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Mechanics - replacing head gasket vs the engine...?

edited August 2012 in Repair and Maintenance
To anyone that can help, here is my dilemma. 

Purchased a 92' civic dx hatchback w/218k miles on it. Was told by the owner that it was mechanically fine, it's not. Took it to a trusted mechanic. Found two leaks in valves,  clamped them, then found major pressure being lost from the head gasket. Due to the age of the car, he didn't recommend replacing the head gasket due to not knowing what else might happen with the rest of the engine. 

A little research indicated that his suggestion appears to be sound advice. From what I gather, if I replace the head gasket, I have to be concerned with newer parts stressing against older parts. So I could be looking at having to replace other parts to make sure I don't run into other issues. 

During some online research others also suggested to people considering replacing their head gasket, to just do a used engine swap. 

My friend has the same engine sitting in his garage as will sell me the HG for $40, and his friend or my brother in-law is willing to help me replace it. I'd say his friend is more mechanically sound, but my brother in-law is pretty handy and does work on his own cars. 

What would the much more knowledgeable users here suggest? Have my mechanic replace or resurface my head gasket at a machine shop which may cost me $800-$1100 give or take?

My friend has a head gasket from the same Honda engine his friend had removed from his civic. He'd sell it to me for $40 and I could try to replace the HG myself, I've never done more than my tire and oil, starter once with my brother in-law, is that a good idea? I'd save money up front, but....

Or should I replace the engine? Found a guy near me on Craig's list selling used JDM engines for $500, will install for $1000 total.

Or should I just sell car, take approximately a $1000 loss and get something else?

Thanks for any help as I will provide as much info as I can if more is needed.


  • A '92 Civic with 218k miles is probably nearing the end of its useful life, even with a good head gasket. I wouldn't throw any more money at it. I'd cut my losses, sell it, and next time spend $100 to have a trusted mechanic check out a car before I'd buy it.
  • I would try to get my money back.
  • Umm a used head gasket is a really bad idea. Plus a new one probably does not cost much more then that.
  • Yeah, that does seem penny wise, pound foolish.
  • Hondas -- if they've been taken care of reasonably well -- can last well past 200k. If the car is otherwise if good condition, no rust problem, replacing the engine is a reasonable choice. Before doing so, verify the brakes and transmission are in good operating condition. You'll likely have fewer (expensive) problems if this car has a manual transmission than an auto.

    Replacing the head gasket always replace with a new one) is a big, big job. Remember to remove the head you also have to remove the intake and exhause manifolds and a bunch of other stuff. And with 200k + miles, you should also have the head reconditioned, valves re-ground, mating surface flattened by machining while the head is removed. I'm not saying don't do it, but be aware of what you are getting into. If you don't mind getting a little greasy, and have spare time on your hands, it might be a fun learning experience.

    Ok, here's my call. If you enjoy the effort, and it's a manual xmission without other problems, replace the head gasket yourself and enjoy the greasy process. If you don't have time, have the other guy replace the engine for $1,000. If the car has rust problem, has an auto xmission, has xmission problems, has brake problems, maybe it is time to move on to a newer car.
  • If the head gasket failed because of overheating you might consider another engine as overheating can ruin piston rings and cylinder walls. This can lead to the engine being an oil burner once repaired and a compression test, wet and dry, should verify this.
    Coolant diluted engine oil can also wipe out crankshaft bearings, cam lobes, etc so the engine oil should be inspected for this problem too.
  • Jesmed: Yeah, I learned my lesson, I also didn't listen to my gut, plus I was sort of on a time crunch, I had to get a car, so I sort of was forced to pull the trigger and hope that it worked out. Things felt a little off, but it was late when the guy called me back, it was dark when I went over there, but he seemed honest enough, and maybe he was. I know better now.

    Barkydog: Unfortunately, buyer beware, and as it has been a few weeks, I doubt I could do anything about it.

    gsragtop: Yeah, I've noticed they are not that expensive online, but I've also read that often they do not fit properly and have seal issues.

    GeorgeSanJose: Yeah, it's an automatic and it seems like my best choice would be to cut my loses and sell it for what I can get. I do have some time, but not a ton to work on it, or I don't want to have to spend a ton working on it, to then, have even more issues I have to deal with and more money I have to dump into it.

    ok4450: Well, it was also about a gallon low on coolant, probably another reason why my mechanic was against doing the repair. Thanks for pointing that out.

    Thanks for the advice and input everyone, I guess I will just cut my loses and get what I can for the car and look for something used and make sure I take it to my mechanic first. With that being said, any suggestions for used cars? I've come across a bit in my research online and it suggests a few things.

    1. Despite the notorious reputation for how reliable used Hondas and Toyotas are, they are also usually sold with lots of miles for rather high prices in respect to their american counter parts.

    2. American cars generally get a bad rap for being unreliable, which means you can usually find them for less, or with many less miles on them, and they are relatively easy to work on and cheap to fix.

    3. I've heard that the crown victoria, interceptor model, if used by a highway patrol department, can be a very good, solid and reliable buy used?
  • "Umm a used head gasket is a really bad idea."

    Maybe the friend was offering a used head for $40.

    Anyway, if the body and interior are in great shape a low mileage used JDM engine is the way I would go.
  • rajraj Duct Tape Specialist
    edited August 2012
    Pay a mechanic to check out your prospective before purchase. Buying a car that old is playing the lottery. Don't take steadfast rules of Ford Crown vic or whatever. Condition is what matters at this age of vehicle not who made it. Maybe avoid Euro cars due to expense fixing them.
  • edited August 2012
    "Buying a car that old is playing the lottery. "
    You got me thinking that "buying a car that old is like playing Russian roulette with an automatic".

    Seriously, Listen to Raj's advice. Definitely get whatever you buy next checked.

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