Water heater inlet pipe connection leak

We live in a condo that was built in 2003 as apartments and converted to condos and sold "new" in 2005. I'm not sure the actual age of the water heater, but the serial number says something like "E.1.1998" or something to that effect, I don't have the exact number in front of me (I'm at work). I don't know if the 1998 in the serial number is a coincidence, or if it represents the year it was built. If it does, I have no idea where the water heater was for the 5 years before the apartments were built.
Anyway, over the weekend, our hot water went cold. I didn't know anything about water heaters yet, but I'm very handy and I always try to fix things before I call a pro, so I took a look. The first thing I noticed was that the drip pan was about full of water (probably 2 gallons or so at least). I vacuumed it all out and try to relight the pilot. The pilot lit, stayed on, and when I turned the temp back up, it fired up no problem. I wasn't sure what to think, but I let it go for a few to see if the hot water would come back. I came back half an hour later to find that the flame had gone back out. I lit it again, and again it lit perfectly fine, but went out 10 or so minutes later.
I then began to further research and inspect the situation and at this point I noticed that the cold water inlet fitting was leaking where it connects to the water heater. The threaded part coming out of the water heater is a little rusty, and there was some blue stuff coming out of the connection. It was not spraying, but was dribbling pretty good. There is a cut out in the top of the outer shell of the tank where the threaded pipe sticks out. This gasket seemingly seals the threaded pipe to the cutout in the outer shell. Part of this gasket was pushed into the cut out leaving a hole leading into the top of the tank. The leaking water from the cold inlet fittings was filling up the gasket (it's about 3.5" or so deep) with water, which was then draining into this gap/hole in the gasket/cut out (into the top of the water heater). I have no idea where the water goes after this, which is part of the reason I'm posting here. I assume that it does not go into the main water tank, as I think that is a pressure tested tank that is separate from the outer shell. I did also notice what appeared to be some water dripping at the bottom of the tank, but I couldn't tell where it had come from. It was at the bottom front corner of the tank, directly below the inspection cover where the pilot flame peep hole is. It was wet there at the corner and dripping, but like I said, I couldn't tell where it was coming from. It did not appear to be coming out the inspection cover or anything. There is a 90 degree lip from the outer wall to the base of the tank (base is like 2" tall, and about 2" smaller radius) and the water was collecting on this 90 corner, and kind of felt like it was coming from the bottom of the shell, from the flat part created by the 2" radius difference, if that makes sense. Sorry for the confusing description.
So, to make this long story a little shorter, I tested the relief valve, it seems like it's working (some water came out), and I tightened the fitting at the cold water inlet, and now the leak seems to have subsided (will check again tonight). I didn't notice any more water collecting in the drip basin. I lit the pilot again, turned up the temp, and it has stayed lit all night, the water is hot again, and was lit this morning still, and had hot water this morning as well.
My guess was that perhaps the water that dripped into the top of the tank eventually found it's way down the inside of the tank shell (outside the actual water tank), to the pilot flame, and was extinguishing it as it dripped/splashed. Does this sound plausible? I probably should have opened up the inspection cover and checked if it was wet/damp inside, but I didn't.
So my questions are, does it seem possible that the water coming into the top was putting out the flame and that's why the hot water had turned off? And, more importantly, could that explain some dripping from the bottom corner of the outer shell, and could it have caused any worse problems that mean I should be replace the tank? If the flame stays on, the water stays hot, and the drip basin doesn't fill up with water for the next couple weeks, is it safe to say that I'm in the clear until the tank (or something else) goes "for real" ?
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Andrew wrote:

Correct on all counts.
http://homerepair.about.com/od/plumbingrepair/ss/hwh_tank_gas_3.htm http://www.14ushop.com/magnets/cutaway.html http://www.mrrooter.com/services/water_heater.aspx #
You may have to replace the inlet fitting eventually, but the tank is probably good for some years yet.
Jim
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in every experience of mine personally a inlet line leak means the tank is failing. its best to go ahead and replace it now, espically if a leak can do water damage. I have a personal friend who is a plumber who reports if any inlet leaks at entrance point, replace the tank. they are realtively cheap.
call the manufacturer with the serial number they can give you its exact manufacturing date tank may be very old
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the tank rusts and leaks, you notice water.
then rust tempoorarily clogs the leak and it stops only to return again soon...........
attempting to fix leaky fittings likew inlet outlet T&P or thermostat mount is a waste of time and effort.....
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Turn off water and remove inlet pipe and use teflon tape on the threads and reinstall.If it still leaks than replace it. Jerry
http://community.webtv.net/awoodbutcher/MyWoodWorkingPage
http://community.webtv.net/awoodbutcher/CARWRECK
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On Oct 28, 8:07pm, snipped-for-privacy@webtv.net (Jerry - OHIO) wrote:

Thanks for the replies everyone. I'm happy to report back that the inlet pipe has not leaked again since I've tightened. I'll be keeping a close eye on it, and the rest of the tank, for the next several months to ensure that the problem doesn't come back. If it does, I'll try teflon tape and/or replace the inlet fitting(s). And if that doesn't work, well, I'll evaluate my options then.
Thanks again.
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good luck the porcelin coating inside the tank is failing, it will leak again, probably within weeks. teflon tape will likely patch it up again, but you will need a new tank.
be very carefulf the tanks leak water can damage a finished space. like a finished basement floor. my dads in phoenix, they went on a cruise, while gone the tank sprung a leak and filled the house with a foot of water. total damages were about 30 grand. his tank was in a closet.
in new phoenix homes the tank is in the garage, so leaks cant do so much damage
phoenix homes dont have basements nearly all built on a slab,.
sorry to be a downer, but rather warn you in advance, not all leaks are small ones. you may find a different fitting leaking. once the tanks anode rod is used up overall failure is coming fast
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