Check engine light/slow coolant leak

Tiny
SILVERWOLF913
  • MEMBER
  • 2003 DODGE DURANGO
  • 4.7L
  • V8
  • 4WD
  • AUTOMATIC
  • 150,000 MILES
I purchased my car a couple of years ago and have had the check engine light on almost since then. I was told it was a leak in the emissions system but was not actually affecting the performance of the car (not needed to be an immediate fix). I've struggled to have it diagnosed since then. The transmission has been replaced when it went out, the oil pressure gauge, the thermostat, the gas cap, and a valve somewhere in the emissions system. Each time the light was off and came back on within a couple of days of normal driving.

What started several months ago though appears to be a slow coolant leak and eventual overheating (no fluid is visible under the hood or on the ground). The coolant is disappearing from the tank, but refilling the tank won't fix the issue, I have to put it directly into the radiator hose. Then the car is fine for several weeks until the same issue occurs again. I've consulted multiple mechanics and they seem stumped. Could this cause the CE light? What should I look for?
Do you
have the same problem?
Yes
No
Wednesday, February 26th, 2014 AT 12:30 PM

5 Replies

Tiny
CARADIODOC
  • EXPERT
Wow. That's one tough vehicle to keep going when you ignored the Check Engine light for that long. How are you expecting to know when a new minor problem occurs that when also ignored, turns into a serious one?

There's two problems with ignoring any warning light. First of all, the obvious one is when the Engine Computer detects a problem, it sets a diagnostic fault code, and if that problem could adversely affect emissions, it turns the Check Engine light on. Sure, a small leak in the evaporative emissions systems wont affect how the engine runs, (it just affects the air you're breathing), but when a totally different problem develops, the Check Engine light is already on, so you won't know another problem exists.

The bigger problem is the computers constantly run self tests on sensors and output circuits. They compare sensor readings and operating conditions to each other to figure out when something is wrong. One of the conditions that must be met to set a fault code is that certain other codes can't already be set. For example, it knows when the engine has been off for at least six hours, the coolant temperature sensor and the intake air temperature sensor had better be reading the same temperature. It also knows the engine had better not be running at 4,000 rpm when the throttle position sensor says it's closed and at idle. If a code is already set for the intake air temperature sensor, the computer has nothing it can trust to compare to the coolant temperature sensor's readings, so some of the tests on it are suspended. Some failures will not be detected, and will not set a code.

When you finally get the first problem repaired, any suspended tests that use that as a reference will resume. THAT'S when some of those other problems will first be detected, set a code, and turn on the Check Engine light again. You incorrectly assume the mechanic is incompetent, but in reality, he had no way of knowing there was another defect when there was no fault code. With a Check Engine light that has been on for two years, you can be chasing problems for a while, and there's no telling if anything was damaged by ignoring those problems. Also, some of those tests will resume right away, but some only run under very specific conditions and could take from hours to days before the next problem is detected. The problem isn't that the mechanics don't know what to do. They're getting confused by what appears to be recurring problems over and over, but they are likely faced with multiple problems that have to diagnosed each time as they show up.

The loss of coolant you described sounds like a cylinder head gasket is leaking. Combustion gases can sneak into the cooling system and push coolant into the reservoir, or it can be drawn into the cylinder where it's burned and goes out the exhaust. When that gas goes into the cooling system, it can pool under the thermostat causing it to not open, and the engine overheats. Thermostats have to be hit with hot liquid to open. Hot air wont do it.

There's two tests for this. The first one involves drawing air from the radiator, while the engine is running, through a glass cylinder with two chambers partially-filled with a special dark blue liquid. If combustion gases are present, that liquid will turn bright yellow.

If that test is negative, you can add a small bottle of dark purple dye to the coolant, then search a few days later with a black light. The dye will show up as a bright yellow stain that you can follow back to the source. If a head gasket is leaking, you'll see the dye inside the tail pipe.
Was this
answer
helpful?
Yes
No
Wednesday, February 26th, 2014 AT 1:07 PM
Tiny
SILVERWOLF913
  • MEMBER
Not trying to come across as snarky, I promise! Just have had this continue to frustrate me and my emissions test is coming up in a couple of months so was trying to find answers.

