coolant cap left off and engine failed


Asked by Jul 27, 2015 at 10:55 PM about the 2003 Ford Expedition XLT

Question type: Maintenance & Repair

A local repair shop left off the coolant cap after service.  My daughter just drove the car to
school and back, just a couple of miles.  A few month later engine light comes on and it
dies.  We tow it to AAA and they say no coolant in the truck and coolant cap was wedged
in roof.  They fill and check and no leaks.  Do block test and it fails.   They say cap being
off caused failure. Tow back to repair shop and they are denying claim, say it would have
been impossible to go for a few months and not know cap was off.   AAA says it could
definitely happen.  Repair shop actually says cap must have been blown off somehow
and got lodged in roof and whatever the issue was was coincidentally there anyway.  
Crazy.... Is it probable that car could be driven for a while without the cap then when
coolant is empty/gone a few months later it was the cause (it was only local travel)?

11 Answers

Kelly Mayo

yes..if it never got hot..a cap doesnt blow off if its but on right.. so check engine light came on ...overheated? said>A local repair shop left off the coolant cap after, they made a booboo... but there should have been something to tell you all is not right...catch 22 here.


In my opinion, no. When coolant gets hot it expands, a lot. With the cap off you would have had coolant and steam gushing like a geyser! I once had a radiator hose blow without knowing it. I drove to work and parked the car. When I came back to leave it was dark outside. So if there was a puddle of coolant, I never saw it. From a cold start I made it about 3 miles down the road before the engine started knocking! The temp warning light never came on because the cooling system was bone dry. That can happen. The fact that you've been driving this vehicle for a few months since it was at the repair shop leads me to believe exactly what the shop told you. Either the cap blew off or was left off that day or or was taken off during the night before you used the car that morning. Sorry. HTH. -Jim

Kelly Mayo

yes and no.....

1 out of 1 people think this is helpful.

Engine light went on and by the time she pulled off highway it shut down. No one else worked on car or touched it. She drove 2 miles per day so timeframe is not that long in my opinion and definitely not long enough to get too hot. When the truck came back they filled it back up with fluid and there were no leaks found. There was never any fluid in my driveway or and sign of a leak either. If somehow the cap was blown off wouldn't there be a sign or indication of something else wrong, also how does a cap get physically blown off and then wedged perfectly in a slot no where near where it came off?

1 out of 1 people think this is helpful.

Truth is sometimes stranger than fiction. Since the coolant recovery tank is pressurized and the cap is plastic, it's very possible that it blew off. Especially if the cap is original. It's also possible, on these systems, that if the coolant is very low, topping off the recovery tank alone will not fill the system. In that case you must remove the upper radiator hose, thermostat and housing, and pour the coolant directly into the engine. Was the cooling system pressure tested for leaks? Sometimes a leak will only show up under pressure. It is also possible that the head gasket blew into the cooling jacket and the combustion pressure from that cylinder blew off the cap. At any event I still maintain, without seeing the vehicle, that whatever happened, happened that day, and not months prior. HTH. -Jim

Tom Demyan

I agree with the Kelly and Js, The problem is proving the cap was off from day one and the coolant slowly leaked out or it blew off. I don't think anyone can prove what happened at this point being months later. If the cap was truely off, there would have been warning signs, like the smell of coolant evaporating and or on the ground. Do you know the code since the check engine light was on? If the shop was nice, they would cut you a break on the replacement engine/labor. Good Luck.


Jim, they did do pressure test for leaks, no leaks found. If head gasket blew wouldn't it be noticeable (either when it happened or afterwards when they started it back up?)? The original shop said they tested the car and it was fine and head mechanoc said he drive it all over, it wasn't until I asked if they did block test that they went back and did it and it failed. Thanks.

Bob Beaman

First off coolant systems are pressurized to raise the boiling temperature of the coolant and coolant will expand an contract. With the reservoir left open the coolant will boil and evaporate away. If this vehicle was driven for several months did nobody ever raise the hood and check the oil and the coolant level? I think not. It is possible for a defective pressure cap to be blown off of the reservoir, but I would think the radiator would have split first. In my opinion if this car had quit with in a few days of being in the shop it likely would be the fault of the repair shop leaving the cap off, but several months? I think the OP is stuck with it. Best off luck.

1 out of 1 people think this is helpful.

Thanks all.for the feedback. Bob, we did not check oil as even though it was a few months it was still not due for oil changE as she drives short distances. Sounds like we are stuck. 170k miles, worth fixing? I think they said head gasket is the issue but costs almost the same to replace engine as make repair?? Thoughts?

1 out of 1 people think this is helpful.

Nope, it's 12 years old with 170,000 miles on it. Time to move on. HTH. -Jim


Also sounds like they found no external leaks with the pressure test but they should have suspected an internal leak since the system would not have held pressure for the minimum required 15 minutes. I'm assuming that the block test you referred to consisted of putting a chemical in the coolant and running the engine. If the chemical reacts, which it sounds like it did, combustion gasses are present in the cooling system. This would indicate a blown head gasket or cracked head. It could also blow the cap off the recovery tank. We once had a delivery vehicle blow a head gasket into the crankcase. The PCV valve and hose was blown out of the valve cover. We never did find the PCV valve. HTH. -Jim

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