Head Gasket / Exhaust--help!

My 1995 Honda Civic just started shaking and then last night overheated. I took it to the local midas (the closest place) and they said that there was still coolant in the reservoir, so it likely has a leaky head gasket. Their estimate is $1500 with parts and labor. It has 90,000 miles on it so I’m trying to decide what to do. I’m a poor grad student and the car is old enough that I’m afraid to start throwing too much money into it.

I’m not sure that the Midas has done any pressure tests (they just noticed that coolant(?) came out of the radiator when they opened the cap).

However, I’ve had to have my exhaust replaced twice in the past 5 years (it developed a hole both times). Is it possible that the problem is a blocked catalytic converter rather than the gasket? Should I take it to another shop to be looked at? I’m at a loss as to what to do and in a panic that I may now be carless! I’d love any advice that anyone has to give. Yours, cash-strapped aspiring librarian

Get away from Midas, and don’t take the car to any other national or local chain shops, either. Find a REAL mechanic, preferably and independent with Honda experience. Use the phone book if necessary.

They’re explanation makes no sense: “There is still coolant in the reservoir, so it likely has a leaky head gasket.”


You’re problem might be easy and inexpensive to fix. New thermostat, perhaps, which is about $10.

Now, the shaking is not good. But you ignored it until the overheating. Why did you do that?

How badly did it overheat? Was the gauge high, or did the coolant boil over?

We need details from you, not crazy theories from Midas.

The exhaust is a separate issue, but after 15 years it’s not unusual for holes to develop in the exhaust system. Rust is the cause, not a blocked catalytic converter. One of the by-products of combustion, which happens in the engine, is water vapor. Water vapor condenses inside the exhaust system and causes rust.

Could you possibly describe the problems a little better? “Just started shaking” ?? One time? The engine was shaking? Were you moving or parked? How high was the temp up? Any leaking anywhere under or on the engine? I have a '95 Civic and I’m pretty familiar with it. Oh . . . stay away from Midas or any other chain repair shop. If you can’t fix it yourself, get the car to a good Honda independent mechanic. Rocketman

Thanks for your help! In terms of shaking, the car rocked back and forth, and there was some thudding, but as far as I noticed the car wasn’t overheating when that started. It was sort of like a repetitive lurching and it seemed to happen when I was idling (but it also then got oddly silent and I was worried it would stall), but it would go away when I was actually driving. The first time it happened, the car had been driving fine and I parked briefly to get something at a Walgreens, and then when I restarted the car it started doing that lurching/shaking thing, though it went away after I had been driving it for a block or two. The next time I started it, it was fine, but then the lurching came back the time after that. I think I drove the car three times after it started doing this (short distances).

And then the last time I drove it (I was going to take it into the shop the next day) it started to lurch and emit a bad smell. I was nearly home and noticed that it had started to overheat (it went from midway between hot and cold to the top of the red in the span of a few blocks. As I said, luckily I was only a few blocks from home. No steam or smoke was coming out of the engine, that I could see(though it was night). When I got home, I popped the lid and I couldn’t actually see anything (though I knew enough not to risk taking off the radiator cap). The engine definitely was hot!

What else would be useful to know? If I take it to another shop, I’m assuming I should have it towed, right? I did actually drive it the three blocks to the midas the next day after it overheated, and it started fine, but I felt like it was only a matter of time before it would start lurching again. Am I right in thinking that if I drive it any more, it could cause serious damage? Thanks for any wisdom!