2001 Chevy Impala Livid about Dex-Cool!

Tiny
JDKODYSZ
  • MEMBER
  • 2001 CHEVROLET IMPALA
  • 6 CYL
  • 2WD
  • AUTOMATIC
  • 57,000 MILES
My wife just returned from a trip to a GM Dealer and I'm so mad I could scream! Let me give you a little background information. I'm 58 years old, and in my working career I've been the Manager of several service stations and worked buying repairing and selling vehicles for many years, so I don't think I'm a complete idiot. Every place I take my car seems to think I am though.

All these years I've always worked on my own vehicles, as well as my friends and family's. I am now on disability and can't work on them anymore.

Okay, let's get to the problem. My wife purchased a 2001 Chevy Impala brand new. It's always been properly maintained according to the owners manual. The car currently has 59,750 miles on it. At 50,000 miles I took it into the dealer to have it's 50,000 mile maintenance and inspection. Hearing all the horror stories about Dex-Cool, I had the dealer flush and refill the radiator.

A couple of months ago the low coolant light kept coming on and going off occasionally. Since I had my car in a major repair chain for new tires, I asked them to find out what was wrong with the coolant light. The prognosis was that the sensor was bad, so I told them to replace it. Apparently, the sensor is located in the radiator tank, so they had to drain the coolant. They told me I should have the system flushed, but since I just had it done, I said to just return the old stuff and top it off. A few days later, the light kept comming on, but only at highway speeds. I took it back and the National Chain guy said that they checked the sensor and it was OK, but there was a lot of "Gunk" in the cooling system, so I had them flush and refill the system. They assured me that the antifreeze that they use was approved by GM.

A few days later the light came on again at highway speeds. Since I figured that it must be a "Bubble" in the system, I topped the recovery tank off although it was not really low. I can't find any leaks and I don't think there are any gasket leaks because the level in the resevoir is OK.

That brings me to today. My wife had to take the car into the dealer for a free oil change (don't ask) and asked them to check the problem out. They told her that without a diagnostic check, they couldn't find the problem, but they topped off the resevoir. My wife left the dealer and got on the freewayt and (you guessed it) the coolant light went on. She turned around and went back. She had them do a diagnostic check and after $42.00, they said that the coolant was green and therefor not Dex-Cool, and they would'nt work on it without another cooling system flush! That the point I went ballistic!

I know one of these places is screwing with me, I just don't know which one - yet. This finally brings me to my question. I have done some research, and found that there are some newer coolants compatible with GM cars. Whether the color has anything to do with it I don't know. At this stage of the game the warranty is not the issue, I just want a coolant that doesn't eat up my engine (and for the low coolant light to go off). Can you give me some insight into this problem? I think I'm entitled to a refund from one these "Yahoos", but which one?
Jim K
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Thursday, July 23rd, 2009 AT 4:07 PM

3 Replies

Tiny
BUDDYCRAIGG
  • EXPERT
Yes there are many antifreezes out there that are ok for GM. I've seen them orange, clear, and green.
For them to refuse to work on it is naive.

About the sensor problem,
i don't believe that you had 2 bad sensors.
I either suspect the connection pigtail for the sensor.
Or
heaven for bid, the radiator is clogged up.
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Thursday, July 23rd, 2009 AT 8:55 PM
Tiny
NICOLE CELLI
  • MEMBER
2001 Chevy Impala LS, 3.8 L engine, V6, today - after hitting the gas pretty hard a couple of times, I got home, and for the first time EVER - my car was making this bubbling noise, I had just gotten the oil changed last week. I have noticed that people who check my fluids for me, have said that I keep needing coolant. This has happened 4 times in the last 2 months. When I got my oil changed last week, they said I needed water. I was confused and told them I had coolant, if that's the same thing. She said water is fine, and I could always do a 50/50 mix of coolant and water, but she was just gonna fill it up with water. So she did. I've never had this issue before her putting the water in. The temperature outside has been 95-104 in sacramento, ca for the last 2 1/2 months or so. Anyways, I got home, engine was making a crazy bubbling noise. I freaked out, got out of the car, and it sounded like it was getting louder. I park on a very slight incline, but still an incline - and next thing I know, I come outside because I went to check on it after texting a plethora of people asking what the hell is going on with my car. And there was liquid all over, down the driveway from underneath my car. But the bubbling had stopped. I was asked to check what color, and it was clear - it was water. It even evaporated quickly because of how hot it is, and not a trace was to be seen, so it was definitely the water. Someone came over, and they ran a hose through (somewhere, I don't know exactly where), just to see if there was a leak, there is no leak. I was nervous to take it anywhere, but they filled it up with water. I drove up the street to a friend's house. Literally 1.5 miles, it was totally fine. I didn't use the AC because even though I know nothing about cars, I felt like this would make it worse. Got to my friend's just fine. It's still super hot out. Hung out for a couple hours. Then I asked him to come out and make sure my car would make it the 1.5 miles back to my house in the sun. He asked me to turn on the car, he had me fill the rest of the coolant I had left in my car, into the tank for coolant because he said it was completely dry? I don't understand. The last time someone said they were filling my coolant up was a few weeks ago. The girl said she was filling the water up, and I was under the impression that it was in place of the coolant - and would go in the same tank? I don't know where she put it. I just found out today, that the coolant and the water go in different areas? Or am I not remembering correctly? ANYWAYS - i'm just trying to give as much detail as I can to help you help me diagnose this. After my friend sent me on my way, he said the water was fine, and had me fill up the rest of the jug I had of coolant, and told me where to keep an eye on my temperature gauge, he said if that gets past the middle line, i'm about to overheat, and I need to pull over and fill with water and check to be sure the fans are still moving. I made it home RIGHT as the gauge was moving past the middle line - 1.5 miles away from my home. Soooo, what the heck is going on! The person who came earlier after the bubbling issue, who put the water in - said the thermostat needs to be replaced. Now, i'm seeing there are all kinds of things that could be wrong. I checked the oil dipstick, and there was no "yogurt" like substance on it, looked clean - so my friend said it's not the head gasket then. What is it! Please help! I have ZERO dollars to spend on this. I'm on disability and have had so many issues with this car since buying it off a lady when I moved out here in 2015. I'm freaking out. I have no support out here and everyone who works on my car out here, seems to screw me over. Even to the point where someone did my brakes and didn't screw my lugnuts on all the way. What do I do?
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Friday, July 28th, 2017 AT 2:16 AM
Tiny
CARADIODOC
  • EXPERT
I suspect my news is not good, but lets start by clearing up some issues. All car engines are cooled with a mixture of 50 percent antifreeze and 50 percent water. That mixture is referred to as the "coolant". Up here in Wisconsin where it gets WAY below 32 degrees in winter, we need antifreeze in the coolant so the water won't freeze and crack the engine. YOU need antifreeze for the additives in it. That includes anti-corrosive agents and water pump lubricant. For your needs, the 50 / 50 ratio is relatively unimportant. That's why adding just water to the reservoir is perfectly acceptable. Up here, if we have to add on a regular basis, we might add just water one time, but then we would add straight antifreeze the next time to get the ratio back to where it should be.

