Best Not Ignore The Signs of a Bad Water Pump

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You ask a lot from your car’s water pump without even realizing it. You expect to get in and drive for several years and thousands of trouble-free miles, but “out of sight, out of mind” only really helps when we’re talking about things that can’t cause catastrophic damage. As is the case if you water pump goes kablooie!. 

That hidden pump under your hood is responsible for pumping over 100 residential-sized swimming pools worth of water over the course of its lifetime. A truly massive amount. So it’s not surprising that many water pumps fail before people think they should or expect. 

At some point during that grueling, thankless life, the water pump will start letting you know that something is wrong. The Drive’s editors have been through the wringer when it comes to vehicle cooling issues, so we’re happy to share some of that misery, err, wisdom with you here today.

Let’s get rolling.

Water pumps look funny, but have a big job.

What Does A Water Pump Do? 

The water pump is a vital part of your car’s cooling system. It’s responsible for moving water from the radiator through the engine and back again. The pump helps ensure that the engine remains at a constant temperature.

What Can Make A Water Pump Fail?

The water pump uses an impeller blade and centrifugal force, like a turbocharger, to move water around in the vehicle’s cooling system. If the bearings that are contained in the pump wear or are damaged, the pump can fail, which is one of the most common reasons for water pump failure in cars. 

Another major point of failure with water pumps can be with the belt tensioner. Since the water pump is driven by either the timing belt or serpentine belt, a failure of a belt tensioner—the thing that keeps the belt tight—can lead to a failed water pump.

What Are The Signs Of A Failing Water Pump?

You don’t need to be a mechanic to recognize when your water pump is on its way out the door. Here are the most common few. 

Coolant Leak

The water pump has several gaskets that can become damaged or worn over time. When that happens, they can allow coolant to escape and drip underneath the vehicle. If you notice a green or red colored fluid under the front center area of your vehicle, it’s time to have the water pump checked out.

If you need to refill coolant frequently, the water pump may be to blame.

Whining Sounds 

When a belt becomes loose or starts slipping, it can make an awful whining or chirping noise. If you notice the sound, and there’s really no chance of you ignoring it, it’s time to call a mechanic. Either the belt needs to be replaced or the water pump’s bearings are worn and the pump itself needs to be replaced. Neither is a problem you can ignore.

Engine Overheating

The water pump’s primary purpose in life is to move water through the engine to cool it off. When the pump isn’t able to do that, the engine can overheat. No matter the cause, an overheating engine isn’t a problem you can wait to fix. Heat issues can cause problems like damaged head gaskets, burnt pistons, and cracked cylinder heads.

Water Pump Terms You Should Know

Get educated.

Serpentine Belt

A serpentine belt is a long belt that powers several components related to the engine, which can include the alternator, water pump, power steering pump, air conditioning compressor, and more.

Cooling System

Vehicle cooling systems include components like the radiator, a thermostat, and water pump. The system is designed to circulate air and coolant fluid to keep the engine running at a constant temperature, no matter the exterior temperature or conditions.


Automotive coolant is made of a mixture of water and other chemicals, such as ethylene glycol. The job of coolant is to move heat out of an engine and to help dissipate that heat out into the surrounding environment. Pure water can also be used as a coolant, but its tendency to cause corrosion makes it less than ideal for regular use.

You may see a check engine light at some point during this adventure.

FAQs About Water Pumps

You’ve got questions, The Drive has answers!

Q: How Much Does A Water Pump Replacement Cost?

A: Depending on the vehicle, water pump replacement can cost anywhere from a few hundred to nearly $1,000. The part itself usually costs less than $100, so the vast majority of the expense lies in labor charges.

Q: How Difficult Is It To Fix Myself?

A: The pump itself isn’t particularly difficult to remove. It’s the timing belt and serpentine belt that give most people trouble. If you’re familiar with those components and feel comfortable, by all means, proceed, but if you’re in doubt it’s best to have a pro do the work.

Q: Can My Coolant Leak Be Caused By Something Other Than The Water Pump?

A: Yes. Water pump problems are just one of the many potential causes of a coolant leak. Other causes can include a blown head gasket, a hole in the radiator, damaged or worn hoses, and corrosion of cooling system components.

Q: Can I Stop A Leak With An Off-The-Shelf Product?

A: There are several products available for coolant leaks, but none of them are going to fix any serious issues with your cooling system. Depending on where the leak is occurring, a stop-leak may be needed for the radiator or one of the many hoses that comprise the cooling system.

Let’s Talk, Comment Below To Talk With The Drive’s Editors! 

We’re here to be expert guides in everything How-To related. Use us, compliment us, yell at us. Comment below and let’s talk! You can also shout at us on Twitter or Instagram, here are our profiles.

Jonathon Klein: Twitter (@jonathon.klein), Instagram (@jonathon_klein)

Tony Markovich: Twitter (@T_Marko), Instagram (@t_marko)

Chris Teague: Twitter (@TeagueDrives), Instagram (@TeagueDrives)

Featured Products 

Zerex Prediluted Antifreeze

Bar’s Radiator Stop Leak

K-Seal Coolant Leak Repair

Got a question? Got a pro tip? Send us a note: [email protected]


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