Author Topic: Honda Civic Overheating/Possible Head Gasket. Should I pay to repair or not? (Read 6110 times)

ms.frugal

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I have a 1998 Honda Civic with 131,000 miles on it. It has sporadically ran hot (about every 3 months) and I have taken it to a couple of different trustworthy mechanics who did the usual tests on it, but could find no leaks, no evidence of cross over into engine, etc. So, my attitude has been to keep a container of coolant in the car and check the coolant level once a month a monitor the situation. This has worked until 2 weeks ago. At the end of May, the mechanic checked it out and suggested to try a new radiator cap. Ok, I put a new radiator cap on it on June 1. On June 9, the car ran hot and I left it overnight. The next morning, I checked the coolant and put half a container in it which I usually have only had to add 4 to 6 oz in the past. The car only ran a few minutes before it started getting hot. Yesterday, a friend changed the thermostat and the radiator fan sensor but the car still ran hot after a few minutes. When we tried to run the heater, there was no hot air, and we noticed that the hose coming out of the radiator was hot but the hose coming from the thermostat is barely warm (so we think the coolant is NOT circulating).
I plan to take it to a very reputable auto service company (Volksdoktor) when I can arrange to have it towed.
My concern is that they will determine head gasket damage, which is expensive to repair but that doesn't solve the problem of what is causing the car to run hot?
I paid for a new timing belt, water pump, and tires on the car in 2014 planning to drive this civic for a long time...should I invest more money into this car to attempt to fix this problem or would this be foolish? Civics have a wonderful reputation for being long lasting reliable cars but I also read they are notorious for blown head gaskets which is bad news...
(I don't have the knowhow, equipment, or location to do this repair work myself so that is not an option.) I ride a bike to work but I do need a car because my elderly parents live a 45 minute drive from me via interstate.
So my decision needs to be whether I pay money into this car repair (what is the limit I should spend?) or try to sell it (how much for a "hot" car?) and attempt to find another good used car (how can I tell that another car won't have a similar problem? eek)...Anyone have similar experience and/or a solution?!
Ms. Frugal

Bob W

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Your problem is rather nebulous still at this point. A leaky head gasket should be relative easy to diagnose, so I think maybe it is something else. Pay the money for a very thorough evaluation by a Honda certified guy at a trustworthy place and then you'll have real data.

In general, I would say 3K might be my upper limit for this year and model. If it is repaired properly you should get 100K more out of it.

I would also google around and find a Honda board and ask some mechanic pros giving as much information as humanly possible.

Good Luck, ugh, car problems suck.
Better living through math.

timkrik

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...Yesterday, a friend changed the thermostat and the radiator fan sensor but the car still ran hot after a few minutes. When we tried to run the heater, there was no hot air, and we noticed that the hose coming out of the radiator was hot but the hose coming from the thermostat is barely warm (so we think the coolant is NOT circulating)...

Definitely take it to a mechanic. It sounds as if your friend installed the thermostat backwards.

Sid Hoffman

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Was the timing belt & water pump aftermarket? Those are core parts that I would only trust the dealership to replace. What you're describing sounds to me like a cheap aftermarket water pump that broke and isn't properly circulating coolant. Unfortunately if you're consuming coolant (as opposed to it blowing past the overflow bottle or radiator cap) then the damage may already be done and it's being consumed by the engine. Do you see white smoke out the tail pipe? Muddy color in the coolant? Milky white stuff in the oil?

I had a 97 Civic go to 175,000 miles with no powertrain problems at all, but I only used dealership parts on the powertrain. A lot of aftermarket parts are total crap and will possibly fail and destroy the engine if you try to get them to last as long as factory parts last. This can be especially true for moving parts like a water pump where it has to deal with spinning all the time while being exposed to coolant, which itself can cause corrosion to a badly manufactured part.

