Signs of a Bad Water Pump

The water pump helps keep the car cool.

You never want to be the person standing on the side of the road leaning over the engine bay as a plume of vapor clouds the air. It’s the stereotypical scene from every janky local car repair commercial and likely means your engine is overheating. The editors at Car Bibles care about all the wrenchers out there and we want to make sure you never end up in this situation.

Numerous problems could result in overheating, and most of them lead back to the cooling system that keeps your engine temperature in check. The coolant does most of the work, and the water pump keeps the coolant flowing. Without either of these things running through the veins of the engine, trouble could quickly arise.

It’s up to you to know what that trouble is and how to deal with it. We show you how below, but let’s first start with the basics.

What Is a Water Pump?

In a car, the water pump is the impeller-type device that courses coolant through your vehicle’s cooling system.

What Does the Water Pump Do?

The primary purpose of the water pump is to make sure the cooling system is doing its job of keeping the vehicle running at its optimal temperature. Using power from a serpentine gelt pulley or electrical connection, it moves the coolant through the engine, then through the radiator in a repeating cycle. Without the pump, the coolant would stagnate, and the engine would overheat.

Where Is the Water Pump Located?

The water pump is typically located right next to the engine on the front or side. An easy way to find it is to follow the black hoses that extend from the radiator.

Symptoms of a Failing Water Pump

Every car has a constant dialogue with its owner, it’s up to the driver to listen and understand when the car is in distress. These symptoms equate to chatter about a malfunctioning water pump. Keep in mind, however, these symptoms could be the result of a different problem, as a bad water pump is not the only directly correlated part.

Odd Noises

If the water pump starts to fail or becomes loose, it might make grinding, whirring, or whining sounds.

Coolant Leak

The water pump is sealed off with a gasket. If that gasket fails, it might lead to a coolant leak, which you’ll see on the ground in your garage, driveway, or office parking lot.

Low Coolant Level

Sometimes, a leak is so small and slow that you don’t even notice it. You will, however, notice that your coolant level is low when you perform your routine maintenance checks.

Overheating

Your car’s engine needs the water pump operating at full capacity to maintain its perfect comfortable temperature. If there is a leak or the water pump fails to push coolant through its route, the engine might not get the cooling it needs and could overheat. You might notice this on your temperature gauge or via a warning light in the instrument cluster.

In worst-case overheating scenarios, you might notice steam or smoke coming from the engine bay. Always pull over immediately if your car is getting too hot.

The Car Bibles Glossary of Terms

Welcome to Bible School!

Radiator

A radiator is a heat-exchanging device and a primary component of a car’s cooling system that is located at the front of the engine bay. In short, it takes in hot coolant, releases the coolant’s heat through its fins, then sends the cooled coolant back to the engine.

Coolant

Coolant is the liquid mixture of antifreeze and water that flows through your car’s cooling system. Its primary purpose is to keep the engine at a certain temperature level and prevent it from overheating.

Antifreeze

Antifreeze is an additive that is used to lower the freezing point of the water within the coolant to prevent the coolant from freezing within the cooling system.

Thermostat

The thermostat is a valve-type coolant regulation device that opens or closes to allow coolant circulation within the car’s cooling system. It uses preset temperatures to know when to open or close.

Your Questions, Our Answers About Water Pumps

Car Bibles answers all your burning questions!

Q. Can a Water Pump Be Bad and Not leak?

A. Yes, it is possible the pump is failing without showing the physical symptom of releasing coolant. Overheating will be the primary symptom.

Q. What Sound Does a Bad Water Pump Make?

A. You will likely hear a grinding or a whining sound when the water pump goes bad.

Q. What Causes a Water Pump To Go Bad?

A. Numerous things can lead to a failing water pump, including low coolant, soiled coolant, the wrong coolant, failed gaskets, failed hoses, poor pressure, over- or under-tightened belt tensioners, or blockages.

The Video Tutorial

The Products To Buy

Diagnosing a failing water pump requires some wrenching, so you’ll want to equip yourself with a good socket set, work gloves, and safety glasses.

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Tony Markovich
Tony Markovich

Tony has a thing for pop-up headlights. His first car was a $3,000 1996 Saturn SC2 Coupe, and his current project is a 1970 Opel GT junker. When he's not daydreaming about the Cadillac Sixteen, he's watching the Chicago Bulls go undefeated on TNT. Contact the author here.