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1999 Honda Civic Possible Head Gasket

I was recently given a 1999 Honda Civic Lx for free from a family member and its been my day to day vehicle for months. I wont lie, aside from keeping oil, gas, and all of the standard stuff like it I haven’t put very much work into it since I got it. Recently I noticed the car would start to run hot at low speeds and while sitting at traffic lights, stop signs, etc. When this would happen I would just throw some water in the radiator cap and the problem would be solved. For a few days at least. Today I was driving and did not notice that the temperature was getting pretty high. Not into the red, but getting close. When I saw this I immediately started looking for some where to pull over to put some water in. Before I could get stopped I heard a loud popping noise and the sound of water pouring out from somewhere underneath the car. The second this happened the temperature gauge went down for a few mins but then rapidly shot back up. I got stopped and started putting water in, though I assumed the damage had been done. Sure enough the water eventually started coming out of the bottom of the car. Seems like its coming out of the little crevices in the engine and not the hose or the radiator. Im assuming (or hoping, maybe) this is a blown head gasket and not something more serious. The car is now parked and not going anywhere until repairs are made. I’d just like some insight from someone with a better knowledge of automobiles than me because I know next to nothing.

Any feedback would be greatly appreciated! I apologize in advance for my serious lack of understanding this subject.

When you say you put water in it I hope you mean coolant and not just straight water.

Unfortunately when I say water, I mean water. Like I said, my car knowledge is basically zero and this is what I had been told was acceptable. I’ve seen other people put straight water in several times so I never questioned it. But considering water was put into the car many many times before this issue occurred I can only assume that isn’t what led to the popping noise and leak I am experiencing. What would you think the problem is?

Try not to judge me too harshly for the water thing. Like I said, its just what I had been told.

The problem with straight water is that it doesn’t have the anti-corrosive additives in it that the proper coolant has. Todays cars with aluminum radiators and engines will suffer damaging corrosion pretty fast without these additives.
Water would be OK in a short term emergency only.

My advice at this point would be to add water (yes water at this point) - then start the engine (but don’t drive it) and try to get a better idea where it’s leaking from then report back.

Alright, appreciate the advice. It’s dark right now so I’ll have to wait until morning. In the meantime, with what information I have (the distinct popping sound followed by what sounded like a good bit of water coming out) is a head gasket the likely culprit? It was suggested to me that it could’ve just been a hose but ive checked those and I would almost say without a doubt its none of them.

No, head gaskets don’t usually make a popping sound and then leak externally. They leak silently, and usually only internally in such a way that you can’t see it.

Maybe something else like the water pump or the thermostat housing is leaking.

No, the water did not cause the overheat/leak. But when after you get this fixed, in future fill up only with 50/50 antifreeze-water mix. The antifreeze has special anti-corrosion additives and lubricant for the water pump. Plus…it’s antifreeze so it won’t freeze in the winter and destroy your engine. :wink: Adding water in very small quantities is OK, but if done routinely it will dilute the antifreeze too much.

I’ve never heard of a head gasket popping or leaking to the point of water gushing out. A radiator or it’s end tanks or a hose could certainly make a popping noise. Be sure to also check the heater hoses. It depends on how severely it was overheated as to whether the head gasket was blown, or worse yet if the head was warped or cracked.

I have a similar problem with my honda, it overheats at low-speeds/idle but is fine while driving fast. My concern is with what was wrong with to make it overheat in the first place? sounds like you have a slow leak somewhere in the line since it’s fine for a few days after you throw water in it. And like others have said if you only put in water in for emergencies because you aren’t getting that additives and anti-corrosion attributes of antifreeze, I mean there is a reason they sell the stuff, it’s not just gimmicks. Also just adding water and not antifreeze will damage the water pump over time. And this is the first time hearing of being relieved of a head-gasket LOL which is probably what is wrong with my car. My guess would be a busted thermostat but not 100% on that.

I was unsure about the head gasket, just what I came across in some short research. I read that when the head gasket is blown the oil will be a milky color and mine looks pretty normal. Are there any sure fire simple ways to check about the warped or cracked head? Also, one of the hoses underneath the radiator has rips in the insulation around it but it doesnt seem to be leaking from anywhere. Which other hoses should I check? I should add that after the popping sound I still had to drive the car home. It was just a couple of miles and I filled it with all of the water it would hold. The temperature gauge never even got close to hot but the car was running absolutely terrible. It felt bogged down and the check engine light was blinking which I had never seen it do.


I don’t think he’s going to need a test kit to find the leak.
I’ll bet the water pump is history.

Whatever, you definitely need a tow truck and a reputable shop. My guess’ sole purpose is really to offer confidence that the damage won’t be as disastrous as you fear.

I might be wrong, but my odds of being right are good enough to not fear getting it checked out.

Since I cant go out and check at the moment im just going to run with ideas that are thrown out here. Lets say it is the water pump that is done for. You recommend a tow truck and a shop, but is a water pump that complex of a repair? I mean could someone with pretty standard automobile knowledge replace one with relative ease or is it a bit more complicated than that?

I could be wrong, but I’m fairly certain that the water pump is driven by a timing belt. It’s a bit more complicated that just a bolt-off/bolt-on because you need to properly time the camshafts when you replace the belt, but with a good repair manual, a good toolset, and some care and patience, someone with modest knowledge could do it.

There might, however, be a complication. That popping sound you heard as it died may have been valves kissing pistons (or other valves). I believe this is an “interference engine”, where the valves if freewheeling can try to occupy the same space as the pistons (or the other valves), and if the water pump ruptured it could have thrown the valve timing out when it blew. This’ll need to be checked out too. The way to do this is to test each cylinder to see if it’ll hold pressure. If not, you can safely assume you have a bent valve stem. The head will need to come off, and the price will climb accordingly.

The real question becomes how deep are you willing to go? If this isn’t your only car, you feel comfortable doing everything yourself no matter how deep it gets, and you’re willing, I say “go for it”. If not, you might be better off simply letting a shop look at it. Have them evaluate it and let you know, and you can decide whether to let them continue from there.

The reason the oil turns to a milky color is that coolant mixes with the oil. Since you had no coolant, but just water, it wouldn’t turn milky. Did the oil level go up? The fact that it runs absolutely terrible doesn’t sound good.

The oil level did not go up. Pretty sure it actually dropped. Im going out right now to see if I can pin point exactly where the leak is.

@ the same mountain bike

I doubt that the popping sound was related to the timing belt going bad causing the valves and pistons colliding.
Bear in mind the engine still ran after the popping sound.

^ what db4690 said those test are good however not always 100% because I am certain I have a blown head gasket but none of the telltale signs such as milky dipstick and white pummels of smoke. But that and a pressure test MAY determine if there is antifreeze/water being used up somewhere in the engine and a pressure test will show you where antifreeze may be leaking, you can get these things for free at autozone as long as you bring them back at the said time.


Yes exactly. The car still ran after the popping. It did not die at any point. Immediately following the pop the temperature went from way up to below half way on the gauge. Didn’t go back up until I got home a few mins later but it was smoking pretty bad at that point and the engine was starting to sound bogged down towards the end of the drive. Also I should probably mention that when I opened the hood there was water splashed pretty much every where, like something had literally exploded.

Still working on pin pointing the leak. I’ll report back as soon as I’ve got a more solid answer to that.