Car Care

Can You Drive A Car With A Bad Water Pump?

You want your car to be a well-oiled machine. However, oil is not the only essential fluid that your car needs to function. Your coolant levels are also extremely important. When they suddenly start to go low, this is usually one of the first signs that you have a faulty water pump. This begs to question, can you drive a car with a bad water pump?

It is never recommended to drive a vehicle with a broken water pump, but in an emergency, you are able to drive extremely short distances. Experts recommend not traveling more than 5 minutes down the road. However, if you must make the drive, take frequent stops and try to do it during the coolest time of the day.

What Is A Water Pump?

195 to 220 degrees — This is the standard operating temperature range of your car’s engine.  However, if it surpasses this thermal window by just ten degrees, the engine will overheat and your car will potentially shut down. This is all prevented with the use of a water pump. 

This seemingly simple car component is an integral part of the vehicle’s cooling system. It pumps the coolant around the engine, and as the name implies, this fluid helps to absorb the excess heat. This keeps your car’s inner workings at the optimal temperature. `

What Happens When You Drive A Car With A Bad Water Pump?

Technically, you can drive a car with a bad water pump. However, not only is this not recommended, but it can cause detrimental damage to a multitude of your car’s essential components.

This includes the engine. According to the experts at J.D. Power, “you don’t want to drive very long or very far with the engine overheating. Doing so risks catastrophic engine failure and a repair bill in the thousands of dollars”. 

Looking at costs, the bill for a new water pump can range anywhere between $100 to $500. Conversely, to replace a car’s engine, you are looking at spending anywhere between $3000 to $4000 for an American-made vehicle. Luxury car owners should expect to potentially spend tens of thousands of dollars for this repair!

Moreover, when you allow your engine to overheat, it will have a ripple effect throughout much of the car’s mechanics. The professional auto technicians at Subaru note that allowing your engine to overheat can lead to a cracked engine block, warped cylinders, burnt pistons, and damage to the head gasket. 

What this means is that if you start to notice signs that your water pump is failing, drive your car over to a car maintenance specialist immediately. 

How Long Can You Drive A Car With A Bad Water Pump?

The time that you can drive a car with a bad water pump is dependent on a variety of factors. However, even in the most ideal conditions, it is not advised to drive more than five minutes down the road. Here are some considerations to keep in mind before heading out on a drive without this essential part working properly. 

Consideration #1: Current Weather Conditions

The hotter the temperature outside, the more quickly the car is liable to overheat. During the hot summer months, it is imperative that you prioritize your car’s wellbeing and get to a mechanic immediately. 

The most opportune time to make this journey is during the early morning hours when temperatures are at their lowest and you are not exposed to much sunlight. When driving during the peak heating hours of the afternoon, the sun’s radiant energy will expedite this warming process. 

Moreover, while you can drive a bit farther in the Winter months when it is cooler outside, if temperatures dip below freezing, you will also have problems. The coolant that circulates around your car’s engine is otherwise known as Antifreeze.

In frigid temperatures, this is what ensures that the water within the water pump does not freeze. If this occurs, it can cause your drive belts to crack and potentially break, costing you even more money.

Consideration #2: Car Components In Use

The more stress that you apply to your car’s engine without a working water pump, the worse the damage will be at the end of your trip. Your car’s climate system plays an integral role in determining the temperature under the hood. 

In fact, “the air conditioning puts additional stress on the cooling system, stress that results in higher temperature. In contrast, the car’s heater is actually an internal radiator through which the car’s coolant passes. Turning it on can help keep the engine nearer its proper temperature range.” 

Thus, if you must make the drive, turn off the air conditioner. However, even though this can help, the folks at J.D. Power recommend always err on the side of caution and call for a tow. 

Consideration #3: Elevation Changes

Another factor that can put stress on your engine and cause it to heat up more rapidly is the topography of the area that you are driving in. The more elevation changes, the harder your vehicle has to work.

Thus, for those driving in Florida, deemed the flattest state in America, you will likely be able to make it a bit farther down the road. In contrast, those in West Virginia (the hilliest state in the nation), are best not to chance a long commute. 

How To Tell If Your Water Pump Is Failing?

Sign #1: Coolant Leak

One of the first indicators that you have a bad water pump is leaking fluids. While you may not notice this while the car is moving, if you park your vehicle for an extended period of time and come back to a colorful mess on the ground underneath the hood, you likely have a faulty water pump. 

Sign #2: Whining Noise

Another telltale sign that your water pump is on the verge of failing is unusual noises coming from under the hood. Water pumps run through a pulley system. When this mechanism is loose or cracked, it will lead to squeaking, whining, or grinding noises while the car is in use.

Sign #3: The Heat Is Not Working

As mentioned above, the climate system in your car works by taking the heat that is absorbed by the cooling system in the engine compartment and using it to warm the cabin area. When the cooling system fails, then it is unable to warm the interior of the car. 

Sign #4: Check Engine Light Turns On

If you have chosen to ignore the previous signs of potential failure and your check engine light suddenly turns on, this is usually a sign that the pump is already broken and the engine has started to overheat. When this happens, safely pull over and turn the vehicle off. 

Next, give the car ample time to cool off, and then check your fluid levels under the hood. If the coolant is low or nonexistent, then you more than likely have a broken pump. 

Sign #5: Smoke Or Steam 

Unfortunately, when smoke or steam comes from under the hood, the radiator, or your exhaust pipe, you likely have a much bigger problem. When this occurs, pull over immediately and turn off the car. In this scenario, it is best to call for a tow and not risk further damage to the vehicle. 

Frequently Asked Questions

If I have to drive with a bad water pump, what can I do to help prevent further damage to the engine?

Driving with a broken water pump is never recommended. However, if you find yourself stranded and have no other choice, there are a few steps to take to help prevent damage to the engine and other components of the vehicle. 

First, make sure that you have filled the coolant to the recommended level. Water can be used in an emergency for those who do not have coolant on hand. Then, drive extremely short distances (under a mile). Additionally, take ample breaks in between to give the vehicle time to cool off. 

Moreover, remember to avoid rapidly changing terrain and make sure that the only thing running is your car. Turn off the air conditioner, the radio, and any other functions that may generate heat. 

Final Thoughts

Many people state that they have made it as far as 20 miles away with a bad water pump, while driving with a bad fuel pump can only last a few miles. However, upon further investigation, this travel was accompanied by damage to the engine. Thus, it is always best to pull over, turn off the vehicle, and call for a tow. 

J.D. Power further notes that “The national average cost of a tow is around $109, but rates may vary, and you should expect to pay between $2.50 and $7.00 per mile.” This can be expensive, but when you drive a car with a bad water pump, the cost of the potential damage that it can incur is much worse. 

The best way to avoid a broken water pump is to conduct regular maintenance to the vehicle and to ensure that all of your fluids remain at the recommended levels throughout the year.

Lastly, never ignore small signs that there may be an issue under the hood. This can lead to big problems down the road, so make sure to take care of it and avoid being towed.

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