Burst Head Gasket - repair or replace engine?


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I have a burst head gasket. The garage has offered me two options: a repair job (skimming the block and replacing the gasket) or a replacement used engine. The price difference is significant. I would be grateful for any advice. Thanks.

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The only reason you'd need to change the engine out is if the engine itself is damaged in any way.  If the only thing wrong is the gasket, just replace the gasket. 

Did they give you any description of what condition the engine itself is in?  How old is the vehicle?  How many miles?

The damaged head gasket does not *automatically* mean you need a new engine block.  Sometimes, if you've driven with a leaking gasket for a long time, it can damage parts of the engine.  The longer you did so, the more likely the damage is irreversible.

One thing you may want to consider is that when the gasket leaks, it can allow mixing of engine oil and coolant.  That's not a good thing.  So, you have to drain teh oil and the coolant and replace it with uncontaminated stuff.  You may want to ask the repair shop if they have an easy way of telling whether either fluid is contaminated with the other.

The fact that they wanted to jump straight to the engine replacement tells me that they may not be a reputable shop.  But when they told you that the gasket replacement would be cheaper, that makes me think they might be ok.  But did they only bring it up when you asked them about it?  Or did they offer that to you on their own?

EDIT:  I just saw your post in the other thread.  It seems like you got one guy there that was jumping to sell you a new engine.  The other guy was offering the cheaper alternative.  £1700 is a big difference.

If you feel like they are trustworthy, just ask yourself if you can afford the £1700 (additional).  If so, you get a new engine.*  If you have an older vehicle, it could be worth it if the rest of the vehicle is in good shape.

If you have a fairly new car, I'd consider what condition the engine itself is in.  It may not require replacement.

* Make sure they're talking about a completely new engine, not just a portion of it.

Edited by Carborendum
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Posted (edited)

I have noticed the coolant going down fast, but other than that there have been no issues. The car never loses any oil at all.

That morning I had accidentally left the cap off the coolant reservoir and the temperature was going up nearly into the red. As soon as I noticed I pulled over and replaced the cap, but the battery then suddenly went dead. The recovery mechanic charged the battery but then discovered the gasket problem when he tried to refill the coolant. 

I did have problems of overheating last year when the water pump broke. When the pump was replaced the car was fine again, but maybe there could have been some latent damage that contributed?

The car is only about 4 years old and has done about 25,000 miles.

Edited by Jamie123
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6 minutes ago, Jamie123 said:

I have noticed the coolant going down fast, but other than that there have been no issues. The car never loses any oil at all.

That morning I had accidentally left the cap off the coolant reservoir and the temperature was going up nearly into the red. As soon as I noticed I pulled over and replaced the cap, but the battery then suddenly went dead. The recovery mechanic charged the battery but then discovered the gasket problem when he tried to refill the coolant. 

I did have problems of overheating last year when the water pump broke. When the pump was replaced the car was fine again, but maybe there could have been some latent  damage that contributed?

The car is only about 4 years old and has done about 25,000 miles.

That's a pretty new car.  It looks like you took the right steps.  But I see a red flag:

Your pump broke (you didn't say, but I'm guessing it overheated?).  Then it overheated again when there was a coolant leak.  Where was the leak?  Was it just the gasket?  or was the block cracked.  That's the difference.

If it is cracked, then yes, you have to replace it.  If not, just do the gasket and save yourself some money.

Apart from that, I don't see any other reason to replace the engine.

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Posted (edited)
6 minutes ago, Carborendum said:

That's a pretty new car.  It looks like you took the right steps.  But I see a red flag:

Your pump broke (you didn't say, but I'm guessing it overheated?).  Then it overheated again when there was a coolant leak.  Where was the leak?  Was it just the gasket?  or was the block cracked.  That's the difference.

If it is cracked, then yes, you have to replace it.  If not, just do the gasket and save yourself some money.

Apart from that, I don't see any other reason to replace the engine.

Thanks - I'll have another chat with them tomorrow and lay all the cards out. My big fear is that they replace the gasket and then have to replace the whole engine anyway. (In which case the repair bill would be something approaching the value of the car!)

