Looking for a Hot Tip on Coolant Loss

Times Staff Writer

Question: I have a 1976 Ford Maverick six cylinder. I have to add about a quart of coolant every week. I can’t see any leak and the oil looks OK. Could the leak damage the engine? Where is it going?--A.B.

Answer: A slow coolant leak is usually a nuisance and will not damage an engine as along as an adequate coolant level is maintained. Sometimes it takes a lot of detective work to trace a coolant loss. A few routine tests will help.

First, you have to be certain that the engine is operating at normal temperature. You probably already know that, because your car has a temperature gauge instead of a caution light.

You have to make sure that the radiator cap is on tight. You should remove it and inspect the rubber gasket. It should provide a good seal against the lip of the radiator hole.


If all this checks out, you need to have your cooling system pressure tested. A mechanic will use a pressure gauge to determine whether it is maintaining proper pressure. Any leakage will indicate that water or steam is seeping out somewhere.

There is also a test that your mechanic can perform to determine whether exhaust gas is getting into the radiator coolant. This would occur when a head gasket is blown or, less likely, when a small crack occurs in the engine block or head.

Sometimes a small leak can occur that allows coolant to fall onto a hot engine. It evaporates and leaves no evidence of a leak. Those are the hardest to find.

As long as no coolant is getting into the engine oil or the transmission fluid, the leak is unlikely to damage your engine. Living with the hassle is something else.


Q: The engine in my daughter’s 1984 Toyota Celica seized due to lack of oil. The mechanic who repaired it said the oil loss was due to a crack in the Fram oil filter. There was absolutely no warning. If, in fact, there was a faulty oil filter, I feel that the Fram company should bear the cost of the repairs. Where can I get the filter tested, and where should I write to Fram?--L.J.H.

A: If you’re trying to get evidence to press a claim, a test of the filter is a good idea, but it won’t be easy to find a laboratory to do one at a reasonable cost. Your best bet is to start with an auto club, which in many states has large engineering and test departments.

Because your mechanic is already on your side, ask him for a signed statement. Then write to Fram and explain your problem. The address is Fram Corp., 105 Pawtucket Ave., East Providence, R.I. 02916.

Q: I have a 1975 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme Special Edition with a 455 engine. It has only 40,000 miles and the interior is as good as new. I need to sell it. Where can I check on its value?--A.R.


A: Because the car is too old to be listed in the blue book, you’ll have to consult what is called the gold book, which lists values of older cars. Any large library should have it. Also, advertising publications specializing in classified ads for used cars are a good gauge of the market.

Ralph Vartabedian cannot answer mail personally but will respond in this column to automotive questions of general interest. Do not telephone. Write to Your Wheels, You section, The Times, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles 90053.