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Very slow coolant leak

4706 Views 16 Replies 5 Participants Last post by  beef tits
Hi. I bought an 2003 Xterra model car back in 2005 (long story). It currently has 76,000 miles on it and has regular maintenance.

In March 2016, I went up a long hill and got stuck trying to turn around. I don't have 4-wheel drive and I may have pushed the engine a little too hard. I didn't notice it at first but a mile down the road the air-conditioning got warm. I looked at the temperature gauge and noticed it getting close to the top. I turned it off and a friend told me I was out of coolant. He went and poured some in. I wasn't sure what to make of it.

A couple weeks later I noticed a change in the level and a friend installed a new thermostat. There was no visible leakage under my car and the temperature gauge remained in its normal range. The A/C wasn't as cold as it should be (according to my friends) and someone decided to try recharging the Freon. That had no effect.

Without a low coolant sensor, I made sure to check regularly. In June 2016, I noticed it lower than the minimum bar. I went to store to buy coolant and refilled the container to a decent level.

It is now October 2016. People still complain my A/C isn't as cold as it should be and I just spotted my temperature gauge bouncing around as I drove up-and-down some hills. Yep, coolant was low again.

I have been told to check the thermistor (I guess the thermostat sensor), use dye, check coolant pressure, and check for air pockets. One guy told me to just buy a gallon of coolant every year since I don't drive that much. I'm hesitant to hand it off to some mechanic. I don't want to pay a lot of money but I do think I should fix it before taking a long trip somewhere. The only thing I can add is that the oil looks fine and I still get 16 mpg.

What do you think I should do?
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My car has a VG33ER engine. After placing dye into the coolant and running it for awhile, I took it into a local mechanic to check it out. He showed me several small spots around the Intake Manifold. He told me to buy an Intake Manifold Gasket Set for V6 3.3 and a gallon of green concentrate coolant. I'm thinking about taking it to another mechanic to double check if that's the issue. I believe him and I think it's a fair price. However, this means I'll have to figure out where to buy the set.
Well I went to get the set and they asked if it was supercharged. I wasn't sure and asked him to come check it out. Even looking at everything he still wasn't sure and it wasn't written down. Someone told me that it was while someone else said it wasn't. The engine I listed in the post above was just something someone mentioned Xterras had. They told me if it isn't the right set that I can always get it exchanged. It was around $50.

I went back to the mechanic a week later and he was no longer with the company. I was in a different vehicle and I had to show the card with all the previous mechanic's information to their replacement. I guess they didn't keep records. I made an appointment to bring in the car Monday. One of my friends took 15 seconds looking at the engine to reaffirm everything. Though that didn't stop him from adding "of course it could be a bad head gasket, bad..." I felt like a doctor telling me I should get one of my moles looked at or a computer help desk giving me a troubleshooting list to a network problem. One thing at a time I guess.
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Update: The replacement mechanic started pulling the hoses and lines to replace the Intake Manifold Gasket when he noticed some water coming out of the hose leading to the engine. He lifted up the oil cap and noticed that there was a green residue there and in the pipes. This gives the impression that the coolant... antifreeze... water... whatever you want to call it is mixing with the oil. The mechanic says I need a new engine and gives me two weeks before it breaks down.

I... I don't know. My mom told everyone and now everyone assumes I need a new engine. She is panicking because she decided to arrange this setup at the worst possible time. I don't like putting all my trust in one guy. I took a couple of pictures but I don't have the time to upload them right now.

Is it really the engine? I don't think I have a warranty on a 2003 78,000 mile engine. Or can it just be a blown head gasket? The mechanic gave me possible scenarios but ultimately he said to find a new engine.
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Well it sure has been fun running around with this coolant leak / overheating issue. So one of the many mechanics I know took a look at it and pretty much dismissed everything the other one was saying. As the car was running, he managed to grab a hose and hold onto it. It was cold. It was right below the thermostat. I told him I had the thermostat replaced and he told me that it's then probably the water pump.

At least it isn't "You need a new car."
At one point someone, somewhere tells you if an engine is supercharged. I never got that information and the people I talked to didn't seem to know either. I don't think I had one person tell me directly "This is not supercharged" until yesterday when I took it into the shop. No one could find it written down in any of the paperwork. It is entirely possible some of the people I talked to earlier assumed I would know and simply didn't tell me.

The mechanic will be replacing the water pump and intake manifold gasket. The dye in the coolant revealed puddles directly under the water pump. There were also puddles in several spots around the engine. Multiple people hinted at poor circulation since not all the hoses were hot to the touch. Although my mechanic did wonder if the thermostat was put in upside down, the one who replaced it told me he was very adamant in making sure it was put in the right way. After pulling the dipstick out, he stated that the oil was fine. I did not hear him say anything about the engine itself except that it was fine.

He asked a lot of questions and I could answer them to the most part. No visible white smoke coming from the exhaust pipe or out the engine. I have poor smell and wasn't able to tell him about any sweet odor when I drove it. He did not directly tell me whether or not he could smell it in any one particular spot with the hood up. The temperature gauge has only gone over the normal amount a few times this year. Each of those times revealed a lack of coolant in the tank and the radiator.

If this doesn't work, I am highly considering to continue running it and adding coolant when needed (there isn't much trade-in value). If it stops running, I will have to buy a new car.
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Sometime during his job, he stated he had some issues removing one of the bolts. It sort of caused a setback and he wasn't able to finish all the work in one day (I don't think he could have anyways). He was surprised of how intricate the water pump was behind the timing belt and asked if I wanted the belt replaced. At the time I told him I wasn't sure. He had other plans today and gave me the day to think about it. I was afraid he might have simply been looking for more to charge or replace as he was already pulling things out.

He looked at a lot of parts that night when checking for the leading cause of the coolant leak, including the radiator and the fan. He didn't see anything wrong with them, but I guess it wouldn't hurt to ask him again.
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