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If At First You Don’t Succeed, Try. . .(Oh, Forget This!)

April 18, 2018

If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.

That’s how the saying goes, but that’ not quite the way it worked out.

The water pump on my 2006 Pontiac Grand Prix is no longer leaking. Well, technically, it never was leaking. But, it’s also not leaking. Let me go back a couple of weeks.

My car was leaking radiator fluid and overheating. Now, if your car is overheating, there are typically three thinks to check on.

1. The thermostat: The thermostat is a device that opens and closes and lets coolant, or radiator fluid circulate just in the engine (when it’s closed) or through the radiator (when it’s open.) The problem is that because it’s a mechanical device, sometimes the thermostat can get stuck. If it gets stuck in the open position, that’s not too terrible. Your car will take A LOT longer to warm up. However, if it gets stuck in the closed position, then the coolant circulates inside the engine, and eventually gets really really hot and causes your car to overheat.

2. The Radiator cap: Believe it or not, the radiator cap is a pretty complicated piece of equipment. Long gone are the days when a radiator cap was like the lid to a pickle jar: screw it on and it seals the contents. Today’s radiator caps have pressure release valves. Ever notice that tiny hose that goes from the radiator to the overflow tank? The cap controls that. As pressure builds in your coolant system, when it gets high enough, the radiator cap allows some of that excess fluid to flow out to the overflow tank. That’s why you shouldn’t overfill your tank when it’s cool. It needs room to add more coolant when the engine heats up. Then, as your engine cools down, the pressure goes down and the cap allows the system to suck some of that coolant back out of the overflow tank. If your radiater cap is messed up, then your system can become overpressurized and bad stuff can happen: hoses burst, or temp overheat.

3. The water pump: The water pump doesn’t pump water. It used to, when your great-grandparents were roadtripping on Route 66. But, today’s engines don’t like water at all. If you do add water, it shoudl only be distilled water and then should be mixed with antifreeze. Your coolant is way better at keeping your engine cool than water would be. The water pump is a pretty simple device. It hooks up to the serpentine belt and has a fly wheel inside that pushes the coolant around the system. If your water pump fails, you typically know it pretty quickly. First, your engine overheats. Second, it drips coolant all over your driveway.

And that is why I was convinced my water pump was bad. My car was overheating and it was dripping coolant all over my driveway. I really hoped the issue would be the radiator cap or the thermostat (in that order.) Replacing a radiator cap is about the simplest fix you can make on a car. Seriously, you unscrew the old one and screw on the new one.

Replacing a thermostat can be challenging depending on the car. I have a 1996 Lexus that literally requires you to thread one of the bolts hodling the thermostat housing totally by feel, while wrapping your hand around the radiator hose. It’s not an easy task.

The water pump is a job, no matter where it’s located. Fortunately, for my Grand Prix, the access is pretty easy. Last week, my cousin came over and helped me replace the water pump. . .and my car still leaked. So, I did it a second time. . .and it still leaked.

If at first you don’t succeed, try. . .and then take it to the mechanic.

My thinking was this. I’d done the repair twice. The second time, I had plenty of gasket sealer, but I ended up breaking a bolt. Nothing can turn a 2 hour job into a 3 day marathon like a broken bolt. I thought maybe it would still work. Because it was a small bolt. Nope. Still leaked.

On Saturday, I took it to the only mechanic I trust. He told me it would be Thursday before he could get to it. And so, I handed him my key.

Well, he got to it on Wednesday. As I went to pick it up, he told me that he didn’t replace the water pump. In fact, as far as he could tell, the water pump was fine. And it wasn’t leaking from the broken bolt. Instead, there was a $10 piece of plastic that had broken way down underneath the engine in a spot that is very difficult to get to.

  • Replacing broken little plastic piece: $10
  • Getting to broken little plastic piece: $235

There are times to push through adn figure it out yourself and there are times to call in expert assistance. I don’t feel bad at all that I called for help. I would probably have not found that little piece for a very long time.

As it is, my car has a new water pump (with a small broken bolt that is not leaking,) a new thermostat, a new radiator cap, and new engine mounts, just because we were into the engine already, and the power steering whine corrected, and we changed the oil. It sounds absolutely wonderful.

Oh, and it also has a new little $10 plastic piece.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren. 

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(c) 2018 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved

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