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Settle a bet

I have a 2001 Saturn SL2 whose antifreeze has never been changed because my husband insists that one should never ever change antifreeze - to do so is falling for some kind of scam propogated by greedy mechanics who are only out for blood. The car has always used oil - it disappears as it breaks down - and now, after nearly 140,000 miles, antifreeze is starting to disappear at the rate of about a quart every 2 or 3 weeks. I can’t determine if it’s leaking because I live in Michigan and the pavement is always wet, but I haven’t seen any orange puddles. I think it’s time to change the fluid, but my husband thinks I’m being silly and would rather take the advice of one of his friends and put a couple of teaspoons of black pepper in the tank to clog the leak. Who’s right here?

Thanks in advance


You, by a mile.

Take it to a mechanic or (maybe and) start looking for another car.

antifreeze breaks down–you are well beyond any safe time with what is in there. The damage may already have been done.

In addition to what has already been stated, I will add that, if the antifreeze is disappearing at that rate, there is also the possibility that the engine is “consuming” the antifreeze via a bad head gasket. Hopefully, you only need to repair a leak (from a bad hose, or a bad hose clamp, or the thermostat gasket, or a freeze plug that has rusted as a result of his lack of maintenance, or…), but the possibility exists that it is more serious than just an external leak.

Incidentally, your husband’s approach to car maintenance causes me to wonder how many other service procedures have been overlooked, in addition to the long-overdue antifreeze change. On your next car, perhaps you should be the one in charge of car maintenance since his approach is ultimately more expensive than timely maintenance would be.

Thanks all. I lost my last car to a blown head gasket, so I’ve been kind of paranoid about that. Unfortunately, a new car is not an option right now, and a used car would probably be even more expensive. I’d love to have more control over the maintenance, too, but he generally has the car more often in the daytime, and by the time I get out of work, it’s too dark to see under the hood, let alone find a service garage that’s open. I’m hoping this will convince him to take the bus on my next day off so I can get the fluids changed.

You’re right, ignore the husband and friends, and the coolant should have been changed 3 or 4 years ago.
And when a head gasket or radiator gives way (maybe already?) due to coolant rot no doubt your husband will point the finger at the mechanics for giving you the bad news.

If the car has an automatic transmission you should inspect the radiator for signs of transmission fluid contamination and also inspect the transmission fluid for signs of coolant contamination.
The fluid cooler is inside the radiator and if it’s leaking the transmission can be ruined by contaminated fluid.

Oh, my goodness. Your husband his friend should not be allowed near the car. You are 100% right!

Find the owner’s manual and take the car to a mechanic. Go through the maintenance schedule to determine what maintenance hasn’t been done and to it ASAP. This car is going to need some attention and it will cost you. In this case, an ounce of prevention would have been worth a pound or cure.

One last note. Your owner’s manual probably suggests draining and filling the coolant every two years or so. In your husband’s defense (I can’t believe I am saying in his defense!), people will try to sell you a cooling system flush, which isn’t necessary if you drain and refill as often as you should. In your case though, your cooling system needs to be flushed.

If your car had been properly taken care of, it would probably have at least another 60,000 trouble free miles in its future.

The Sr VP of engineering I work for believes the same thing. However he buys a new car every 3 years so it’s not an issue. If you plan on keeping your car longer then that I suggest you DON’T listen to your husband.

Jane, as a maintenance consultant I run into this method of maintaining equipment only in third world countries. The technical term is RTF, “Run To Failure”. In the US this was practiced up until World War I, when preventive maintenance (PM) was started. Over the years,Predictive Maintenance (checking things to spot deterioration)and Proactive Failure Prevention are now the usual modes in the developed world.

As others have pointed out, all vehicles need preventive maintenance and predictive checks to monitor behavior. It’s all in the owner’s manual. It’s a lot like dental and health care.You are fortnate that the car is still running.

If the engine can be fixed, it would be your best option. Failing that, a used engine from a wrecking yard might work.

At this atge you should take charge of the care and feeding of your car. Bringing your husband up to speed from his pre-WW I views may be impossible.

Explain to your husband that antifreeze contains corrosion inhibitors that break down over time. Replacing antifreeze regularly is a lot cheaper than replacing a radiator that clogs up and stops working.

Or maybe another husband!

Keep your husband away from your car . . . find a local mechanic (ask around, see who has treated your peers OK) and ask him/her to check the car over . . . change what is needed piecemeal . . . you have a lot of stuff that may need to be changed . . . oil . . . oil filter . . . air filter . . . fuel filter . . . transmission fluid . . . brake fluid . . . brake pads/shoes . . . spark plugs and wires . . . distributor cap & rotor . . . things which will allow your car to run as designed. It’ll be cheaper and more reliable in the short & long run here. You never can figure on how some folks think, but this approach to car ownership & maintenance is short-sighted to say the least. Good luck! Rocketman

Access a source that your husband has faith in to explain to him the importance of changing fluids. That may be a magazine (most will have an article occasionally on car maintenance), a friend of his, perhaps even a book from the bookstore.

The technical answer that you’re right won’t really help you solve the bigger issue of his accepting the change in his thinking.

Give your husband a dope slap upside the head, then make him pay for all the maintenance that he’s been skimping on

I hope you husband does not view health care/doctors the same way he views maintainance/mechanics.

These saturn engines eat oil so that is normal. your are leaking at the water pump most likely these fail at the shaft seal. whne the seal goes the fluid starts to go rapidly. check your oil to make sure you have no antifreeze in the oil. (milky apperance) radiators on these cars if they leak it is where the transmission cooler lins come into it on the drivers side of the engine.

yes you should cahnge anitfreeze and you can do it easily and it does not cost much.