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Saturn Ion Leaking

Hi guys im new here, so sorry if this isnt the right place to post this question.

I have a 2003 saturn ion and have just recently replaced the radiator fan that wasnt working. I managed to do that successfully but in the process of removing the two brackets on the bottom of my radiator that hold up the radiator and fan, I accidently removed a round plastic piece that covered what looks like a drain on the right corner of my radiator. It has two of these one on each side. I turned on the car and oil started spewing out from this little “drain” under the radiator. Any idea what kind of oil this is or how I can fix this?

I have Automatic transmission, and no, I believe there wasn’t a plug there, just the black ring around that hole. That black ring fell off the other side, im not sure if that had anything to do with it failing.

The “oil” that is draining is like a dark brown , and I saw on a diagram of a radiator that the housing for coolant is at the bottom of the radiator so I had thought that it might be coolant, it just doesnt smell like coolant, but I can assume that it looses its “coolant” smell after a while right?

Im just wondering how I can plug this back up, I did jiggle the radiator quite a bit in order to insert the fan, so I thought something might have been disconnected going into the radiator.

The car has 140k miles.

Thanks in advance!

It’s transmission fluid. The transmission routes its fluid past the radiator to cool it. You disconnected the cooler. It could be that you cracked the line when you were jiggling the radiator.

This is a critical problem that can cause very expensive damage to your transmission. I think at this point you’d be best served having it towed to a shop so they can fix it.

Might as well have them drain and fill the transmission fluid while they’re in there, because they’re going to have to replace what leaked out anyway.


Thanks for the info,

I was also thinking it was transmission fluid.
Do you think there is a chance it might be old coolant? I havent replace the coolant in a while, just a thought i was wondering.


I think @shadowfax is right. There’s really very little chance it’s coolant.

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Do you guys think this leak could be solved with one of those leak trans. fluids?

Super low on funds ofcourse, so just wondering, I know its hard to know.

thank a lot!

Pretty unlikely. Based on the color, it might be old coolant mixed with engine oil, in which case you’d have a head gasket problem. But unless there’s contamination coolant doesn’t generally turn from bright green/orange/red to dark brown.

Old automatic transmission fluid, however, starts out pink and moves toward dark brown as it ages.

I’m thinking if you look in there again you’ll notice two very thin metal pipes coming out of the radiator. They’ll look something like this:

I bet one of them has been knocked out of its seat, or has cracked as a result of all the wiggling you did when you installed the fan. It would be easy to do because clearances in there aren’t exactly huge.

I see , yes that is likely because I had a hard time putting in the new fan, due to little space.

The weird thing is that the oil isnt coming out of these tubes, its coming out from some type of spout from under the radiator. Do you think a crack in these tubes would allow air to go in and push oil down the other side? Is that a possibility?

In any case, illl take a look at the pipes you showed me.

Thank you!

The “spout” is the hole sorrounded by a black circle rubber, under the number.
the oil is spewing out of this, which is under the radiator.

That “spout” is the mounting bushing for the radiator. It’s basically just a concave dish that a pin from the radiator sits in. Any leak located above that bushing is going to drain down and through the hole, and fool you into thinking the bushing itself is leaking (when it can’t, 'cause it’s not filled with fluid).


True, I am a fool lol, I had thought about that but I didnt have much time to look at it before coming to work today. I just knew I shouldnt drive it, so the leak if above.

Makes more sense.

Thanks for all your help :slight_smile:

And that’s why you’re not a fool. :wink: You’d be amazed how many people would have driven it around for days and then wondered why their transmission klonked out.

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Haha thanks,
I just hope its an easy fix.


Sometimes the hardest part of the job is getting things set up so you can see what you are trying to do, and so you can get your hands and tools in the right places to get the work done. If money is short and you are going to try to do this, make sure you use safe jack stands if you raise the car. NEVER work under a car on a jack.

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You must have disconnected and connected those oil cooler lines when you replaced the radiator right? You did get an automatic transmission radiator didn’t you? Check where the transmission line goes into the rad on the side the oil is coming from. You may not have tightened the line enough, cross threaded it or cracked it.

I think OP only replaced the rad fans, which can often be done without r&r of the radiator itself.

Take it too a shop sooner than later. With the engine cold, check the coolant level. I bet it is the same. If you have oily crud in there you might have a problem. Check the transmission fluid according to the manual. Many require the engine be running to check them. Also check your engine oil level and appearance. Does it look milky or like normal oil?

Yes, I agree that you probably busted the transmission cooler, a line, or a connection. This isn’t a big deal now but your transmission won’t last long if you don’t take care of this. It may be a $200 fix now. Don’t let it turn into something it didn’t need to like needing a new transmission.