6 Problems You’re Likely to Experience with Your Engine Coolant System

Proper car maintenance involves understanding all the possible car problems. Here are engine coolant system problems your car might have at some point.

Radiator Leak leads to Overheating

There are 13 phobias that affect drivers of cars and their passengers. If you avoid opening the hood of your car or looking underneath, you may suffer from one of them.

Mechanophobia is the fear of machines. Technophobia is the fear of advanced technology or complex devices. Your car is a machine and depending on how old it is, it might be a complex device. 

But that’s not an excuse for ignoring your vehicle and letting the engine overheat.

Treatment for phobias includes knowledge and desensitization. We’ve put together a guide to 6 of the most common problems people experience with their engine coolant system.

It’s up to you whether you ever open the hood but at least study up on what could go wrong with one of your vehicle’s major systems, the engine coolant system.

1. Old Engine Coolant Syndrome

Okay, there isn’t any such thing as old coolant syndrome. But cars do experience problems when owners don’t change the anti-freeze, or coolant, on a regular basis. 

Coolant doesn’t deteriorate overnight, or even in a month but it does get more acidic over time. Acidity causes coolant to lose it’s anti-corrosive, or rust-inhibiting properties

The result? Damage to your radiator, water pump, radiator cap,  and radiator hoses. Corossion can also damage other parts of the cooling system.

Ultimately, you may find yourself on the side of the road with your engine overheating.

The remedy? Check your engine coolant at least every 50,000 miles and if you notice signs of rust or corrosion, don’t ignore them.

2. Thermostat Gone Bad

Count yourself lucky if all you ever repair on your car is a bad thermostat. They’re relatively inexpensive and one repair most car owners can take care of themselves, even technophobes.

The thermostat is a heat-sensitive control normally located on top of the engine near the radiator hose.  When engine temperature reaches the normal operating temperature, the thermostat opens and allows coolant to flow from the radiator into the engine.

If you have a bad thermostat, it may remain closed, preventing coolant from getting to the engine and keeping it cool. If the thermostat is stuck closed, antifreeze won’t flow and the car overheats.

The thermostat is one of the first things you should check when you see your dashboard temperature gauge move into the red zone.

3. Worn Radiator Hose

A rogue thermostat may be the easiest problem to fix, but a worn out radiator hose is the most common cause of automotive cooling system problems.

Most cars have two radiator hoses. The upper hose runs from the top of the radiator to the top of the engine. The lower hose runs from the bottom of your radiator to the water pump.

Radiator hoses move coolant to the radiator for cooling and then back to the engine. This back and forth process doesn’t only prevent overheating, it also keeps the engine from running too cold.

Radiator hoses are tough. They’re designed to hold up under high heat and pressure. But over time they do crack or get soft.

Replacing a worn-out hose isn’t a major ordeal and with the right tools and a small dose of bravado (for the mechanophobic), it shouldn’t take long for the repair.

4. Radiator Leak and Cracks

Remember the dirty old coolant? It can load your radiator up with sediment. A dirty radiator may cause overheating in the engine.

Interesting tip: Hard water can also cause radiator corrosion. Don’t use your garden hose to refill your radiator.

A crack in the radiator also poses a significant problem. Cracks happen for a variety of reasons:

  • Rust
  • Faulty thermostat
  • Heat
  • Cold
  • Road debris

A cracked radiator leaks engine coolant. Your car won’t let you ignore a radiator problem. You’ll either see a puddle underneath the vehicle, or the car will start running hot.

Some radiator leaks aren’t so easy to pinpoint. You’ll need to check the radiator thoroughly with attention to the bottom and the radiator seams.

Be aware (and thankful) that a cracked radiator doesn’t always need replacing. Often you can prevent problems by doing a radiator flush. You can also use a product designed to seal up radiator leaks.

Another cause of radiator cracks is a leaking head gasket.

5. Do You Have a Blown Head Gasket?

If you ignore your engine’s cries for help and let it overheat one too many times, you could end up with a blown head gasket.

Or the blown head gasket may be the cause of engine overheating. Avoid addressing the issue and you may end up with a costly repair.

One sign of head gasket failure is white exhaust smoke paired with the sweet aroma of burning engine coolant. Loss of engine power is another sign and so is sludge on the oil dipstick or underneath the oil filler cap.

Don’t panic if you think you have a leaky head gasket. Like other cracks and leaks in the cooling system, you can use a sealant on a head gasket.

Fun fact: That sludge on the dipstick is often called a milkshake.

The last item on the list of potential cooling system problems is a failed water pump.

6. Water Pump Failure

You can use special products for sealing most leaks in your engine cooling system. You can probably even drive for a few more miles with a bad thermostat or a weak radiator hose.

If your water pump fails, you should not drive one more mile.

The water pump plays such a vital role in your cooling system that if it stops working, you may end up with a complete engine failure.

Water pumps generally give you at least some warning of the pending doom. You may notice a coolant leak toward the front of the vehicle. You might hear noise—specifically, a grinding or growling sound.

Overheating is another signal and steam or smoke pouring from under the hood usually means you’ve ignored the signs for too long.

Ready to Get Under the Hood?

Caring for your engine coolant system shouldn’t be an ordeal. You don’t need a certification in auto mechanics either.

From the smallest problem of a bad thermostat to the bigger issues of cracked radiators, blown head gaskets, and failed water pumps, an educated car owner drives further and has a fatter wallet (most of the time)

Don’t let car phobias keep you from maintaining your car. Now for the desensitization therapy.

Go out to the garage. Gently lift the hood and touch the upper radiator hose. See how easy it is?

Want something even easier? Read more helpful articles on caring for your car’s cooling system with additives that work!