Worst case, if you had to do a new head gasket, then at least by having the cylinder head off the car it is relatively easy to swap the water pump at the same time. By definition if you have removed the cylinder head, you've removed the timing belt, which is what drives the water pump. Your main risk is then if they pull the head and find additional damage or if you spend $1000 for a new head gasket, head bolts, water pump and still have an overheating problem. This is why a lot of people get fed up and just ditch old cars once they start having significant, hard to diagnose problem.

ms.frugal

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It was not an aftermarket timing belt or water pump. Volksdoktor did both in May 2014 and they said they will replace the water pump free if that turns out to be the issue even though it is past the one year warranty. They said they highly doubt it is the water pump but will check it out when I get the car to them in a few days.
I have read that Honda Civics have aluminum head gaskets that make them prone to warpage if the car overheats much at all and I am concerned that is the case because it has overheated several times but nobody has been able to pinpoint the problem. At the same time, there is no white smoke out the exhaust, no milky appearance to the oil, and the coolant looks normal. Blue liquid stayed blue, etc...
There is a problem somewhere, though, with the cooling system, and a blown head gasket is a symptom of the problem as I understand the situation. So unless they can diagnose the source of the problem, the car is no good.
If they can diagnose the problem, then how much should I pay to fix the car before saying "no more"?
I haven't owned a car with high mileage before so I don't know if there are other big money items later...I had assumed the timing belt and water pump replacement was the biggie along with tires...
thoughts?
Ms. Frugal

zolotiyeruki

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So your symptoms are:
1) engine gets too hot
2) coolant is going missing
3) hose to radiator is not hot, no cabin heat

Is that correct? #1 and #3 could be explained by a bad water pump, a bad thermostat, or a thermostat installed backwards. #2 is a bigger concern for me. That's a lot of antifreeze going....somewhere. Half a container makes me think there's a puddle or trail somewhere.

Possible causes? A bad water pump could be failing to move liquid and leaking at the same time, I suppose. A bad thermostat install could block the flow and leak as well. A clogged passage or hose could also prevent fluid from circulating.

guitar_stitch

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So your symptoms are:
1) engine gets too hot
2) coolant is going missing
3) hose to radiator is not hot, no cabin heat

Is that correct? #1 and #3 could be explained by a bad water pump, a bad thermostat, or a thermostat installed backwards. #2 is a bigger concern for me. That's a lot of antifreeze going....somewhere. Half a container makes me think there's a puddle or trail somewhere.

Possible causes? A bad water pump could be failing to move liquid and leaking at the same time, I suppose. A bad thermostat install could block the flow and leak as well. A clogged passage or hose could also prevent fluid from circulating.

There is the possibility of a crack in the plastic radiator end tank. You won't see coolant but it will leak as water vapor when hot. When it cools down, the crack closes again.

I had this experience on a Saturn SL2.

Sid Hoffman

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There is the possibility of a crack in the plastic radiator end tank. You won't see coolant but it will leak as water vapor when hot. When it cools down, the crack closes again.

I had this experience on a Saturn SL2.

That wouldn't explain the heater core being unable to get warm. The heater core is looped in for continuous coolant flow once you switch it from the cool to hot position. The OP said first that they did try to run the inside heater and never got hot air out of it and that the hose itself wasn't getting hot either. To me, that sounds like a flow problem. Once you move an old mechanical HVAC like the 98 Civic uses from cold to hot, it should open the coolant flow into the heater core in the dash, quickly followed by very hot air being available through the vents. Something's wrong for sure.

Sharpy

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The engine and transmission still have a lot of life left. If they are not damaged, take it to a Honda dealership. Dealerships are expensive. But they do know Honda cars better than any independent job.

Do not let them pull a trial and error on your car. If they misdiagnose, you will still pay for unnecessary repairs. It happened to me a couple of times in an independent shop. So nowadays, I will take my cars to a dealership for any complex issue such as this one.


If they tell you it is because of xyz problems and it will cost you xyz amount of money to fix it. Tell them you won't pay them if the problem still exists.

ms.frugal

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The engine and transmission still have a lot of life left. If they are not damaged, take it to a Honda dealership. Dealerships are expensive. But they do know Honda cars better than any independent job.

Do not let them pull a trial and error on your car. If they misdiagnose, you will still pay for unnecessary repairs. It happened to me a couple of times in an independent shop. So nowadays, I will take my cars to a dealership for any complex issue such as this one.


If they tell you it is because of xyz problems and it will cost you xyz amount of money to fix it. Tell them you won't pay them if the problem still exists.