I haven't been ignoring it, multiple repairs have been tried (new transmission, new fuel pump - sorry, forgot about that one, thermostat, gas cap, new valve in the system (I'm afraid I've forgotten which one specifically), oil pressure gauge).

The most recent engine codes have been PO440, PO456, and PO128. I got those when I had the codes checked at the autoparts store, and again during the last oil change. Both people said it was an issue with the emissions system, but couldn't tell me what possibilities there might be.

It wasn't a matter of ignoring it (none of the fixes that have been done appear to have corrected the problem), I'm just stumped on where else to look. I get that it's an older car, and I could frankly just start randomly replacing parts (as I'm sure a lot of them may be wearing out anyway), but unfortunately that's not in my budget. Having already done so many repairs, I was hoping to narrow down the possibilities on what might be left?

Would an idea then be to have the light reset, and then when it goes on again (I'm assuming that it will), to then go check the engine codes? That way the tests have a chance to reset themselves?

I'll look into the potential issues with the coolant. It sounds as if that may have nothing to do with the engine light though. I've checked and there isn't any coolant leaking into the oil. I've had a dye test done and they did not detect any leaks, but perhaps it needs to be done again.

Thanks!
Was this
answer
helpful?
Yes
No
Wednesday, February 26th, 2014 AT 1:28 PM
Tiny
CARADIODOC
  • EXPERT
P0128 - ECT Below Thermostat Regulating Temperature
P0440 - Evaporative Emission Control System Malfunction
P0456 - EVAP Leak Monitor Small Leak Detected

That clarifies it a little. Here's the code descriptions. The first one, 128, can probably be overlooked for now. That's exactly what I implied you shouldn't do, but in this case it is likely related to winter. If you're in a cold climate, every Chrysler product will have that code but it will not turn on the Check Engine light. It sets when the engine fails to reach operating temperature within six minutes. If you start the engine and let it idle to warm up, it will take a lot longer than six minutes, so they all have that code. When it gets warmer and that problem stops occurring, the code will erase by itself after 50 engine starts.

It could also be related to the times there's air by the thermostat. Like the thermostat, coolant temperature sensors don't work well in air. They need to be immersed in liquid to be accurate. You can watch what they're seeing if you connect a scanner to view live data. That sensor will be displayed with the voltage and the temperature that corresponds to.

There's whole diagnostic book written pertaining to code 440 and related codes. As you can see, fault codes never say to replace parts or that they're defective. They only indicate the circuit or system that needs further diagnosis. You pretty much need a scanner for this one so you can turn things on and off through the Engine Computer to see what isn't working or what isn't responding. This code could also be set unintentionally by the mechanic working on the system while the ignition switch is on. Normally we erase all codes when we're done, but some mechanics accidentally set additional codes when they're finishing up the repair.

For code 456 you almost have to have a smoke machine or you may never find the leak. That allows you to inject white, non-toxic smoke at 2 psi into the system, then you watch for where it sneaks out. Loose hose clamps and dry-rotted hoses are two of the more common causes. Chrysler evaporative emissions systems work the same way but without the smoke. They pump the gas tank and fuel vapor recovery system up to two pounds of pressure, then watch to see how fast that pressure drops to determine when there's a leak. If gas fumes can get out at two pounds of pressure, that smoke will too.
Was this
answer
helpful?
Yes
No
Wednesday, February 26th, 2014 AT 1:56 PM
Tiny
SILVERWOLF913
  • MEMBER
I've just looked up the PO128 and that sounds like it's probably from the coolant level issue, so I suppose that's not likely applicable to the main situation (since it shouldn't go back on with enough coolant in the system).
Was this
answer
helpful?
Yes
No
Wednesday, February 26th, 2014 AT 1:57 PM
Tiny
SILVERWOLF913
  • MEMBER
Thank you for the clarification on the first code. I'll keep an eye on it.
I looked back at my notes and PO128 was a fairly recent occurrence so perhaps it is related to the cold weather.

I think I understand a little bit better what to ask for to get these issues taken care of. I'll make the smoke test the next priority.

Thanks!
Was this
answer
helpful?
Yes
No
Wednesday, February 26th, 2014 AT 2:05 PM

Please login or register to post a reply.

Recommended Guides