 

Edited by Jamie123
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If you can comfortably afford it, buy the rebuilt engine. Otherwise, getting your valves ground and the head resurfaced should be good enough when you replace the head gasket, unless there is serious scoring in the cylinders or other engine problems.

Gator's advice sounds about right. Trying to weld shut a cracked engine block is dodgy. Better to replace the engine, especially when it costs less than twice as much to replace as to repair.

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3 hours ago, Vort said:

If you can comfortably afford it, buy the rebuilt engine. Otherwise, getting your valves ground and the head resurfaced should be good enough when you replace the head gasket, unless there is serious scoring in the cylinders or other engine problems.

Gator's advice sounds about right. Trying to weld shut a cracked engine block is dodgy. Better to replace the engine, especially when it costs less than twice as much to replace as to repair.

This is just it - I can't comfortably afford it anyway. I am in a lot of debt, but need a car nevertheless. My parents are being very generous (for which I am eternally grateful) but I cannot depend on unlimited help from them. This is one of those testing times.

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1 hour ago, Jamie123 said:

This is just it - I can't comfortably afford it anyway. I am in a lot of debt, but need a car nevertheless. My parents are being very generous (for which I am eternally grateful) but I cannot depend on unlimited help from them. This is one of those testing times.

Well, you could replace the head gasket yourself if you don't mind doing a lot of work. It's not brain surgery, just a lot of work to rip your engine apart enough to get to the head gasket and replace it.  YouTube has all sorts of videos that will show you step-by-step how to do it.

Edited by Vort
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Posted (edited)
54 minutes ago, Vort said:

Well, you could replace the head gasket yourself if you don't mind doing a lot of work. It's not brain surgery, just a lot of work to rip your engine apart enough to get to the head gasket and replace it.  YouTube has all sorts of videos that will show you step-by-step how to do it.

Thanks for the suggestion but I don't have a workshop or equipment or the time. Plus won't it need a machine shop anyway to get the head skimmed?

Edited by Jamie123
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2 hours ago, Jamie123 said:

Thanks for the suggestion but I don't have a workshop or equipment or the time. Plus won't it need a machine shop anyway to get the head skimmed?

You can't really grind down the block-to-head surfaces yourself, but if the block isn't warped, you don't really need to flatten it. Very minor imperfections are all taken care of by the gasket. You probably would want to get the surface of the head itself and the valves ground, but you can just take those to a shop and have them do it.

Workshop: You don't need one, but a garage in your home would be very helpful. You could even do it outside, especially in summer, though you'd have to make sure to keep things very clean and covered.

Equipment: You need surprisingly little equipment, including jacks and jack stands (blocks), a wrench set (preferably socket), screwdrivers, a torque wrench, possibly some specialized tools for your particular make and model, and doubtless some other miscellaneous tools I'm not thinking of.

Time: I can't help you there. It would take a pretty fair chunk of time, not something you would do over a weekend unless you're practiced at it. So that might be an insuperable obstacle.

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5 hours ago, Jamie123 said:

This is just it - I can't comfortably afford it anyway. I am in a lot of debt, but need a car nevertheless. My parents are being very generous (for which I am eternally grateful) but I cannot depend on unlimited help from them. This is one of those testing times.

I am concerned that if I give my honest opinion - it is likely to be taken wrong.  I will apologize first - I am sorry for your predicament.   I would suggest some long term life changes.  For example - if you need a car to get to and from work and you need your work to pay for your car - your current life goals are a trap.  Hopefully you can see the logic that is failing you.  I do not have advice if you are caught in a cycle that has you trapped - except you need a reliable exit strategy from you cyclic trap.   

