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  #1  
Old 10-01-2008, 12:19 PM
ZenBeam ZenBeam is offline
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Heater core leak in my car. Cost to replace?

I have a 1994 Chrysler LeBaron convertible, and I suspect the heater core has a leak of some kind. I can smell that engine coolant smell in the passenger compartment. I first noticed it late spring, but I have the top down most of the time over the summer, so I was OK.

Well, it's not summer any more so maybe I should have it fixed.

First question, is it probably a leak in the heater core? What else might it be?

Second, if the heater core does need to be replaced, what's it going to run. Looking around, the part is about $35, but I found this question and response:

Quote:
Originally Posted by BMRFIXIT
Itís a lot of work
Set in driver seat or passenger seat every thing between u and the glass have to be out of the car dashboard and all
Steering column radio clove box and so on until u get to the heater box
I've found similar expensive-sounding descriptions for other years of LeBarons, so I'm assuming that's an accurate description of the work required. Can anyone give me a ball-park answer for what it would cost? $500? $1500? I'm in Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti, Michigan, if it matters.
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  #2  
Old 10-01-2008, 12:26 PM
Throatwarbler Mangrove Throatwarbler Mangrove is offline
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Unless your particular car is exceptionally well designed for easy repairs (not something Chrysler is typically known for), probably over $1000. You're looking at completely tearing out the dashboard to get at the little bugger. The heater core is one of those "let's start with this thing and build the rest of the car around it" type parts.

Last edited by Throatwarbler Mangrove; 10-01-2008 at 12:27 PM..
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  #3  
Old 10-01-2008, 01:07 PM
jayjay jayjay is offline
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I just had to have this done this past spring on my 93 Cutlass Ciera. It cost me about $400, but I have a long-time customer relationship with my mechanic, so I got a pretty good deal. I know when I was researching it that the average range looked to be from $700 through $1500.

Are you getting the oily film on the windshield or the coolant soaking into your carpet yet?
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  #4  
Old 10-01-2008, 02:22 PM
kurilla kurilla is offline
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I have to have the heater core in my 1999 Toyota Solara replaced and it's going to cost me about $1600.

A friend whose family runs an auto shop says that sounds about right to him.

ETA: Said friend worked in the shop while in college.

Last edited by kurilla; 10-01-2008 at 02:22 PM..
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  #5  
Old 10-01-2008, 02:38 PM
Myglaren Myglaren is offline
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As a temporary measure you can put some radiator sealer in the cooling system. Generally recommended is Forte "Stop Leaks" which may or may not be available to you. Won't last forever though as once the matrix has begun to corrode then nothing will stop it. It will give you a breathing space to get the work done at your convenience.

Mine just exploded on me and filled the footwell with boiling water - very smelly too.
It was only a rear old too, just out of warranty.
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  #6  
Old 10-01-2008, 03:06 PM
Gary T Gary T is online now
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It's a pretty sure bet it's the heater core. There's really nothing else in the passenger compartment that can leak coolant.

My price for replacing the core with a top-quality part would be close to 900. About 800 of that is labor - it's a really big job, involving removing the dash. The savings from using a budget-priced part (such as the one you mentioned) are a false economy, in my opinion.
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  #7  
Old 10-01-2008, 06:42 PM
ralph124c ralph124c is offline
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If you can live without heat, you can save a bundle. Just bypass the heater core (you may have to use an adapter, if the input/output hoses are different diameters). Spending$1000 on a car that old isn't wise. And, forget about doing it yourself-I did it once, and it took me all of a weekend (and several bloody knuckles)!
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  #8  
Old 10-01-2008, 07:13 PM
Sailboat Sailboat is offline
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Here's a thread I started on this very subject, in case it helps. Please ignore the goofy typo in the thread title.

Cost to replace heater core

Sailboat
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  #9  
Old 10-01-2008, 07:29 PM
Magiver Magiver is offline
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What drives up the cost is how much of the dashboard that has to be removed plus the disconnection and recharging of the A/C. It took me 8 hrs to do this on an 88 T-bird. I was able to borrow a vacuum pump to pull down the A/C lines before recharging. When I did it to my college beater I decided not to disassemble the dash and instead went to a junkyard to see exactly where the heater core was located. I then cut a hole and slid it out like an 8-track tape. It cost me nothing to do this except for the price of the core. Just a thought if you're handy.
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  #10  
Old 10-01-2008, 08:09 PM
ZenBeam ZenBeam is offline
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Thanks all. A lot of good info.

