Dead or Revive?

My 2009 Toyota Corolla with 90K miles is in a life or death spot. It was recently sideswiped while waiting for maintenance service, but insurance rectified that situation handily. It looks great. But the service, thereafter, points out that only 2 of 4 cylinder heads are firing and now, after being seen by a couple CarTalk-recommended mechanics, it won’t start and mechanics offer only a temporary reprieve. I’m wondering what my options are to afford-ably get the car running or move forward (sell? trade-in? full engine overhaul?). I don’t relish the idea of putting $2K in and then watch it die or trying to scam an unsuspecting buyer. Any thoughts?

Revive. A 2009 Corolla has a lot of life left in it. What you need to do is to take your Toyota to a good independent mechanic and have them repair the starting problem. BTW…the Corolla does not have 4 cylinder heads…they only have 1 since they are equipped with 4 cylinder engines. A mechanic that can’t get a Corolla running is no mechanic in my opinion. You can tell the “couple of CarTalk” mechanics that missileman said so.

My mom owned a Corolla that she sideswiped 3 times, twice on the same side (she was a very bad driver) and one rear ender when she hitnthe gas and slammed into a parked car. It also had both right side tire blown out and wheels bent when she hit a curb. All were properly fixed and the car was fine.

The car had 23,000 miles on it after 13 years and ran great. Get the engine fixed. These cars are like cockroaches, they are hard to kill!

Did either of the mechanics you used give you an actual diagnosis as to why it won’t start? Surely they didn’t say two of the four cylinder heads aren’t firing… Did they offer an explanation as to why it was not running on all four cylinders? There are dozens of possible reasons. What is the “temporary reprieve”? It could be quite simple and inexpensive.

I agree that a better mechanic–or at least a clearer diagnosis–is needed.
If this car has been maintained at least as well (in terms of both elapsed time and odometer mileage) as the mfr specifies, it should have many years of good life left in it.

So…how well has this car been maintained?
If the answer is…not too well…then perhaps it is nearing the end of the road.
Conversely, if it has been well-maintained, the OP would be foolish to get rid of it at this point.

I wonder if @bwiddey had his water pump replaced at 75K.

“Tune ups” every 7,000 miles seems a bit off. Perhaps he meant oil changes.

Hmmm…Good find, MG!
Since the OP was having water pump problems more than a year ago, I wonder if the engine might have suffered an overheating incident, and–if so–perhaps the cylinder head is now warped.

The OP never responded to requests for additional info in that earlier thread, but it would be helpful if he/she would do so now.

MG and VDC, you guys are right on;-(

I didn’t fix the small leak in the water pump last year (cash flow issues) and yes, the car overheated. As it stopped running while on the freeway, I replaced the water pump . . . then the radiator, spark plugs, ignition coil and coolant. The brake pads were very low and I still had some $$ in the bank, so I replaced them last month.

As I understand it, the “temporary reprieve” is some kind of additive (liquid? metal?) that will allow the heads to fire, though the mechanic says it will only last 6 months. He says to add that would still cost $1400 in labor and take about a week to do.

A couple of the previous comments attest to the longevity of this vehicle, but I’m concerned that I’ve done some irreparable damage.

Thanks for your advice

Let see if I have this scenario correct…
He says that adding something to the cooling system will cure a warped cylinder head, and that it will cost $1400 to pour it into the radiator?

If that is an accurate summation of the situation, you need to RUN as far and as fast as you can from this charlatan.

In cases of severe overheating the cylinder head can be damaged between two cylinders, a grove melted into the head. They may have spotted a grove in the cylinder head between the cylinders with no compression. If that is the case the head would have to be removed, welded and resurfaced. $1,400 sounds about right.

The problem is that it is only 6 years old. Everything but the engine, and maybe transmission, are in serviceable condition. If the engine is severely damaged, you may need a new, used, or remanufactured engine. First you need to find a mechanic that can tell you in plain English what is wrong with the current engine and if it can be repaired. Ask for a detailed list of work needed on the engine in writing and let us know what is on the list. Don’t paraphrase; type the list word for word or take a legible photo of it and post it as an attachment to your message. Then we can help you sort out if you should keep the car.

Overheating and subsequent head warping can cause a channel to erode between cylinders and/or between a cylinder (or two) and the water jacket. The only correction for this would be to mill the top of the block and/or the bottom of the head. The only way to tell really is to remove the head, check both the block and the head for flatness and visual it for erosions. It may only be the head that’s damaged, it may also be the block.

At a minimum you’re talking big bucks. You might want to start considering a boneyard motor.

I think that there was a misunderstanding between the mechanic and the OP.

I presume the mechanic said that he could pour in a sealer type product that may get him by for awhile…until he has to spend $1400 on the proper fix…a head gasket replacement.
That would at least give the OP some time to save the $1400 to have it done right.

Though the OP needs to remember that those that post their business under the “Mechanic’s Files” do it as a way to advertise and there is no governing body that rates the quality of these mechanic’s.
The "Mechanic’s Files are only there to help people find a mechanic…period!!!


My main mechanic, who seems like he’s honestly trying to help, says that the car overheated and the head gasket needs to be replaced, the top part has to come off. He’s already replaced the previously mentioned parts–water pump, radiator, ignition coil, spark plugs, trans ($170) and IUTY additive–and is surprised that the car hasn’t been driveable since it left his garage. He encourages me to try to sell the car on Craig’s List as having “engine issues.”

Get a new head gasket and then think about selling it. It will cost less that way.


“He’s already replaced the previously mentioned parts–water pump, radiator, ignition coil, spark plugs, trans ($170) and IUTY additive–and is surprised that the car hasn’t been driveable since it left his garage”

He shouldn’t be surprised . . .

Water pump, radiator, coil, plugs, trans service, and additive will NOT fix a warped head and/or block

Since this is an all aluminum engine, as far as I know, it’s almost 100% certainty the head is warped. Maybe the block also

Am I correct in assuming your engine has low compression ever since the overheating?


If you need a reliable ride, buy another car. Another Corolla if you like them. If you have this fixed, your car will be off the road for a week or more. And with a repair like that, you never know what problems it will have later.

Scam a buyer for this car? I don’t see how that is possible if only two cylinders work. Ask the shop if any of their techs want to buy it.

I think low compression may be why the car won’t start. I was noticing low power when on inclines just before bringing it to mechanic. He’s now offering to come by my place tomorrow to try to get it started. Thanks for everybody’s input.

If the engine does indeed have low compression, and if that’s directly attributable to the overheating . . . it’s going to get expensive and complicated

I don’t know what your mechanic is planning to do to get it started, but I wouldn’t expect much

No offense intended to you or your mechanic

Is he at least going to check spark, fuel, and compression?

Or is he just going to guess and hope for the best?

With the car only being 6 years old I’d let him do the head gasket ,IF he is going to have the head resurfaced.

You would get a better price for it than offering it without a running engine.

If he gets it started, it won’t make it far and even if you do get a little time out of it…when it goes…you will be paying a big tow bill if you are far (over 50 miles) from home.

I’m not a big fan of the miracle in a bottle products out there, as most have no effect.