Mechanicfilter - Ford Focus edition
July 26, 2014 9:11 AM   Subscribe

Hi folks, had a low-speed collision in my 2012 Ford Focus. The lady in the car infront of me stopped unexpectedly in the middle of a roundabout and my front end went into her rear bumper (phrasing). Nobody was hurt, no obvious damage, everybody went on their way. However, ever since there has been a small amount of dried fluid appearing on my front bumper. Before I take it to the garage, mechanics of metafilter, can you help me name that fluid? Snowflakes inside.

You are not my mechanic, might not even be a mechanic, all advice welcome but not binding. The car drives fine, brakes fine, steers fine, shows no signs of overheating and doesn't appear to be losing any coolant (the level in the tank has stayed the same over the last couple of weeks). Brake fluid reservoir seems fine. The fluid itself? Well, it's colourless and odourless but maybe slightly caustic to the touch. Photos here, here and here. If it helps, some of this fluid has also appeared on the black panel on the right of the photo, which is sealed so nothing's leaking in from the back. So folks, before I take it to the garage next week, any ideas what I've managed to break?
posted by peteyjlawson to Travel & Transportation (6 answers total)
My first thought is you've cracked a fitting on the radiator. It could leak for a long time before you noticed any obvious lowering of coolant level. Just a tiny hairpin crack would leak more like an atomizer than a stream. Your "caustic" description is dead-on for dried coolant.
posted by Thorzdad at 9:22 AM on July 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

Is there any chance that leak was present before the accident? Googling your make/model radiator leak, I'm seeing some discussion of radiator issues being covered under warranty.

If you are still under warranty, it might be worth rolling into the dealer and having them take a look-see. (Whether or not you choose to mention the accident to them would be up to your judgment re: transparency and honesty.) If it's not covered by warranty, you could then take it to a preferred indie repair shop to avoid dealership parts/repair upcharges.
posted by nacho fries at 9:47 AM on July 26, 2014

Slide some cardboard under the car while you are parked to see if any additional drips show up. If you use white cardboard you'll have a better chance of being able to tell what they are.
posted by yohko at 11:14 AM on July 26, 2014

I'm not familiar with the layout of components under the hood of a Focus, but looking at a few images online, the only two possibilities I see for leaking fluids are either the upper radiator hose or the battery. Can you confirm that the pictures are showing the grille on the driver's side (assuming left-hand drive, I guess)?

Given your description of the fluid (colorless, odorless, maybe caustic), I'm wondering if the battery is leaking electrolyte. (There are a few reasons a battery could be leaking, and it might be completely unrelated to your collision.) I'm not 100% sure where the battery is located from photos, but I'm thinking it's near the front on the driver's side under a cover. It will be in a tray which has a hose on the bottom to drain caustic battery liquids away from the frame; that hose is usually positioned so that any liquids drain on to the ground, but I could see it knocked into a position where it would drain on to the grille.

A leaking battery doesn't seem terribly likely, but it fits the evidence. I can't really think of anything else that does. You wouldn't really notice any symptoms until the electrolyte level got too low to generate enough power to start the car.
posted by Ickster at 11:41 AM on July 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

Hi folks, thanks for all the responses. The radiator sounds about right; hopefully they can do a repair rather than a replacement, but I'll take their advice on what to do once it's confirmed. The leak only occurs when moving, which I'd guess means it's being expelled under pressure. Ickster, it's a UK model so all of this is happening on the passenger side. The battery pack on my model is towards the rear of the engine compartment on the nearside, so it's an option. I am under warranty but I'm also too honest for my own good, so I'll tell them there was a minor collision and take it from there. Will report back later in the week with the final diagnosis.
posted by peteyjlawson at 12:56 PM on July 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

So, the promised update. We had it in the garage this morning and up on a ramp. Three of us examined the radiator and... well, no evidence of a leak (we were looking for red/pink spots to see if any coolant had been expelled). There was a theory that it was the might have been the result of running the air conditioner causing condensation, but everybody looked at the guy like it was a bit straw-grabby. After much consultation with the other mechanics, we downgraded the situation to 'keep an eye on it and take it back if it gets worse'.
posted by peteyjlawson at 3:37 PM on July 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

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