Skip the auto shop - Our mechanics make house calls

Symptoms of a Bad or Failing Water Pump

water pump

In order to run cool on those hot summer days, your engine needs to have a consistent flow of coolant supplied from the radiator throughout the engine by way of the water pump. When it works properly, your car will maintain a consistent operating temperature, run smooth, and take you anywhere you need to travel. When the water pump fails or is beginning to wear out, it can lead to complete engine failure.

When the water cooled engine was introduced, many automotive experts believed that the water pump circulating coolant through the engine block was just as critical to engine protection as oil. This philosophy holds true even as technology has improved over the years to create more efficient cooling systems in today's modern cars. Your car’s water pump is the key to making the entire system work. It is an impeller pump and is buried under the timing belt cover on the side of the engine. The pump is operated by the engine’s drive belt – as the belt turns, the pump turns. Blades on the pump force coolant to flow through the engine and back to the radiator to be cooled by a forced air cooling fan.

Although the water pumps in most modern cars, trucks, and SUVs will last a long time, they are by no means indestructible. Like any other mechanical device, they will produce a few warning signs that they are wearing out, so that car owners can contact a local ASE certified mechanic to replace the water pump before additional engine components are damaged.

Here are some common symptoms that hint towards having a bad water pump:

1. Coolant leak at the front-center of your car

The water pump is comprised of multiple gaskets and seals that keep coolant contained and ensure that consistent flow of coolant is delivered from the radiator to the engine. Eventually, these gaskets and seals will wear out, dry up, crack or break entirely. When this happens, coolant will leak from the water pump and drop to the ground, typically in the front of your car and in the center of the motors location. If you notice that there is a leak of coolant (which will appear to be green or sometimes red in color) under the center of your car, truck or SUV, contact a professional mechanic to inspect this problem; more often than not, it's a leak from the water pump that can be repaired.

2. Water pump pulley is loose and making whining sounds

From time to time you might hear a high pitched sound that comes from the front of the motor. This is typically caused by a loose belt that creates a harmonic buzzing or whining sound as it circulates. The loose belt is commonly caused by a pulley that has become loose or that the bearings that operate the water pump assembly are wearing out. Once the bearings fail inside the water pump, unfortunately this means that that a certified mechanic will have to replace the water pump.

If you notice that there is a loud, whining sound coming from the front of your motor that increases in volume as you accelerate, contact a mechanic as soon as possible to inspect your vehicle.

3. Engine is overheating

When the water pump fails completely, it will not be able to circulate coolant through the engine block. This results in an overheating situation and if not repaired or replaced quickly, can cause additional engine damage from cracked cylinder heads to pushed head gaskets or burnt pistons. If you notice that the engine temperature gauge is running hot on a frequent basis, it's more likely than not a problem with the water pump. You should contact a mechanic to inspect this problem and replace the water pump if needed.

4. Steam coming from your radiator

Finally, if you notice steam is coming from the front of your motor as you drive or come to a stop, this is an instant sign of an overheated engine. As discussed above, an engine will maintain a consistent temperature when the water pump works correctly and circulates water to a functioning radiator. If you notice steam coming from the front of your motor, you should pull over to a safe area and contact a mechanic as soon as possible. It's not recommended to drive an overheated engine at all, so if you have to contact a tow truck to get the car home, this could save you significant money in the short and long term.

Anytime you notice any of these warning signs, contact a local ASE certified mechanic so they can repair or replace the water pump and get your car back onto the roads without delay.

The statements expressed above are only for informational purposes and should be independently verified. Please see our terms of service for more details

Skip the repair shop, our top-rated mechanics come to you.

At your home or office

Choose from 600+ repair, maintenance & diagnostic services. Our top-rated mechanics bring all parts & tools to your location.

Fair & transparent pricing

See labor & parts costs upfront, so you can book with confidence.

12-month, 12,000-mile warranty

Our services are backed by a 12-month, 12,000-mile warranty for your peace of mind.

Get A Quote

Ask a Mechanic
(100% Free)

Have a car question? Get free advice from our top-rated mechanics.

Ask A Mechanic
Over 10,000 questions answered!

Need Help With Your Car?

Our certified mobile mechanics make house calls in over 2,000 U.S. cities. Fast, free online quotes for your car repair.


Post a question and get free advice from our certified mechanics.


More related articles

P0240 OBD-II Trouble Code: Turbocharger Boost Sensor B Circuit Range/Performance
P0240 code definition Turbocharger Boost Sensor B Circuit Range/Performance What the P0240 code means P0240 is an OBD-II generic code triggered when the Engine Control Module (ECM) detects the intake boost...
Rules of the Road For Iowa Drivers
Driving on the roads requires knowledge of the rules, many of which are based on common sense and courtesy. However, even though you know the rules in...
P0359 OBD-II Trouble Code: Ignition Coil I Primary/Secondary Circuit Malfunction
P0359 code definition The P0359 code indicates that a fault has been detected in one of the vehicle’s ignition coils, generally the number 9 coil. This code can also be associated...

Related questions

Q: Water leaking in mid-section of car

Hi, thanks for writing in. Typically when coolant is leaking in the center of vehicle, it comes from the water pump or the primary coolant line attached from the pump to the block. In order to verify this you can...

Q: New water pump new thro new cap still over heating

This can be caused by a number of things such as low coolant levels, a faulty thermostat, or a failing coolant fan switch. Since you have just replaced the thermostat, water pump and head gasket, we can eliminate those unless...

Q: Constantly overheating 2003 Dodge Durango

It seems like you have an air flow issue or air in the system. The fan clutch should spin with a small amount of resistance when the engine is cold. With the engine up to temperature, the fan clutch should...