Austin, my wife was told today that the heater core is leaking antifreeze inside her car. We can smell a faint odor when the heater is on high, and I have been adding antifreeze to the radiator every week or so. The dealership wants to charge us an arm and a leg to replace it. Over $1,000, is this correct?
Hi there Dan,
Well if you smell a sweet smell inside the the cab of the vehicle and you are adding antifreeze regularly then you probably do have a leak in the heater core. Pull back the carpet on the passenger side up under the dash area where your feet would go. If it’s wet or damp and has a slick feel to it then its a positive leak in the core.
The big problem with replacing the heater core is gaining access to it. In your case, most of the dashboard has to be removed just to get to the part itself. So once you factor in 6 hours of labor, new antifreeze, diagnosis charge, cooling system flush, plus the cost of the heater core and the two formed special heater hoses that attach to it…it adds up quickly.
Some vehicles like older Chevy and Ford Trucks are pretty easy to replace in under an hour, some cars like BMW, Mercedes, Lincoln, Toyota require a lot more labor to remove the dash. Each car is different, and sometimes same car model but different year can be totally different designs as well.
I would say they quoted you correctly, but honestly I would not recommend the dealer for this repair. Find a local mechanic who has done this repair before and get them to quote you. The labor rates at the dealer are usually much higher than a mom and pop mechanic.
Now if you really don’t need the heater, you can have the two heater hoses under the hood spliced together to “bypass” the heater core inside the dash. No heat, but no coolant leak either.
They do make a few heater core leak sealers which you can find at your local auto parts store, but I have not had much luck using them in this situation. One brand that I would recommend you try is made my K&W, and their head gasket sealer I give super high recommendations for. They also claim it works with heater cores, but I have not tried it. It’s a cheap guess though in your situation.
You can read more about this product from this link.