Going through coolant like crazy but my garage floor doesn't show signs of leaks. Am I burning it?

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Jul 01, 1996

Dear Tom and Ray:

I'm a retired oldster and I drive a 1985 Chrysler LeBaron with a turbo. I
bought it new and it now has 28,300 miles. Shopping, doctoring and
occasional visiting are my only driving activities, and I'm now using my
neighborhood garage and filling station for needed services.

Recently, on a shopping trip, the "hot engine" light came on, and I found I
was out of coolant. After refilling the radiator and expansion tank, I
noticed what seemed to be steam coming from the exhaust. After my next
short trip, the expansion tank was empty again. I added more coolant, and
saw more steam out the tailpipe.

Our friendly neighborhood mechanic is at a loss. He can find no leaks. He
has offered to take the engine down and look for a minimum charge of $300
with no guarantees. What should I do? -- Robert

RAY: It sounds like you have an internal coolant leak, Robert -- either a
blown head gasket or a cracked head. And that "steam" you see coming out
your tailpipe is your "disappearing" coolant, after it's been vaporized
inside your engine.

TOM: So your engine probably will have to be "taken down" to fix it. But
before you let your mechanic do that, have him confirm this diagnosis with
one of two tests.

RAY: If he pressurizes the cooling system and leaves the car overnight, he
can then remove the spark plugs and crank the engine over in the morning.
If the head gasket or head is bad, some coolant will have leaked into the
cylinders overnight and will shoot out through one or more spark-plug holes
when he turns the key.

TOM: He can also use a dye or his emissions "sniffer" to check for the
presence of unburned gasoline in the radiator -- another sure sign of a
breach in the head or head gasket.

RAY: It's probably a blown head gasket, which will cost you several hundred
dollars to replace. But even if the head is cracked and it costs you 1,000
bucks, you're still going to fix it, aren't you, Robert? After all, you've
only got 28,000 miles on this baby. And aside from this problem, I'll bet
it's in excellent shape, right?

TOM: Besides, this is the perfect car for you, Robert. You've heard of the
IROC Daytona, right? Well, you've got the OROC LeBaron. The Official
Retired Oldster Car!


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