Head gaskets - Time for another car?

I know very little about cars, so please bear with me.

I have a 2002 Chevy Impala, 3.4 engine. Mileage is at about 235k. About a month ago I had to replace the radiator because the car was overheating. Not even a week later, the low coolant light was on (even after I filled the reservoir) and the car was once again getting really close to overheating. I took it back to the mechanic who replaced the radiator. He checked and said the head gaskets were bad. He showed me where they were cracked/torn and showed me that I had coolant mixing with my oil. I haven’t had the money to fix it, so since then the car has been sitting in my garage. I have drove it maybe 5-8 times though (to the grocery store down the street, etc.)

Do you guys think I should even invest anymore into this car, considering the age, mileage and problems (fyi, the car was in an accident so there’s some body damage to the hood, front fender, the a/c isn’t working)? Would replacing the gaskets or buying a used engine be a smart move?

Or is it better to purchase another car? I only have about 3k to go towards another car, so I’m kind of afraid I’ll get another one and it will have the same (or worse) problems.

Opinions? Advice?

If you keep driving it, it certainly will not be worth repairing.

Get an estimate for replacing the gaskets and any other related work. Then make up your mind. This does not mean your car it toast and with a little car it may last a long time yet.

With 235k miles on it already, I wouldn’t put any more money into it. It’s just going to be a money pit from here on out.

Start looking for something more reliable, like a Honda Civic or Toyota Corolla. Go to www.edmunds.com and click on “used cars” to research prices and buyer’s reviews of older cars.

Look on Craigslist to see what’s for sale in your area, in your price range. Then check the Edmunds site to see what the buyer’s reviews say about the particular cars you’re interested in.

$3000 isn’t much, but if you start with a reliable car like a late 90’s or early 00’s Toyota or Honda you should be able to do OK.

Your fears are justified. It’s possible to get a car for 3k or less that is relatively trouble-free. I’ve done it three times, in fact. But I went in to it fully expecting to drop the purchase price again in repairs, and then feeling rather lucky when I didn’t have to.

That said, I think you’ve likely damaged the car by driving it those short trips. Coolant is a poor lubricator, and when it mixes with the oil the oil stops doing its job properly. You may well be in for more than head gasket repairs at this point.

If I were in your shoes, I’d find the most car-knowledgeable friend I could dig up, and take him/her car shopping with me. Stick to private sellers (you’ll get less bang for the buck at dealerships) and when you think you’re ready to buy a car after your friend approves, take it to an independent mechanic for a pre-purchase inspection. That $100 may seem like a lot now, but it could prevent you from buying a car that will soon need thousands in repairs.

I would like to know how this mechanic showed you where your head gaskets were cracked and torn, unless they had already torn into your engine. The head gasket is generally not readily visible on any engine. You may actually have a bad lower intake gasket, which is a very common problem on this engine and will cause all of the symptoms you are describing. If the car still runs well, you may look into the possibility this is your actual problem. You need to get this taken care of soon, though, since that coolant in your oil can trash your engine fairly quickly. By the way, lower intake gaskets are much cheaper than head gaskets. Depending on your location, you would probably be looking at $500-1000 to have this done.

I think it’s time to throw in the towel on this one based on the overheating history and busted radiator. Replace the head gaskets and you end up with an oil burner due to a piston ring problem.

How is this car unreliable? An '02 with going on a quarter of a million miles that suffered a head gasket problem which may have been prevented by simply shutting the engine off before it became seriously overheated is the sign of a faulty car? I think not.

Thanks for all of the responses! As I mentioned, I know very little (nothing) about cars. What he showed me was on the side of the engine. I can’t remember exactly, but it looked like a black ring-type plastic piece???

Yeah, I have a feeling the engine is almost gone. Tomorrow I plan to have a guy friend come with me so I can take it to another mechanic to have it checked out. I’m just really fearful that I’ll get the engine fixed and the transmission will crap out next.

Oh, I forgot that. There’s already an oil leak. And this is the second time I’ve replaced the radiator. And the intake manifold gaskets (??) were replaced about four years ago.

I don’t think I said the car was faulty or that I couldn’t have taken care of things better. I know that. I just wanted others’ opinions on whether or not it would be a better decision to move on. I’m quite sure now that’s what I’ll have to do. Thanks.

I also suggest moving on because of the engine’s history. As Mark said, whatever he showe dyou was not the head gaskets, as you can only see those by pulling the heads, but I don’t think it matters. I’d bet that the engine is toast.

Take as much time as you can to look around carefully, buy something with a reputation for long term durability, and have any that you seriously consider gone over thoroughly by a good shop. Get a written report. It should cost about $100 and it’ll be money well spent.

Sincere best.

Chances are replacing coolant with a global coolant at specified coolant recommendations would have avoided the problem. Humor me, have you ever had a coolant flush? my guess is no, and not to come down TOO hard on you but we see many problems with owners having an issue that could have been prevented by following the maintenance suggested in the manual.

Given that she has a $3K budget, I’d stay away from Toyotas/Hondas.

These cars have a reputation for reliability that is over-compensated for in the marketplace. It’s common to see (Hondas especially) selling for a 50-100% premium over comparable “domestics.”

While Japanese cars may be reliable, they aren’t worth the associated premium…no car is. For such a limited “bank,” I’d look for a domestic mid-size to compact (not sub-compact, as these cars seem to hold value too well.)

It’s getting easier to replace that car by the day. For the price of a used engine and the labor to install it, you can buy a younger car. Older year maybe but with less mileage. If the problem wasn’t with the engine or transmission, you could probably keep yours. I’m in favor of replacing the car.

I would say to change the thermostat, and you should do that if you have heard thumping noises after you park it and sometimes when it is running. That would be a sign that the thermostat was stuck closed. With water in the oil, the head gaskets could be causing the coolant loss.

This is a high miles car. If its not this problem then maybe the trans, or fuel pump, or powersteering … You should be able to get a similar car with less miles or just a car, for 3k. Have it checked by someone you trust. If it was me and the car had 80K I would go to replace the gasket. But everything on this car is at a very late stage of life.

I concur, you pay $1000-$1500 for the mere Toyota/Honda badge on the front on a car in this budget range. That does leave much left for a decent car.

If Toyota/Honda is a desire you are much better in the $5000-$6000 range for something that is not someone’s cast off.

Call around to a few scrap yards/auto recyclers. You likely can get close to $500 for this vehicle if you drive it in but it depends on locale market.

The shredder is waiting.

fuschia; cars are like people, they are ones with good genes and ones with bad genes. Your Impala is not a shining example of good genes, but it is not the worst of the lot. At the mileage you are now, your car is about 75-80 years old in people years, and it`s likely downhill all the way from here.

Don`t blame yourself that your neighbors with his Crown Victoria or Toyota Camry have 400,000 trouble-free miles on their vehicles. Those cars have better genes and longevity.

As others say, time to say goodbye, and find somthing newer and more reliable.