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Guy Incognito
01-10-2004, 05:18 PM
After noticing that my car seemed to be leaking quite a bit of antifreeze from some unknown place on the engine, I decide to take it in to Pep Boys to have them run a cooling system check. A couple hours later, they called to tell me that it looked like the head gasket is the culprit. In addition to the head gasket itself, they mentioned another incidental gasket plus the fuel filter in the parts estimate. Factoring in machining the head, the estimate comes out to about $940. So far I'm only in for $27.99 for the checkup.

Here's the deal, though. My car is a 94 Eagle Summit ESi with about 120,000 miles on it. I like the car, but I've got to face the fact that it's old and not exactly immaculate. I bought it a couple of years ago for about 3K$ and have had pretty good luck with it until now. The prior owner had dented in the front bumper during a minor fender bender and the paint is intact with a few scratches in the clear coat. It's fun to drive and gets good gas mileage (30 higway, 24 city).

Should I just go ahead and bite the bullet and get another car to replace it? I can't really afford a new car, so I'm thinking about a used car that's no more than 5 years old. My daily commute to and from work is only 7 miles on relatively good streets, so I don't really worry about putting 20,000 miles/year on the odometer. On the down side, my wife isn't working right now and I'm waiting on my brother to pay off a loan that I gave him. On the plus side, I will be getting an income tax refund this year and my vacation / sick time sell-back check will probably be here by the end of this month. I don't relish the idea of a monthly payment and higher car insurance rates, but I don't want to put almost $1000 on my credit card to fix a car that may only be worth $1000.

In this situation, what sounds like the better option: Fix the borderline car and drive it for another couple of years or get a newer vehicle and resign myself to monthly payments for a few years? No pressure here. I'm just wondering if you've been in a similar situation and had to make this type of decision.

Thanks!

PS: I'm considering looking for something like a '01 Ford Focus, which seems to re-sell around here for between 5-6K$. They seem decent for the price to me. Opinions?

Enola Straight
01-10-2004, 07:26 PM
Though I don't have any repair estimates, I would assume that a replacement gasket is a rather simple affair...if you have a torque wrench, that is.

The mechanic unbolts the intake and exhaust manifolds and timing belt...marking the position of the latter...and loosens the head bolts, which releases the head as a unit. Both the head and block mating faces are scraped clean of the old gasket, a new gasket is put in place, and NEW head bolts are installed to torque specs, tightened in a spiral pattern starting from the center. The timing belt is put in its original setting, and the manifolds are reattached.

Should take about an hour or less for an experienced mechanic.

Eleusis
01-10-2004, 07:49 PM
Yeah, get another estimate. They may be trying to shank you on machining the head if it isn't needed.

Guy Incognito
01-10-2004, 08:15 PM
I think that the estimate may be correct in this case. I had the timing belt replaced on this car a couple of years ago by a local foreign car mechanic and the labor alone supposedly took 4 hours because of how the engine is designed. I think he may have had to unbolt the engine from mounts and lift it part way to get the job done. Parts and labor on that trip was $400. A gasket was replaced that time, too. (I wonder if it happens to be the other gasket on this current estimate?)

Anyway, shouldn't the head be machined as a matter of course on this kind of repair? I'd want the surface to be pristine when that new gasket is seated in there. It would be a waste to have to do it because of badly-mated surfaces

I might go and get another estimate somewhere else, but I don't want to hem and haw on getting this done or getting a newer car.

Eleusis
01-10-2004, 08:24 PM
Originally posted by Guy Incognito
Anyway, shouldn't the head be machined as a matter of course on this kind of repair? I'd want the surface to be pristine when that new gasket is seated in there. It would be a waste to have to do it because of badly-mated surfaces
Not necessarily, but it will be impossible to know without removing the head.