I will give a little example - A little over 5 years ago I had two sons that finished their college degrees and found that the interest on their student debt prevented them from making any progress just to get out of debt.  They came to me for help and I sat down separately with each of them and in essence told them the same advice I gave you above.  Both of them are now out of debt and on a trajectory to retire (if they wish) within the next 5 years.  However, I doubt either will retire - they have both traded their debt addiction for a work addiction.  One son said something very interesting to me just recently.  He said, "I find myself much more willing to work to save money than I am to earn money."  What he meant is that he is willing to work 10 hours to save $50.  But he is unwilling to work even for more than $50 per hour.  Please note that this is not so different than the suggestion from @Vort

 

The Traveler

Edited by Traveler
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13 minutes ago, Vort said:

You can't really grind down the block-to-head surfaces yourself, but if the block isn't warped, you don't really need to flatten it. Very minor imperfections are all taken care of by the gasket. You probably would want to get the surface of the head itself and the valves ground, but you can just take those to a shop and have them do it.

Workshop: You don't need one, but a garage in your home would be very helpful. You could even do it outside, especially in summer, though you'd have to make sure to keep things very clean and covered.

Equipment: You need surprisingly little equipment, including jacks and jack stands (blocks), a wrench set (preferably socket), screwdrivers, a torque wrench, possibly some specialized tools for your particular make and model, and doubtless some other miscellaneous tools I'm not thinking of.

Time: I can't help you there. It would take a pretty fair chunk of time, not something you would do over a weekend unless you're practiced at it. So that might be an insuperable obstacle.

Thanks for the advice but I think a project of this magnitude is beyond me right now. Maybe if I had plenty of free time coming up and a second car I would give it a go, but as it is I fear I would be like the guy who started building the tower he couldn't finish. I have 2 contracts for grading school examination papers coming up which will take up most of my free time.  My wife is about to go in for major surgery. We need the car running again asap and I can't risk everything on my own (questionable) automotive skills. But thanks for the advice I really appreciate it.

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Posted (edited)
1 hour ago, Traveler said:

I am concerned that if I give my honest opinion - it is likely to be taken wrong.  I will apologize first - I am sorry for your predicament.   I would suggest some long term life changes.  For example - if you need a car to get to and from work and you need your work to pay for your car - your current life goals are a trap.  Hopefully you can see the logic that is failing you.  I do not have advice if you are caught in a cycle that has you trapped - except you need a reliable exit strategy from you cyclic trap.   

I will give a little example - A little over 5 years ago I had two sons that finished their college degrees and found that the interest on their student debt prevented them from making any progress just to get out of debt.  They came to me for help and I sat down separately with each of them and in essence told them the same advice I gave you above.  Both of them are now out of debt and on a trajectory to retire (if they wish) within the next 5 years.  However, I doubt either will retire - they have both traded their debt addiction for a work addiction.  One son said something very interesting to me just recently.  He said, "I find myself much more willing to work to save money than I am to earn money."  What he meant is that he is willing to work 10 hours to save $50.  But he is unwilling to work even for more than $50 per hour.  Please note that this is not so different than the suggestion from @Vort

 

The Traveler

Thanks Traveler. As a matter of fact I ride the bus to and from my work, so that is not an issue. The car is for shopping expeditions (and other domestic purposes) and for ferrying my wife and daughter around to places they need to go. This is more important to us than most, as my wife has severe arthritis and cannot walk very far. We have some good friends who are helping us out with rides but we cannot go on relying on them indefinitely. I worry about work addiction and the effect it is having on my marriage (but that's another issue entirely).

I agree it's interesting the false perspectives we get on work and money. People think they are saving £££ by working on their cars, homes etc. when the time this takes up could potentially be put to far more lucrative use. I remember years ago talking to a colleague - quite a distinguished scientist (we don't have many in our school, but he was one) - and asking him why he was throwing out some old equipment instead of fixing it. He said "Who's going to do the work?" and I stupidly said "Well you could do it". He replied to the effect that his time was far more valuable than what would be saved by keeping the old equipment. Sounds a bit pompous I know, but undeniably true.

Edited by Jamie123
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8 hours ago, Jamie123 said:

Thanks Traveler. As a matter of fact I ride the bus to and from my work, so that is not an issue. The car is for shopping expeditions (and other domestic purposes) and for ferrying my wife and daughter around to places they need to go. This is more important to us than most, as my wife has severe arthritis and cannot walk very far. We have some good friends who are helping us out with rides but we cannot go on relying on them indefinitely. I worry about work addiction and the effect it is having on my marriage (but that's another issue entirely).

