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:

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.

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.

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?

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.

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.

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.

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)!

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


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.

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.

That’s the brand I recommend.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

I’m in Michigan. I think it gets cold here. :slight_smile:

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.

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 [del]believe[/del] 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. :eek: It turned out to just be a tow truck ahead of me, belching smoke.

Again, thanks to everybody.

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.

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.

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.