Q: Diagnosing a heater core problem

asked by on December 11, 2016

I have just recently paid to have my water pump replaced. Everything was going fine, until I noticed my car having a funny smell when I would turn on the heat, and I am seeing smoke coming from my car again. I was told it was a problem with the heater core. Is this accurate or would it be a thermostat problem? My car is not overheating. If it is a heater core problem, Do you have an idea of the cost? Is it even worth fixing? I am hearing alarming news regarding the repair costs. Any help of advice is greatly appreciated. Thank you.

My car has 200000 miles.
My car has an automatic transmission.

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A common tell tale sign of the heater core not working is the heater not providing warm heat when turning it on. You may also notice the floor being a bit damp in the event that the heater core might be leaking which may also generate a smell (coolant) as you describe.

The heater core is a small radiator like unit that circulates the hot coolant from the engine through the heater core which then uses this warm coolant to heat the inside of the car with the help of the blower motor that blows the warm air through the vents inside the car. When the cooling system is not properly circulating coolant through the motor, this results in the warm coolant not being pumped through the heater core properly in order to warm the inside of the vehicle.

Engine overheating can be caused by a number of things such as low coolant levels, a faulty thermostat, or a failing coolant fan switch. As you may know the coolant fan switch helps to maintain the proper coolant temperature by turning on and off at specific temperature thresholds. When this switch is not working properly, this can cause the fans to come on intermittently, all the time or sometimes not at all. When this happens you will notice a temperature spike and drop occasionally as the fan comes on and off. When your thermostat is not working properly or is stuck closed, this will not allow the coolant to properly circulate through the engine, which may cause the engine temperature to fluctuate erratically or in some cases just remain hot. As mentioned above, this also restricts the warm coolant from flowing through the heater core which uses this to blow warm air into the cab of the vehicle.

Repairing a heater core is generally a fairly inexpensive job and is worth looking into. I would suggest having an expert from Your Mechanic come to your home to diagnose your cooling system.

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