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2000 Honda Civic Ex Overheating and loosing coolant

Hi all,

I have a 2000 honda civic ex that I recently bought used. It ran fine with no problems for a good month then the check engine light came on and it started overheating. I could smell burning oil and see smoke rising from the hood. I checked the coolant and it was all out. So I filled it back up. Drove about 20 miles and during the drive when sitting idle the car would shudder and jolt around for a second, after about 20 miles I could see the coolant that I just filled up was all gone. I could hear some bubbling sound, all of the coolant had burnt away and was steaming. I did some research and it could be a blown head gasket, but I’m not sure and was seeking some ideas on how to fix it or to clarify if it was a head gasket. Thanks :slight_smile:

Yes, it is very likely to be a head gasket, but at this point I think that you should be just as concerned with the effect of overheating as you are with the cause of the problem.

I say that because aluminum engines–like those in Hondas–do not take well to overheating. One overheating incident can be enough to cause enough damage to necessitate ditching the engine, but with at least 2 overheating incidents, I would have SERIOUS concerns about the health of your engine.

In addition to the probability that the cylinder head is now warped, there is a real possibility that the cylinders themselves are “scored”, and that bearings have been damaged. With a 14 year old car, to most people that would equal cutting their losses and getting rid of the car.

However, a lot of that decision probably includes the overall condition of the car.
If it has an automatic transmission, can you verify that the trans fluid was changed every 30k miles or so? If not, then the transmission will be the next part of the car to fail, and that repair alone would probably be about equal to the book value of the car.

If I was in your situation, I would have the car towed to a well-reputed independent mechanic for a compression test. More than likely, the result will be bad news regarding the head gasket. You could have the head gasket replaced–along with having a new cylinder head–but then you may well find out the bad news about other internal engine damage from the overheating, so you should proceed very cautiously with repairing this car.

When you buy the next car, I strongly suggest that you do two things to limit your chances of getting another piece of damaged goods:

Buy from a private seller who has full maintenance records that you can inspect, and compare to the mfr’s maintenance schedule.
Pay your mechanic for a pre-purchase inspection. This will probably cost about $100, but it could help you to avoid buying a car with mechanical problems.

If a seller refuses to allow a pre-purchase inspection, move along, as they may be trying to conceal the same type of problems that almost surely existed in your current car when you bought it.

All that coolant must be going somewhere. Check the dipstick and see if the oil looks like coffee with creamer in it. If so, you have a blown head gasket and the damage to the bearings and rings is probably done. Contaminated oil doesn’t lubricate very well. If it’s going out the tailpipe, you should see white smoke. If neither, look to see if it is leaking from somewhere. However, the multiple overheating incidents may have caused other problems.

Do not make expensive decisions based on guesswork…SOMETHING is wrong with your car. A professional mechanic can run a few simple tests and determine FOR SURE what the exact problem is. It might be repairable and it might not…How many miles on the car??

You need to find where the coolant is going in the first place. I would check the heater hose connection that is just under the distributor first. Then I’d check the rubber seals used between the upper and lower tanks of the radiator to the radiator core. Do not drive or operate the engine until you find the leak, you will just do more damage.

Head gaskets don’t usually blow and cause overheating and loss of coolant. Usually the loss of coolant is due to something else, and the head gasket blows when the engine is run without coolant and overheats. You may now have a blown head gasket but that did not cause the original loss of coolant, so you may have two problems now.

BTW, if its the heater hose, you will also need to replace the O-ring in the distributor as it is leaking oil. Its a quick fix and the O-ring is only a buck or two.

So, just because it’s an easy and cheap fix and because it has happened to cars I own twice in my life, including two weeks ago, remove the radiator cap and replace with a new one. Do it when the engine is cold. A new cap is about $10 and if the cap does not seal right there is no pressure in the system and the coolant will boil away. The first sign is boiling sounds when you stop the car and turn off the key.