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Coolant Smell

3064 Views 6 Replies 5 Participants Last post by  DaveR03
In the last month I've started to notice a coolant smell in the car (2003 2.5X). I don't see any signs of a leak under the car or from above but, with the cold, I haven't really scooted under there to look around. Recently I've also noticed some smoke/steam coming from the front of the car when I also smell the coolant. That doesn't happen every time but I've noticed it twice now on extremely cold days. It also seems to happen early in my drive to/from work.

The car also just went over 100,000 miles. Is this a sign of the head gasket's starting to go? The coolant temperature seems fine (runs 195 to 200 or so degrees) and I've only had to replace a small amount of coolant.

Any ideas? Mostly worried about the head gasket, I know I should do it just wondering how quickly...
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I assume you aren't getting any bubbles in the overflow bottle? Look for a very small crack on the top of the Radiator. Consider replacing the cap with original Subaru one.
I don't believe I saw any bubbles in the tank but will double check tomorrow (traveling today).
You need to look very carefully at the radiator in/out hoses. The clamps may need to be tightened. I've had a few leaks there over the years.

However, given the year of the car, it's most likely ether be a radiator leak or a HG leak. You really need to get under the car an look for green drops.
Since you're seeing steam come from the front of the engine there's a good chance the cap is shot or worse the radiator sprung a leak in that area. Sometimes just re-seating the old cap will alleviate any leaks. Best to get a new cap though. But, the next time you see steam, stop & get out, open the hood and have a good look. Also, keep an eye on coolant levels.
On our 2006 Forester 2.5, we experienced head gasket failure which is very common in those years. It first manifested itself in huge oil consumption issues in Fall of 2013. When we traded it in on our 2014 [all wheel drive with part-time electric steering], the dealer noticed it and reduced value by $1000.
Took a look tonight at the cap and ran the car for awhile. The cap was seated tight but there was some gunk where it seals. Looked yellow/white and was along the rubber seal of the cap and the seat in the radiator itself. Didn't see any obvious leaks but definitely smelt the coolant primarily from the driver's side. Is that where the lower hose is? Also the coolant bottle itself looked like it was at the low mark (engine was cold) or it could have been empty. Unfortunately I couldn't tell in the darkness but I think it was empty. Radiator was full though.
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