What are the Symptoms of a Bad Water Pump?

This all means there are a lot of moving parts involved. In this article we are going to talk about the water pump. A slightly misleading name in truth but a very vital part in making your engine run well. We will look at some of the signs of a bad water pump and explain more about its operation.

What Is a Water Pump?

As mentioned, the name of this part is only slightly misleading. It should probably be termed a coolant pump to be more accurate but let's not split hairs. This pump regulates the amount of coolant that goes into the engine.

This is a constant task as the coolant must circulate through the engine in order to cool it. The reason for this is that the internal combustion engine creates a lot of heat while it is in operation. This is hardly surprising when you consider multiple ignition events occurring inside the engine in a rotating pattern.

The coolant travels around the engine drawing the heat from the engine before finally finding its way to the radiator located near the front of the vehicle generally behind the grille. In the radiator the coolant is cooled back down before it is sent for another circuit of the engine.

Essentially if the water pump is not functioning then the engine is not being cooled down. This very quickly leads to overheating which can damage seals and valves throughout the engine. If you have ever experienced an overheating engine you likely know how stressful a situation this can be.

Where Is the Water Pump?

The water pump is powered by either the timing belt or the serpentine belt and as such it will be located near one of these near the front of the engine. If it is powered by the serpentine belt you should be able to find it easily sitting right at the front of the engine.

If you can not find the pump by the serpentine belt then it is probably being powered by the timing belt which is generally obscured from view by covers. As such the water pump may be covered up as well.

Can You Drive With a Bad Water Pump?

Technically speaking the engine will run without a water pump but without a method of cooling you will not go far before the engine begins to overheat. Essentially you can not operate your car normally with a non functioning water pump.

Allowing your engine to overheat can do major damage very quickly. This is why the water pump is one of these issues that you need to fix quickly. Ignoring this repair will cause you to have to pay even more money to fix new issues later.

Signs of a Bad Water Pump

There are some very obvious signs of a water pump issue and some that are a little more subtle. In this section we will look at some of the more common things to look out for.

Leaking Coolant

This is a symptom which is not always obvious as it can depend on how pronounced the issue is. When a water pump goes bad it may have developed a leak. This will mean that coolant will escape and may make it as far as the ground beneath the car.

Coolant is not just water but in fact a mix of water and ethylene glycol with a few additives thrown in as well. It is often a green liquid which if it pools is very obviously not just water. You may also smell that the liquid is sweet.

A pronounced puddle of coolant near the front of your car will likely indicate either a major leak or a failed water pump. You should quickly get this issue looked at to avoid doing further damage.

Squealing Noise

Leaking coolant can make it onto the bearings of the water pump and cause them to dry out. They will now no longer be greased so they will make a squealing noise as you drive. If you hear this noise coming from the water pump you have a big problem and will want to get it fixed quickly.

Loose Water Pump Axle

As mentioned the water pump is powered by one of two belts and it does this through the water pump's axle. When the axle starts to wear out this will cause it to become loose affecting how the serpentine or timing belt grips it to cause the motor rotation.

If the axle fails then you will need a new water pump. If you remove the belt that powers the pump and the axle is loose then this is your only option. Do not delay in this replacement as it can have knock on effects with other systems very quickly.

Smoke From the Radiator

Smoke from under the hood is never a good thing and white smoke coming from the radiator is definitely a very bad thing. In truth it is not really smoke but steam and it is happening because your engine is overheating badly.

If you are driving when this begins to happen then you must pull over as soon as you can safely do so. It is important to let your engine cool down fully before you do anything else. Ideally call for a tow truck or line up a mechanic within a short driving distance. You will not want to be driving very much further until this issue has been resolved.

Unstable Engine Temperature

We have left the most obvious indication of a bad water pump until the very end, unstable engine temperature. Ideally your temperature gauge will stay between 190 – 225 degrees Fahrenheit. This is the optimum working temp for the internal combustion engine.

If you are having intermittent issues with the water pump then you may notice the engine start to overheat sometimes but fine at others. The indications are that the water pump is breaking down and this will be your early warning system.


The water pump is so important for the efficient running of the engine and if it fails we can risk engine overheating. There are a few signs that things may be going wrong including puddles of coolant, engine temperature fluctuations and a squealing noise from the water pump itself. If you suspect water pump problems get these resolved quickly.

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