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Losing Coolant – What Are The Signs and Symptoms?

Losing Coolant

In order to know the detriments and the signs and symptoms of losing coolant, you need to know what to look out for in your car so you can fix the problem. When your car begins to leak coolant, the first indicator is that the engine can run hot due to the increased friction and possibly overheat, causing the engine to not work well. This will be easily noticed by the driver by looking at the temperature gauge or noticing when your check engine light comes on,

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If your engine or radiator is losing coolant, this will have negative and adverse effects on the engine, and will be pretty noticeable. The driver and passengers will notice excessive noise from under the hood and reduced performance, like trouble accelerating. 


You might notice that steam could be coming out from under the hood, since the coolant can come in contact with other engine parts, like the exhaust manifold or the radiator, which can be very hot in comparison. Also, there might be a strong and sweet smell as your car is losing coolant, since it is being burned. 

Clues you are losing coolant


If you think that your engine is leaking coolant and you are losing coolant in your car, there are certain signs that you should notice. First, a sweet aroma might be evident from outside the vehicle, or from when you are driving the car and are inside the vehicle. You might even be able to smell it as a passenger in the car.


Second, puddles might form under the car, consisting of lime green, orange, pink ,or blue coolant after you have parked and stopped the car. Coolant uses dye colors to differentiate the coolant from other liquids, so you know exactly what liquid is leaking and that you are losing coolant. In comparison, the engine oil is gold or black, and the transmission fluid is dark red.


Lastly, the final sign that you are losing coolant is that the car begins to run very hot due to the increased friction and can easily overheat.

Causes of Losing Coolant


Although coolant leaks might not seem like a big deal compared to other issues in your car, like the engine needing a replacement or the transmission backfiring, this can create a hazardous and dangerous situation for your vehicle. Without the right amount of coolant, your car would overheat and could cause further damage to your engine, showing how losing coolant is a problem that needs to be fixed as soon as possible. 


By knowing the signs of losing coolant, you can help prevent this issue from ever happening in your vehicle.

Hole in the Radiator 


The first cause of your car losing coolant is due to there being a hole in the radiator. All of your car’s engine parts have to be able to withstand high temperatures and high amounts of friction. However, overtime, corrosion within the radiator can occur and cause the coolant to leak. This can be due to debris or sludge getting inside of the radiator tubes ,causing the leak to occur and your car to lose coolant.

Leaky Radiator Cap


Another cause of the car’s lack of coolant could be due to a leaky radiator cap. Since the radiator is very pressurized, the cap is in charge of creating a tight seal that keeps the pressure inside and the cooling system at the right amount of pressure. If the seal begins to deteriorate, your car can begin losing coolant. 

Blown Head Gasket


In addition to the radiator cap being loose, if your head gasket is blown, this can cause your coolant to leak. The head gasket has to contain a wide range of temperatures, as well as maintaining very high and very low pressure systems within the engine. This head gasket is located between the cylinder head and the engine block. If this head gasket develops a leak, it is blown – the oil can no longer separate from the coolant, and the engine can fail. 

Failed Water Pump


Furthermore, your water pump might have failed, causing your car to start losing coolant. The water pump plays a huge role in making sure the coolant is being circulated throughout the cooling system, driven by a belt and located near the lower part of the engine. Connected to the lower house of the radiator, this part can sometimes wear down over time. If this does it can spring a leak for the coolant. 

Expansion Tank Damage


The last cause of a coolant leak in your vehicle is that you have a problem with your expansion tank. To help supply the right amount of cooling liquid to your radiator, cars have an expansion tank that is connected to the radiator by a rubber hose, feeding or receiving coolant from the radiator in order to keep the engine at the right temperatures.


If this expansion tank succumbs to high temperatures, the plastic can weaken and deteriorate over time. If the container cracks or the cap leaks, this can cause your car to start losing coolant. 

How to locate a coolant leak


To find a coolant leak and determine where exactly you are losing coolant from in your car, you first need to drive the car until it is fully warmed up and the engine is warm. After you have driven the car for a while, park the car on a clean and dry section of pavement so you can see what is happening underneath your car and if you are still losing coolant.


Then, shut the car off and let it cool down. Make sure that you do not remove the tank cap ro the radiator cap before the car has cooled down, since the coolant can get boiling hot under pressure when the vehicle is fully warmed up. These caps are located under the hood, and are on top of the translucent plastic reveory tank. 


After the car has sat and cooled off, usually for about 15 minutes, you have to look under the car for a puddle of any coolant, showing you are losing coolant from your car. If there is no puddle of coolant, but you can still smell the sweet aroma coming from your vehicle, then you should scan the underside of your vehicle to see if anything is covered in coolant. If this is the case, you can confirm that you are losing coolant from your system. 


