Why Is My Car Going Through Coolant So Quickly?

Coolant (often referred to as antifreeze) is an essential fluid in your vehicle. Without it, components will overheat and destroy your engine, leading to expensive repairs. If you notice coolant on the ground where you park or are constantly needing to add additional coolant to the engine, there is a good chance you have a coolant leak.

The cooling system in your car is complex and travels throughout the engine’s various components and sections. There are many different places a leak can occur, and diagnosing it can be tricky. Continue reading to learn about the most common causes of a coolant leak, and how to address them.

The experienced technicians at Becker Service Center can quickly locate and repair a coolant leak in your car, protecting your engine and keeping you on the road.

coolant resevoir

Coolant is important

You’ve seen it before. A car is pulled over on the side of the road, hood open, with white smoke billowing everywhere. A blown coolant hose or similar catastrophe will keep a car parked until it gets repaired. These situations are certainly dramatic and will render your vehicle undrivable. A slow coolant leak may not leave you stranded, but without addressing the leak you still run the risk of overheating your engine. An overheated engine has the potential to cause irreparable damage to sensitive engine components as well as the transmission.

Coolant is essential when it comes to keeping your engine cool. Any time your coolant system is compromised, it is crucial to get it checked out.

How does a car’s cooling system work?

The cooling system in modern vehicles cycles coolant through the engine, absorbing some of the heat created while it’s running. The coolant travels through the engine, heater core (supplying heat to the passengers), thermostat, and radiator with the help of a water pump driven by the engine.

What can cause a coolant leak?

Coolant consumption or leaks can be the result of many different issues. Generally, any area with a gasket, seal, plastic, or rubber runs the risk of degrading, cracking, and wearing out:

coolant hose

Cracked or broken coolant hoses

Rubber hoses connect various elements of the cooling system, and the rubber can deteriorate in the extreme temperatures and conditions of the engine bay.

Head gasket(s) leaking

Coolant comes in contact with the gasket separating the cylinder head from the bottom end of the engine. If this gasket starts leaking, coolant can escape the system and enter the combustion chamber of the cylinders, or leak out to the outside of the engine block.  

A head gasket leak is a serious issue, and can lead to more problems in your vehicle than just coolant loss. If you notice excessive white smoke coming out of your exhaust, coolant may be entering the cylinders. This may also be accompanied by a distinct sweet smell, as coolant has a sugary smell when being burned off (despite being very toxic). Avoid driving and get your car to a technician immediately.


Punctured radiator

The radiator is a heat exchanger, removing heat from coolant coming back from the engine. When the radiator is punctured, coolant will escape, leaking out onto the ground. A severe puncture will be very noticeable, while a smaller one will drip slower like a cracked or damaged coolant hose.

Worn water pump seals

Coolant can leak from your vehicle’s water pump if the seals inside begin to wear out.

Leaking heater core

The heater core uses the hot coolant to heat the cabin of your vehicle. If the heater core is leaking. A leaking heater core can have several noticeable symptoms depending on the severity. This will also often result in reduced heater performance.

Where is the leaking coolant going?

If you are regularly topping off your coolant, you have a coolant leak somewhere in the system. It can be difficult to identify where the leak is coming from. Often it is best to have a professional diagnose a coolant leak, but there are a few things you can check before bringing your car into a shop.

Check where you park

Look on the ground under where you park your car. Wet spots or puddles of liquid can indicate an external coolant leak. Coolant generally comes in bright colors that look more like snowcone syrup than an automotive fluid, so it most likely won’t be hard to narrow down which fluid is leaking when you see it.

It should be noted that coolant has a sweet taste and smell that can attract small animals, including trained pets. You should clean up and properly dispose of the leaked coolant to prevent you or someone else’s furry friend from mistaking it for a treat.

Check the exhaust

If you don’t notice any drips or puddles under where you park, the coolant may be leaking internally. If the leak is the result of a failing head gasket, look to the exhaust. White smoke in the tailpipe can indicate coolant entering the combustion chamber of the engine.

Visually inspect the engine

Open the hood of your vehicle and take a look around. ALLOW YOUR VEHICLE TO COOL DOWN BEFORE INSPECTING THE ENGINE. COMPONENTS CAN BE VERY HOT AND PRESSURIZED. If the leak is bad enough, you may notice green, blue, or orange liquid dripping or coating engine components. Examine the hoses and the engine block itself. Pull the oil dipstick and look at the oil. Oil contaminated with coolant from a head gasket leak can have a cloudy or milky appearance.

Check under the dashboard

The heater core resides behind the dash on the passenger side of your car. If there is a coolant leak coming from the heater core, the floor beneath the dashboard may be wet.

Does the cabin smell like coolant?

If you notice the sweet smell of coolant when you are driving your car, this can be another indication of a leaking heater core. You should not use the heater if experiencing this smell, as these fumes are not ones you want to be breathing in.

Contact a mechanic

Regardless of whether or not you locate the source of the coolant leak, be sure to contact a trained technician to get it fixed. If no coolant appears on the ground, a mechanic can do a pressure test to determine where the coolant is leaking internally. If the leak appears to be severe, do not drive your vehicle. If the engine overheats it can be destroyed, and your repair bill will increase significantly.

Let us help!

The ASE Certified technicians at Becker’s Service Center Diagnose and repair your coolant leak. Give us a call or schedule an appointment today!