This is from a Haynes Jeep Cherokee manual, but it should be applicable to other cars as well:

Using a straightedge and feeler guage, check the head gasket mating surface for warpage. If the warpage exceeds the specified limit, it can be resurfaced at an automotive machine shop.

racer72
01-10-2004, 08:31 PM
It not as simple as slapping in a new gasket as suggested. There is most likely a reason the gasket let go and that is why machining of the head was in your estimate. And if there is any warpage of the cylinder block, the new gasket won't last long. A good mechanic will check the deck flatness before attempting to install a new gasket. I don't know how much it would cost but I would want the head removed and found out the exact reason it blew before making a decision on whether to fix or replace the car. The Eagle Summit was built by Mitsubishi and 120,000 miles seems to be about how long their products last before major repairs are required. I would probably go for another car.

ftg
01-10-2004, 10:03 PM
As to the "vs. another car" part of the question: fix it, keep it running, and running and running...

My car is an '87, the insurance and taxes are practically nothing. If someone gave me a new car, I'd end up paying a lot more per year.

So once in a while I shell out $900 for something, but most years it's just the usual tires and such.

Think in terms of "gee, with the money saved on not buying a new car I can do X instead!" Now, doesn't "X" sound a lot more fun?

Cyrokk
01-10-2004, 10:59 PM
I have never dealt with an honest Pep Boys. I would seriously consider a second opinion.

And racer72 is absolutely correct: replacing the head gasket on a car is serious business and any reputable mechanic will have the head machined. I had this done on my 93 Chevy Cavalier and I had the rare fortune to have a referral from a coworker of an impeccably honest mechanic who told me the entire procedure that would be done to the car, which included sending it to their machine shop. The price was below $500 and the car has not had a single problem since.

In deciding whether you should replace the car, the budget criteria should be that you should only consider it if the amount of your monthly pay out in car repairs on your current vehicle exceeds that of a monthly car payment. In this case, $940 for a one time job, assuming it is done correctly, will not make that threshold and car payments on a different vehicle will not be in the works.

Cy

Gary T
01-10-2004, 11:24 PM
Originally posted by Enola Straight
Though I don't have any repair estimates, I would assume that a replacement gasket is a rather simple affair...if you have a torque wrench, that is.

The mechanic unbolts the intake and exhaust manifolds and timing belt...marking the position of the latter...and loosens the head bolts, which releases the head as a unit. Both the head and block mating faces are scraped clean of the old gasket, a new gasket is put in place, and NEW head bolts are installed to torque specs, tightened in a spiral pattern starting from the center. The timing belt is put in its original setting, and the manifolds are reattached.

Should take about an hour or less for an experienced mechanic.
That's the funniest thing I've seen in ages. An hour or less? For a head gasket? On that engine, no less? Nowhere near reality.

Guy Incognito
01-11-2004, 12:27 AM
Gary T,

I think Enola Straight might have been thinking of the valve cover gasket rather than the head gasket. At least that's my guess anyway.

FTG,

It is tempting to go and repair this vehicle in order to avoid monthly payments, higher insurance rates, not to mention plate and registration fees. However, this repair is going to cost about as much as this car is worth if it was in good running condition--which it's not. Granted, my daily commute is short, but I'm wondering if my money might not be better spent on upgrading to another vehicle. I have the money to repair it right now, but it would put a fair-sized dent in the savings account. (I don't really want to rack this up on the Visa card.) I'm still considering going the repair, but I can't afford to be nickle and dimed to death on this car.

Cyrokk,

Your post makes me want to definitely check into getting another estimate. I'll probably drop my car off at my local garage to see what they estimate for repairs. If I can get it done for less than $750 I'll probably go ahead and get it done.

racer72,

Don't think I'm forgetting your suggestion to get a different car. I've heard that Mitsubishi engines sometimes tend to get flaky (read: expensive) with age. I can see getting this repaired and having the transmission go out. Or the A/C. Or the water pump. Or the alternator. You get the idea. The Pep Boys' estimated repair cost will probably total as much as I would pay for the first 7 months of payments on a newer vehicle. This doesn't include plates, registration, or insurance for the first 6 months.

If this problem had surfaced about 6 months from now I'd be able to make a clearer decision on whether to repair or replace the car. This assumes that no other major expenses happen during that time, of course.

Thankf for the suggestions so far! BTW: About my Ford Focus idea--what do you guys think of them for short daily commutes and the occasional 400 mile road trip?

Guy Incognito
01-11-2004, 12:29 AM
I meant to say "Thanks for the suggestions so far". This whole situation is givin' me a brain fever, I tells ya...

