coolant must be leaking onto the belt which was spraying the fluid around, including the underside of the hood in a very fine line.

By 1 month ago I was adding about a quart of coolant every 15 miles. Still, very manageable with no other problems. Then 2 weeks ago it happened… For the first time when I’d start my car it would issue that high-pitch squealing sound I’m sure we’ve all heard on older cars and thought, “man, that driver needs to get their car checked out.” The noise would last for a few seconds, then stop. Rarely the sound would kick in also when coming out of a full stop.

Then 1 week ago, it all got worse. Now the car squeaks for around 2-5 seconds 50% of the time after a cold start. 80% of the time from a full or partial stop. About 90% of the time if my speed drops around 15mph. And now it even makes the noise for a few seconds (10% of the time) while driving +30mph. And the coolant leak is really bad. I have to fill the reservoir (add about 90%) anytime I drive more than a few blocks or +5 minutes. Also, for the first time, anytime I stop the car the coolant just drips onto the ground at a significant rate.

I know I should take the car in to the shop. I have no money right now. :stuck_out_tongue: Can anyone tell me what sort of a problem I might be looking at based on my description?

As always, thanks so much for your tips and information everyone!

Your tolerance for living with a car problem is commendable, but unwise. Minor car problems left unattended have destroyed more engines than any other cause.

You have some work ahead of you. And some cost. The first thing you need to do is find out where the leak is, where the fluid is leaking out or where it’s going. Since you’re dealing with a serious leak at this point, you can probably determine where it’s leaking with a good flashlight and a look-see. A tip on this is that if it’s coming from the front of the engine and you can’t see exactly where, it may be the water pump.

But I also have good news. Since it’s dripping out when the engine is running, it’s repairable without pulling the head. The only components in the cooling system besides the engine itself are the radiator, the heater core, the water pump, and hoses. The water pump, the heater core, and on some cars the radiator, are significant projects, but with a Haynes repair manual they’re do-it-yourself projects. Hoses are really easy to replace.

Post back and let us know how you make out. We care.

If the coolant is dripping onto the ground, it’s hard to believe that you can’t find the leak. Is that what you’re really saying?

Up to this point, I’ve fixed computers, not cars, so this is new territory. :slight_smile: Mountainbike, your words are encouraging. I haven’t gone under the car yet, but from peering underneath I can see the leak (or at least the last place the coolant touches before falling to the ground) is on the passenger side of the car, slightly behind the front tire (in terms of visual distance, in other words it’s not coming from the wheel-well or anything). The leak still hits the serpentine belt as coolant still gets sprayed into the air in a fine mist. In fact, a lot of the engine near the belt has a pretty orange tinge to it from the coolant. So my reasoning is the leak must be somewhere in the vicinity of the belt. But that’s all I can guess at so far.

There aren’t any ruptured hoses, least as I can see. Though I doubt I can see all of them. My fear has been something in the engine has cracked and will require lost of money and tears to fix.

The progressive nature of the leak suggests it could be a water pump seal that is wearing/ has worn out. Water pumps typically have a “weep hole” that indicates, when coolant begins dripping from it, a failed seal inside the pump.

Sounds like it was weeping at first, and has progressed to Niagara Falls. If that’s the case, you’ll need a new water pump.

If you are losing coolant that fast, with safety glasses on and mouth closed, take a look under the hood and see if you can identify the source of the leak with the engine warmed up and running. If it is spraying on to the serpentine belt, the most probable and inexpensive and easy to do repairs would include bad radiator cap, loose clamp, or bad hose. Repair cost from 0 to 20 bucks. let us know. Sure it could be a water pump, and congrats to you for keeping up with the fluid level.