Sloshing probably indicates a leak

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Times Staff Writer

Question: At about the 100,000-mile point, I noticed a sloshing sound in the front of my 1997 Chevy Blazer, mainly when starting the engine, accelerating or turning. My mechanic thought it might be air in the system. However, after a flush and drain, and topping off the radiator, it has returned. There are apparently no leaks -- no wet spots under the vehicle -- and the engine runs cool. We can’t find the cause of this.


Answer: Sloshing is almost always caused by air in the cooling system, which allows the coolant to drain out of the heater core inside the dashboard when the engine is off. The heater core, which looks like a radiator, provides heat for the passenger compartment. When you start the car, the water pump sends a surge of coolant into the heater core and you hear the sloshing.

Obviously, air getting in means coolant is getting out, meaning you have a leak somewhere in the hoses, the radiator, water pump or engine.


It can be tough to find these leaks. The leak often is so slow you cannot see a drip.

Another strong possibility is that you have a leak in the gasket between the cylinder block and the head, allowing coolant to leak into the combustion chamber or the lower crankcase. If so, you may see billows of steam coming out of the exhaust pipe. If it is the latter, your oil will be noticeably contaminated with scum. You also can identify coolant contamination in the oil by having a sample sent to a lab that does engine oil analysis.

Another way mechanics sometimes track the problem is to put dye in the coolant and then use a black light to find leaks. This is pretty exotic, and not a lot of garages do this.

If the coolant is leaking through the head gasket, you’ll be facing a repair bill of perhaps more than $1,000. If the leak is through a pinhole in a hose or the radiator, then it could cost from less than $100 to a few hundred dollars.

I would suggest that you refill the cooling system and see how much coolant you are losing. If it is a minor amount, such as a quart every 1,000 miles or so, perhaps you can live with replenishing the coolant periodically.

Question: My boyfriend’s mother recently gave us an old Jeep Cherokee that was licensed in Washington state. We live in Los Angeles and the tags have expired. We want to sell the vehicle or use it as a trade-in. Should we get the vehicle licensed in California or Washington, or not get it licensed? Should we try to sell it in California, or is it better to sell it back up in Washington?


Answer: DMV clerks would have a field day with your mess, assessing fines and demanding paperwork. I assume that when your friend’s mother “gave” you the Jeep, she did not transfer the title and you did not register it when it arrived in California.


So what you have is a car with expired tags registered in another state to a different owner. You need to obtain the Washington title, get a bill of sale from your friend’s mother, transfer it to yourself at the Department of Motor Vehicles and obtain current license plate tags. This is a good example of how difficult it is to beat the DMV at its game.

The cost of all this will depend on the value of the vehicle, because you must pay regular sales tax. The DMV fees also will depend on where you live in California, but should be less than $50.

Question: Five weeks ago, I purchased a new Jaguar XKR type. But for the last week it has been sitting in the service department waiting for a power steering rack to arrive from England. At one point the dealership told me the car was OK to drive until the part came. Before I was off the lot, power steering fluid was leaking internally. I’m terribly upset with the entire ordeal. Why are there no parts available for a brand-new car?


Answer: It’s a hard-luck story for a luxury buyer to swallow. I would assume Jaguar has provided you with another Jaguar as a loaner.

One option the dealer should have considered was to rebuild your current rack. A good dealership should have that capability in-house, but even if it did not there are other options.

It’s possible to pull the power steering rack out of your car, air ship it to a remanufacturing plant and get it back within four days. One major rack remanufacturing company in San Diego, for example, quoted me a price of $650 for your rack, including next-day air shipping.


I would suggest you get on the phone to the customer service department at Jaguar, which is owned by Ford Motor Co.


Ralph Vartabedian cannot answer mail personally but responds in this column to automotive questions of general interest. Please do not telephone. Write to Your Wheels, Business Section, Los Angeles Times, 202 W. 1st St., Los Angeles, CA 90012. E-mail: