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1997 Ford Taurus station wagon blown head gasket/radiator problems - is it worth repairing?

Radiator replaced 2 yrs. ago - required major rust cleanout, $500; reservoir replaced shortly thereafter. Recently engine always hot, antifreeze disappearing, reservoir always looks rusty, nothing much coming out underneath, mechanic pressure tested and couldn’t find a leak, told to watch for antifreeze in oil, none apparent. Now suddenly car ran hot, antifreeze came out of reservoir, cap replaced, still couldn’t find leak. Today said head gasket blown. Estimate $1500-$1800 to repair head gasket, but can’t guarantee wouldn’t still have radiator problems. Suggested could try Blue Devil head gasket repair $400 but may not work. Is it worth (a) trying the Blue Devil; (b) repairing the head gasket? Or will I still have major repair needs with radiator etc.? I really can’t afford even a cheap replacement car.

How many miles? What type of driving, city, highway or mix? General condition of the vehicle?

IMHO, it is NOT worth trying Blue Devil for $400. Assuming the rest of the car has seen better days, it IS worth trying a $20 additive from the parts store. It may or may not work, but IMHO your odds will be just as good at $20 as they are at $400. The only real solution would be to fix the head gasket.

It’s impossible to predict whether you’ll have other radiator problems or not. It may be that your overheating problems are caused by the blown head gasket and not a bad radiator. A blown head gasket allows very hot combustion gasses to blow into and heat up the coolant in your water jacket beyond what your cooling system can dissipate. Combustion gasses can exceed 2000F.


Has anybody ever replaced the thermostat?

BTW . . . when you replaced the radiator 2 years ago, was it the first time the coolant had ever been serviced?

If the answer is yes, negligence had a major role to play in this whole scenario

If you had been servicing the coolant regularly (every 3 to 5 years in your case), I apologize

If you are 100% certain the head gasket(s) are no good, you may as well buy the head gasket “repair kit” at the parts store and pour it in yourself. You’ve got nothing to lose at this point, apparently

Thanks very much for input everyone. I’m afraid I know little about cars and repairs - just relying on my mechanic. The car was donated to me and my cat rescue organization in 2010 by a donor when my van died and I couldn’t afford repair as I was undergoing cancer treatment. I was grateful for a free car. It had about 97,000 on it then and currently has 118,000, so I drive only about 5-6,000 miles annually, mostly in-town, a few interstate 20-mile or so roundtrips. The car is otherwise generally in good condition - previous owners were elderly couple and it was not their main vehicle. They did all required maintenance - I’m going to check the service records. Before radiator was replaced 2 yrs. ago I didn’t know anything was wrong with it. Just suddenly spewed completely rusty stuff all over the driveway one day. Radiator shop did that repair. Using different mechanic now and he is, I think, pretty honest and straightforward - he adopted two cats from me and has not charged me for the 3 recent checkups re this problem. He did say today a head gasket has definitely gone. I got the car to him this morning without it running hot (approx. 3 mile trip) but this evening had to stop 3x on the same 3 mile trip home to let it cool down after the gauge went pretty much to the top. I’m not sure whether thermostat was replaced when radiator was replaced but don’t think it was - will double check on that too.

This is a perfect application for additives from the parts store. Simply read the labels and you’ll find some “guaranteed” to stop headgasket leaks. Don’t take the guarantee seriously, but try the additive. It just might get you another year or more of operation from the vehicle.

Post back and let us know how it works. We do care.

A lot of the auto parts store shelf head gasket/block repair stuff will require you to fully drain and flush the cooling system before you put it in. Then you put it in and do the treatment and then you have to do a complete drain and flush and refill again before you go back to coolant. I.e. most cannot be mixed with coolant. It becomes quite an ordeal to get it done according to the label. But some you just dump into the radiator, and that’s probably the kind of thing you’re after. So if you try one of those things then pay attention to that.

Maybe you should change the thermostat and see if that cures the problem. Unfortunately, failed head gasket is a common misdiagnosis of an overheating complaint and in many cases that is simply not the cause of overheating at all.

Hopefully you were given a logical explanation of how a faulty head gasket diagnosis was arrived at. That does not have to be a guessing game. Just sayin’…

I agree it makes sense to change the thermostat, could get lucky. But I doubt it will work. The symptoms are pretty consistent with a head gasket problem. If the OP is not confident in the mechanic, no harm done for a second opinion though. You definitely want to be certain you actually have a head gasket problem before embarking on the venture to fix a head gasket problem.

I’d say for a 97 Taurus with – I think the OP said it had only 115K miles – fixing the blown head gasket is the best way to go. Provided the car doesn’t have major rust problems. I wouldn’t even bother with the coolant treatments, at best that would only buy a little time. Best to simply face the problem straight on, ask the mechanic to remove the head and replace the head gasket. It’s fairly expensive true, but technically straightforward, certainly not rocket science.

When I got that bad thermostat at the parts store, the temperature shot up so high and so fast, a less informed person with no history of the car might think the headgasket must be blown

“Blue Devil” is about $40.00, not 400.00 I would find a different mechanic.

Marc, do you think, though, that the $400 is for the draining, flushing, etc. that cigroller is talking about, or is Blue Devil one of the treatments that you can put straight in? George SanJose - when you say “provided it doesn’t have major rust problems” do you mean rusting of the body or rusting of the radiation/radiator system. If the latter, the old radiator was horribly rusty, and although the radiator shop worked on it all day, kept it over night and finished it the next day and said it was a lot of work, after the reservoir was replaced a short time later it quickly became very rusty inside to the point that it is almost impossible to see the level of anything in the reservoir.

Considering the miles and the history you supplied, I would recommend that you go with the head gasket. I don’t see any reason to change mechanics either. I’m guessing that you have the 3.8 liter V-6 engine and it is possible that the whole problem is just the intake manifold gasket and not the head gasket, but not likely. You could ask your mechanic to check.

New head gaskets would include replacing the intake manifold gasket. If your mechanic removes the engine so that he can work on it on a stand, he could flush out all the coolant passageways so the rust problem will go away. With all that work, I’d suggest a new water pump and thermostat too. If the car has a timing belt, might as well get a new one while the engine is apart, its only the cost of the belt itself. I’d go for all new hoses too.

The 3.8 V-6 had a history of bad head gaskets around this era.

A thing I would do is check if the water pump is pumping by checking if the heater puts out good heat. If the fluid in the radiator got rusty again right away, that does tend to make me think it is pumping, though.

The $400 might be for all of that other stuff, though you’d have to ask.

The active ingredient in most of those things, Blue Devil included I think, is sodium silicate which you can buy in generic form. Its more or less liquid glass - seeps into the breaches and when it hardens it is basically glass. As I understand it - though I stand to be corrected as I am not a chemist - adding sodium silicate to anything with glycol causes the silicate to gel. It might still flow into breaches but will clog up lots of other things. It has to remain in full fluid form with no gelling.

OP, my reference to rust was rusting of the car body, not the radiator. Replacement radiators – even if you have to buy a new one – are not overly expensive. As long as you are not planning to tow a trailer uphill through Death Valley in July, most times folks can usually get by with an aftermarket radiator. I bought one for my Corolla a few years ago, has been working fine. I should add this caveate, the Corolla has a manual transmission and doesn’t have AC so that all helps reduce the cooling system load. With AC and an automatic, the aftermarket radiator might not have performed as well.