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2009 Nissan Versa 1.8L SL Hatchback Engine Replacement

I’m in a bit of a situation: my mechanic says that I have blown a gaskethead, and the resulting leak of fluid (antifreeze, he says) into my engine has caused low compression in one of my cylinders. He’s therefore claiming that an engine replacement is the solution to this problem. I have yet to get a second opinion. So I have 2 questions resulting from this:

  1. Is his claim that leaked coolant into an engine cylinder and the resulting damage is sufficient to render the engine unrepairable (e.g. replacing the head gasket, which was what he’d initially predicted would be needed to fix the problem before going under the hood).

  2. If the engine is indeed beyond saving, he’s suggesting about $3,000 for a used engine w/ 43,000, or $4800 for a new factory engine. The car is 3.5 years old (I bought it new in March of 2010), has 83,500 miles and aside from a minor accident which was purely cosmetic and where the front bumper was replaced with an original manufacturer replacement, seemed to run fine before this incident. So given the decent shape of rest of the car, would biting the bullet and springing for the new engine at about $4800 be a worthwhile investment? For reference, the Kelly Blue Book value is about $5,500. My big question is will the brand new engine (if I go that route) place any additional strain on the remaining parts, or accelerate the demise of the transmission?

I like the car, an it’s never given me any problems to this point, so I can deal with parting ways for a new engine if it means getting another 60,000-80,000 miles out of it. But if that’s not likely (the warranty for the new engine they’re claiming in 12,000 miles or 12 months), then that $4800 plus the sale value of the car as is would certainly go a long way toward a certified used or new Honda, Toyota or Nissan.

For reference, I do drive a lot (20,000 miles a year), and it’s mostly highway driving to and from work.


Why does the mechanic say the engine is toast?

Are the bearings making noise?

Has it been 100% confirmed that your headgasket is bad?

I had a coolant leak due to a cracked head into a cylinder of a 1990 Ford Aerostar that I owned (4.0 liter engine). The Aerostar was under warranty. The dealer said that the cylinder wall was scored and that the factory rep said that the engine had to be replaced. I didn’t object.
That said, I think a blown head gasket could cause the compression loss. If, in fact the head gasket has blown, I would have the cylinder head removed and look for the damage to the cylinder wall.


The mechanic implied (granted this was over the phone) that the engine was beyond repair due to the cracked head gasket (he seemed sure of this), and the overall cost of not only taking out the cylinder head to fix the cracked head gasket, but strongly suggested that there was some underlying problem in addition to the headgasket (i.e. that there could be additional repairs that would approach the cost of installing an entirely new engine, which as I said would run me at least about $3,000).

As for the bearings, I’m not sure. I’d have to ask him. I am definitely leaning toward getting a 2nd opinion on this to make sure that this isn’t a $1,500 problem and this mechanic is just trying to default to the most profitable solution to my problem when more cost effective ones exist.


A bad headgasket does not always result in needing an engine

I suspect your mechanic doesn’t want to get himself into some ugly situation

That’s probably why he wants to install a new engine


I guess my question then is would replacing the headgasket (assuming I get a second opinion and they float this as an option) be just a prelude to another problem later on with this engine as a result of the alleged leaking on fluid onto and in the engine and the resulting low compression, or would a new head gasket effectively resolve the issue long term?

I really want to fix this car so that it’s going to run me to 150,000 miles, and my concern is that a $1,500 fix now that doesn’t resolve whatever the issue is will cost me more later.


It is possible that the head is now warped

It is also possible coolant has ruined the bearings

Don’t quote me on this . . . but I think your engine may be salvageable

Perhaps the head can be straightedged and “cleaned up” at a machine shop. Check the deck for warpage also.


I think the second opinion will hopefully reveal the necessary repairs. I do appreciate the insight, but with all this said, if it does come down to a new engine, is it worth the potentially $4800 for a new factory engine with zero miles on it being put in an otherwise well running car with 83,500 miles?

