Does My Car Need a New Water Pump?

By Chris Hardesty 08/22/2023 4:00pm

Water Pump Quick Facts

  • Car water pumps circulate coolant from the radiator to the engine block to prevent overheating and premature wear.
  • Water pumps on modern cars often last more than 100,000 miles, while older models might need a replacement between 60,000 and 100,000 miles.
  • Expect to pay about $900 for the installation of a replacement water pump at a dealership, but the expense varies by vehicle.

Severe engine damage can happen if your car’s water pump isn’t working correctly. The engine’s coolant can’t serve its purpose without this component, which can leave you stranded with an overheated vehicle.

Read on for information about water pumps, how long they last, how to know when it needs replacing, and more.

What Is a Water Pump, and How Long Should It Last? 

The primary purpose of your car’s water pump is to continually circulate coolant from the radiator to the vehicle’s engine block to prevent overheating. Located at the front of the engine, the water pump is a vital part of an automobile’s cooling system.

Modern water pumps are much more robust than those used in older or classic cars. The water pump on a new vehicle can last 100,000 miles or more. The expected service life of water pumps for older models is 60,000-100,000 miles. Despite the lengthy expected life, pumps can fail prematurely. Typically, a bearing on the pump may go bad, or the pump can develop a leak, which might cause serious damage to the engine gasket, cylinder head, and other parts if not attended to.

Signs of a Bad Water Pump

It’s unusual for water pumps to stop working without first showing some symptoms in advance. These clues may signal that your water pump is failing.

  • Puddles of green (coolant) antifreeze fluid on the garage floor. Seeing coolant on the ground signals a leak within the car’s cooling system. Place a piece of cardboard underneath the engine bay to collect any drips indicating worn cooling system hoses.
  • High-temperature readings from the water temperature gauge. When the pump is not circulating enough coolant through the engine block, its temperature rises and the needle on the water gauge points in the red zone or activates the engine temperature dashboard light.
  • An awkward, low-pitched grinding sound from the engine. The sound usually occurs from a wobbling pulley that signifies a bad bearing and a pulley doing its part to destroy a fan belt. As the engine picks up speed, the sound’s pitch may become higher.
  • Water leaks from the front of the engine. Some water pumps have a built-in outlet where water would drip from (a weep hole) if the pump is beginning to fail.

How Does a Water Pump Work?

In most cars, the engine’s timing belt operates the water pump to create the centrifugal force that pushes coolant through the cooling system. However, some engine designs have pumps receiving energy from the vehicle’s electrical system. For example, Toyota and Lexus Hybrid models, some Audi, Bentley, and Volkswagen models, and several cars from BMW use that type of water pump setup.

What Is Involved in Water Pump Replacement?

Replacing a car water pump could be a simple or difficult job, depending on the vehicle and the water pump’s location. It’s a job usually best left for professional mechanics. The water pump may be hidden under other components and may require special tools depending on the vehicle’s design. It’s a repair that can take two to three hours.

Some mechanics recommend water pump replacement as preemptive maintenance when the timing belt is changed.

How Much Does Water Pump Replacement Cost?

The average cost for water pump replacement at a dealer’s service center is about $900, according to data from Cox Automotive, parent of Kelley Blue Book. Costs vary by vehicle and your region. Parts can run from $200 to $400, and labor expenses make up two-thirds of the total replacement cost.  These estimates do not include taxes or shop materials and disposal fees. Kelley Blue Book’s Service & Repair Guide will estimate water pump replacement pricing for your specific car, plus show you nearby choices for a local auto shop if you’re ready to make an appointment.

Editor’s Note: This article has been updated since it was originally published. Mark Elias contributed to the report.