Given the other issues with the car, and its age, I don't think I'll get it fixed. They didn't have Forte at the store I stopped at, but I bought some "Bars leak", some coolant flush (the first step for all the leak stop products) and a bottle of coolant (is one bottle enough to refill after the flush? I bought the full strength, not the pre-diluted stuff). I'll give that a shot Friday.

Plan B is ralph124c's suggestion to just bypass the heater core. Then I can try out Magiver's suggestion if it looks feasible.

Plan C is buy a new car, but that's been percolating its way up towards Plan A for a while now.
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  #11  
Old 10-01-2008, 09:25 PM
Gary T Gary T is online now
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ZenBeam View Post
I bought some "Bars leak"...
That's the brand I recommend.

Quote:
...and a bottle of coolant (is one bottle enough to refill after the flush? I bought the full strength, not the pre-diluted stuff).
Probably not. The cooling system capacity is 10 quarts, half of which should be antifreeze and the other half water. If it's thoroughly flushed so that any remaining liquid in the system is plain water, you'll need 5 quarts of antifreeze.

Now, if it doesn't get flushed thoroughly, there may be some residual antifreeze/water mixture in the system, to where an additional 4 quarts of antifreeze might be sufficient. The problem is, there's no way to measure what remains in the system.

Quote:
Plan B is...to just bypass the heater core.
A simple elbow (90' bend) of the right size (5/8", 3/4", or 5/8-3/4 combo) is the simplest way to do this if you can readily access the heater hoses at the firewall. Just remove them from the protuding nipples and connect them to the elbow.

Quote:
Then I can try out Magiver's suggestion if it looks feasible.
It isn't. On this car, the heater core is inside a heater/evaporator case which has to be taken apart to get to the core.
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  #12  
Old 10-01-2008, 10:29 PM
Joey P Joey P is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Gary T View Post
A simple elbow (90' bend) of the right size (5/8", 3/4", or 5/8-3/4 combo) is the simplest way to do this if you can readily access the heater hoses at the firewall. Just remove them from the protuding nipples and connect them to the elbow.
I don't know where the OP is, but I think that bypassing the heater core would be a terrible idea if he is anywhere that he's going to need a defroster to keep the windshield free of ice/snow/frost while he's driving.
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  #13  
Old 10-02-2008, 12:04 AM
Magiver Magiver is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Gary T View Post
It isn't. On this car, the heater core is inside a heater/evaporator case which has to be taken apart to get to the core.
Gary T, I don't think you understand what I said. I cut into the evaporator case and pulled it straight out. If you know where the core is then a Dremel makes quick work of it (use a vacuum cleaner while doing this). The A/C stays connected and nothing is taken apart. Yes, it's a hillbilly solution but for someone who doesn't want to spend $600 on a $600 car it gets the job done. In my case, I went to the junkyard and found a car with the case out and took measurements. I cut a hole that matched the core, disconnected the hoses on the engine side and slid it out like an 8-track tape. I then slid a new core in and glued the piece I cut out. Why cars aren't designed this way I don't know because heater cores have a life span just like water pumps. Hiding them in a case that requires a dissection of the vehicle is unnecessary.
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  #14  
Old 10-02-2008, 12:20 PM
ZenBeam ZenBeam is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Joey P View Post
I don't know where the OP is, but I think that bypassing the heater core would be a terrible idea if he is anywhere that he's going to need a defroster to keep the windshield free of ice/snow/frost while he's driving.
I'm in Michigan. I think it gets cold here.

That's a good point, though. As it is now, even without heat or the fan running, there's moisture coming out of the vents (I actually saw the condensing vapors wafting out of the vents this morning). Bypassing the heater will stop that, but it might only get me a couple more months of usability before it gets really cold. Unless I can find an electric heater that plugs into the lighter.
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  #15  
Old 10-06-2008, 10:50 AM
ZenBeam ZenBeam is offline
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Update:

I flushed my radiator system, and added the Bar's Leak when I refilled the radiator. It seems to have worked, or at least helped. There's still somewhat of a smell, which I believe hope is just residual from the previous leakage. I'll be keeping an eye on it.

