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Old 08-01-2018, 04:44 PM   #1
Methos6848
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Default 2003 Saturn L200 Anti-Freeze/Coolant Leak?

In a nutshell, my 2003 Saturn L200 has somehow been leaking anti-freeze/coolant. Back in May, the 'low engine coolant' light went off. Popped the hood and discovered that the anti-freeze coolant reservoir was near empty. So, I refilled the coolant reservoir with the recommended anti-freeze (Prestone Dexcool 50/50, as prescribed for my 2003 Saturn L200). I let the car sit for about two weeks, and while out of operation, it didn't seem to leak at all (with the coolant at the level it had been at when filled cold). Then I took a 3 mile roundtrip to the local 7-11. When I got back, the reservoir still seemed full. Then, days later, I checked again and it was near empty again!

Might anyone be able to offer up a list of suggestions for what might be causing this coolant leak? Or better still, some repair cost estimates, along with all the various possible causes?

I've got a family member who's been kind enough to offer to cover the cost of repair. Yet, not knowing what the cause of the problem might be, I've had no way of knowing how much I need to borrow to cover the repair.

Thus, a thorough list of possible causes, along with ballpark figures on corresponding repair costs would be greatly appreciated!

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Old 08-01-2018, 05:28 PM   #2
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Default Re: 2003 Saturn L200 Anti-Freeze/Coolant Leak?

Welcome to SaturnFans, Methos6848!

Well, the story is informative of the problem. I have questions:

1) What is the mileage and maintenance history of this car?
2) Have you noted any antifreeze on the ground when you've found the coolant tank low?
3) Have you seen any signs of antifreeze making a trail from any location where there are hoses, or at the radiator, or on the engine block?

...
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Old 08-01-2018, 06:03 PM   #3
Methos6848
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Default Re: 2003 Saturn L200 Anti-Freeze/Coolant Leak?

Hello Pierrot! Thank you kindly for the reply and the forum welcome! In answer to your questions.

1.) The car currently has over 59,000 miles on it, very nearly 60k miles on the odometer. I'm the car's second owner and have owned the car since 2005. It's been pretty regularly well maintained, though obliviously, I drive a whole lot less than most folk do.

2.) I did indeed procure a very large piece of cardboard and placed it beneath the car, back in mid-May, when I left it parked for two weeks. Yet, sadly, I live in Central Florida and monsoon-like rain storms are virtually a daily occurrence here, throughout the summer. After that two week period of having left the car parked and inoperable, I did indeed check that cardboard I'd lain beneath. And noted moisture upon the cardboard. Yet, I touched the moist spot and smelled it and noted absolutely no odor whatsoever. Thus, I suspect that moisture was simply rain.

3.) Myself and several neighbors carefully looked under the hood, and not a one of us could discern any evidence of a leak at all. No discernible leak along the hoses, radiator or engine block. Yet, I definitely refilled that coolant reservoir and its contents eventually vanished after having taken a 3 mile round trip.

One thing of note, regarding the radiator, a somewhat mechanically inclined neighbor noted that my 2003 L200 has its radiator positioned in such a way that makes checking it difficult. Yet, yes, we perused as much of the radiator as we could anyhow, to no avail.

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Old 08-01-2018, 08:15 PM   #4
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Default Re: 2003 Saturn L200 Anti-Freeze/Coolant Leak?

Wow...with such low mileage you could have that car going for a very, very long time!

I'm suspicious of a water pump leak. The water pump is located at the front of the engine (passenger side) and offset from the block toward the firewall and just below the cylinder head in height. There is a tube running beneath the exhaust manifold from the water inlet "junction" - where the heater hoses meet the engine - toward the passenger side into the rear of the water pump. The water pump pulley is concealed by the timing chain cover and is driven by the balance shaft chain. The front of the water pump cannot be seen.

What is exposed is the body and its rear cover through which the crossover pipe is attached. The body of the water pump has a vent hole and it may be visible to you towards the top of it. If you look inside of it - you may need a flashlight - and see any build up of liquid then its most likely that the seal has gone bad. There may be a trail of light orange from the leaking antifreeze on the water pump as well.

If my hunch is correct this would explain why you've seen no trail of fluid elsewhere. Antifreeze leaking from the waterpump's vent hole reaches the top and flows out of it on its "firewall side." Air blowing through the engine compartment will tend to blow it in the same direction and thus leave no tell-tale sign of a leak where one might normally expect to see it. However, if the vent hole can't be seen at the top then it may be pointing toward the engine block. If that's the case then viewing the vent hole will be very difficult at best unless the vehicle is on a lift or otherwise elevated so as to be seen from underneath, and possibly requiring the use of a small mirror.

...
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The blessings of liberty erode in my country.
Gov't's grown bigger, but a chance exists that it will be reduced. I'm cautiously hopeful.

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Old 08-01-2018, 11:08 PM   #5
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Default Re: 2003 Saturn L200 Anti-Freeze/Coolant Leak?

Methos6848, in addition pierrot's suggestions, the water pump is not a friendly diy repair. It requires a special tool to hold one of two timing chains in place when the pump is removed and replaced. The tool can be pruchased but whether its worth the price for one time use debatable. This may drive up repair costs if a repair shop doesn't have one and passes on the costs to an unsuspecting customer. Repair costs can vary from high hourly labor rates at a GM dealer to someone in the neighbor hood with talent and won't charge an arm and a leg. I don't know costs but a guess may be several hundred dollars. If coolant was never replaced, this would be a good time to replace it.

