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Cooling system repairs

by Mark Stull, Mar 01, 2015


                                                                                                           Cooling system repairs

We recently had a customer bring his 2008 Saturn Vue in for service at Auto Lab of Troy with a few complaints. One of the complaints was an odor that was inside his vehicle.  As I started up his van and turned the heater on, I instantly knew what he was complaining of. It was the smell of old antifreeze. We examined his vehicle under the hood and found no leak. We also looked under the dash and again saw no leak. The smell would diminish if the heater was turned off. We suspected he had a small leak in his heater core. Many times you will get other symptoms such as windows fogging or damp carpeting from a leaking heater core. This vehicle did not display any of these signs but the smell coming from his vents was a give- away he had a small leak coming from the heater core.

With approval from the customer, we started the removal process. The heater core is located inside a plastic case behind the dash. The way this vehicle and most others are deigned, the dash, steering column and all related parts need to be removed to change the heater core. This is not a job for the do- it- yourselfer. There are so many pieces and parts that need to be removed and some can be dangerous. This vehicle has 2 airbags that need to be removed which if not done properly, can deploy and cause serious personal injury. The air-conditioning must also be recovered from the system and later replenished when the job is done. All parts need to be removed in a certain order and reinstalled in a certain order and with great care. The plastic components are delicate and can be easily damaged. The complete job takes about a day of non- stop work.


Some people may be tempted to purchase a sealant from their local discount auto parts store and add the sealant to the cooling system to stop the leaking heater core but I don’t recommend it. The cooling system is made up of very small passages that the antifreeze travels through. That sealant can plug up those passages and cause you bigger problems down the road and still won’t guarantee to stop that leak in your heater core.


Most people don’t realize the importance of proper cooling system maintenance and neglect this crucial liquid. Your car does require flushing and replenishing the cooling system with fresh antifreeze. Most car manufactures recommend flushing your cooling system every 5 years or 60,000 miles or more. Today’s antifreeze lasts longer than it used to but still needs to be serviced and a little preventative maintenance can go a long way. The heater core is made out of thin aluminum and the antifreeze can become acidic and actually eat a hole through it causing a leak. The radiator is made the same way. Also, the old antifreeze degrades through time and you can get a calcium build up that will restrict the tiny passages in the heater core and cause your car to have diminished heat or restrict your radiator and cause the engine to run hot. There is no guarantee that flushing the cooling system will prevent all cooling system failures but it sure will make them last longer and save you money in the long run. We do offer this service at Auto Lab of Troy. Please give us a call and make an appointment today.


Mark Stull

A.S.E. Master Certified Technician