Gary T
01-11-2004, 12:44 AM
Originally posted by Guy Incognito
I think Enola Straight might have been thinking of the valve cover gasket rather than the head gasket. At least that's my guess anyway.
No, intake and exhaust manifolds, timing belt, and new bolts (which applies to heads on some, but not all, engines) are associated with removing the head, not the valve cover. I will grant that his estimated time is more realistic for valve cover replacement on some engines.

However, this repair is going to cost about as much as this car is worth if it was in good running condition--which it's not.
This line of thinking is often a fallacy. If your goal is to sell the car, it certainly applies. But if your goal is to drive the car, the car's value to you as transportation could make it worthwhile to invest in the repairs.

...I'm wondering if my money might not be better spent on upgrading to another vehicle.
Yes, there's the question. Are you better off spending $X to fix this one, or taking that $X and whatever (if anything) you can get for selling this one as is to buy a replacement.

vivalostwages
01-11-2004, 12:49 AM
Funny someone should mention this....My 1989 Dodge Daytona CS Turbo (cost me $2750 when I bought it in 2001; all paid at once) just blew its head gasket right after Christmas 2003. No one could look at it till Jan. 5. The engine guys are machine-shopping it too. They also mentioned that it needs new cylinder bolts and that it had started trying to run on only two cylinders instead of the full four (that explains the violent shaking that made me feel sick while driving it).

Considering that it has already cost me a chunk in repairs and that this newest job is in the $1k range, I'm looking into the pre-owned cars that I can get through my credit union.

Lyllyan
01-11-2004, 01:29 AM
Strange...must be something in the air.

Right after Thanksgiving my daughter's 90 T-bird blew the head gaskets. The shop told us it would run around $900 to repair. Now, considering she only paid $1000 for it to begin with, and the A/C doesn't even work, we are all for junking it and getting a newer model.

Normally, I would say fix it and keep it on the road, but this car has been a headache from day one. The only thing, IMHO, it had going for it was the 10-CD changer.

casdave
01-11-2004, 03:13 AM
How much would it cost to fit another engine from a crasher ?

Gary T
01-11-2004, 08:14 AM
Originally posted by casdave
How much would it cost to fit another engine from a crasher ?
Depends on who does it, but I would expect twice as much as the head gasket repair.

BobLibDem
01-11-2004, 08:53 AM
I'd do a cost analysis. If you bought a new vehicle, what would the payments be? If $250 per month, in four months time you'd be money ahead to fix it. Today's cars should last well beyond 100,000 miles.

BrotherCadfael
01-11-2004, 09:05 AM
I have a friend (with a relatively short commute) who buys a beater for $500 - $750, never does any maintenance of any sort, and replaces it when something major dies. The cars generally last a year or a year and a half. I think he may be coming out ahead on the deal.

Oregon sunshine
01-11-2004, 09:11 AM
my SO(pro mechanic) says if you brought it here he would do the job for $600.

side note: i would do anything to avoid a monthly car payment, which i have enjoyed going without for two years now... freeing up a couple of hundred dollars a month by keeping your current car running just seems like a much better deal...

of course, the luxury of having an in-house mechanic (who loves me!) makes that a lot easier for me than for most people. :)

Guy Incognito
01-11-2004, 10:11 AM
I'll tell you, it's great not having a monthly car payment, not to mention the lower plate costs and insurance. But I can't ignore the fact that I feel more confident driving a newer car. The Summit has been okay for me, cosmetic problems aside. The mileage is good and it takes off and handles great. However, I'm getting moisture in the trunk from somewhere during wet weather, the car stalls easily if it gets splashed underneath the right-hand side of the engine compartment, and there's an oil leak in roughly the same spot as the coolant leak. (Is this also possibly fixed by the gasket replacements as well?) I'd also like to have a 4-door now that I have a grandkid to haul around from time to time.

I'm going to pick up my car at Pep Boys this afternoon and drop it at my local foreigh car mechanic to see how his estimate jives up. If his price is significantly lower than the first one, I'll probably bite the bullet and get the job done.

