So I'm driving down the road the other day, and I smell this sweet smell coming through my vents. My wife says, "Hey, I think I smell pancake syrup!" Unfortunately, I suspected something far less delicious. We reached our destination, and as soon as we stopped, steam came rolling out from under the hood. I opened the hood and saw that coolant had sprayed everywhere from some unknown source. At this point, frustrated as I am, I do a mental checklist. It goes like this:
1) Was the car overheating? I turned the key on and observed the temp gauge. It will register without the engine running. In my case, no, it wasn't overheating.
2) Do I have more coolant of the right type for my car? I did, but in a pinch, water will work. Manufacturers recommend only using distilled water, but tap will work. The idea is that distilled had less minerals that could deposit in the system and create more problems later.
3) Do I have much farther to go? In my case, no, about 2 miles to home.
These are the first considerations when encountering this problem. If the leak is occurring at a high spot in the circulation of coolant, the vehicle may not overheat and will allow you to continue to drive to your destination without much hassle other than the sickly, sweet smell and the steam coming from under the hood. If the vehicle is overheating, it's because it is too low on fluid to transfer heat away from the engine. At this point, stop and let the car cool down. Then add fluid. Drive keeping an eye on the temp gauge and repeat as necessary. The worst part about a fluid leak is running low on that fluid. Obviously, it the fluid pours out just as fast as you pour it in, you will not be able to drive it at all.
The key thing is, it's okay to be upset because it's terribly inconvenient, but don't let it ruin your good judgement. Blow off some steam and settle down. Cooking your engine will cost you an engine. Make calls, let people know what's going on and proceed following these 3 guide points.
Have a great summer!
Erik and Jennifer are the owner/operators of Mobile Service Pros. We enjoy working with our customers and community.