Water Pump, Head gasket, or did I just do something dumb

Ok, so I’ve had this Cavalier ('97 z24 manual) for a couple years and it’s been a good running car for the most part but there’s some mysteries I’m trying to solve lately.

For one, it doesn’t keep coolant in it. It started as a little leak but got to the point where it’d piss out the coolant once I started the car. I used some Bar’s Leaks type junk (the red one) for a quick fix last year and it actually held coolant in it for a while. But then it got a cracked radiator hose and burned off a bunch of fluid (I didn’t notice it was cracked immediately but the crack got larger, started smoking that sweet-smelling smoke and the engine started getting too hot ((not in the red, thankfully I noticed before then))). I replaced the hose and it’s been fine as far as over heating goes, no smoke, but it is leaking coolant again.
The leak is on the passenger side under the engine area and it’ll slowly drip out as it sits there. I’ve just been putting more coolant in it as time goes by since I don’t drive it very much and replacing a water pump is a bit out of my price range for now. Temp has been fine, tho, no overheating issues when I drive it around :woman_shrugging:t3:

Anyway, I did a stupid thing and got my engine wet the other day (I was washing the car, it wasn’t running, but there was water going on the engine at one point… don’t ask cuz I feel like a complete idiot for thinking that was okay).
It sat in the driveway for a couple days and I went out to try and start it yesterday - it wouldn’t turn over. Sounded like it was trying really hard to get into rhythm but it would just sputter and sound sad so I gave up after a few attempts.
I assumed the air filter (after market cold air intake) must have gotten wet and it wasn’t getting enough air to fire up so I took off the filter, cleaned it with some hot water and air-filter cleaner (it was really dirty) and let it dry out completely.
Today I went to put it back on the pipe, noticed a little bit of copper-colored water pooled near the entrance of the pipe (hoping it’s not some of that Bar’s stuff that made it’s way into the pipe…), so I wiped it out best I could (it was kind of a snot-like consistency) and put the air filter back on.

Car actually started, after sputtering a little bit and I sat with it to let it warm up and make sure everything was “normal” again.
It sounded a bit congested at first, and the exhaust was giving off white smoke (not a huge cloud, but enough to waft across the driveway for a few minutes). Smelled a little like burnt rubber, maybe strong exhaust smell compared to normal, but not sweet (actually I think the coolant is completely drained right now anyway so it shouldn’t have been burning that).
I revved it a few times and it felt like it was going to stall when it settled, but it kept running.
Sat and let it warm up to about 185-190 degrees, typical running temp for it, still below half-way, the smoke cleared up for the most part and it began settling nicely at 1k rpm when I revved it - no more threats to stall.

But the exhaust is still a little visible about a foot out the tail-pipe… but it is cold today (35-40 degrees F). Also there’s a little bit of wet concrete under it as it seems to have dripped some while idling. It’s not slimy, clear-color, feels like water, but a little dirt builds up on the edge of my fingertips when I rub it in (black grime, like the stuff that washed out of my air filter when I cleaned it).

Either way, I’m hoping today’s issue was just the car burning off any water/grime that might have gotten through the dirty air filter and that’s what the white smoke was at first.
But I’m also nervous about the copper colored snot in the pipe when I looked in it, and that there was a chemical-smelling smoke from the exhaust at all while it was warming up. I dunno what to consider in this case if it’s a blown head gasket or just burning off some water and mess from getting a wet filter.

Otherwise, it sounds like it usually does, it idled well, and it didn’t over heat while I sat there.
Still concerned the head gasket could be a sleeping issue for now since it can’t seem to keep coolant in it but I was hoping that was because the water pump is bad (I guess cavaliers have an issue with that anyway).

SO UH. Really long description but I want to be as clear as I can with the situation so someone can help me pinpoint what I should be concerned about (besides my poor choices with washing my car). Even if it’s just ruling something out, it’d give me peace of mind.

More than likely the leak is from the water pump.

If it is, this is not a fun job at all.


Yeah, that’s the main reason I’ve just been feeding it coolant and hoping the leak sealant worked for longer :frowning: But I assume that the longer it’s not holding coolant, the more likely it is to blow the head gasket anyway… so I am watching the temp every time I drive to make sure it isn’t getting too hot.

Ugh. I really do love this car and I get unreasonably sad when I think about giving it up for something else… but I know this isn’t going to be the only problem for long.

Drove it around last night, it was cold but the exhaust was still visible floating away while idling, while other cars around me were not. :frowning:
Smells like burnt plastic or rubber maybe? Would any residue from the water/wet air filter still be going through it, making that smell especially if I had seen that dirty water in the air intake pipe?