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FIX: Coolant Odors/Coolant Loss From Reservoir

116383 Views 117 Replies 39 Participants Last post by  Blasirl
Many members are experiencing coolant loss over time and venting through the reservoir (surge tank) cap. Symptoms include coolant loss and coolant odors both outside and inside the car.

The reservoir vent channel it this plastic piece on the left side of the cap:

If your cap is venting you will see moisture build-up under this channel and/or white and orange deposits. This post only covers issues surrounding coolant loss through this vent channel.

If you are losing coolant vapor through the vent channel the vapor can get into the car through the HVAC intake. This is supposed to be sealed from the engine compartment, but many cars exhibit a gap in the cowl seal right near the coolant reservoir. When coolant vapor exits the tank it is free to pass into the HVAC intake through this gap. Here's a crude cross section diagram of how this happens:

The foam gasket between the cowl cover and cowl tub doesn't seal properly on many cars, allowing coolant vapor into the car. With the hood open you can check your car by shining a flashlight under the cowl near the tank and looking for light through the open grate in the cowl cover. Credit for this information must go to member BlueSkyMontana, who worked extremely patiently with his dealer's service department to figure this out.

I personally had to replace my reservoir since there was a defect in the throat opening. The rough spot in the throat made it impossible for the o-ring in the cap to seal properly. Here's the throat:

And here's the defect as good as I could capture it:

STEP ONE of curing your coolant venting issues will be to inspect the throat of your reservoir and make sure it is smooth and defect free. No o-ring will seal properly to a rough/damaged surface.

Even after replacing my reservoir and cap I was still getting random coolant odors and some slow coolant loss.

At the 2014 Lordstown meet I showed a few people something I was up to. I installed a thicker o-ring in the surge tank cap that dramatically increased the seal between the cap and tank. With this new o-ring I actually ran my surge tank slightly over-filled (coolant level ~1/8" above the cold fill line) and experienced no signs of venting... my tank vent was bone dry.

The problem seems to be with the lower o-ring in the cap taking a compression set (deforming) over time and allowing coolant vapor to escape. In this picture you can see how the round profile of the o-ring can change over time and offer less sealing capacity:

The o-ring on the right is after being removed from the car, the one on the left is the same o-ring fresh out of the package. To be clear, this is the lower o-ring in the reservoir cap, the one at the top of the photo:

Replacing this o-ring with a thicker version works, but replacing it with one made from a superior material also works. The original o-ring is most likely made from Buna-N, a popular material for o-rings, and measures 23mm Inner Diameter and 4.0mm thick.

This o-ring is also 23mm ID x 4.0mm thick but is made from Viton, a slightly stiffer material that resists taking a compression set. This is the o-ring I'm currently using with great success and I recommend as a first try for anyone with venting issues:

Some people have a reservoir that has an extremely loose cap fit, meaning there is very little compression of the cap o-ring as the cap is screwed into place. Here's a video I shot of a brand new '14 LT in my local dealer's showroom:

If you have a very loose cap fit and the 4.0mm Viton o-ring doesn't fix your cap venting (i.e. you still get traces of moisture under the vent channel), you may wish to try a thicker 4.5mm Buna-N o-ring:

This 4.5mm o-ring may be tight to install, so I recommend wiping a little bit of coolant on it before installing the cap for the first time.

I recommend ordering one of each since the Buna-N part is so cheap. In fact, ordering more than one of each is ideal since the shipping cost is likely to exceed the value of the o-rings, and you'll have a spare in case you somehow damage one getting it installed.

Lots of members, many who don't even know who they are, have allowed their coolant levels to drop to a level where they stabilize. As long as this level is safely above the coolant outlet in the bottom of the surge tank this seems to be working OK. The issue here is the reduced pressure in the cooling system will effectively lower the coolant boiling temperature and risk excessive boiling in the hotter parts of the cylinder head and maybe even the turbocharger. Excessive boiling can lead to poor metal temperature control, allowing hot spots to form and increasing the potential for damaging levels of heat cycling of the metal.

This lowered boiling point will be of even greater concern to anyone living at higher altitudes.

The Cruze cooling system should operate properly fully topped up. A reservoir is properly filled when the car is parked on a level surface, the engine is cold, and the coolant level is at the highest rib on the bottom half of the tank. This rib has an arrow pointing to it, indicating it as the cold fill line:

Thanks to @obermd for this photo.

I would also like to point out that I still had coolant odors under the hood after getting my reservoir and cap figured out. I had to replace the small steam hose that connects the reservoir to the water outlet on the cylinder head. This is covered in more detail in CruzeEcoBlueTopaz's thread here:

I hope this thread helps some people rid their cars of coolant odors. Remember also that the Cruze water pump is a popular source of leaks and is now covered under an extended 10yr warranty.