Only had one small scare on the way in this morning, when I pulled onto the freeway just about the time my engine would have been warmed up, and there was suddenly an intense burning odor. It turned out to just be a tow truck ahead of me, belching smoke.

Again, thanks to everybody.
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  #16  
Old 10-06-2008, 02:45 PM
King Friday King Friday is offline
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Wow...I'm surprised at some the replies. I had mine replaced on a '97 Pontiac Grand Am 3.1 at a local garage for the cost of 2 hours labor plus the price of coolant. None of the dash had to be removed, except for maybe an access panel behind the center console. I supplied the part since I get them cheap, and I don't remember what I paid...it was a few years ago.
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  #17  
Old 10-06-2008, 03:27 PM
Magiver Magiver is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by King Friday View Post
Wow...I'm surprised at some the replies. I had mine replaced on a '97 Pontiac Grand Am 3.1 at a local garage for the cost of 2 hours labor plus the price of coolant. None of the dash had to be removed, except for maybe an access panel behind the center console. I supplied the part since I get them cheap, and I don't remember what I paid...it was a few years ago.
That would mean that there is a door or a case that can be opened without pulling it from the car. It's really not an engineering problem to design the car this way. For years car manufactures built cases that split down the middle and then jammed the whole thing under the dash requiring that the dash be pulled away and the AC disconnected. It would be like hiding the water pump inside the engine requiring the engine to be pulled out and disassembled to get to it.

If you got it down in 2 hrs that would be the time it takes to drain/fill the radiator, disconnect/reconnect the 2 houses and pop open a section of the case to get to the heater core. This is exactly what I described in my hillbilly solution, which is to re-engineer the case with a saw. This, by the way, would only work if the core sits below the dashboard.
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  #18  
Old 10-06-2008, 06:01 PM
gotpasswords gotpasswords is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Magiver
It would be like hiding the water pump inside the engine requiring the engine to be pulled out and disassembled to get to it.
Not too nutty of a visual, given how many engines are hiding the water pump under the timing cover, requiring a fair bit of disassembly to access it.

An old joke is that the heater core is the first part rolling down the assembly line, and every other part in the car is bolted to it, working outward.

The other problem with putting the heater core under the AC evaporator and in the same box is that it fairly effectively makes it impossible or at least illegal in many areas for "shadetree" mechanics to work on it as we don't have the required training and licensing to handle refrigerant and air conditioning systems.
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  #19  
Old 02-16-2014, 05:28 PM
taylorbaker taylorbaker is offline
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Heater Core

Quote:
Originally Posted by Magiver View Post
What drives up the cost is how much of the dashboard that has to be removed plus the disconnection and recharging of the A/C. It took me 8 hrs to do this on an 88 T-bird. I was able to borrow a vacuum pump to pull down the A/C lines before recharging. When I did it to my college beater I decided not to disassemble the dash and instead went to a junkyard to see exactly where the heater core was located. I then cut a hole and slid it out like an 8-track tape. It cost me nothing to do this except for the price of the core. Just a thought if you're handy.
I'm trying to replace the heater core in my '03 Kia Rio. It's a bitch. I cut through the bottom to try and slide it out. Realized i cut under the AC evaporator instead -_- I have to drive to texas from north carolina soon. What if i just disconnect the hoses from the firewall and connect them together?
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  #20  
Old 02-16-2014, 05:31 PM
Joey P Joey P is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by taylorbaker View Post
I'm trying to replace the heater core in my '03 Kia Rio. It's a bitch. I cut through the bottom to try and slide it out. Realized i cut under the AC evaporator instead -_- I have to drive to texas from north carolina soon. What if i just disconnect the hoses from the firewall and connect them together?
I can't see why that would be a problem. Just keep in mind that with no heater core AND no AC you'll have no way to keep your windshield defrosted or defogged. Driving might be near impossible in certain parts of the US right now like that.

