Leaky something-or-other on Saturn radiator.
June 11, 2013 8:59 PM   Subscribe

My poor, bedraggled 1996 Saturn is losing coolant. I can see where it's losing it from! I have no idea what it is or how to fix it.

Leaky section is highlighted; front of the car is down in this photo. It's not a super-fast leak. I added some of that fix-a-radiator-leak powder stuff, and it worked! For a week. Now it is leaking again. What is this mysterious part and what do I need to do to fix this? It looks like the whatever-it-is is physically separating from the radiator.
posted by curious nu to Technology (13 answers total)
I think that is the drain plug and it is probably coming loose from a cracked plastic radiator. The only way to fix it (if I am right, and I might not be) is to replace the radiator. That is not as bad as it sounds. You can probably find on in a junkyard cheap and it isn't hard to replace one (or too expensive if you are paying someone). If you can at ALL afford it, replace the radiator hoses while you are at it. If the hoses are more than a couple of years old you will probably have to destroy them to get them off the radiator anyway (magically, rubber bonds to the radiator better than superglue over time).
posted by bartonlong at 9:29 PM on June 11, 2013

I'll also add that the hoses will be like, $20 each max. Really don't cheap out and try and not swap them.
posted by emptythought at 9:40 PM on June 11, 2013

Seconding that it looks like a drain plug. Is the plug tightened?
posted by zippy at 9:44 PM on June 11, 2013

Response by poster: It's something that doesn't seem like it CAN be tightened. We were looking at it last week and it seemed more like something that had been welded/fitted on somehow. Will take a look again tomorrow in the daylight.
posted by curious nu at 10:22 PM on June 11, 2013

Go go a mechanic before it gets worse!!!

My beloved 2000 Jeep gets great care, and some kind of coolant/radiator bullshit caused a significant overheating issue last Friday.

Do you have towing with AAA or your insurance?

When your car overheats, even if you are on the freeway, the engine will cut off as a safety measure! This could leave you dangerously stranded within seconds of overheating in a bad spot for something that will be between $100 (including labor) to $300 to fix NOW.

The danger of having your engine cut out on a busy highway is not worth saving a few bucks by guessing - it only gets more expensive as a cheap to repair faulty fuse (in my case) or coupling (sounds like your case) blows out your radiator or pump, or worse.

Mechanic. Stat.
posted by jbenben at 11:16 PM on June 11, 2013

Best answer: To me that looks more like the connection for one of the transmission cooling lines, rather than a drain plug. Regardless, bartonlong's hypothesis that you've got a cracked plastic radiator sounds like a good guess. Definitely get this taken care of properly and quickly, because a single serious overheating event could easily turn this car into scrap.

For reference, this is a very similar (if not identical) radiator.
posted by jon1270 at 3:38 AM on June 12, 2013

I can't make out exactly what that is. As you have identified that it Is an integral part of the radiator you have three options all of which involve the removal and replacement of the radiator unit.
1. Braze the holed area.
2. Replace the unit with a second hand part.
3. Replace new or reconditioned.
I would go for option 2 or 3 depending on relative cost and how long I intended to keep the car. On most cars this isn't a big job,, you can DIY or expect 2 to 3 hours labour charge. You run a small risk that the engine will overheat if you use the car so keep it topped up and watch the temp gaugue. Do not run it hot as that will inevitably cause damage.
posted by BenPens at 4:03 AM on June 12, 2013

Chances are, you're going to need a new radiator. It happens. The radiator itself isn't all that expensive. Labor to install it will probably run more than the part. You can DIY, if you're up to it. The fitting you highlight looks like it could be for the cooling line to an automatic transmission.

Please don't use any more of that stop-leak stuff. It can collect in the cooling passages inside your engine block and restrict coolant flow.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:31 AM on June 12, 2013

Response by poster: Also, information I forgot: this is at the top of the hood compartment, not near the ground.

In any case, guess I'll start looking for radiators. =/ 'ppreciate the tips.
posted by curious nu at 5:51 AM on June 12, 2013

It looks like a temperature sensor, but the photo doesn't show if there is a wire connected to it, but it could also be a pipe to a transmission cooler. From your update, I'm guessing a sensor.

Not all cars will cut out before the engine overheats, BTW - I doubt that a 1996 car would do that - it will just keep going until the engine seizes and then you'll wish that it had cut out on the freeway :-(

It actually doesn't really matter what the fitting is - you have a radiator with plastic tanks and they only have a certain life. Yours appears to have reached the end of its life and needs to be replaced. if you're at all handy, you can replace it yourself, as it's not really a complicated job, just time-consuming and dirty. I'm not sure if this applies in the US, but I've found the best place to buy radiators is eBay. They'll be cheap imported units, probably from China and won't last as long at the original item, but for a 1996 car, they'll probably last as long as the car.

Yeah, don't use that 'stop leak' stuff again - not only can it clog the cooling passages of your engine, but it coats the inside of those passages and reduces heat transfer to the water, which can lead to overheating.

It's highly likely that the plastic radiator tank is actually cracked around the fitting and this can fail completely at any time, so I think you need to get this looked at pretty fast.
posted by dg at 5:54 AM on June 12, 2013

When your car overheats, even if you are on the freeway, the engine will cut off as a safety measure!

Not necessarily, as dg points out. What happens when your engine seizes is essentially that your engine turns into a large hunk of scrap metal, which is an expensive enough repair that it essentially turns your entire car into a large hunk of scrap metal.

You don't have to get it towed, but keep an eye on your temperature gauge when driving, carry extra coolant and water with you, and check the coolant level every day or more. If the temperature goes up, immediately shut off the engine -- but don't lock the steering column! -- put it in neutral, and pull over.
posted by yohko at 12:08 PM on June 12, 2013

Best answer: I had a 1996 SL1. This person over at Saturnalia seems to have had the same problem as you. Looks like you might need a new radiator and upper and lower trans cooling hoses.
posted by Rob Rockets at 10:07 PM on June 12, 2013

Response by poster: Radiator replaced! It was cracked in exactly the spot those Saturnalia photos show, which turned out to be right next to the automatic transmission coolant lines (so, those got replaced). Also swapped out the radiator hoses. Put it all back together and things seem to be running alright with no leaks.
posted by curious nu at 7:18 PM on June 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

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