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Can You Drive a Car With a Bad Water Pump? is reader supported. When you buy via links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission at no cost to you.

In this article I’m going over some things you need to know if you’re wondering about whether you can continue driving your vehicle with a bad water pump.

To put it plainly, you can drive your vehicle if it has a faulty or failing water pump, but it can be very dangerous to do so. Also, in some cases you may not be able to drive at all, a bad water pump can easily lead to complete engine failure if you’re not careful.

I’m going to go over all the details you need to be aware of so that you can decide for yourself whether you want to continue driving. I’ll also take a look at what symptoms you can look out for to determine if you have a bad water pump.

The key thing to note is that if it’s only leaking, and not malfunctioning in any other major way then you can drive for awhile (although I would recommend getting your car to a mechanic as soon as you possibly can).

On the other hand, if your water pump has completely failed and is no longer able to move coolant throughout the engine, continuing to drive may well be catastrophic for your engines health. It can quickly result in the engine overheating, within mere minutes.

How to prevent the water pump from failing

As with any car maintenance issue, the best way to stay on top of it is to have your car serviced at regular intervals. Your cars service manual should also provide some useful information regarding how frequently the water pump should be replaced.

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Even if your car isn’t due for a replacement according to its service history, if it shows symptoms that indicate that the water pump may be failing, then you should still get it looked at.

When can’t you drive with a bad water pump

If the water pump fails in such a way that it is unable to move any coolant around the engine at all, then you should not drive, even for short distances. This can happen when the impeller breaks off, stopping the water pump from being able to function at all. In this kind of situation continuing to drive may well lead to the head gasket failing, or various other kinds of catastrophic engine problems.

Another situation in which it’s a very bad idea to continue driving, is when the water pump seizes up. This can happen when the ball bearing wears out. In many cases this could lead to the timing belt breaking, which in turn causes issues with the pistons leading to engine failure.

When is it safe to drive with a bad water pump

Minor leaks can be mild enough that you can continue driving safely for some time. Although don’t underestimate how quickly a leaking water pump can cause coolant to deplete.

Theoretically it’s safe to keep driving as long as your levels of coolant stay high enough, which could be achieved by continuing to top up the coolant periodically. This isn’t a good long term solution however, and if you get it wrong and run too low on coolant for even a few miles the engine could overheat and fail.

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In order to drive with a leaking water pump:

  • Keep checking the level of the coolant at least every 2 miles.
  • As the coolant level depletes, top it up with a mixture of coolant and distilled water in equal parts.
  • Make sure the engine is cool before you add any coolant, this will mean you have to stop frequently.
  • Only do the above if it is absolutely necessary, make sure to get the water pump replaced as soon as you can.
  • It’s also worth considering just getting your car towed, rather than risking damage to the engine.

Signs and Symptoms

Coolant level

The coolant level will reduce over time, regardless of whether there is any leak occurring. But, it usually will reduce by a rate slow enough that you can only notice the decrease every 6 months or so. If it is going down faster than that then it’s another good reason to get a mechanic to have a look.

Steam coming out of the engine bay

steam coming from the engine bay is a sure sign that coolant is leaking. The steam is caused from the coolant being heated up by the engine to the point of evaporation. This is yet another occurrence that warrants a visit to the mechanic.

Grinding or crunching noises

A grinding noise can indicate a worn out bearing. The bearing could be from any number of different parts of your vehicle, none the less it does warrant further investigation. If a bearing in the water pump has failed, it will result in the water pump seizing up and not being able to function.

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How does damage to the water pump occur?

In most cases damage to the water pump is due to regular wear and tear from using your vehicle. In rarer cases issues can arise as a result of other problems in your vehicle, usually problems within the coolant system. If any particles or debris make their way into the coolant fluid, or the coolant system in general this can easily damage the pump.

How difficult is it to change the water pump?

If you are a mechanic then it’s not a particularly hard job to do. But for everyday non-mechanic people without experience, it’s very complicated. It’s not something I would recommend you attempt to do yourself, best to book in for a service instead. If you mess up any of the steps you could quite easily cause more damage, and be worse off than where you started out.

Will my car start if it has a bad water pump?

Generally your car will not have any issues starting when it has a bad water pump. The issue arises when the engine overheats due to the coolant not moving around the engine. The engine overheating could easily result in permanent damage that will prevent the car from starting in the future.

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In conclusion, in most cases I would strongly advise against driving with a bad water pump unless absolutely necessary. If you decide to go ahead and do it anyway, be aware that it may cause permanent damage to the engine. The best solution is to get the pump replaced before you hit the road again.

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