The water pump is hidden on one side of the engine, above the starter. A hand held air pump (loaner tools from Autozone) can pressurize the cooling system to check for leaks on cold coolant.

The cooling system doesn't use a radiator cap. The coolant surge tank is an extension of the cooling system - its pressurized and the plastic coolant cap is the radiator cap. As coolant heats up, the surge tank with air allows expansion and contraction to keep coolant from oxidizing to allow antifreeze a longer life.
Attached Images
File Type: gif cooling system pressure test.gif (20.1 KB, 2 views)
File Type: gif pressure cap test.gif (20.1 KB, 1 views)
File Type: gif hidden water pump.gif (49.4 KB, 4 views)
File Type: gif water pump.gif (56.5 KB, 4 views)

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Old 08-02-2018, 12:32 AM   #6
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Default Re: 2003 Saturn L200 Anti-Freeze/Coolant Leak?

Dexcool is a 5 year/100,000 mile coolant. That is whichever occurs first not last. So even though your car has less than 60K miles it should have had coolant changes every 5 years. I bet it still has what is left of the original coolant due to lack of maintenance. This is not a slam but just an awakening. The oil needs to be changed every year even if it does not go the 3000 miles. I would check that the oil is not turning into a butterscotch milkshake. Hopefully you only need a waterpump. It is about a 6 hour job with experience and the proper tools. I just completed this job on an Oldsmobile Alero with an L61 on Monday. Belt, tensioner, thermostat, waterpump and a hasket set was about $125 on Rock Auto. I already owned the tool to hold the balance shaft chain. I do this for a living and my arms are black and blue from the reach around needed for this job. It will be $800 at a retail shop for this kind of repair. If it is a head gasket multiply times 3. These are very nice cars and that is why I drive one. The timing chain and other maintenance costs are in line with repairs on other cars. Just price the 100,000 mile service on a Honda or Toyota, they are up there also.
My advice is to properly diagnose the coolant loss and evaluate the repair costs before you procede.

...
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Old 08-02-2018, 12:36 AM   #7
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Default Re: 2003 Saturn L200 Anti-Freeze/Coolant Leak?

Quote:
Originally Posted by fdryer View Post
Methos6848, in addition pierrot's suggestions, the water pump is not a friendly diy repair. It requires a special tool to hold one of two timing chains in place when the pump is removed and replaced. The tool can be pruchased but whether its worth the price for one time use debatable.
Very helpful attachment pictures in that post, fdryer.

Look up OTC Tools water pump pulley holder p/n 6616 (DO NOT USE LISLE 13800!). I purchased the OTC tool for the repair and it worked perfectly. Having done this job I definitely agree with my esteemed SaturnFans member, fdryer, that this is not such DIYer friendly job. I would have been lost on this repair without the benefit of a repair manual and that lone tool.
Quote:
Originally Posted by fdryer View Post
...I don't know costs but a guess may be several hundred dollars. If coolant was never replaced, this would be a good time to replace it.
A local repair shop quoted me ~$350.00 for replacement of the water pump several years ago. I chose to do it myself. I posted a write up on this in the L-Series Forums.

Quote:
Originally Posted by fdryer View Post
The water pump is hidden on one side of the engine, above the starter.
Oh no, my friend! Heaven forbid it , but a correction is in order. The starter and water pump are on opposite sides of the engine. The starter is on the intake manifold, or radiator side of the engine. The water pump is on the exhaust manifold, or firewall side of the engine.

Quote:
Originally Posted by fdryer View Post
A hand held air pump (loaner tools from Autozone) can pressurize the cooling system to check for leaks on cold coolant.
Call the stores in advance regarding this. I've found that in the area where I live the stores don't have the necessary adapters to perform a pressure test on our cooling systems or tank caps. Further, even my preferred repair shop didn't have one!

02 LW300's words of caution regarding diagnosis and the need to replace the antifreeze are absolutely correct.

...
296,000 miles-it keeps on rolling!
The blessings of liberty erode in my country.
Gov't's grown bigger, but a chance exists that it will be reduced. I'm cautiously hopeful.

Last edited by pierrot; 08-02-2018 at 12:48 AM..

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Old 08-02-2018, 01:21 AM   #8
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Default Re: 2003 Saturn L200 Anti-Freeze/Coolant Leak?

Thank you pierrot for corrections of water pump and starter placement. My bad. I rely on skimpy drawings lacking in details and assumed too much. It's too bad the days of black and white photos and line drawings are gone from older manuals that had clear images in details.

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Old 08-02-2018, 08:42 AM   #9
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Default Re: 2003 Saturn L200 Anti-Freeze/Coolant Leak?

If the DIY repair is beyond yur skill set, then you simply send it in to the garage and let them take care of whatever needs fixing.

If you want to try and discover the source of the leak yourself, then you could get the equipment on a free loaner from one of the autostores and do the pressure check yourself.

If you try and check for a leak in the ordinary way, you are either putting the card under the car or you are going round the whole system physically checking for the leak. The problem in doing the latter is you need the coolant circulating and under pressure to see leaks. The downside of that is the engine will be hot, so crawling round underneath a hot exhaust isn't the best idea.

A pressure check set of tools is essentially connecting the pipe, pump and gauge to your coolant tank, then the system is pumped up to the normal pressure in the system. The coolant cap usually has the pressure on. It maybe around 20 psi or thereabouts. The engine is NOT running and everything is cold but you are mimicking the pressure at normal running. You can then crawl around to your hearts contents to look for the leak.

All this is assuming that the god damn rain every stops long enough right now FL to do that!! My own feet are starting to develop webbing right now. LOL

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