I agree it's interesting the false perspectives we get on work and money. People think they are saving £££ by working on their cars, homes etc. when the time this takes up could potentially be put to far more lucrative use. I remember years ago talking to a colleague - quite a distinguished scientist (we don't have many in our school, but he was one) - and asking him why he was throwing out some old equipment instead of fixing it. He said "Who's going to do the work?" and I stupidly said "Well you could do it". He replied to the effect that his time was far more valuable than what would be saved by keeping the old equipment. Sounds a bit pompous I know, but undeniably true.

Just a note concerning your scientist friend.  If the equipment was not his then I understand.  A very important lesson I have learned is that it is seldom beneficial to "work" harder for others than they are willing to "work" for themselves.  There are other options for the equipment.  Your circumstance sounds to be most difficult for you.  Hopefully, not too difficult.

 

The Traveler

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Thanks Traveler - after much deliberation we asked the garage to go ahead with the repair. They will contact us if there are any complications. We shall just have to wait and see. But whatever happens I'd rather have my problems than those of someone in Ukraine.

As Maude Royden said, "Learn to hold loosely all that is not eternal."

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Posted (edited)

Well they had a look at it and now they're saying the engine is beyond repair. Oh well...

P.s. I'm not excusing my stupidity in leaving the cap off, but with all the engine management sensors on cars these days, you'd think someone would have thought to make some kind of warning buzzer go off if the coolant pressure was low.

Edited by Jamie123
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2 minutes ago, Jamie123 said:

Well they had a look at it and now they're saying the engine is beyond repair. Oh well...

Nothing some duct tape, bailing wire, chewing gum, and a MIG welder can't fix!

Seriously, though, sorry to hear it. Hope you can get a replacement soon.

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1 minute ago, Vort said:

Nothing some duct tape, bailing wire, chewing gum, and a MIG welder can't fix!

Seriously, though, sorry to hear it. Hope you can get a replacement soon.

Yep they have found a low milage replacement, but it's going to be off the road a week minimum. Meanwhile my wife has surgery coming up. We're having to rely on a lot of friends for rides. Luckily we're blessed with some good friends.

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Just now, Jamie123 said:

Yep they have found a low milage replacement, but it's going to be off the road a week minimum. Meanwhile my wife has surgery coming up. We're having to rely on a lot of friends for rides. Luckily we're blessed with some good friends.

I'm very happy to hear it.

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Ouch.  A car with only about 25,000 miles on it and the engine is broken down.  I am so sorry.  What type of car was it?

In my opinion a good car lasts for over 170,000 miles without major transmission or engine problems.  A really great car lasts for over 225,000 miles without needed any major repairs.  I know someone driving a Toyota (I believe it is a RAV4 model) that has over 300,000 miles on it.  Highest mileage car I ever owned was a Nissan Sentra with over 239,000 miles on the car.  We bought it at high mileage and dumped it in a junkyard after about a year.  We only paid about $1,000 for the vehicle.

 

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16 hours ago, Still_Small_Voice said:

Ouch.  A car with only about 25,000 miles on it and the engine is broken down.  I am so sorry.  What type of car was it?

In my opinion a good car lasts for over 170,000 miles without major transmission or engine problems.  A really great car lasts for over 225,000 miles without needed any major repairs.  I know someone driving a Toyota (I believe it is a RAV4 model) that has over 300,000 miles on it.  Highest mileage car I ever owned was a Nissan Sentra with over 239,000 miles on the car.  We bought it at high mileage and dumped it in a junkyard after about a year.  We only paid about $1,000 for the vehicle.

 

It's a Vauxhall Meriva, but it's not the fault of the car or the engine. It's the fact that I left the cap off the coolant reservoir when topping it up that morning that made it overheat. One of those stupid things you forget when you're in a hurry that comes back and bites you hard.

But not as hard as (for example) if I'd pulled out of a junction without looking both ways, and put my family (and possibly a lot of other people too) in hospital - or worse still the morgue. Need to keep these things in perspective.

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