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Water Pump Failure: Everything You Need to Know

Water Pump Failure

Your car engine runs very hot. The normal operating temperature for your average car engine is between 195- and 220-degrees Fahrenheit. That's a temperature range that means your car is running exactly the way it should. If it starts to get too much hotter though, things could start going wrong. That's why you have coolant in your vehicle. The coolant in your vehicle needs to flow from the radiator through the engine and back to maintain that optimal temperature so that nothing goes wrong, and you don't suffer damage. It's your car's water pump that assures that this flow is maintained. If something goes bad with your water pump, then this flow won't be consistent or it will stop completely. That can lead to some severe overheating, and some severely high repair bills.

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Water Pump Replacement Cost


There is quite a range when it comes to water pump replacement cost. You could be looking at anywhere from $400 to $800. Sometimes even more, depending on the make and model of your vehicle. 


You can head to AutoZone and see for yourself what it cost to get just a replacement water pump for your car. It typically cost between $100 and $200, but you'll have to input the exact make, model, and year of your vehicle to find out for sure. The big cost difference between the pump by itself and the part installed is labour cost. It's a lot more in-depth to install a new water pump in your car than most people realize. 


You need to usually remove the timing belt cover even to see where the water pump is located in your engine, which is why the labour costs are so high. It's an in-depth repair job that requires a good amount of time and skill to get done. To even see if the water pump needs to be replaced or is still in good condition requires removing the timing belt cover, that's going to take some time to get the job done.


Because of where the water pump is located, it's often replaced when your timing belt gets replaced. Most mechanics would rather get both jobs done at the same time, then wait for one to go bad and then the other one to go bad sometime later. They both have a similar life span overall, so generally they're both done at the same time. Your water pump should last you between 60,000 miles and 90,000 miles, which is on par with a timing belt. Even though it's a costly job, you'll end up saving some money if you get both of these tasks done at the same time.


Can I Replace My Own Water Pump?


Replacing the water pump in your car is a job that you could do yourself, but it's probably not recommended. Any job can technically be done by yourself at home, but it doesn't necessarily mean that you should be doing that. As we said, the water pump is located under the timing belt cover in most vehicles. There's a lot of work that needs to go into getting down to where the water pump is located. If you are new to the idea of do-it-yourself car repair, this is very likely beyond your skill set at the moment. We would consider this at the very least an intermediate repair, but more likely a fairly advanced repair job to get done.


If you are interested in trying it on your own and you've had some success with other repairs in the past, there are a lot of guides that you can follow online that can walk you through the process. Even better is when you can head to you too and find videos made by skilled mechanics that walk you through the process so you can see exactly what they're doing and replicated in your own vehicle. This really makes complicated jobs like replacing a water pump more accessible to the average car owner. That doesn't mean it's going to be easy by any means, but it's definitely a lot easier when you can see someone else to do it and explain what's happening.


Again, we don't recommend trying this repair on your own unless you have a good deal of experience doing car repairs already. But if you want to give it a try and you think you're ready, you can check out a video like this one to help get you through the process.


Signs of a Bad Water Pump


When your water pump starts to go bad there are some signs you could be on the lookout for it to let you know that you need to get it looked at. Any of these starts popping up in your vehicle, you need to take it in to a mechanic to get it checked out as soon as possible to prevent further damage.


Engine Overheating


This is the most obvious sign, and it seems a little foolish to even point it out. If your water pump isn't working, then it means you're not able to circulate coolant through your vehicle and that in turn is going to cause your engine overheats. There likely would be earlier signs, but if this is happening then it's a clear indication that there's definitely a problem under the hood. An overheating engine is a very dangerous thing to let go for too long. If you don't get it repaired as soon as you can, the damage to your engine can take the form of cracked cylinder heads, a blown head gasket, or warped pistons. These kinds of damages spring with the repair bills that can cost upwards of $3,000 or $4,000. In some cases, the only option would be to replace your engine entirely. There's no reason to let it get that bad, however.


