1994 Toyota Pickup - Retirement time?

Toyota pickup, 1994, 4 cylinder, 4.2 L engine. Problem is blown head gasket (again). Question is whether to repair or retire the truck permanently.

Its history: I bought this pickup several years ago from a well-regarded Toyota mechanic I’ve been going to for years. Already had high mileage when I got it, about 270,000. Yeah, I’m a low-income, low-budget kind of person, unfortunately = not too many options. I live waaaay out in the country and don’t drive it that much, roughly once a week into town. Less than 5000 miles after I bought it, the head gasket blew. Mechanic rebuilt engine at no charge, and also replaced radiator + cap (I paid for) – very decent of him. In the time since, I’ve kept a close eye on oil and coolant levels, and it’s never overheated, has run perfectly.

Now four & half years and 25,000 miles later, the head gasket blew again. Happened quite suddenly. I pulled off the road before it overheated (needle got straight up, but not into red). My mechanic is on vacation until late next week. My one friend who knows about cars opines that there must be something wrong deep down for it to blow again after only 25,000 miles.

Meanwhile, I’m marooned out in the countryside and trying to figure out what to do: tow to mechanic’s and give it another go? (It currently has 302,000 miles.) Or buy another clunker and take my chances (after, of course, asking my mechanic to check it out first). Either way, it’s gonna be a pain in the purse. (What I really need is a nice lottery ticket…)

What say you? Ideas, opinions, options? Thanks!

Scrap it and buy another beater. This one is done.

Are you certain that the head gasket has failed? Why not have your mechanic inspect the engine?

I agree with @Nevada_545

Find out WHY the truck overheated . . . don’t just assume it’s the head gasket again

There’s plenty of other possibilities

Thanks for replies, folks.

  Yes, I am pretty sure
  (sadly). When I was driving it, truck began losing power and stalled at intersections. Whe                n it was cool enough

to check, I found that the oil was “creamy” and extra high volume. The coolant had vanished. I talked to the second-in-command mechani c at the shop, described
what happened, and
“head gasket” wa s the first thing he said. Only
question is whe ther
the block is also damaged. Why it all happened is still a
mystery, cuz it shouldn’t’ve.

          I just                     now managed to

borrow a friend’s truck for the week, so that takes some
pressure off my immediate problem. Still w eighing
whether to fix it or junk it.
Mustangman voted for scrapping .
(Hey, I once owned a Mustang, back in my city days. :wink:

The ultimate demise of many Toyota trucks is frame rust. My 1979 broke just behind the cab. Even recently their trucks have had fatal frame rust, some frames replaced (!) under warranty. I’d get the frame thoroughly checked over before putting $$ into it. Frame breakage can cause a bad accident.

With that many miles, I’d give this a try.


You should really have an assessment done of the vehicle, rust, suspension, transmission, then regular maintenance needed soon should all be considered before deciding to go on or not.

I think it’s probably time to move on. What’s the bill to replace the head gasket on a 300k mile Toyota truck look like in camparison to the price of a comparable used truck (like an early to mid 2000’s Tacoma) with say…half the miles? I think I’d go ahead and upgrade (slightly). Toyota’s hold their resale value pretty well, but you can find a 2wd Tacoma with half the miles of your 1994 model for between $1500-$3500 (in my area, at least). I’d assume that’s still quite a bit more money than the head gasket repair, but on the newer truck you’ll have less miles and wear on everything. I owned a 1999 Tacoma with 287k miles for a short while. I liked that truck pretty well, but was a little small for me and my needs, family, etc.

I think it was great the mechanic who sold you the truck replaced the failed head gasket gratis. Generally when doing that job the head would be taken to a machine shop and at the minimum skimmed to make sure it is absolutely flat. They tend to warp a little in use, and time, especially if they ever overheat. Given that the mechanic did the job for no cost to you, I wonder if that machine shop work was done? If not, that may be the only reason the replacement gasket failed. In that case, one idea is to have the mechanic redo the job, and this time pay a little more to get the machine shop work done as part of the repair. That’s what I’d do if it were my truck.

However, with over 300 K on the truck, common sense says if what you want is a working truck, and not a rolling classic truck from the gold era of vehicle design to call your own, sell or give this one to a teenager who has time to fix it up, and buy yourself a newer, lower mileage truck.


you said it

In YOUR area

In my area, any and every Tacoma sells for top dollar

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Wherever that area is, I’d like to go there. Here, any Toyota pickup–even models from the late 1980s or early to mid 1990s is at least $3500 if it runs. It is not uncommon to see Toyota pickups from the late 1980s to early 2000s with over 200,000 miles, and people are still asking top dollar for them. Heck, I frequently see these trucks on Craigslist with body damage, or major mechanical problems, and people still want over $2k for them!

Many thanks to everyone who replied. It’s been really helpful as I think this through. Some random notes:

Rust isn’t a huge issue in California, not like back east, but definitely worth checking the frame, yes.

Gasket goop: if I do retire it, that’s probably how I’ll get it to the scrap yard for the state’s clunker buy-back program.

Excellent point on grinding the head – doesn’t look like that was done last time.

And yes, it’s definitely a lotta miles and I should buy something fresher. Problem is money: can I buy something newer. I have been looking on Craigslist this weekend and Toyota pickups that still run (a minimum requirement, I’d say) are $3500-$6000. It will cost roughly $1600-$2000 to do the head gasket and accoutrements yet again. But will I have better luck with this one?

I need a pickup for country life. And haven’t had the greatest luck with used trucks. I seem to attract blown head gaskets, must be fate. Before this truck, I bought a lovely little Mitsubishi 4WD, low mileage, from a neighbor… and it blew a head gasket the very first time I took it into town, no kidding. Sigh. And I don’t even want to think about the VW bugs, and their blown head gaskets, of my youth. Come to think of it, even that old Mustang blew up (but I had lent it long-term to a short-term boyfriend – big mistake).

I chat up my mechanic tomorrow. Wish me luck. And thanks again, all!

Wow. Mine was actually 300 bucks. 287k miles, ugly as sin, and dirty… but everything worked. I realize I got a deal, but I fixed everything mechanical (radiator, tires)and cleaned it up. Traded for another truck which was worth maybe $2300. No way I’m paying over $4k for an old 4 cylinder 2Wd truck.

For a $3k price difference, I’d be willing to shop out of state. Come buy our junk, in other words lol.

And the verdict is…

My mechanic advised me to junk the truck. As I described what happened exactly at its breakdown, he said it was likely that a cylinder cracked. (And how craic got into my cylinder, I’ll never know.)

So now I’m truck hunting. Sigh.

Thanks again, everyone, for your help.

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That’s too bad, Mary. Let us know if you find any potential replacements. We will give you our opinions. Which are like…well, not worth much. Good luck.

A newer, lower mileage, more reliable truck, seems like moving in the right direction. Good for you. Head gaskets exist in a very tough, toxic environment, they don’t last forever; your head gasket dilemma is likely related to your owning older vehicles, not anything you’re doing. The best way a diy’er can extend the life of the head gasket is to replace the coolant every 2 years, and keep the engine filled with clean oil. And turn the engine off immediately upon any sign of overheating of course.

Any reason to consider only trucks? I miss my 1979 Toyota 4X4 but, hey, the minivans I’ve had since then make a lot more sense, are more versatile, and more comfortable. Sound systems are better, too. They have that high driving position that truck drivers like.

If it’s in good condition body-wise, sell it. Minitrucks fetch insane prices these days - even ones that don’t run. You’d make more selling it to someone who wants to mod it than you would selling it to a scrapper.