Even in late model vehicles, car parts can inexplicably fail. When they do, it is another reminder that cars – and the components that we rely upon – are fallible. In truth, malfunctioning car parts are inevitable. The important thing is knowing what to do in order to resolve the problem.
In today’s segment of The Auto Specialist, we’ll take a look at a reader’s overheating engine and another driver’s faulty alternator. As I’ve mentioned in the past, the goal here is to build your automotive knowledge. In time, you’ll know exactly what is happening under the hood of your vehicle.
Question: I bought a 2002 Hyundai Santa Fe a couple of years ago. It had about 80,000 miles on it. My company relocated me, so I drove it from California to Arizona. Anyway, about a week after I settled in, I was driving on city streets and the engine overheated. I checked the coolant level in the radiator and it was completely dry. I put more coolant in and everything was okay for about a week. Then, it overheated again. Do I need a new radiator or can I just plug the leak somehow?
Answer: First, make sure the leak is actually in the radiator. It’s possible that the leak is in one or more of the hoses. In fact, it’s far more common in the hoses. They can burst over time because of the constant heat and pressure generated when you’re driving.
The first thing I’d do is have your vehicle towed to a repair shop. A mechanic will be able to pressure test your entire cooling system to find the leak. If the problem is in one of the hoses, consider yourself lucky and replace it.
Question: My Pontiac Firebird (it’s a 1999 with 93,000 miles) is having alternator problems. The alternator went bad about 4 months ago. So, me and my wife jump started the car and took it to a mechanic. He replaced the alternator (the battery is brand new) and the car drove fine.
A couple of months back, the replacement alternator failed. So, I towed the car back to the mechanic to have it checked. He put in another alternator (this is the third one now) and I drove home fine. Last week, the new replacement went bad. I’m at my wits end. What’s going on?
Answer: I’m going to hazard a guess here. You mentioned that your battery is brand new, so I’m going to assume that it didn’t suddenly lose its charge during the last few months. I think the problem is that your mechanic is installing low-quality parts (he’s probably getting them from a discount distributor). Order an OEM alternator and have it installed. I’ll bet that will fix the issue. If it doesn’t, write me back.
That’s it for this segment. Next time, I’ll be back with two new car problems that we’ll investigate. A reader wrote me recently about an issue she’s having with her sedan’s air conditioner (it only blowing warm air). Another reader is experiencing a constant misfire when he’s driving. We’ll get to the bottom of both issues. Until next time, drive safely.