Last Updated on September 29, 2022
Internal combustion engines are powered by tiny little explosions. These explosions produce a lot of heat, which can damage the engine if left unmanaged.
Fortunately, the cooling system in each vehicle prevents this from happening by using a water pump to allow coolant (also known as antifreeze) to circulate throughout the components of the engine.
Below, we’ll go over five common bad water pump symptoms that can present themselves along with the average cost to replace a water pump if needed.
How a Water Pump Works
When the engine of the vehicle is running, coolant from the radiator is brought into the center of the water pump. The crankshaft drives the water pump’s impeller which circulates coolant through the engine, much like a heart pumps blood.
This fluid is propelled by the pump blades, or vanes, into the cylinder head and engine block. It then flows into the radiator and back into the water pump, completing the cycle thousands of times a minute. When this process is doesn’t function as it’s supposed to, overheating will occur.
Symptoms of a Bad Water Pump
An overheated engine can quickly lead to engine failure, a very costly consequence. Understanding how water pumps work to cool your vehicle is important, though it’s even more critical to know the signs of a failing or broken water pump in order to promptly address the issue. Below are the 5 most common symptoms.
#1 – Elevated Coolant Temperature
The most obvious symptom of a faulty water pump is an overheated engine. This is usually indicated by an engine temperature warning light (or an icon with wavy lines in it) or elevated engine temperature reading on the dashboard.
A functional water pump cools down the engine by circulating coolant, so a bad water pump will allow engine heat to build up to unsafe levels.
Note that the temperature gauge in some vehicles won’t move off center until engine temperatures have already reached dangerous levels, so be cautious if you notice the needle rise past its normal operating temperature position.
#2 – Radiator Steam
Steam billowing from the front of the vehicle while it’s moving or stopped can also indicate overheating. When the water pump is not working properly, coolant cannot circulate through the radiator to cool down so evaporation will occur.
If you see steam coming from the front of the vehicle, pull over to the side of the road immediately. Driving with an overheated engine for long can cause irreversible damage.
The cause of an overheated engine may be something different such as a bad radiator or faulty thermostat, but the result is the same. Unless it’s a small leak and you have the ability to add more coolant, have the car towed to the nearest mechanic for repairs.
#3 – Unusual Sounds
An engine with a whining, buzzing, or squealing noise could have a loose accessory belt, caused by a loose pulley or worn out bearings. If the offending bearings are in the water pump, it will need to be replaced entirely.
One of the most common causes of premature water pump failure is an accessory belt that is too tight. If you decide to replace the water pump yourself, it is highly recommended that you purchase a belt tension gauge to ensure the tension is correctly set to spec.
A whining that increases in volume as the car accelerates should be inspected by a mechanic right away.
#4 – Fluid Leak
A bright green or orange fluid pooled beneath the front of your car after it’s been parked for a few hours may be coolant. This can happen when gaskets and seals in the water pump wear out and crack or break.
Even if a puddle of fluid is not observed, it’s worth taking a peek at the water pump itself (particularly if you notice any other symptoms) to see if it seems to have more debris on it than the other parts in the engine bay.
A slow trickle of coolant can dry up on the outside of the water pump and solidify, or can even cause rust or corrosion (indicated by “pitting” in the metal).
See Also: Causes of Transmission Fluid Leaks
Some leaks only occur while the pump is turning (i.e. when the car is running), and others can occur when the car is off. The latter are not caused by a bad water pump, but by another issue such as a faulty radiator.
A leak from the weep hole of the water pump can indicate a faulty seal, as the weep hole prevents contamination of oil in the bearings with coolant and vice versa. This drippage stops when the vehicle engine shuts off.
#5 – Inconsistent Temperature Gauge Readings
A fully functional cooling system will keep the temperature gauge within normal limits at all times. However, a faulty water pump can cause the temperature gauge needle to oscillate from normal to hot and vice versa.
A bad radiator can also cause this to occur, but both issues should be repaired before the vehicle is driven again.
An air bubble is another possible cause of fluctuations in coolant temperature. Air around the temperature sensor may cause erroneous readings.
Water Pump Replacement Cost
Cost for replacement of the water pump vary greatly depending on the size, make, and age of the car, though you can expect to pay anywhere from $310 to $730 total. Expect to pay more at a dealership or with certain types of vehicles.
Parts alone (water pump and additional parts) will run about $70 to $400. For labor, expect to pay about $240 to $330 (using a typical $80-$110/hr. rate). On average, water pump replacement is a 3 hour job.