FWIW, I've been looking in the Sunday classified ads and car dealership ads to see what's out there. Looks like I've got a wide selection of vehicles I can get for under $150 / month through financing from my credit union. Pretty tempting...

Enola Straight
01-11-2004, 12:00 PM
Originally posted by Gary T
That's the funniest thing I've seen in ages. An hour or less? For a head gasket? On that engine, no less? Nowhere near reality.

Hey, I've seen on one of those hot rod shows on cable a guy in a race to fully assemble an engine from dissassembled to running...

I MEAN DISSASSEMBLED...as in individual engine MOLECULES...:eek:

Springs, rods, bearings, pistons, seals, gaskets, heads, shafts, ignition...the whole thing...assembled in HALF AN HOUR FLAT, with no power tools to boot.

I stand by my words...if a competent mechanic put his mind to it, he could replace a head gasket in an hour.

David Simmons
01-11-2004, 02:30 PM
Originally posted by Enola Straight
Hey, I've seen on one of those hot rod shows on cable a guy in a race to fully assemble an engine from dissassembled to running...

I MEAN DISSASSEMBLED...as in individual engine MOLECULES...:eek:

Springs, rods, bearings, pistons, seals, gaskets, heads, shafts, ignition...the whole thing...assembled in HALF AN HOUR FLAT, with no power tools to boot.

I stand by my words...if a competent mechanic put his mind to it, he could replace a head gasket in an hour.

Even if it took 8 hours, at $75 and hour that's $600 and at $100 or a gasket kit, which ought to be ample, your estimate from Pep Boys still seems a little out of line. Like $240.

Palikia
01-11-2004, 03:25 PM
I had a similar problem on my 94 Escort with 1,000,000+ miles on it. (Leaking radiator fluids.) Pepe Boys wanted to replace the head gasket for $800.00 or more. I took it to the local Firestone people and the mechanice pointed out that my car still had the original radiator hose on it, which he replaced, then he suggested that I consider the cost of a few gallons of radiater fluid a year verses the cost of replacing the head gasket, if that really is necessary. So far (one year later) the car still leaks a little but not as much and I just make sure to always have radiator fluid in the car trunk.

Definitely go to someone you can trust for a second opinion .

Guy Incognito
01-11-2004, 04:12 PM
Just dropped the car off a little while ago. We'll see how much the friendly neighborhood mechanic will charge compared to Pep Boys.

Since this is Sunday, the garage is closed. When I put the key in the overnight drop-off envelope, I made sure to tell them that they had replaced my timing belt about two years ago, so this will help to establish that they had done some work in that general area before. I'll let you guys know what the second estimate turns out to be.

Gary T
01-11-2004, 07:25 PM
Originally posted by Enola Straight
Hey, I've seen on one of those hot rod shows on cable a guy in a race to fully assemble an engine from dissassembled to running...

I MEAN DISSASSEMBLED...as in individual engine MOLECULES...:eek:

Springs, rods, bearings, pistons, seals, gaskets, heads, shafts, ignition...the whole thing...assembled in HALF AN HOUR FLAT, with no power tools to boot.
Apples and oranges. Big time. The whole scenario you describe is set up for rapid assembly. It has virtually no relevance to actually repairing a car.
I stand by my words...if a competent mechanic put his mind to it, he could replace a head gasket in an hour.
While there are some simple, uncluttered designs where that could be done, for 99+ percent of real-world situations it cannot be done properly. Dealing with wiring, vacuum and fuel lines, emissions devices, and such things that engines have when they're in folks' cars, rather than on a TV show demonstration bench, takes time. Draining and refilling engine coolant take time. Cleaning parts takes time. Inspecting and evaluating the condition of critical parts take time. Opening parts packages and verifying the parts are correct take time. Assembling carefully enough to be sure it's right, without the benefit of repeatedly practicing assembling just one specific engine, takes time.

I know lots of competent professional mechanics. Some of them are darned fast on stuff they're familiar with. I'm sure they could perform well in a contrived "race" to twist wrenches. But when it comes to replacing a head gasket, and all that goes with it, in an actual repair situation on a typical modern passenger car, one hour is dreaming, not reality.