The next issue is your observation that there's no coolant in the engine oil. Your entire story points to a leaking cylinder head gasket, and that shows up in one of up to about five ways. One of those is coolant leaking into the oil, but that is by far the least common symptom. Out of a hundred leaking head gaskets, perhaps two or three will include coolant in the oil. What is more common is to find a white, milky substance under the bottom of the "Oil" cap. That is usually caused by excessive short-trip driving where the condensed moisture in the oil settles on the cap because that is the coolest part of the engine. That alone will not cause a problem. The cure is to get out on the highway once a week for a good 20 - 30-mile run.

The additional clue is you've observed the need to add coolant on a regular basis. It has to be going somewhere. If it was leaking into the oil, the oil level would be going up.

The most common way a cylinder head gasket leaks is to leak coolant into one of the cylinders where it gets burned and goes out the tail pipe. When that gets bad enough, you'll see white smoke coming out of the tail pipe, and that can get real bad. When the leak is smaller, you won't see that white smoke, but you will continually lose coolant.

The next concern is the puddle under the front of the car. A head gasket can leak that way too, but the liquid should be red or green, not clear. A better suspect is that is clear water from the air conditioning system. The comfort comes from it condensing out the humidity in the air. That water collects in a drain pan in the dash, then runs out a rubber hose and onto the ground, just to the left of the right tire. That water is normal and desirable. The problem is there are also heater hoses in the same area, but those have coolant going through them, so if one of them is leaking, the puddle will be a color, not clear.

There's two tests to verify a head gasket is leaking. One is to use a special chemical tester at the reservoir to check for the presence of combustion gases, (exhaust gas), in the coolant. The second is to add a small bottle of dark purple dye to the coolant, then check later with a black light. The dye will show up as a bright yellow stain. If the head gasket is leaking, that dye will usually show up inside the tail pipe.

Replacing head gaskets is a fairly expensive job. In my city in the middle of Wisconsin, we have a lot of really reputable new-car dealers and independent repair shops, but we do have one well-known crook too. He owns multiple new-car dealerships. People avoid him and tend to go to the honest shops. We have all heard the stories about the dishonest shops, and for some reason almost all are in California. You will have the best luck if you find a shop you like, then form a steady relationship with them. Regular customers tend to be treated better because we live on repeat customers and positive word-of-mouth advertising.

An alternative, if time is not a concern, is to look for a community college with an Automotive program. We were always looking for live work to give our kids real-life experience. In fact, we had about two dozen community members who would sit on a broken car for months until it fit what we were teaching, because they understood the value it had for us. We charged ten dollars per hour for what the job was supposed to take, and we got parts at real good discounts, then marked them up ten percent to form a "breakage fund" in case we damaged something. The students were very respectful and well-supervised, but since they were only in the shop a few hours per day, it could take a few weeks to get your car back. That was the trade-off for the real low cost. Also, we only worked on what we were currently teaching, otherwise we were taking work away from the business owners who might hire our graduates. I only taught Engine Repair once a year, for eight weeks. Larger schools will likely teach that subject multiple times per year. Even if they can't do the repairs, they might be able to do the chemical test to see if my diagnosis is right. That test just takes a few minutes.
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Saturday, July 29th, 2017 AT 12:43 AM

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