Q: I have to add coolant to my 1994 Acura Integra every three days. I don't see other evidence of a leak. Can you help find the problem?
Las Vegas, Nevada
A: That coolant is leaking somewhere. It could be getting by a faulty head gasket into the combustion chambers in amounts too small to cause billows of white exhaust. It might be leaking in small amounts from the heater core into the passenger compartment, or the water pump may leak. It's also possible the car loses coolant only while it's running, which would make a leak harder to spot.
Have a mechanic pressure-test the cooling system, check the head gasket, and inspect the water pump. The inconvenience of having to add coolant every three days is bad enough, but the leak could worsen, and the damage overheating can cause is likely to be much more expensive to repair than finding and fixing the leak.
Q: For years my 1993 Saturn's alternator has been whining when the car accelerates. It finally got to me and I took the car to a mechanic, who told me that the alternator checks out fine. I left not wanting to spend $400 for a new alternator, but the whine is awfully irritating. Any ideas?
A: Some otherwise perfectly good alternators whine. The noise can go unnoticed in many cars thanks to good sound insulation, or drivers just become accustomed to it. A 1993 Saturn, however, isn't particularly well insulated when it comes to sound and it's clear that you've already made the effort to take it in stride.
The classic approach to such a problem is turning up the radio. But replacing the alternator is the cure most likely to last. The quoted cost of $400 doesn't seem out of line.
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This article was first published in March 2004. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.