You may pay less if you buy the pump yourself and give it to the mechanic to install, though use caution and make sure to buy the parts from a reputable source. Make and model of vehicle can have a significant effect on total cost. Fees and taxes may increase these figures depending on your location.
Though water pump replacement can be expensive, engine replacement is much worse. The vehicle should not be driven until needed repairs are done.
If you’re not sure when your water pump was last replaced, doing it soon is cheap insurance for your engine. Most people like to tackle the water pump with the timing belt while they’re in there.
Water pump replacement should be done by a professional unless you have mechanical experience, as it can be a difficult task.
First, the existing coolant is drained from the vehicle and parts that obstruct access, such as the timing chain or belt, are removed. The water pump and related parts such as hoses are inspected and replaced if needed.
The thermostat and radiator cap should also be replaced at this time, along with any gaskets or seals. The radiator itself may be replaced if it leaks or shows signs of age.
Finally new coolant is added and the system is tested for leaks. A test drive will confirm proper functioning of the new water pump.
As the mechanics remove parts that obstruct access to the water pump, they may come across other items that should be replaced, such as the timing belt or chain. It’s always wise to obtain an estimate before agreeing to any additional repairs.
It’s important to remember that coolant reaches scalding temperatures and is under a lot of pressure while the vehicle is running and for a few hours after it’s shut off. Never remove the radiator cap or touch any part of the cooling system until the engine has cooled completely.
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16 thoughts on “5 Symptoms of a Bad Water Pump (and Replacement Cost)”
For a Malibu 2006 it was a water pump behind the engine. I was quoted $780. Does this makes sense?
Im hesitant because a youtube video showed the guy changing the pump (located in the belt system) while recording with his phone and it took 5 minutes. Other Ecotec engines seems the pump is behind (does doe this has 2 water pumps?) the engine and requires a special tool for which the price makes more sense.
Still I wish to be able to afford a car but prices are simply bonkers so I’ll have to manage with this pos junk for at least one more year.
Yes, that sounds like a fair price especially if the water pump is hard to access.
Hey, my 2009 For Escape was making some weird noises so I took it into the Ford dealership my dad does accounting for. They said it is probably the water pump “which would require 13 hours of labor plus parts for a grand total of $2000 or more.” This is an obscene price, right? Is there any condition in which it would cost so much?
That’s not too obscene for the number of labor hours they quoted you, seeing as most shops work at a rate of around $100 per hour (sometimes more). Why do they think it will take so long?
Some brilliant people with with their honest advices
I bought a 2007 accord and came to norms reeves to get an oil change they seen code 4 now their telling me a need a water pump kit replace but the car has not overheat or any smoke and the coolant is good no leaking but I bought the car with no catalyst can that be the code 4 problem
Code 4 isn’t a valid engine code. Did you mean P0004? P0420 is a common catalytic converter code. If you bought the vehicle with no catalytic converter that would definitely cause a check engine light.
I had water pump replaced on 2009 ford escape 4 years ago now mechanic says it needs another replacement? SUV has not been running hot , not leaking fluid, no whining noise from belts all of a sudden temp goes off the top & coolant everywhere pulled over shut off. Could it be the thermostat only?
How many miles have you driven over those 4 years? Why does your mechanic say the water pump needs to be replaced again?
It could be the thermostat. A common cause of premature water pump failure is a timing belt that was too tight. If your timing belt was done at the same time, perhaps this was the cause of water pump failure.
THE EXPLANATION WAS CLEAR
I bought a used Chrysler Sebring with 98000 miles that has a leak. The engine runs smooth and quite but the previous owner said he thought it needed a water pump replacement. It does leak some coolant at times but other times I can start it up and it will run for over 20 minutes with no leak and have hot air from the heater without any overheating. Any opinion on what is going on. I haven’t driven the car on the highway as of yet as I have been repairing some body work before taking it out of the garage.
First, figure out where the intermittent coolant leak is coming from. If it’s coming from the weep hole on the water pump, the water pump will need to be replaced.
My merc 220 c class replaced water pump some smoke coming out and fan belt hot is it gasket problem
What color is the smoke and where is it coming from? White smoke is usually coolant. Blue smoke is usually oil.
Thank you for reminding me that an engine failure can be very costly and it may be caused by just a simple overheated engine we can replace. We have a water well at home that is very well-kept except for the fact that we haven’t checked the system parts if they needed replacement. I might consult an expert plumber to see if there are any small problems we could prevent from turning into huge ones.