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Does the steam have any smell?
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What it sounds like is the heater core is leaking. These are the classic symptoms and description of this. On most cars the dash has to come out to replace this. What some people do for a temp repair is bypass the heater core by removing the 2 heater hoses and put in a suitable fitting to join them together. Of course you will not have any heat but it won`t leak either.
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Would that cause the voltage to go almost up to the red area on the dashboard? Also, are you sure it isn't something with the engine, gaskets, etc? I hope not, cuz I can't afford all that. But you seem sure that it is the heater core? If so, how much will it be to replace it? Is it a hose rather than the core? Like I said, nothing seems to be coming from the engine when I open the hood, but if I drive the car, the steam slowly gets worse and starts fogging up my windshield. I am pretty sure it has a sweet smell.
In regard to your first question about the voltage, this could be a bad voltage regulator in the alternator or even a bad connection at the battery. Check the alternator with a volt meter and it should be around 13.5 to 14.5, if your readings are out of these ranges too much then you have an alternator problem.
As far as the steam and the sweet smell there really isn`t much else it can be. There are no hoses on the inside, only outside.As far as a price that will vary depending on the shop and their labor rate.I normally fix the cars so I am not giving repair costs. But in my opinion I would say with parts and labor you would be looking around $700.00 dollars if the dash has to come out to replace this one. On some models they are replace from under the hood and the cost is allot less.
I hope this helps,
The heater core is what causes the steam and sweet smell when it leaks. The likelihood of it causing a fire is very unlikely.Make sure the coolant level is full so you don`t overheat. It does not take much for the heater core to cause this smell. In time though what will happen is it will start leaking on the carpet inside.
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