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LuckyGuy's avatar

Should I just keep bleeding the car coolant system or get the gasket fixed?

Asked by LuckyGuy (29421 points ) January 26th, 2014

I have a 2002 Olds Silhouette, 3.4 liter, V6 minivan with 140,000 miles. It has removable seats and a huge back section that can hold a 4 ft x 8 ft piece of plywood flat on the floor. I can use it haul 2 motorcycles, a log splitter, wood, or furniture and not have to worry about rain or snow. I have other vehicles but this one is nice because it is so darned handy. It also gets over 20mpg in comfort.
The engine seems to have developed a small gasket leak with a bit of engine exhaust blowing into the coolant system. There is no mixing of oil and coolant. Periodically, the car will overheat and my heater will stop putting out heat – even with the outside temperature at 10F. I figure a water bubble is forming and getting into the water pump and it stops working.
Since GM has kindly outfitted the engine with coolant bleeder valves I can take out my handy 7mm nut driver and bleed the air out of the system in about 30 seconds. The car will then work perfectly for another few days to a week.
Should I get this fixed or just keep bleeding the system as needed? Will driving like this until spring, ~2000 miles, cause any damage?

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6 Answers

CWOTUS's avatar

I am by no means or stretch of the imagination an auto mechanic, but it does seem to me that running the water pump dry for any length of time is going to be damaging to it. Isn’t the water pump self-lubricating from the water that is pumped? Even if the time between you noticing the problem and you correcting the problem are short, they’re cumulative. I’d get that gasket looked into – and maybe consider replacing the water pump at the same time for good measure.

LuckyGuy's avatar

You bring up a good point about the self-lubricating water pump and the damage being cumulative. I can easily tell myself to bleed the system every few days even if everything is working well. I’ll put a note on the speedometer as a reminder!

It is so cold out now I do not want to spend my time fixing it myself. I could probably get the job done for about $1000–1200 but the vehicle really isn’t worth it. I’d buy a new one but GM stopped making them. Honda has one, as does Chrysler., but the seats are difficult or impossible to take out and that limits the head room. Also they both have so many options that I will never use. Bluetooth enabled so I can talk on the phone? What’s wrong with my cell phone and $20 ear piece? Pandora? XM? Usually I just listen to NPR. Or silence if it is fund drive time. Rear vision camera? Why? I can easily look out the back window on this vehicle.
I know I sound like a Luddite but I really don’t think I need that much “Infotainment” in a vehicle I use like a truck.

I wonder if exhaust products damage coolant?

funkdaddy's avatar

I’d fix it, your coolant system is sealed because it needs to be to circulate. The pump doesn’t work if there are voids because gravity takes over and the coolant just sticks in the bottom.

So basically you’re risking bricking the entire engine by warping the heads or block just enough so they don’t seal. A headgasket replacement plus machine work add up to you probably just buying another car, or at least a “new” engine.

I had a similar problem with my wife’s Mini Cooper and it ended up being the thermostat housing (on those it’s a bit different system). After looking it over, I had it done by a shop for less than $300. So I think your estimate may well be high (knowing nothing about that particular car).

LuckyGuy's avatar

@funkdaddy We are on the same page. You wrote “A head gasket replacement plus machine work add up to you probably just buying another car, or at least a “new” engine.” That is my thought too. Since I am likely going to replace the car anyway I figure I will run the experiment. I will carry a 7mm nut driver in the cup holder and bleed the coolant system every other time I use the car. What do I have to lose? I have plenty of back up.
It is about -10C, 14F outside now and we will continue to “enjoy” cold weather like this for another 2 months. I figure overheating will not be too much of an issue.
I will see how long I can flog the car this way.
If I think of it I will bring a sample of coolant to the lab and will check it periodically to see if the exhaust causes it to degrade. . .

funkdaddy's avatar

@LuckyGuy – sounds good, drop an update here if you think about it whenever it reaches either conclusion.

In most areas I think cars tend to be overbuilt, so I think chances are good you make it a while. My biggest worry would be I’m guessing it has an iron block with aluminum heads so they expand/contract at different rates, especially if there’s cooling issues with the top half. Anyway, straying off topic. I hope it goes well.

Honestly I’m always thinking in terms of primary transportation for at least one person and now my frame of reference includes “might have baby in the car”, so the answer has suddenly become “always fix it ASAP” in my world.

LuckyGuy's avatar

The days are getting warmer so I decided to get the car fixed. As we figured, there was a leaking head gasket – the middle front cylinder. So far, the car is running great. Probably good for another 100,000 miles.

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