Running with Scissors
01-11-2004, 07:49 PM
If you decide to have the head gasket replaced, make sure they install all new belts (including the timing belt - your car's probably due anyway) at the same time, since there shouldn't be any additional labor costs, just (inexpensive) parts.

TurboD
01-11-2004, 11:12 PM
If you dont repair the car its virtually worthless. If you do repair it at least later you could sell it for some amount of money which mitigates the cost of the repairs now.

Also replacing a head gasket is not all that difficult. Have you thought of attempting it yourself?

Also for reliable used cars look to Honda, Toyota or Nissan. Mazda and Mitsubishi though Japanese are not anymore reliable than American cars. Yes you pay more for them but to me the extra reliability is worth it.

Guy Incognito
01-12-2004, 08:50 AM
Originally posted by Running with Scissors
If you decide to have the head gasket replaced, make sure they install all new belts (including the timing belt - your car's probably due anyway) at the same time, since there shouldn't be any additional labor costs, just (inexpensive) parts.

Thanks! I'll keep that in mind when they call back with the estimate. I did have the timing belt replaced a couple of years and 14,000 miles ago, so I don't think I have to worry about that, though.

TurboD,

You make a valid point. The thing is, if the second estimate comes in at $900+ dollars then repairing the car for the sake of trade-in or resale value is practically nil. I know that the trade in-value of this care will probably max out at $500 if I'm lucky. Selling it privately I may get $1000 - $1200 on a good day, but I doubt that it will happen in a timely fashion. I hear what you're saying about Honda and Toyota. This is the first non-Toyota car that I've personally owned and driven, and you can tell the difference in quality. I'm certain Honda is the same way.

Anyhow, If I repair the car I will resign myself to driving it around for another year or wait until our financial situation rebounds a little bit before comitting to a different car. If the repairs make me feel confident in the vehicle's reliability, I may give it to my granddaughter's mother as a commuter car. It's definitely much better than what she's driving now and it'll save her a fortune in gasoline.

Guy Incognito
01-13-2004, 09:46 PM
My local mechanic diagnosed the problem as a leaking water pump. He also found that the persistent oil leak the car was experiencing was caused by a bad crank seal. The total repair cost, parts and labor, was a little under $600. Here's what was done: replacement of the water pump, timing belt, crank seals, and all of the remaining belts while he was in there. Labor was completed in under 5 hours. The car runs like a champ now and I haven't spotted any leaks on the pavement so far. Time will tell how good the repair actually is, but I really do think that my car is okay now.

While I'm not happy about having to spend $600 like this, I'm definitely more pleased than I would have been if I had spent $940 and failed to have the problem fixed the first time. I just sent a complaint e-mail to Pep Boys about the bad diagnosis that their shop gave to me and I requested a refund for what I payed. I'll be pleasantly surprised if they honor my request, but if they don't I'll be certain that they're the last place I shop if I need parts or mechanical service.

Thanks for all the input guys and gals!

Gary T
01-13-2004, 10:12 PM
I just sent a complaint e-mail to Pep Boys about the bad diagnosis that their shop gave to me and I requested a refund for what I payed. I'll be pleasantly surprised if they honor my request, but if they don't I'll be certain that they're the last place I shop if I need parts or mechanical service.

Anyone can make a mistake, and it would be nice to acknowledge a positive response to your request by continuing to patronize them. But...to miss a leaking water pump, and to falsely ascribe it to a leaking head gasket, speaks VERY poorly of their mechanical competence. I'd be quite leery of trusting them to perform any service.

vivalostwages
01-13-2004, 11:01 PM
Just got a call from Engine Guy today and he said they finally found what they needed for my turbo-charged engine. It's always a bit of trick to get the needed parts for this '89 Dodge, and even the right ones don't always fit.
It's a constant challenge, but I think three years of this is enough.

Guy Incognito
01-13-2004, 11:03 PM
GaryT,

I can see one of two outcomes:

In the first outcome, I accept a complete refund and their sincere apology.

In the second outcome, I ask them politely to kiss my beanbag and tell them that I'll be sure to tell my friends, family, and co-workers about the fine level of service they can expect at their stores -- and I'll take my business elsewhere.