Coolant Leak


If your water pump is just starting to fail, there's a good chance that the gaskets and seals that keep it secure and watertight have worn or broken completely. When that happens either as a result of physical damage or because they've crafts from old age, are dried out from excessive use, you're going to get coolant leaks. This usually happens at the front of your vehicle, so you'll notice and follow around the front end of the car where you've been parking. The color should let you know for sure that this is what's leaking from your vehicle, and will of course depend on the kind of coolant your vehicle uses. Most coolants are either green or orange these days, but it's possible you're using another color. Hopefully you know what's in the tank so you'll be able to identify it if it starts leaking.


Chances are if you've got a coolant leak at the front of your vehicle it's either one of these gaskets  and the fix could be relatively simple such that you don't have to worry about bigger repair bills for a damaged engine down the road. 


Sludgey Buildup


This is an unusual symptom of a problem with your water pump but that you can be on the lookout for with it. When you have a substantial leak in the system, you'll have that coolant puddling out of your vehicle as we said. If you have an exceedingly small leak, this can be the sort of thing that doesn't drip out right away in puddles under your vehicle. The coolant can trail out from a leak slowly and deposit on other parts of your engine. It will be thick and gelatinous as it mixes with dust, dirt and debris and creates a disgusting, sludgy looking residue on other parts of your engine.


Because there's water leaking out, you may notice rust and some other corrosion around metal parts because of this as well. This is a long-term kind of problem and you are less likely to notice it right away, but over time if you are seeing a buildup of sludge and grime not just around the pump but around other parts




Noises from the engine are one of the easiest ways to help you diagnose that something has gone wrong. When things aren't performing the way they're supposed to, they often create unusual sounds that you'll notice right away because they're different from the typical sound your vehicle makes. In this case, if the water pump pulley comes loose, you're going to be hearing a high-pitched whining sound from somewhere in the motor. The water pump is powered by a belt so if the belt comes loose or the bearings that operate the assembly are worn out, you'll hear that high pitch sound that lets you know something has gone wrong.


Steam from Your Engine


It's always a scary thing when you notice smoke or steam coming from your engine, but it's also a clear indicator that something is wrong, and it needs to be fixed right away. If you're seeing steam coming out of the front of your car under the hood while you're driving, that's definitely a sign of an overheating engine. In the cool weather this can sometimes be mistaken for smoke, so make sure you pull over and assess the situation as quickly and safely as possible when you see this happening.


If it's definitely steam that you're seeing coming from under the hood, then that's a clear indication that the water in your coolant is getting so hot that it's boiling off and coming out from some kind of a leak in the system somewhere. This definitely shouldn't be happening, and you're going to need to call a mechanic as soon as you can to get it looked at. It's very dangerous to continue driving with this happening not just because of the damage that it can do to your vehicle, but because of the potential to obscure your ability to even see where you're going. 


The Bottom Line


The water pump is one of those integral parts of how your engine operates that very few of us give a second thought to. It's buried deep in the engine where we never get to see it, and when it's working properly it's just a thing we don't think about. When the engine gets hot, we generally just think of adding coolant to cool it down again without giving much consideration to how the coolant circulates throughout the vehicle and the parts that keep that whole system running.


Repairing a bad water pump is a costly procedure. One of the most expensive General sorts of repairs that you can actually get done on your car. For that reason, a lot of drivers may be tempted to overlook it when their car starts running a little hot. Unfortunately, when you have the symptoms of a bad water pump showing up, you really do need to get this looked at right away.


A bad water pump cannot fix itself, and the problem won't just stay at the same level for very long. When your engine starts overheating a little bit, the problem will increase in severity as time passes. As we said, when an overheating engine gets too severe the damage that can cause that can lead to a catastrophic failure in your vehicle. If you have a blown head gasket or cracked cylinder head and you're looking at repairs that are in the thousands of dollars. No one wants to have to deal with that, so it's better to pay a few hundred dollars to get the water pump taken care of when you need to get it done rather than letting it go for too long.


Remember, a water pump is only designed to last about 60,000 miles to 90,000 miles. If you've gone that long without having it looked at, why and any of these symptoms are occurring in your vehicle, it's in your best interest to get a mechanic to take a look at the pump sooner rather than later before things get too much out of hand. 


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