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03-08-2010, 08:58 PM   #1
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Update and question on my 1996 Ford Ranger XLT

I took the truck to Pep Boys to get the temperature gauge fixed and see what was causing the leaking. They did pressure tests and didn't find an external leak but found that the radiator was losing pressure. They replaced the temperature gauge. So, I take the truck home and notice that the temperature gauge that they put in gets stuck and only goes up a little bit, whereas the old one would go up to the middle. The new one will also stay stuck where it is when I turn the truck off, and will go down all the way sometimes when I turn it back on. I'm pretty sure it isn't running that cold after I warm it up.

Anyways, on to the leak. The day before I took it in I checked the radiator cap and the coolant was all the way to the very top, but my plastic coolant reservoir was losing some water. After I took it in to Pep Boys, the backup coolant tank has stayed right at the top where they filled it to, and now my radiator is losing water when I check the cap. I had to put over a water bottle in it just after driving home, and yesterday I had to put a half of a water bottle in it after driving 13 miles. So why after they fixed it would the water be leaking out of the radiator itself instead of the backup reservoir? Should I have them fix that? I'm not exactly sure how it all works, but I figured that when the radiator uses water, the backup tank fills it back up and that's why it should always stay at the top, and I would much rather have water leaving the backup reservoir instead of the main one since I don't have to wait an hour or two before I can open that one. I'm really worried about this because if my radiator starts to run out of water all the time I'll have to refill it every day and I'll never be able to drive more than an hour or so away without having some major problems with overheating and possibly destroying my engine.

Oh, and the other update is that they can't find an external leak so they think it's internal and they also think that it might be a cracked head. They said they had to put a quart of oil in it, but I've been checking the oil too and it doesn't seem to be leaking at all, so I think that it is just water that is leaking from it. They said it would cost $500-$600 just to see where the leak is though.

03-08-2010, 09:40 PM   #2
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If you have a cracked head you would probably have water in your oil....check the color...if t is a milky color instead of brown, then that is a tell tale sign. Also....you ever considered the water pump as the culprit? Funny you post this as I am taking my 99 F150 in because there is the smell of antifreeze going throug my A/C vents....which leads me to believe there is a heater core prolbem.....ohhhh that could be another source of your leak.....
03-08-2010, 09:45 PM   #3
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If it isn't loosing coolant via puddles on the driveway, it pretty much has to be loosing coolant into an oil gallery, where it boils off and goes into the rebreather and eventually out the exhaust.
Do you have the wherewithal to drop the oil and check for water in it?
03-08-2010, 09:56 PM   #4
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Next time I check the oil I'll check the color, but I haven't actively noticed anything different when checking it. Either way, what I'm concerned about is why before they checked it, the backup coolant reservoir was the one losing water (the way I thought it was supposed to) and the water under the radiator cap was totally full (all the way up to the cap itself), but now it's entirely the other way around. The plastic backup coolant reservoir (as I'm understanding it, is this wrong?) isn't losing water, but the radiator itself is because every time I check the cap I have to refill it.

03-08-2010, 10:19 PM   #5
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You won't always have water in your oil, or vice versa when have a cracked cylinder head.
The cracks are often into the exhaust ports, or occasionally onto the outside of the head. The same thing happens with head gaskets.

It's easy to tell if it's leaking into the exhaust. Just start up your car (or truck) when it's cold, then grab the top rad hose. It'll pressurizer almost instantly..... whereas it takes several minutes of the car running to build up pressure from the fluids expanding.

I've never heard of a leak into the Intake system, however I imagine that it's possible. I wouldn't know how to test for it

If it's an automatic you might also want to check the transmission fluid for cross contamination.
The Rad can rot out, and allow the coolant to drain into the transmissions (in rad) oil cooler. You'll never find that leak until you check the Transmission oil either, which usually only happens while waiting for the tow truck

Good luck with it.
03-08-2010, 10:24 PM   #6
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But what about the water problem?
03-08-2010, 10:49 PM   #7
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Dumb question, but do you use antifreeze where you are?
03-08-2010, 10:56 PM   #8
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No I don't.

