Blown head gasket

We have a 1999 BMW Z-3 with 45,000 miles on it. It blew a head gasket 3 years and 3,000 miles ago, resulting in a leak of antifreeze. It began to leak again recently, and the dealer replaced the water pump. It still leaked. We took it back to the dealer, who now says it’s another blown head gasket. The last replacement cost $3,500. Is this a problem inherent to Z-3’s? Is it reasonable to expect to have to replace the head gasket so soon? The car has always been gently driven. Has the problem been caused by not driving the car very much, or could it be faulty work done the first time?

Thank you very much for your opinion.

Mary McKeown

No it is not a common problem,not bleeding the cooling system (and its very easy to do)can cause overheating and serious damage. You say your car is leaking coolant, how so? Can you see where it is leaking? Is there a overheating issue involved.

If the head does come off tell them the gasket will be inspected for just where it is leaking.

What led to the original headgasket replacement? a incidence of overheating?

To replace a water pump (also not a problem area for leaking) and have the car come back still leaking from a headgasket does make me feel there is a issue with faulty work here.

Your post is a bit unclear to me. Did the head gasket blow because of low coolant (not every checking the coolant level) and you continued to drive the car while it was overheating? If so, this makes the failure your fault.

You state “it began to leak again recently”. By “it” do you mean the head gasket is leaking again or the water pump was leaking?

If the original problem was caused by severe overheating this could have weakened the water pump and that is why the pump fails later.

If the car was driven again while overheating and after the water pump started leaking then the latest head gasket episode could also be your fault.

The details on this are very fuzzy and please do not get upset by my saying this could have been caused by you. I’m only pointing out that many aluminum head engines will not tolerate severe overheating and if an engine is overheating any at all one needs to pull over and stop immediately. Continuing to drive may make a minor problem a major and expensive one very quickly.

The car has never over heated. The BMW dealer has the car so I can’t look to see where it is coming from. I believe the water pump was replaced because they thought that was were it was leaking. I have no way of knowing if it needed replacing or not… I think not.

Again, the car has never over heated.

You might consider getting another opinion from a different shop. Just offhand, it could be that they were guessing a bit about the leak.

Based on what you were charged (ouch), the low mileage, no overheating, etc. the head gasket should not be gone again already. If the head gasket was legitimately leaking before and it’s legitimately leaking now, this means that someone more than likely did not do the job properly.

The leaks have never been much fluid (antifreeze). 3 years ago it was maybe a tablespoon or two, spread out on the floor of the garage. Same this time. The second leak this time, after the water pump repair, was even less fluid. We are waiting to hear from the dealer on Monday (tomorrow). to hear what they have to say, because on Friday the service manager mentioned to my husband something about a bolt that may have been a problem. They had looked up the records on our car, and she was going to get back to us on whether they thought the suspicious bolt was the cause of the problem or not. The original blown head gasket problem was diagnosed first by a private garage, which referred us to the dealer. This time, we just took the car to the dealer, rather than go back to the garage where we take it to get oil changes, etc., thinking they would once again send us to the dealer for the repair. The dealer is a long way from here, which is why we use a local garage for maintenance. We can bring the car back here for them to look at, if it wouldn’t damage the car to drive it.
We really appreciate your advice and insights into our problem.

There’s an obvious problem then because there should be no coolant leakage at all; not even a drop, much less a tablespoon.

I have no idea what this bolt they’re talking about would be. Driving the car should not hurt it as long as the coolant level is full and the temperature is staying down where it should be.

You really need to stay on top of this though because a perpetual coolant leak is damaging to the metal where it leaks; especially aluminum. Leaking coolant can erode metal just the seashore is eroded by ocean waves.

I would advise that you take any comments made by a service manager with a grain of salt as almost all of them are mechanically clueless.
Not trying to be a sexist pig here, but I’m familiar with a couple of female service managers (worked under one) and they tried to be more psychoanalysts than mechanically knowledgeable. I’m not letting male service managers off the hook because most of them are also clueless; just not as much into mind games as much as pure BS.

Thank you so much for your support while we try to figure out what’s going on. We haven’t heard from the dealership yet today, but we’ll let you know when we do. If not the service manager, who could we speak to? Is it possible to talk to the actual mechanic(s) in a situation like that, or even helpful? They may not wish to go on record, without the filter of the service manager, I suppose.
Yes, this service manager is very sympathetic, which is a red flag for me–she’s trying to stay on our good side too hard.

Well look at the job in front of her. She must convince a customer that two headgaskets and a water pump were necessary and her mechanics have made no errors in diagnosis or in performing their work. How can she do this with anything else but B.S.? Your instincts are dead on. You do need a informed advocate on your side.

Don’t accept paying for this job again. You have stated that overheating has never been involved in this case. I would have a completly different position if overheating was involved.

After the service manager there are several options; either the General Manager or possibly contacting the zone rep at the regional office. At this point keep it firmly cordial.

Talking to the mechanic is something that can actually help with a lot of auto repair problems; both before and after a repair. This not always practical for a number of reasons. It’s also quite likely that a different tech worked on the car each time.
You’re exactly right about the service manager or writer being a filter and most of the time their opinions or statements may not align with what the tech might say.

I also agree with you that the serv. manager being very sympathetic or trying to stay on your side too hard smacks of hard core pacification if you want to call it that. The service manager should be able to bluntly, politely, and in as few words as possible explain what is going on without the schmoozing up.

I know this. On a low miles car yours with no history of overheating the head gasket should certainly not have failed again so soon (even if allowing the 1st one did really did fail). If the head gasket really failed the first time, was actually replaced, then the only reason it should have failed again so quickly would be if the repair was done improperly.
Offhand, this sounds like a misdiagnosis but without car in hand I can only theorize. Hope that helps.

Sorry to be “away” so long, but for many days, the car sat in various locations while all options were explored. It is now home, back in our garage. We entered into a Mexican standoff with the dealer. Negotiations broke down, and we picked up our car without any further repairs done to it by them. We took the car to a private car repair place which specializes in foreign cars, esp. BMW’s. The car was there while they tested various theories and determined where the leak was. They ran two pressure tests on it and finally got it to leak one or two drops of coolant from the passenger side front of the engine. They don’t think it’s a blown head gasket, but it has a leak, possibly from a stripped bolt from the last time the head gasket was replaced. We decided to have them add a sealant, to see if that will stop the leaking of the poisonous antifreeze. If it doesn’t, then I guess we will have a new head gasket installed at half the price quoted by the BMW dealer.
We are now keeping an eye on the car and the garage floor, and we’re going to see how the car does.
Thank you so much for all your advice and support. You are the best!