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Head Gasket / Radiator issues

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Old 25 Sep 2009, 08:11 pm
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Default Head Gasket / Radiator issues

Hi everyone...

I have been reading these boards for awhile now and finally today I need to see if some of the more knowledgeable folks in here could help me. I have no automotive repair skills or knowledge at all. I have a 2002 Cruiser, bought it brand new from the dealer in 2002. It has approx. 90,000 miles on it. I have not had any major problems with it since I bought it (except for needing new brake pads a few years back).

A few weeks ago I was driving a short distance (less then 10 miles) home from shopping and it started to overheat. As I was driving the needle continued to rise and by the time I arrived on my road (which only took about 10 minutes) the red light had come on. As I pulled into my driveway the car lost power and died. The next morning I called AAA and they came and tried it and it started right up. I had them tow it to a local mechanic that was recommended to me. He looked at it and told me it needed a new radiator fan. He quoted me a price of $380.00. I decided to get a second opinion and had it taken to Pep Boys who hooked it up to the computer and said that all that was wrong with it was the radiator fan and the radiator needed flushing. So since the first guy was cheaper I had him install the fan. He said he did not suggest having the radiator flushed because the radiator was "weak" and if he flushed it it may crack. He said I would eventually need a new radiator but it should be ok for awhile. After he installed the fan it ran great. For a whole week there was no problems whatsoever and the needle never went above the center mark. Then yesterday as I was sitting at a bank drive-thru idling for a few minutes I started to smell anti-freeze. Within minutes the needle started to rise and within a few blocks I was once again dead. I opened the hood and it smelled a bit like something had burned. There was some smoke coming off of the engine and some radiator fluid was on the top of the engine area. I had it towed to a radiator specialist and they told me that it is the head gasket. They said that they put some kind of liquid in that turns yellow if it is a head gasket problem, and sure enough it turned yellow. They also said that there was a slight leak by the thermometer and that the pressure cap was bad. Since they do not repair head gaskets I called around to some other auto repair places and was quoted $1500+ for head gasket repair. One mechanic told me that since the car died the engine is probably ruined. He said that Cruisers do not have an "automatic shut off" when they overheat, so if it shut off, the engine was probably messed up. He said that it would probably end up needing a new engine. He quoted me over $3800 for the engine. He said it probably would not be worth having it repaired.

I am heartbroken right now. I love this car and the thought of having to scrap it is just horrific. I do not have $3800 to put into a new engine right now, but could save up and perhaps in time. I guess what I am looking for is anyone who may have some knowledge about head gasket issues in Cruisers. Is what I am being told correct? Does the fact that the engine died basically mean a death knoll for my poor car? Is it not worth getting her fixed? I am pretty much at these peoples mercy and I want to do the right thing.

Any suggestions or information would be most appreciated.


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Old 26 Sep 2009, 06:53 am
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Posts: 27,750
Default Re: Head Gasket / Radiator issues


Don't get too discouraged. Something I read in your story does bother me in that twice you saw it start to overheat and kept going. That's never good.

Yes it sounds like the head gasket has bit the dust but it will have to torn apart to find out if the head has warped because of the excessive heat. Even it it did, it doesn't mean the engine is ruined. Once the gasket went, it let coolant into the cylinders and that's why you stopped running.

My wife did that a lot of years ago on a Dodge Colt. Anti-freeze was spitting out the tailpipe when I tried to turn it over. The head had warped but it did get fixed and we had that little car for a few more years.

You want to find a mechanic that you can trust. Might be that first one that changed the fan. He'll have to pull the head and send it out to see if it can be straightened out, if indeed it is warped. It may turn out that a new head gasket is all you need.

Good luck.
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Old 26 Sep 2009, 07:23 am
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Default Re: Head Gasket / Radiator issues

And, at 90,000 miles, you should have the timing belt and water pump changed - since the head has to come off, a lot of the labor is the same, so do it at the same time.
You've got coolant in the oil, so be sure to have oil changed as well.
After repairs, have cooling system pressure tested - it'll pinpoint any other weak spots.
I think some of the opinions you got were guesses, and preparing you for the worst.
Head gasket, timing belt, etc., - I'm guessing in the $1,500 - $2,000 range, if head isn't damaged (from your description of brief time overheated, shouldn't be).
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