03-08-2010, 11:01 PM   #9
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QuoteOriginally posted by jct us101 Quote
But what about the water problem?
If you have a leak into the exhaust system, or transmission coolers lines like I mentioned your fluid will disappear, like you described.

I'm not saying that it is where the fluid is going to, I'm just saying that it's 2 things you can easily check yourself.
03-08-2010, 11:09 PM   #10
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QuoteOriginally posted by jct us101 Quote
No I don't.
Antifreeze contains Anti-Corrosion ingredients, so it's a good idea to use, wherever you live.
However, you should NEVER mix the green stuff with the red stuff. Stick with whatever your vehicle came with. Combining them can turn everything to a gel
03-08-2010, 11:16 PM   #11
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QuoteOriginally posted by jct us101 Quote
No I don't.
How long have you NOT HAD antifreeze in your Ranger?
03-08-2010, 11:22 PM   #12
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The water still has a greenish tinge to it, usually I don't put it in but when I get it fixed they do and it lasts quite a while. Anyways, I'm just curious about the switch between water loss when they fixed it. Which was is it supposed to happen?
03-08-2010, 11:33 PM   #13
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The most common cause for the leak to switch from the plastic tank to the rad is a loose or missing hose between them. A blockage, or even a split somewhere along the way.
The tank should get filled when the coolant expands, forcing it past the rad cap, through the hose into the tank. However it requires suction to pull it back, pretty much like you sucking on a straw.

However, I've seen (and experienced it on my last car) the cracked cylinder head leaking into the exhaust cause the same problem. It appears that when it's easier to suck the air through the head (or head gasket) that's where it'll suck it from
03-08-2010, 11:43 PM   #14
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But like I said before, before they did the pressure test to find a leak and replaced the temperature gauge, the radiator itself was totally full, and the plastic reservoir was the one that was getting a bit low. But now it is totally opposite.
03-09-2010, 12:39 AM   #15
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QuoteOriginally posted by jct us101 Quote
But like I said before, before they did the pressure test to find a leak and replaced the temperature gauge, the radiator itself was totally full, and the plastic reservoir was the one that was getting a bit low. But now it is totally opposite.
Wow, you're really good at repeating yourself.

The loss of water can occur from different places when conditions change. If you were losing water from the bottle before and you didn't have a puddle anywhere, that just means the engine was pulling the coolant out of the bottle. It was most likely doing this because it kept losing its own coolant from elsewhere. The overflow bottle is meant to allow excess coolant to escape from the cooling system once the coolant has expanded, and remain available for the engine to suck back in when it contracts again. If the bottle was emptying itself, then the engine was sucking it out. If it was sucking it out, it was probably burning it or dumping it into the oil pan.

Meanwhile, an air pocket might have formed in the radiator. This means the cooling system no longer has enough vacuum to pull coolant out of the bottle. Meanwhile, the engine might still be dumping coolant into the oil pan or the exhaust.

Of course, this is all conjecture. The point is it doesn't matter why the symptoms moved from the tank to the rad. You're trying to find a cause for something completely irrelevant. You're losing coolant, and it's not going onto the ground. If your exhaust isn't billowing white smoke, then the coolant is going either into your oil pan or your transmission. Either one is fatal to the drivetrain. If you keep driving it without finding the real cause, your engine or your transmission will seize up and it'll cost more than your truck is worth to get it fixed.

So, check your engine oil right now. After the truck has been sitting in the driveway overnight, crack the oil drain plug open and see what comes out. Coolant always ends up at the bottom eventually. If coolant comes out, you have a blown head gasket, a cracked head or a cracked intake manifold. If the head gasket is blown, the head might be warped too. You didn't mention what engine you have but I'll assume it's the 3.0 V6 since it's an XLT. I doubt the head warped on that engine.

As for transmission oil, that's tougher to check (assuming you have an automatic). I'm pretty sure your truck doesn't have a drain plug for the transmission. Either way, worry about that after you've confirmed that the oil pan is free of coolant.
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