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'93 Geo Prizm overheated on the highway, now has severe oil leak

My boyfriend and I were driving home from a concert in Baltimore last night when his (bright teal!) Geo Prizm’s check engine light came on and the engine started making an odd noise (not sure how to describe it). Shortly thereafter, the battery light and oil light came on along with the flashers and the car shut off as smoke came billowing out of the engine compartment. We coasted to the shoulder of I-95 (not a particularly pleasant place to hang out at midnight) and waited for the smoke to stop belching from the car. My boyfriend popped the hood and didn’t see anything obvious amiss except that the coolant was low. Oil level looked fine. We figured we’d give it one more go, at least to get off the highway. The car started right up, but about ten seconds after we got up to highway speed again, the engine temp skyrocketed, the check engine/oil/battery lights/flashers all came back on, and the engine died again. We pulled back over and got a tow back to DC. We don’t think it was leaking oil when we pulled over on the side of the highway, but when we got back to DC, and my boyfriend started the car to parallel park it on his street (he’s new to the area and doesn’t have a mechanic yet), there was a thin line --not just drops-- of oil marking the pavement. You could see how he’d maneuvered the car into the parking spot by following the path of the oil. I’m worried it’s the head gasket (this car has ~120,000 miles on it). Could it be anything else??? Any chance it’s the PCV valve that crapped out and blew a seal somewhere? We’re lucky in that neither of us rely on the car to get to work or get around town (DC has great public transportation!), but we’d really rather not euthanize the old girl.

You might want to take a closer look at the car and see if the belt that drives the alternator, the water pump, and the air conditioner pump is still attached.

If it is still there, chances are the water pump died on you.
If it isn’t there, turn the different pulleys to see if one seized up, causing the belt to break, and then causing your lights to come on, and your car to over heat.

Chances are, the engine is damaged, and needs to be looked at by a good mechanic.


Head gasket? No, you should replace the car. The damage is worse than just a head gasket. It takes more money to fix a 93 car than it does to replace a 93 car. However, if it is just a head gasket, you should be able to keep the car. So if the car did not break a connecting rod that put a hole in the engine block, maybe $2,000 will go a long way toward fixing the engine.

I’m inclined to agree with Bladecutter on this.

Generally when the dash lights all come on like that it’s a sign of lost electrical power. And, if the water pump goes it can spread coolant everywhere including the hot places that’ll turn it to vapor (smoke) and it’ll affect the serpentine belt’s ability to drive the alternator etc. Coolant is slippery stuff. If you try running the engine again it’ll also allow rapid overheating.

I suspect that the “path of oil” was actually a path of coolant. I would not try to drive the car like this. Repeated overheating WILL destroy the engine. Hopefully the engine has survived this overheating incident without blowing the headgasket.

Did the smoke have a sweet smell?