Blown head gasket --- car still has life but not worth fixing

I have a 99 Taurus and last year I had a leak in my antifreeze overflow tank. I got it replaced after letting it go for too long and it seemed like miraculously I did not compromise my engine.

However, ever since getting the coolant system flushed last summer I’ve been having issues with the antifreeze. At first my car started “burping” up most of the antifreeze after I’d fill it. I would always check to make sure it had coolant in the over flow tank and I have not had any problems with the car over heating.

Around x-mas I took it to my trusty mechanic (have moved 2.5 hours from home) to get oil change and had them take a look. They suggested I “get a new boyfriend” (ie car) because they suspect there is a blown head gasket.

I probed them a little and it seems like the car still has more life but it’s not worth getting it fixed. Looks like oil might be leaking into the antifreeze, but the oil is clean and they don’t think there’s any antifreeze coming into the oil.

I’ve been adding antifreeze every morning (it’s not all leaking out, but just to make sure it doesn’t get bone dry) and the mechanic said that the engine still seems strong and if I babysit it, it might have some more life.

Two questions:

1) How long might be the car last in this situation?

2) I am resigned to the fact that my car isn’t very reliable and won’t last a whole lot longer, but I am wondering if it could be a life threatening situation when it dies. Will the car just overheat and no longer work or might something more dramatic happen?

I can’t afford a new car and would like to make this one last another couple months at least. Thanks for any advice and for helping out my broke, cheap skate self.

It would appear that your car is in the beginnig stages of headgasket failure. It also would appear that you have a mechanic who is honest and on your side. That’s good. He’s 2-1/2 hours away. That’s bad.

Which engine does it have? How many miles are on it? What sort of tests did your mechanic do to determine that the headgasket was bad? There is a test that you can do yourself that involves drawing steam from that new overflow tank through a reagent. It requires a tool that you can “rent” from Autozone (if you have them in your area). They will sell you the blue liquid which will turn yellow if exhaust gasses are in the steam you draw from the overflow. It runs about $8 for enough to check several Tauri.

Your car may go quite a while in this mode, or it may fail completely tomorrow. It’s impossible to say. Do you see a lot of steam coming out the exhaust, even after it is fully warmed up? If so, it’s getting worse. Does the steam smell somewhat like maple syrup? That’s definitely a headgasket. When it gets to the point where you are having to top off the coolant every morning as well as before you start home in the evening, it will be time to do something. One of my customers got a $1700 bid for new Taurus headgaskets. I got it done for her for $350 plus the parts and antifreeze. Shop around.

In the mean time, keep a sharp eye on the temperature gage.

Firstly, I (and I’m sure, others) appreciate the detailed post. However, as is usual, more info would be helpful. Specifically:
does the car use (i.e. lose) a lot of oil?
did they show you the oil in the antifreeze?
I ask because if the only proof of the head gasket problem is the “burping” antifreeze, that could possibly be explained by air left in the system after the coolant flush working its way out; or perhaps the radiator cap simply needs replacing.

If everything in your post is on target, and you do indeed have a minor head gasket leak, I’d say you should be able to nurse it along for a while- contingent on how well you stay on top of the maintenance, and how calmly you drive it (the less gas you give the throttle, the less pressure on the head). Of course, summer is on its way, and rising temperatures will be working against you.
Even if your engine were to completely fail , it’s not likely to be “dramatic” or life-threatening in any mechanical sense; though situationally it could be. ex: on the freeway surrounded by trucks… but that’s a risk in any old banger car anyway.

If the engine does indeed have a head gasket leak, and the vehicle isn’t worth the time and money to do the repair, and you want to get a little more life out of the engine, then I recommend that sodium silicate be added to the cooling system. I have used this where people were in the same circumstance as you, and needed a reliable repair to keep the vehicle operational. The first vehicle I applied the sodium silicate to for a head gasket leak has been on the road for over a year. And the other two are still being driven after six months.

You can purchase a bottle of sodium silicate from a local pharmacy for about $20.00.

If you want to read how this works click here under Automotive Repair


Am I wrong in thinking that if the head gasket situation worsens, such that she’s getting coolant in the oil, if she has sodium silicate in the coolant, she’s going to have not only water in the oil, but precisely the compound used to destroy engines for the ‘cash-for-clunkers’ program, which seems a whole lot worse.

(sorry for that being all one sentence)

That point would be moot. Whether coolant is getting into the oil or if coolant with sodium silicate is getting into the oil, either way the engine is toast. The antifreeze used in the OP’s vehicle contains silicates.