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FIX: Coolant Odors/Coolant Loss From Reservoir

116383 Views 117 Replies 39 Participants Last post by  Blasirl
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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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To add to this thread, I was having the coolant venting issues as described in the OP. After discussing the issue with Blue Angel, I've been using the 4.5mm Buna-N o-ring since September 2014. I have not experienced any noticeable coolant loss since installing the new thicker o-ring. I haven't checked to see how well it is resisting compression set, but as long as it stays properly sealed I am happy. Great job on the write up!
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