My major concern is that if I plunk down the money for a new engine and a problem with the transmission comes to light in 5,000 miles. Then I’m left in the same situation as right now with replacement and more expensive repairs.

If I were to have two mechanics both look at my transmission and say “this is in good shape”, then would it be sensible to spring for the new engine? I can afford the $4800, and would prefer spending that than spending double that or more on a new or used car, provided this $4800 investment will get my Versa another 60,000-80,000 miles.

If there was severe overheating leading to a head gasket failure then your mechanic could be correct about needing an engine.

Severe overheating can score cylinder walls and piston skirts, seize piston rings, and engine oil diluted by anti-freeze can damage pretty much anything else.
In a nutshell, the head gasket could be replaced and after all is said and done you have an engine that may rattle and/or burn oil.

Depending upon the results of a compression test and if the engine oil is diluted the engine may not be worth repairing.

“is it worth the potentially $4800 for a new factory engine with zero miles on it being put in an otherwise well running car with 83,500 miles?”

Does this car have an automatic/CVT transmission?

If the answer is yes, then the next question is:
Have you done at least two transmission fluid/filter changes already?
If not, then the next big expense that is fairly predictable is the need to overhaul the transmission somewhere between 90k-110k miles, and that will cost somewhere north of $2k, more than likely.

The car might be running very well currently (with the exception of the engine problems), but if you have ignored maintenance of the transmission, spending more than $4k on a new engine will probably just buy you a year or two until the next very big repair bill.

If you have not maintained the transmission as described above, my advice is to cut your losses, and start from scratch with a new car.


I haven’t done regular transmission changes, and I do drive an automatic, and I don’t know what kind of shape the transmission is in.

So if I am staring down the pipeline at a $6000 plus in work on top of this in 12 -24 months, then I’d likely be better off putting 30-40% down on a new car or certified used.

Seems like while I could fix this and drive for another 12-20 months, I’m moving to be closer to my job and my days of driving 20,000 miles a year are almost over, so in theory, my next car should only be accumulating 8,000 miles a year or less, which would give my next purchase quite a bit more longevity than the 83,500 miles my current car accumulated in 3.5 years.

Out of curiosity, what would a trnasmission fluid change cost?

The cost will depend on where you live and where you take the car for trans service.
My best guess is that a typical cost would be somewhere around $80-100.

Do NOT allow a quick lube place to touch your car, and even some indy mechanics will use unapproved fluids in certain transmissions. The best bet would be to take it to an independent transmission shop where they are sure to use the correct fluid. Using the wrong fluid in a transmission is like giving a person a transfusion of the wrong blood type. In both situations, death will follow shortly thereafter.

Whatever you do, DO NOT take it to AAMCO, Lee Myles, Cottman, Mr. Transmission, or any other chain operation, as they will likely tell you that you already need a trans overhaul, even if you don’t.

I’m using a Nissan service center, so I wouldn’t be worried about the wrong fluids, and even still I’d badger them to make sure they’re doing it correctly.

But my thinking is going for fluids in the transmission to shore it up for $100 or so, going for the new engine and calling it a day. Despite the cost of $4800, I can afford it, whereas I really can’t afford the $14,000+ for a new car right now, and am really averse to auto financing. And for $4800 for a usedcar, I’d obviously be getting something that could similarly cost me more in maintenance over time, whereas I know where my current car is condition wise because I’ve been the only owner.

Like I said, I’ve never had issues with the trans, and my other point is that I’ll likely be moving mere minutes from where I work in about 6 months, so as long as these repairs can get this car to around 120,000 or so, I’ll be using the car only a fraction of what I am currently by mid 2014, and would likely be able to stretch this car for at least 2-3 more years or more, which is really what I need.

I talked to the mechanic again, and he expressed confidence that an engine replacement would be a solution to this problem and would add to the lifespan of the car.