Blown Headgasket replace or start shopping for a new vehicle?

Hi All,

1994 Toyota pickup 4cly. Was running hot for 4 months or so until I replaced the thermostat. Car ran fine for about 2 more months, then started running hot again and I noticed that I was loosing coolant at a very slow rate. Now the truck runs very rough when hot and blows white smoke. I’m almost sure this means blown Headgasket. There is no water in the oil.

I’m not willing to pay a mechanic $1400 to replace a Headgasket on a vehicle that is not worth much more than that. If I do this repair I would be doing it myself. I have done top engine rebuilds before but that was a long time ago and on large marine Diesel engines. Am I in over my head here? Also what other components should be replaced if I open the engine? I hear that this engine (22re) has plastic timing chain guides that should be replaced periodically.

If head gasket failure occurs quickly then it’s possible that HG replacement may cure the engine.
Whenever there is a history of chronic overheating and/or severe overheating the odds of cylinder wall, piston skirt, and piston ring damage go way, way up. This means you replace the HG and you’re left with an oil burning and possibly low power engine.

The first thing I would do is run both a dry and wet compression test on all cylinders to determine if there’s any ring damage at all. The compression test will not really be relevant on any cylinder in which there is a head gasket breach but it doesn’t matter. If there’s a problem with a non-breached cylinder the end result is the same; complete rebuild or replacement.

If the truck is in really good shape overall…you might want to find a used engine. Otherwise…sell the truck for parts and invest in something else.

@ok4450 what do you mean by chronic or severe overheating. The gauge never went to red but would sometimes get 2/3-3/4 of the way to the top of gauge.

Because chronic overheating will coke engine oil around the ring lands on the pistons; coked oil meaning burned oil similar to a fry pan left on top of a kitchen range flame.
Engine coolant entering a combustion chamber can also cause ring and cylinder wear.

Coked oil will seize the rings in the ring lands (usually the oil control rings) and the rings will not expand and contract as they should. This in turn means the cylinder walls are not wiped clean of oil on the piston downstrokes and that leads to oil consumption.

The compression test is just to give you an idea of where you stand. The last thing you want to do is replace a head gasket which will fix any breach into a particular cylinder and then discover that other cylnders have low compression due to piston ring and/or cylinder head valve issues.

Thanks! I will run a compression test and check back here. If compression is no good, then I may just go shopping for a new vehicle. I’m a general contractor so this little truck takes a lot of abuse. What I really need is a full size cargo van.

I’ve never done a head gasket myself but you need to take the head to a machine shop for checking for cracks and flattening. Then you might as well do the valves at the same time. Then the higher compression will likely result in higher oil consumption, so where do you stop? Used engine is probably the best option or simply dump it.

@bing currently does not consume oil. Just burning coolant. This is why I am considering saving this engine.

Used engines are expensive. HG job is cheap if I DIY.

If the coolant temp gauge never went into the red zone the engine didn’t overheat. It ran hotter but didn’t overheat.

I would try replacing the head gasket. And if you have a precision straight edge you determine if the head needs to go the machine shop. And if it engine does have a timing chain, now would be the time to replace chain/guides while the head is off.

I say go for it!


If you’re fishing for us to tell you to dump the pickup and buy a cargo van, then dump the pickup and buy a cargo van. Finally, it’s up to you. Most of the regular responders here are mechanically inclined and likely to fix what’s broken, because it’s rewarding and fun to repair things.

Depending on the miles on the truck, and the state of the body and frame, it might be worthwhile to find a used engine, rebuild it while you nurse the old one along, and then swap in the rebuilt one. That way you have time to do it fully and get it right.

Running hotter then normal but not in the red can easily blow a head gasket over time. I bet dollars to donuts it can be fixed. I would not normally do it myself on a car worth keeping as having the right tools and experience if you find the head is slightly warped may require shaving for a good fit. Otherwise, it could easily blow again. The only way it is financially worth it though IS to do it yourself. At his stage, I would look at it as a project and try, with the expectation that if the head can’t easily be refit, you weigh that as you proceed with a trip to the junk yard be worthwhile at any time. These babies can easily become rust buckets unless you have been festidious about it’s care. So, I agree with @wentwest. Go for it with the idea a used motor might be an option, once inside…

@wentwest is right. Probably time to ditch the pickup and buy a cargo van. In the meantime I can repair the pickup and sell it.

Any suggestions on what type of van to buy? I love the sprinter, but my budget does not. Looking to keep it under 8k. Van will need to be able to haul tools, lumber, and me. Mostly city driving around Oakland/berkley so has mileage is not super important. Van will likely see ~12k miles per year. The ford and chevy versions seem to be the most common, and are available used in my budget.

Whatever you buy, I hope you own a box full of tools and and you get a repair manual. The only way to operate something cheaply is to be able to do a lot of your own maintenance and basic repairs. And, if it was me looking, I’d really want to focus on the automatic transmission, because a van like these gets a lot of hard use, in town, heavy loads, and the thing that’s going to get the roughest treatment is the transmission.

You might want to look out of town. More freeway miles, less stop and go.

There’s a reasonable chance simply replacing the head gasket will get you back on the road. Maybe ask a shop to verify the head gasket is kaput first. Probably worth the expense, plus they may have some specific advice for your situation based on the test results. Other than that, break out the wrenches and go ahead, let us know how it turns out. A 94 Toyota should still have a lot of mileage left in it.

& if you really don’t have time to do it yourself – I know sometimes I think I have time, but end up not – don’t discount the economics of asking an inde shop to do it for you. Compare the accumulated payments you’d be paying for a replacement vehicle against the cost of the fix. Say the shop said their testing said things were bad, and it was best to spend $4000 to replace the engine. How many months of replacement car payments would that be? If it’s less than a year, me, I’d risk the repair.

You might find a 2004/2005 Checrolet Astro or GMC Safari in good shape. The gas mileage is slightly better than the full size vans, but it will be easier to park in the city.