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Old 08 Jan 2011, 04:46 am
Rad Rad is offline
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Default Is my Honda's radiator is playing games with me?

Ok. I am not a car expert so I need your help here.. I have a Honda Accord 1990 that has been running very fine for more than 3 years. About 2 weeks ago I realized it had no water in the radiator's bottle, which was unexpected but probably acceptable. I filled it up but the next day the bottle was empty again. I thought this was because I should have also filled up the radiator not only the bottle. So this time I filled both the radiator and the bottle. All seemed fine for about 3 to 4 days but the bottle was almost empty after that, which was way too quick, so I filled it up again. Yesterday I checked the oil and filled up the radiator with water and we drove for about 250km with the temperature indicator sitting in the middle (as it has been for the last 3 years). However today when I drove the car I heard some noise resembling when air is escaping under pressure from a hole or a crack. I checked and the radiator and the bottle were empty and the radiator was totally dry. The noise was coming from the middle of the compartment (about 30cm away from the radiator and very close to the bottom of the engine). I have been checking leeks regularly in the last 2 weeks, and except for once when I saw about the volume of a cup of water lost on the ground the other times I would find nothing or few drops. The car still runs fine and there has been no excess in fuel consumption.. Does anyone know what could the problem be? Thanks so much for your help.

From SoCal's answer below, I believe I should also add that I had problems opening the radiator cap in the last weeks while I was troubleshooting the problem and the last time I opened it (i.e. today) part of it (one of the many rings) remained behind on the radiator. I haven't checked for any smoke from the tailpipe but I will do this tomorrow.

Thanks for the help folks...
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Old 08 Jan 2011, 05:01 am
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Posts: 881

Could be your radiator cap. It may not be sealing completely or holding pressure like it should. Job of the radiator cap is to increase the cooling system pressure, therefore it raises the boiling point of the water/coolant. If the cap fails, the coolant will boil when it's not supposed to causing the coolant loss.

If you ever notice white smoke coming out of the tailpipe it could also be a blown head gasket. It wouldn't be a surprise if a 1990 Accord blew it's head gasket, especially if it's the original one.

I'd also fill the radiator back up and the overflow tank, warm the car up to operating temperature and let it idle around 5 minutes, then turn it off and let it sit. Throw some cardboard or something under it and check back every now and then for leaks. Also grab a flashlight and go over every hose for any cracks or signs of wear, especially under the hose where you can't see.

Edit: The hissing sound may have been coolant leaking down onto the exhaust piping that runs near/under the engine and burning off. So there may just be a broken hose or a leaking gasket like the one for the thermostat housing.
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Old 08 Jan 2011, 05:16 am
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I think you have a hose failing. A bunch of them come together in the place you describe and they are all subjected to a lot of heat over the years. When the engine is not hot (warm is good but cold works too) put a paper towel in your hand and feel the end of each hose there, checking the towel for wetness each time. My money is on the upper radiator hose, which gets the most heat. Don't let this go - the hose can very suddenly leak a lot and damage your cylinder head. It sounds like that sudden larger leak has already started.

At this point there is no reason to suspect a head gasket problem. You have an external leak that accounts for the amount of coolant you are losing.
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