I don't know if there is engine damage yet. I know Honda has an incredible reputation which is why I planned on having this car a long time. However, I have learned that Honda civics have a common history of mysterious overheating issues that are incredibly mysterious to figure out.

Everyplace around here charges for their work regardless of whether they solved the problem. I wish your last paragraph worked but I have never experienced that (not paying if the problem still exists). This is why my friend was helping me put in another thermostat because I had already paid for tests, a new radiator cap, etc none of which diagnosed the cause of the problem or the solution to the problem.

I appreciate the advice and after reading on some Honda Forums, it sounds like it probably has head gasket issue.
The car also had some occasional inside fogging on the windshield this spring that seemed random but it sounds that is connected to this issue or indicating another issue with the car with the heater core?

I plan to get it to the indie service shop that specializes in volkswagens and hondas in the next couple of days to get an opinion about what to do...
my gut is telling me that I probably should be asking MMM advice about a good reliable car that would be under $6000 (haven't found any Scion XAs in the midwest, though...) :-)
Ms. Frugal

a1smith

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Sounds like you have air in your cooling system and it needs to be vented. When the thermostat was replaced you probably didn't get all of the air out of the system. See 1998 Honda Civic Overheating...then back to normal!!. Here is Honda Blackbird's comment:

Quote
TEXTBOOK....AIR IN YOUR COOLING SYSTEM. Look for your top rad hose....follow it to your engine. It connects to the thermostat housing...on that housing will be a bleed nipple...or should be the bleed nipple. Get vehicle warm and crack open the bleeder and burp the air out. This will fix it....BUT how did you get air in the system? Did you recently gave to add coolant? Let us know... Your answer will dictate where I/we go from here

I also quickly looked at http://honda-tech.com/ and found mention of bleeder screws in other places like top of radiator. Maybe it is model year dependent. I'm not familiar with Civics but I'm pretty sure this is your problem. I don't think head gasket is root cause but it will be a victim of the problem if you don't get this fixed.

The only other thing I can think of is that your accessory drive belt is slipping on the water pump pulley so you aren't getting flow. But I'm sure you would hear some squealing if that was going on.

Sid Hoffman

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The procedure to bleed the air from a Honda Civic is literally just to run the car with the radiator cap off. It's so simple that I can't imagine anyone screwing it up. On the other hand, I guess I should take nothing for granted - this is perhaps the next step to take, as it's easy enough to do yourself. Pop the hood, take the radiator cap off and let the engine run at idle. Monitor to make sure it doesn't overheat. If it overheats while sitting idle with the radiator cap off, then the problem is something other than air in the cooling system.

WranglerBowman

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I would highly recommend that you start with a combustion gas detector such as this: http://napaonline.com/Catalog/CatalogItemDetail.aspx?R=BK_7001006_0361073538

Sometimes when the head gaskets leak just a little it can be very hard to diagnose the problem. I spent many hours trying to properly diagnose my wifes 97 Honda Accord that started overheating. The combustion gas tester showed it was a head gasket and after pulling the head off the engine I could see the point of failure. Replacing the head gasket was a big head ache and not for the non-mechanically inclined.
Livin off the fat of the land is the life for me.

a1smith

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The procedure to bleed the air from a Honda Civic is literally just to run the car with the radiator cap off. It's so simple that I can't imagine anyone screwing it up. On the other hand, I guess I should take nothing for granted - this is perhaps the next step to take, as it's easy enough to do yourself. Pop the hood, take the radiator cap off and let the engine run at idle. Monitor to make sure it doesn't overheat. If it overheats while sitting idle with the radiator cap off, then the problem is something other than air in the cooling system.

just want to add one more detail - run it with the radiator cap off until the thermostat opens. The flow through the radiator and block once the thermostat opens will help get the air out of the system.

Sid Hoffman

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just want to add one more detail - run it with the radiator cap off until the thermostat opens. The flow through the radiator and block once the thermostat opens will help get the air out of the system.

True - when I used to do it, I'd let it sit until a couple minutes after the fans first came on, which was something like 20 or 25 degrees above the thermostat opening temperature. The thermostat was roughly 180F, and the fans would kick on around 205-210 and turn back off at 195 or something. Ahh, the good old days when even my reliable car required a fair amount of work because I was driving so many miles.

