How to Know if Your Car is Leaking Coolant and What to Do About It

on April 05, 2021
A black fluid spill on concrete.

It is never good news when your car is leaking something. Sometimes, it can be difficult to figure out precisely what is responsible for the problem. Nevertheless, only when you figure out what’s causing the issue can you begin to fix it. 

Here’s how to figure out if the leak’s culprit is coolant or if there’s something else going on with your car that you have to investigate. 


What is Coolant?

You might be wondering what exactly coolant is. This refers to a mixture that is created by combining equal parts of antifreeze and water. The result is what is ultimately referred to as “coolant.”

Antifreeze itself is utilized to lower the freezing point of the liquid that is circulating in your vehicle’s engine. This helps prevent the liquid in the car from freezing when the weather dips down to low temperatures. It can also help raise the boiling point of the liquid so it won’t evaporate. Coolant is also used to ensure that the engine’s internal parts are lubricated, so they continue to work smoothly. 

We want to note that you should never, ever pour antifreeze into the engine of your car by itself. It’s only by transforming antifreeze into coolant—by adding water—that it can perform its most important job. This includes presenting freezing and also overheating inside of the car’s engine. 

You might be confused as to what color coolant is, and that’s with good reason! Different cars require different coolants, which come in a wide array of colors. It’s important to note that you should never mix two antifreeze formulas - and for that reason, you should not mix two different colors. 

If you’re trying to decipher which antifreeze (and therefore, coolant) is the right one for your vehicle, the best way to figure it out is to check your owner’s manual that came with your car. That’s how you can make sure that you’re not using the incorrect formula and accidentally harming your vehicle. 

And even though it’s called coolant, it’s important to remember that your vehicle needs coolant 365 days a year - not just during the summer months. This is because even during the colder months, there are important responsibilities that coolant has. This namely includes ensuring that your vehicle’s engine will run correctly and nothing freezes. 


How to Tell If Your Car is Leaking Coolant

It’s essential that you take care of any coolant leak your vehicle is experiencing when it first becomes a problem. That being said, it’s important that you properly diagnose what’s causing the issue before you tackle treating it. Here’s how to tell if it’s really coolant your vehicle is leaking.

First, if there’s a problem with coolant leaking, you might notice that there is an antifreeze fragrance. This would be considered one of the easiest ways to tell if there’s a problem with the vehicle. 

In addition to this, you can also check and see if your car’s vehicle is overheating. If it is, there’s a chance that your car is having an issue with the coolant. You might also notice low coolant levels in the vehicle, and if you recently replaced the coolant, you might realize it’s running low already. 


Man pouring Shine Armor Oil Additive into an engine.


Finally, the most obvious symptom of a coolant leak is puddles appearing under your car. These puddles will have a different appearance than an oil puddle would, however. If you’re smelling an oily scent, or the puddles underneath your car are dark-colored and murky, then coolant probably isn’t the culprit. 

In addition to this, you should make sure that your coolant tank isn’t simply overfilled. If your tank is too full of coolant, it will ultimately spit out any excess - and that can appear to be a leak. You should also always note if your vehicle is making any sounds - this can also help you figure out the cause of the leak. 


What To Do About It and Where to Check for Coolant Leaks

To effectively check your vehicle for coolant leaks, it’s essential to be sure you’re checking the right places. If you suspect your car has a coolant leak, you should look in these locations to figure out if something’s wrong.

  • The thermostat housing of the vehicle 
  • The core plugs 
  • The catch tank 
  • The water pump
  • The radiator
  • The hose connection 

By inspecting these important parts of the vehicle, you’re more likely to catch an issue with the car if it’s leaking coolant before the issue accelerates. Like any sort of vehicle problem, the sooner you catch it and act appropriately, the more likely it is that it will be fixed without causing more significant damage to the car. 

Once you’ve figured out where the coolant leaks are, you can bring the vehicle into the shop to get the leak repaired. You mustn’t continue to drive in a car that leaks because that can make the situation worse. Instead, stop driving the vehicle and get it treated as soon as you can. 


Some Tips on Fixing a Coolant Leak at Home

You’ve officially figured out that the pesky leak you see under your vehicle is coolant. What now? Well, now you can take steps to fix it! 

The easiest way to repair your car with a coolant leak is to take it into a car repair shop so a mechanic can see it. That being said, there are ways that you can fix your vehicle from the comfort and convenience of your driveway. Here’s how.

We also want to note that you should make sure that you have both safety glasses and mechanic’s gloves, whatever you attempt. These are necessary so you don’t accidentally injure yourself during the repair project. As always, it’s essential to take care of yourself when you attempt any car-related project. 

If your vehicle is having a coolant issue due to the radiator and needs to be replaced, you should check your owner’s manual for specific instructions. Finally, it’s important to note that these repairs can be a bit difficult, so if you’re not feeling up to the challenge, or would be more comfortable simply bringing the car into the shop, by all means, do that. 


Other Potential Reasons My Car is Leaking

If coolant isn’t the reason that your vehicle is leaking, then there are other potential causes. Some of these include: 

  • Oil from the vehicle’s motor
  • Water
  • Transmission fluid 
  • Gear oil
  • Power-steering fluid 
  • Coolant (as we’ve discussed extensively)

Motor Oil: When you think of your car leaking, motor oil is likely the first thing that pops into your mind. You can tell if oil is to blame for your vehicle’s leaks due to the color - it’s usually amber to dark brown. Also, oil leaks can come from some rather random places in the car, so just because it’s not directly under your engine, don’t necessarily rule this out. (Side note: you should be checking your engine oil regularly to make sure that it’s well maintained! You can also use an additive to help give your car a boost. ) 

Water: If there’s water leaking from your vehicle, check out the car’s air conditioning system. This would likely be responsible, especially if the leak appears during the summer months. This is because the vehicle’s air conditioner is associated with the moisture it removes from the air inside the car’s passenger compartment. It typically drains the water onto the ground underneath the car through a rubber hose. 

Transmission Fluid: Usually, the first sign that there’s an issue with your vehicle’s automatic transmission is that the transmission will begin to slip. The vehicle could rev without even going into gear. It’s important to get this leak treated; if it continues along, the car will ultimately not move.

Gear Oil: Gear oil is easy to thick and honey-esque. It smells greasy, and it’s usually a very pervasive scent. If your rear differential is leaking, or if the car’s standard transmission has a leak, there will likely be some gear oil leaking from the car. In addition, you might also see it leaking from wheel-bearing seals or even rear axle seals in your car.

Power-Steering Fluid: If you think that this might be the cause of your car’s leak, the first thing that you should do is check out the reservoir. There, you’ll be able to see how the fluid level is doing. 

If you have any questions about your car leaking, you can also bring it to your local mechanic shop so they can take a look at it. 


The Takeaway

If you fear your vehicle is leaking coolant, you should find the source of the problem and begin to fix it as soon as possible. Coolant is essential to keep your car working correctly, so if you believe, there might be an issue with a coolant leak, fixing it will help ensure that the situation doesn’t cut your car’s lifespan. Taking care of leaks as they arise is part of how you can holistically take care of your vehicle



What is the Difference Between Coolant and Antifreeze? | K-Seal 

How to Fix a Coolant/Antifreeze Leak |

How Do You Fix a Slipping Transmission? | Mister Transmission



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