Last edited by Joey P; 02-16-2014 at 05:33 PM..
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  #21  
Old 02-16-2014, 05:35 PM
taylorbaker taylorbaker is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Joey P View Post
I can't see why that would be a problem. Just keep in mind that with no heater core AND no AC you'll have no way to keep your windshield defrosted or defogged. Driving might be near impossible in certain parts of the US right now like that.
Ugh :/ I paid 500 dollars for my Rio. I have no money to spend on labor. I used a dremel tool to cut through the plastic casing, then realized i was looking at the a/c evaporator and not the heater core (the heater core is more to the left. I have no idea what i'm doing in all honesty. But i don't want to get raped by a mechanic.
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  #22  
Old 02-16-2014, 05:42 PM
nevadaexile nevadaexile is offline
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I have personally changed two heater cores, both on junk cars and I wouldn't recommend bothering with it unless you are wedded to this particular vehicle. They are always difficult to do (reinstalling the dash is often very difficult) and if the shop needs to do a warranty repair on the new installation, you'll be without your vehicle again for an extended period.

A 1994 American automobile unless it is is in pristine condition (especially in Michigan) is probably not going be worth more than $2-3k in resale value. Considering that it may cost you as much as $1,500 to have the heater core replaced and that your dash may never be correctly remounted afterward, it may simply be easier to replace the car.
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  #23  
Old 02-16-2014, 05:45 PM
Joey P Joey P is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by taylorbaker View Post
Ugh :/ I paid 500 dollars for my Rio. I have no money to spend on labor. I used a dremel tool to cut through the plastic casing, then realized i was looking at the a/c evaporator and not the heater core (the heater core is more to the left. I have no idea what i'm doing in all honesty. But i don't want to get raped by a mechanic.
I understand that, but you probably just did a good $500* worth of damage by blinding cutting into the wrong area.

If I were you I'd at least get some quotes before you do more damage. Heater cores are notoriously hard to replace.




*Random guess, I don't know exactly what you did, maybe a little less if they can patch it, maybe a lot more if you have to replace the coil, but your gonna cough up some money to recharge the system.
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  #24  
Old 02-16-2014, 05:49 PM
taylorbaker taylorbaker is offline
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I figured i would just Take the piece i cut, put it back, and seal it. That's the only thing i did to it.
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  #25  
Old 02-16-2014, 06:06 PM
Rick Rick is online now
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Quote:
Originally Posted by taylorbaker View Post
Ugh :/ I have no idea what i'm doing in all honesty. But i don't want to get raped by a mechanic.
Wait let me see if I have this right. You don't know fuck all about your car, but taking it to some one who does, has the proper tools so as to not damage the car and can do the job successfully is rape?
Do you have the same opinion about doctors and dentists when you are sick or have a tooth ache? If not why not?
Those two sentences of yours rate right up there with the stupidest I have ever read on this message board.
You should listen to Dirty Harry. "A man has got to know his limitations," you have exceeded yours.
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  #26  
Old 02-17-2014, 03:41 AM
cochrane cochrane is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by nevadaexile View Post

A 1994 American automobile unless it is is in pristine condition (especially in Michigan) is probably not going be worth more than $2-3k in resale value.
It was probably worth more 5 1/2 years ago.

Last edited by cochrane; 02-17-2014 at 03:44 AM..
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  #27  
Old 02-17-2014, 04:53 AM
HoneyBadgerDC HoneyBadgerDC is online now
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The biggest problem I have seen with do it yourselfers changing the heater core is that they don't always remove all the screws or properly release fasteners causing parts to break and end up with a loose dash that rattles.
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  #28  
Old 02-17-2014, 11:20 AM
ZenBeam ZenBeam is offline
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By way of an update, the Bar's Leak worked for a little while, but then it started leaking again. I don't think it made it through the coming winter, but I'm not sure. Once it began leaking again, I went with plan B, which wasn't too hard. I didn't even need a connector, I just bent one of the hoses that went to the heater core to the connector for the other hose.

I think the car lasted about another 1.5 years from my last post, and then I went with plan C. I would have had at least one winter without a heater, and it wasn't that big of a problem. I have a garage, and my commute is only 15 - 20 minutes, so the heat would only be on for half my commute anyway. I don't recall fogging problems. I probably cracked my windows to prevent the humidity from building up.

Quote:
Originally Posted by cochrane
Quote:
Originally Posted by nevadaexile
A 1994 American automobile unless it is is in pristine condition (especially in Michigan) is probably not going be worth more than $2-3k in resale value.
It was probably worth more 5 1/2 years ago.
Actually... probably not. Among some other issues, by the time the original thread had been posted, the top door hinge on my driver side door had broken, and I was getting in and out the passenger door.
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