Guy Incognito
01-13-2004, 11:08 PM
Vivalostwages,

I know what it's like to give up on a favorite car, but there are limits to what you can honestly afford to put into an older vehicle. I hope the repairs aren't too expensive.

It might be easier in the long run to get it fixed up and get rid of it while the getting's good.

vivalostwages
01-14-2004, 11:40 PM
Gotcha, Guy. I am going to make one more repair, then trade it in to Autoland through my credit union and get something pre-owned but much newer.

epepke
01-15-2004, 05:53 AM
After noticing that my car seemed to be leaking quite a bit of antifreeze from some unknown place on the engine, I decide to take it in to Pep Boys to have them run a cooling system check. A couple hours later, they called to tell me that it looked like the head gasket is the culprit. In addition to the head gasket itself, they mentioned another incidental gasket plus the fuel filter in the parts estimate. Factoring in machining the head, the estimate comes out to about $940. So far I'm only in for $27.99 for the checkup.

Jesu Cristo, make the ganglia twitch!

That's a lot of money.

It's not that hard to replace a head gasket yourself, if you have a torque wrench, and it's cheap. However, there's a reasonable probability that there's something else, like a crack in the head itself. Machining the head may or may not be necessary.

I went through this with my 62 Chevy Impala some years ago. I found a head at a junkyard (a different model of car, even). $25 for the head, about that much for a new gasket, and it worked fine. The main bearings went a few years later, and I junked it, but that's a different story.

Guy Incognito
01-15-2004, 09:23 AM
I wrote the company an e-mail on Tuesday evening and got a call from the service shop manager yesterday afternoon. He apologized for the incorrect diagnosis and said that I could come in and get a full refund. The call was handled courteously and the refund went through without a hitch. I'll continue to patronize the store, but I'll think twice before I have them do any service to my vehicles in the future.

epepke,

I think you're making an apples-to-oranges comparison here. You're comparing a '62 Impala engine to a 1.8 litre Mitsubishi engine. Both are internal combustion engines, but my engine has a lot more hoses, wires and other junk that isn't found on the Impala. Also factor in that it's a front wheel drive car, so the engine is mounted differently in the engine compartment. Add in the fact that I'm not very mechanically clever, don't have a garage or tools adequate to the task, and frankly don't want to expend (probably) a lot of hours doing work on my car and having a high possibility of failure when I'm done. Factoring all of that in, I think you can see why I took the car in for repair. The only reason that I took it to Pep Boys was the fact that their garage is open 7 days a week. I thought I could get a fast repair done in time for the work week, but we all saw how that turned out. Anyhow, thanks for the input, but I think you're a little off base here.

Uncommon Sense
01-15-2004, 10:22 AM
Hey, I've seen on one of those hot rod shows on cable a guy in a race to fully assemble an engine from dissassembled to running...

I MEAN DISSASSEMBLED...as in individual engine MOLECULES...:eek:

Springs, rods, bearings, pistons, seals, gaskets, heads, shafts, ignition...the whole thing...assembled in HALF AN HOUR FLAT, with no power tools to boot.

I stand by my words...if a competent mechanic put his mind to it, he could replace a head gasket in an hour.


Another vote for IMPOSSIBLE!!

I owned several 72 Chevelles. The 327 had the heads off of several times. You could stand in the engine compartment and work on it if you took off the hood. Just to get the head OFF would take about an hour to an hour and a half. Now talk about cleaning parts, checking for damage, re-assembly, etc and you can add at least another 2-3 hours on top of that. And that`s with a Chevy 327/350, which are the easiest engines in the world to work on. Also, with no emmissions whatsoever.
I can only imagine the nightmare that the OP`s mechanic would be in for in doing the head on that car. I would be SHOCKED if they could do it in under 8 hours. Even if two mechanics were on the job I bet it would take at least 6.

I helped a buddy of mine take the head off of his 6 cyl. 96 Dodge Intrepid (IIRC). It took the two of us about two hours just to get the head off. And we broke some parts along the way.

Uncommon Sense
01-15-2004, 12:25 PM
Remember, mechanics don`t work faster, they work smarter. Which is supposed to make things go quicker.
Speed isn`t always critical. Getting the job done right the first time is the most important thing.

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