DarinC

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If you don't have enough coolant in your system you can see those issues. An easy way to confirm is to let it start up and see if your coolant temps go down when you rev the engine a bit (push more coolant into the head).

https://youtube.com/watch?v=qSqxK2trTpg

guitar_stitch

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There is the possibility of a crack in the plastic radiator end tank. You won't see coolant but it will leak as water vapor when hot. When it cools down, the crack closes again.

I had this experience on a Saturn SL2.

That wouldn't explain the heater core being unable to get warm. The heater core is looped in for continuous coolant flow once you switch it from the cool to hot position. The OP said first that they did try to run the inside heater and never got hot air out of it and that the hose itself wasn't getting hot either. To me, that sounds like a flow problem. Once you move an old mechanical HVAC like the 98 Civic uses from cold to hot, it should open the coolant flow into the heater core in the dash, quickly followed by very hot air being available through the vents. Something's wrong for sure.

Compound problem? The flow issue wouldn't explain missing coolant in the quantities that the OP is mentioning....unless she had a massive hemorrhage in the heater core circuit and that's where she's losing coolant. Still wouldn't cause overheating, unless all the flow was going there and not forcing air out of the system...

Almost wish I could put my hands on the car. Would be so much simpler.

DarinC

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In my experience, low coolant/air bubbles can cause all of those problems once there isn't enough coolant in the system for the water pump to push it up/through to the head. Since the heater tends to be located after the head, no flow there results in little to no heat.

One of the symptoms may be temperatures dropping as you rev the engine because the extra flow from the pump can push some coolant into the head. Having said that, this can be kind of risky with a marginal head gasket because of the increase in combustion pressure and lack of coolant, although a HG that flaky would probably blow later even with coolant.

zolotiyeruki

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In my experience, low coolant/air bubbles can cause all of those problems once there isn't enough coolant in the system for the water pump to push it up/through to the head. Since the heater tends to be located after the head, no flow there results in little to no heat.

One of the symptoms may be temperatures dropping as you rev the engine because the extra flow from the pump can push some coolant into the head. Having said that, this can be kind of risky with a marginal head gasket because of the increase in combustion pressure and lack of coolant, although a HG that flaky would probably blow later even with coolant.
I experienced this exact symptom about a year and a half ago. Car would run hot, then suddenly the temperature gauge would start dropping. Turned out to be severely low on coolant.

Greg

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Chiming in late here, but I wanted to respond to your situation. Yes, you could have a head gasket leak, I had one in my car that leaked coolant into the cylinders, and combustion gasses into the cooling system. This made the coolant temperature fluctuate and run hot as more air gets in the system.

You could also have a coolant system leak, that is getting worse. Even if it's a steady stable leak, you can lose fluid and have air gets sucked in at the leak when things cool down. Have your friend pressure test the system with a cooling system pressure tester that uses a gauge. This will verify if the system can hold pressure or not. If not, you have a leak to find.

Once air gets in the system, on some engines it's hard to get out unless you use the bleed bolt or screw. Most of the Hondas, Nissans and similar engines I've worked on have featured a bleed screw. Sometimes it's on the head, sometimes on a part bolted to the head. If you don't get all the air out, it can cause the thermostat to stay shut, which sounds like what's happening to you.

Often the maintenance section of your owner's manual will explain where the bleed bolt/screw is and how to use it. Good luck.

Bearded Man

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I've had blown head gaskets in crappy cars that were in wrecks. One blew twice, and I should have known better, I bought it from an untrustworthy relative who was trying to dump it.

It blew twice. Then I had the same thing happen on my truck. Was told that due to the DOHC engine it would happen again and it was a common issue for that model. Sold it instead of fixing it. Bought a Honda Civic. Blew a head gasket at under 70K miles. Fixed it it was still under warranty, but I'm really getting tired of this crap. I do regular oil changes as described by the manual, and have the dealership take good care of it. Apparently for my year the Civic I have is know to blow the gasket.

Maybe I should dump it before it rears it's head again. There's that "steel seal" stuff I could pour in, but I hear it can cause other issues.


a1smith

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Ok, ms.frugal, we're all waiting to hear what happened! Were you able to solve the problem?