If a small puddle of coolant has formed under the car near the front of the vehicle, make sure you lift the hood and look in the engine bay to see what parts are working and what parts are damaged. It is also a good time to see if you can determine where the loosing coolant leak is coming from.


In this case, look for the signs of a coolant leakage, which will be light colored, around the radiator cap, on hoses throughout the engine, and on the radiator itself. If it looks like the hose is leaking, then you might try to tighten the clamp to ensure that the loosing coolant is stopped. If you don’t see any signs of a coolant leakage, scan the engine compartment to see if the leak of coolant is coming from elsewhere under the hood. 


If the smell of the coolant is more pungent when you are sitting inside of your vehicle than when you are standing outside of it, the main problem could be inside the heater and could be the location of loosing coolant. Heaters use a small radiator core in order to provide enough heat in the cabin. 


If the carpet is damp or the windows are fogging, then the heater core could be the reason for the leak of the coolant. Unfortunately for owners, heater core leaks are hard to locate and diagnose, since the beater is a huge part of the air conditioning system that is located behind the instrument panel. 

Slow coolant leaks


Sometimes, slow coolant leaks are much harder to diagnose and find than normal coolant leaks, with the driver maybe not knowing that they are driving and losing coolant at the same time. Unlike leaking oil, slow coolant leaks barely leave behind any residue or puddles underneath your car, so the driver might not notice the signs and symptoms before it is too late.


Coolant is composed of half water and half of the other ingredients that usually do not leave any trace of evidence at all. There are two main things in your car that can usually be confused with a coolant leak – either an evaporating coolant problem or a blown head gasket. 


As the coolant in your car expands when it gets hot and the temperature is warm, it is forced out of your radiator and moves into the coolant overflow tank in order to keep the levels between the maximum and minimum lines. The hot coolant sitting in this tank will slowly evaporate, causing the coolant level to drop incrementally.


If your coolant level drops way below the minimum line and you do not have enough to run your car properly, your car is probably losing coolant to evaporation and causing the car’s performance to suffer.


In addition, blown head gaskets can also cause coolant to slowly move and drain into your engine, showing a similar loss of coolant that some may confuse with slow coolant leaks. If you have a blown head gasket, there will be other more severe symptoms, so make sure you check all other signs before assuming this is the main issue. 

What if you can’t locate the coolant leak


If you have searched your vehicle and performed all of the above steps to determine from what area you are losing coolant, then this doesn’t necessarily mean that you do not have a coolant leak. After the engine has fully cooled down and you have let it sit for 15 minutes, check the coolant level in your car by seeing how much fluid is in the coolant recovery tank. 


If you are unsure how much coolant is in your car, the coolant level indicator is marked on the side of the plastic tank that is housing the liquid. Most modern cars and their tanks have clear minimum and maximum markings – make sure your coolant level is not below the minimum line, as this could indicate you are losing coolant.


The coolant level should be between the minimum and maximum markings. If the tank is full when you check the level, then you are probably smelling something else instead of a coolant or antifreeze leak. If the tank’s level is way below the minimum mark or the tank is completely dry, then this is a huge sign that you have a problem and it is time to bring your car to an auto body shop or mechanic. 

Driving With a Coolant Leak


So the real question is – how long can you drive your car while you are losing coolant? Many experts and technicians recommend getting this problem fixed and diagnosed as soon as possible so that you don’t do any further damage to your internal parts, like the engine or the transmission. Cooling system problems do not fix themselves over time and can become quite expensive if you let it sit.


The cooling system problems can deteriorate fast, showing how losing coolant can be very detrimental to your car. You don’t want to run out of gas or be stranded while you are driving since the signs of a coolant leak were ignored. If you want to try driving a little bit before bringing your car into a mechanic shop, then you can probably drive your vehicle for a few days before topping off the coolant system with water.


However, you should always refill the cooling system with the right raito and mix of antifreeze and water in both a 50-50 ratio, especially when the weather is very cold in the winter and the likelihood of losing coolant is higher. Plain water just sitting in the engine tank on a very cold winter night turns to ice and expands, and could possibly burst the radiator and damage the cooling system hoses. In addition, this expansion could crack the engine block or the cylinder head, which is a very expensive replacement.


Lastly, different types of cars, based on the lake, model, and year, require different kinds of antifreeze and coolant in their vehicle. There are three main types of antifreeze, which is green dye ethylene glycol, orange or yellow propylene glycol, and yellow, green, pink, blue, or violet hybrid organic acid technology. Make sure you know what kind you should use in your car so that you don’t unintentionally cause our car to start losing coolant. 


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