'90 Taurus Antifreeze Leak

courtesy of Bob, The Auto Answer Man

Dear Bob,
Boy you got my attention with your recent answer to the person with the Taurus. We also have a 90 Taurus station wagon. We've had a lot of problems with it - the air conditioning refrigerant has had to be replaced several times, the motor on the rear wiper went out, and you'd better not open the back window or you'll never get it closed again. However the problem we are now having deals with antifreeze and I perked up when you said, "keep an eye out for antifreeze leaks.

A couple of months ago, I returned home from a trip to a neighboring town. When we opened the car doors, there was a terrible smell. The car had overheated and the antifreeze was empty. We took it in. The company replaced the thermostat and a gasket. The bill also mentions a throttle body clean. Our heat gauge had not worked for a long time and we assumed the problem was fixed.

Friday night we came home after the fireworks to the same problem. Bad smell and no antifreeze. The heat gauge had not alerted us to overheating. My husband added antifreeze but it has since all leaked out again. Where is it going? Is there someplace we can look for leaks ourselves or a common problem we can alert the shop to? And did they not do their job the first time? I'm not so sure we can trust this shop now. We've taken the car in to this shop several times recently and it seems like they are always finding problems we should have fixed. Frankly, I'm not sure if they are doing us a favor by finding real problems or padding their bill.

I don't know if you ever respond by e-mail but we are hoping to get the car fixed this week as we need it. I really appreciate the advice you are giving people and enjoy reading your column.
Debbie H. in Illinois

Okay, now you say that there is a bad smell of antifreeze. Is it on the inside of the car or the outside? This is a serious question. A lot of people look at me funny when I ask, but if you smell it on the inside, then there is a good possibility that the heater core is leaking. Pull up the floor mats and feel the carpet. Does it feel wet? If not, try going down a layer and checking until you hit metal (the floor). The most likely place to check would be the passenger side front. Okay, the floor is dry, but is there an oily haze on the inside of the windshield. If so, again to the heater core and the defroster is blowing it towards the window.

No haze? Is the smell from outside. Start the car and go in the back of it. Is the smell stronger? Yes, then the problem is the head gasket and it is leaking into the cylinder head. This is bad.

No smell in the back? Okay, shut the car off and check the oil. Is it frothy (foamy)? If so, then again a cylinder head gasket leak.

Oil clean? The next spot (usually the most obvious) is to look for a puddle underneath and find the broken hose. Now, it could be a high pressure leak (one that will only leak while the system is pressurized) and is blowing onto an exhaust pipe. Hence, no drip, but you should smell the antifreeze stronger in the engine compartment than anywhere else in the car.

Finally, the water pump. I had a similar situation where I was chasing a phantom leak from hose to hose and it turned out to be the water pump. Just do not over tighten the belts when you put them back on! That will cause more damage to other things than you will fix! Also the problem could be with a bad radiator. Either way, most of these repairs will cost a bundle. To change the water pump, books at 2.1 hours! The thermostat is 0.9 hours and to change the belts is 0.8 hours. So to do a water pump job on that engine will cost around $300. The heater core is a similar situation, all labor and not cheap! The cylinder head gasket is in the same boat. Lots of labor involved. Probably the cheapest thing to do is change the hoses (all of them if you cant find the leak) then the radiator. I would say that you could have someone change those (if not yourself) fairly inexpensively. Remember before you attempt any repair, please consult your service manual!
Good Luck!
Drive Safely!
Bob, The Auto Answer Man

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