Can You Drive a Car With a Coolant Leak? Answered

The engines of cars generate heat as they work to convert the chemical energy of fuels to mechanical energy that makes the cars move. Since the temperature of the engine is essential to its proper functioning, the coolant keeps the engine in optimal condition; thus preventing it from overheating.

Coolant leaks are not uncommon as they do occur with a lot of vehicle owners. How do you know if you have a coolant leak? Can you still drive with a coolant leak? And how do you fix it? Continue reading to find out.

Can you drive with a coolant leak?

Yes, you might be able to drive your car with a coolant leak if the leaking is minor and only for a few miles. However, you must keep an eye on the temperature gauge, as you risk overheating the engine.

The coolant keeps the engine of the car running at normal temperature, preventing it from overheating. The amount of heat generated in the conversion of fuel to mechanical energy needs to be dissipated in order not to cause overheating; hence the coolant comes into play by preventing the accumulation of heat that might hurt the engine and other internal components.

Therefore, if you have a coolant leak, you should not drive the car for too long and definitely not at high speed or over long distances.

leaking coolant reservoir

How can you detect a coolant leak?

One way to discover a coolant leak is by watching your garage floor closely. If you notice fluid leaks on the floor that have a sweetish smell and bright pink, orange or green shade, you might have a coolant leak issue on your hands.

If you suspect a coolant leak from varying fluctuations in the temperature gauge, you can inspect the level of the coolant fluid to be sure. You could try pouring extra coolant fluid into the expansion tank and monitoring the level of the fluid to check for reduction. A change in the volume of fluid clearly indicates a leak is present.

If you are driving and the system detects a coolant leak, you will be alerted immediately with a warning light on your dashboard. This warning light is the equivalent of your engine overheating or the risk of overheating.

Can I still drive my car if the coolant is leaking?

If you notice your coolant leaking while driving, the best option is to pull over as soon as possible. The engine generates a great amount of heat to power the car; hence a minute of driving without proper heat dissipation could really hurt the engine.

Allow the engine to cool for 20-30 minutes, then it is safe to check the level. If the level is dangerously low, you will need to either top it up or call a tow truck. Driving with insufficient coolant will cause your engine to overheat, costing you thousands in repairs.

How long can you drive a car with a coolant leak?

You might need to use your car even after discovering a coolant leak. When this happens, how far can you go before causing huge problems to your engine?

The distance you cover and the speed you drive are important factors in considering how long you can drive. If the leak is minor, you might be able to drive for a couple of miles at a low speed. However, constantly check your engine temperature and stop when this starts to rise over the normal operating limit.

The simple explanation is that the more you task your engine, the more it is going to generate heat and accumulate heat at a very fast rate. Driving for just five minutes with a coolant leak might even prove bad for your engine.

How much does it cost for a coolant leak fix?

Catching on the coolant leak quickly can reduce your repair bill by a large margin. Early detection of a coolant fix would require a $100 repair bill. However, if you do not realize this issue before it causes other damages, you might need to pay up to $500 to $3000 in addition to the repair cost of the leak.

Early detection and regular maintenance are what keep the repair bills low.

How serious is a coolant leak?

A coolant leak is a very serious issue because if ignored, you could cause real damage to your engine. A coolant leak cripples the cooling system that keeps the engine working at optimal temperature; thereby causing the engine to overheat.

An overheated engine is expensive to fix; hence, it is better to fix a coolant leak than deal with the consequences.

Is a coolant leak easy to fix?

Yes, a coolant leak is pretty easy to fix. First, you must detect where the leak is coming from. The leak could be from the radiator or the hoses. Once you detect the location, you can then decide what part needs replacing.

However, it is understandable that not everyone knows his way around tools. If the coolant level is not too low, you might be able to drive the car to your local repair shop. If the coolant leaks as soon as you try to top it up, a mobile mechanic should be able to come to your place and fix the issue.

How do I stop my coolant from leaking?

You can stop the coolant leak by getting it repaired at the mechanic’s workshop, fixing it at home yourself, or trying out a few tricks to keep you on the road till you can fully repair the leak.

Changing the Radiator hose

Parts of a car are subject to age deterioration; hence it is normal to have the hoses that transmit fluids to the engine snap or go bad and cause a leak. If a hose is the cause of the coolant leak, you might have to replace the affected hose.

This is easy to replace as long as you can locate the input and the output clamps of the hose. Once you locate the clamps, do not unscrew them immediately. Try to drain out residual fluid in the hose first. Then you can unscrew the hose and screw another in its place.

The Egg method

It is quite possible to encounter a coolant leak when you are on the road or in a hurry to be somewhere and do not have the time to properly tackle the issue. In this scenario, you can easily make use of eggs to temporarily solve the leak.

Turn off the car and let it cool down for a while. Then open the radiator reservoir and crack two eggs into it. You might wonder, how does this work in fixing the leak?

The eggs are cooked by the heat in the radiator and as the leak pressure tries to push the eggs out, the eggs get stuck in the leak, stopping it. Bear in mind that the initial two eggs might not do the trick and you might have to crack more till the leak is closed.

Replace the radiator

If the radiator is the cause of the leak, you might need to replace it. You can either replace it at home or get the help of an expert. If you intend to change your radiator yourself, you should get your service manual for guidance.

The location of the radiator for most car models differs; hence you need the manual to know where yours is. Once you get the position of the radiator and the bracketry, you can proceed to remove it. In the case of a running car, turn off the car and let it cool down for a while.

You should then remove your battery’s connection before you start anything. Leftover fluid should be drained from the radiator, so you don’t cause a mess (coolant is dangerous to humans and pets). If your car has a fan mounted on the radiator, remove it, then remove the radiator by unscrewing the bolts and nuts keeping it in place.

The fan removed should be mounted on the new radiator after installation. Connect all hoses to the new radiator and fill the radiator reservoir with coolant. The battery should be reconnected and a test run should be performed. The connected hoses might have air trapped in them, so you might have to squeeze the air bubbles out.

FAQs regarding a coolant leak

Here are some more questions that may arise when you find yourself in such a situation.

What’s the best stop leak for the radiator?

Any decent cooling system stop leak product should do the job as long as the leak is minor. Prestone, K-Seal, and Bar’s Leaks are three of the most popular brands and they should do the job. However, remember that a stop leak product is a temporary fix.

Can I use water instead of coolant in an emergency?

Yes, you can use water instead of coolant when you find yourself in an emergency. Although water does not share the same properties as an antifreeze product, it is better to put water when in an emergency than to have your radiator run dry.

How do you temporarily stop a coolant hose from leaking?

The most popular go-to item when trying to fix a leaking hose is duct tape. Even electrical tape is good to use when in an emergency. However, this is a temporary fix and should not be used as a permanent repair on your leaking hose.

Closing thoughts

A coolant leak should not be ignored and should be treated with urgency. You can rely on a quick hack such as the egg method if you’re stuck on the road, but once you get to your destination, you should get it fixed. An old coolant leak issue might be very expensive to reverse, especially if overheating sets in.