Good luck, and leave your feedback if you try a new o-ring for your reservoir cap. :)
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I have one of the larger openings so I need the Buna o-ring. Watch out for this one - it doesn't handle the cold well and will vent after a while when it's cold but the cooling system is starting to build pressure. I need to order some more to deal with this.
Slammed - you have the Buna ring.
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I'm going to order several Buna o-rings later this week and replace the one I have. My coolant is down to the bottom of the arrow and there are no other signs of a leak.
Could the connection heading to the back of the engine actually be going to the cabin heater core?
That was me. It took less than a minute for the dye to start flowing back into the coolant tank.
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Does your new cap click when you put it back on or does it still go on without a click? I like to know if you need a new coolant tank or just a cap to get the click. I would like the click so I know the thing is on there all the way.
Just spin it down until it stops spinning. My cap goes through a tight spin and then gets an easy spin before stopping. I, too, like the idea of a click stop cap, but that's unfortunately not what we have in the Cruze.
Obermd & Others-

How long is the BUNA o-ring lasting? I think I'm currently leaking again out of the cap, with no other noticeable coolant losses. I think it's about 9 months on the BUNA ring.

I briefly scanned this post again, and I believe Obermd mentioned that he had to order more rings. Maybe it's a temperature thing. It's -2F today, and when I installed the battery tender jr, on the factory battery I noticed the coolant was low.

I have to dig for where I placed those rings, or order others. I don't have Viton to try, but it appears the BUNA ring may have a short lifetime if your in the Midwest Northern tundra temperatures (<0F).
I'm on my second winter with the Buna o-ring. Over the summer I lost maybe a quarter inch of coolant (cold engine) but it drops faster in the winter. This o-ring doesn't seal as well when the tank is cold.
In the description of the viton ring listed on the oring store page, it says that it is not resistant to glycol based fluids. Does this include coolant? I always thought it was a glycol based fluid, or at least polyethylene glycol. Are those similar chemicals or different?
Very few rubber compounds are resistant to glycol over the long term. The o-rings on the surge cap also have to deal with high temperatures, so my best guess is they do need to be replaced periodically.
So after a couple of weeks of single digit weather in the mornings my coolant level has dropped half a rib. This is about what I expected.
Water pump is 10 years/ 150,000 miles.
Thanks to those that replied. I am thinking I will probably fill it myself and see if I can figure out whether it is the water pump area or the tank. I would guess the tank since there is no visible evidence. While I know where plenty of gm dealerships are, and the one in hays seems to be decent, I have trouble trusting a dealership to keep from trying to make it as expensive of a visit as possible.
Purchase a small bottle of the GM florescent coolant dye. It will help you find the leak. These bottles are about $10.
anyone experiencing coolant loss due to the water outlet housing leaking?
We've had reports of leaks at the water outlet. As far as I know they have all be actual cracks in the housing. Note there is a new design so you'll need to replace the hoses that connect there as well.
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I ordered the N70 o-ring (4.5mm) and it seems to have stopped the problem where coolant was boiling and vapor was escaping.
Tank appears to be holding pressure and I have not had to add coolant since. FYI, tank is a Dorman part.
This is proof that this is a design flaw and not a general manufacturing issue. Management's assumption that an o-ring can hold pressure in all scenarios is what destroyed the Challenger in 1986.
I got my 14 6MT with 20k miles back from the dealer yesterday, I think this is the third visit for coolant loss. Last time, it was the water pump and I got the burning coolant smell.

This time they had it hooked up to pressure three or four different times over nights and weekends, after driving and while cold, and could not get it to leak.

Based on this thread and the fact the cap is where the pressure was connected, I suggested they replace the cap and we'll see what that brings to the party. He did mention that the parts department has been going though a lot of caps (or maybe cap O rings), and he did not know that previously.

We have a 6 hour drive ahead of us this weekend so that will give it a chance to show me if the cap fixed it. I'll check the coolant reservoir surface tomorrow where the cap seals for defects before we take off.

I asked them what was next if this didn't solve it and they thought head gasket failed in a spot where the oil and coolant couldn't mix. Apparently, the converter burns hot enough that any traces of coolant in the cylinders is burned off before it reaches the end of the tailpipe. Not sure how many HG failures people have seen but hopefully we won't get to that point.
GM has a coolant dye that dries where ever there's a leak. This is how I figured out it was my cap/tank seal.
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I'll keep that in mind if I have more problems. It wasn't suggested by the service guy yet, which is a bit concerning.
He may not be aware of it.
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