Help! In a pickle with my 07 Sienna


This is my first post and look forward to hearing some wisdom! I am a guitar player and i post in guitar forums, so I it came to me, there must be a car forum. Love Car Talk so I found this. I actually would love to ask this question on their show. I can inject humor into it as well.

I have an 07 Sienna LE with 111k miles on it. I am still paying out my loan. I owe 12k on it. In its current condition the most I have been offered on trade in is 5700, and from a car rental place that does sales (sells its fleet).

Here is the history:

On my way back from a trip three weeks ago my temp gauge started to go up into the red and then float back down. I put in anti freeze, got it to my mechanic on Long Island, and then the fun began. He said my radiator was clogged. he tried everything to flush it etc. so he put in a new radiator. that cost me about 780. he said the heat was working. i drove it away and ten minutes later, no heat, cold air blowing out. I brought it back and he put in some test fluid to see if the head gasket was okay. turns out i had a blown head gasket. so he fixed that and put in some wheel bearings. i paid about 1250 for that, and he even said he didn’t charge me for some labor to keep the cost down. so i drove it away. ten minutes, heat fades away and cold air. i bring it back. he gives it to his friend at toyota who check the computer. now i don’t know the tech term but it was some module that talked to the computer that was making the temp gauge go up and down. he kept the car for a three or four days, took the engine apart, and said i have a cracked cylinder head. to be fair to him, he spent hours on it and took the engine apart, but charged me nothing. but he recommended i get rid of the car. he said he could feel the transmission slipping a little. which i have noticed too just the other day. he said what will happen is that anti freeze will start leaking into the catalytic converters and those cost a fortune to replace. so he gave me the car and said not to drive it long distances and get rid of it. with the heat working weakly. you can imagine after bringing it back and forth to him over the weeks with no heat, i got a little frostbite in this weather!

i did bring it to toyota to see about a trade in, but of course they are going to give me less than 5, and maybe not even that.

brought it to another mechanic for a second opinion who did an exhaust test. his findings, he did not see evidence of anything leaking into the engine. but he said the water pump is not working right, and maybe, i think he said auxiliary water pump, and that’s why i am not getting heat. i asked him how much and he said 1200.he managed to give it better heat on the driver’s side. he said there is an air pocket in it and that’s why no heat. i just took the car back.

now i am driving it around hoping it will last long enough to get rid of it. i am musician and i need a van to move my gear and i just like the room. In addition, I have to move within a month or so! so i need a reliable car, and preferrably a van.

exploring options: get a new sienna for a fortune, or a 2010 sienna with 26k miles for 19K dollars (and the 5700 trade in – then i would pay out the remainder of my 12k loan, and start a new loan). or go to some engine rebuild people and pay i don’t know how much just to revamp the whole car (the original mechanic said that would cost, at least from him, over 4k and it might still keep failing with problems down the road). or just get a 2005 town and country with about 58k miles on it for about 5 or 6 thousand dollars (maybe that guy would take an even trade or something or work some deal).

but how do i manage the difference between the trade in value and the loan payout? sell it to a mechanic who can refurbish it on his own and he sells me a working refurbished van?

i am also looking into the 2014 ford transit connect, which is kind of a minivan, and just eat the loan. i like the new siennas but i just hate toyota dealers. maybe ford dealers are nicer i don’t know.

Working on everything at once! Today I will check out the ford transit connect. i want a reliable car but a part of me doesn’t want high car payments and more debt.


Would a X-box work for you?

BTW, he means a Scion Xb, not the video game system. Personally, my wife and I went from a Ford Explorer to a Toyota Rav4. A little less cargo space, but a lot more back seat space, and much better gas mileage.

First things first, find a competent mechanic, like from the Car Talk files. It’s not helping your situation at all that you’ve paid thousands of dollars for unnecessary repairs due to misdiagnoses.

I’m with @taplinger‌. If you are conveying the story accurately (not a slam, it’s hard to do if you don’t know cars and the terminology), your mechanic is incompetent and/or a crook. I have a hard time believing you have so many things wrong with it unless it was abused and no maintenance was done; it’s barely broken in!

Find another mechanic.

I see many alarming things in your story.

You owe money on a 7 year old car, in fact it appears you owe a few thousand more than the car would be worth in good running condition.

You paid $1200 for head gaskets and wheel bearings. Wheel bearings have nothing to do with an overheating or any engine problem. $1200 is ridiculously low for a head gasket repair, especially in the NY area.

The second “Toyota” mechanic who diagnosed something electronic and took the engine apart again. No one anywhere will take an engine apart to find a cracked head and not charge for it. I doubt that ever happened.

The third guy to look at it who said you had a water pump problem. I doubt he’s on the right track.

I recommend you ask your friends, family, coworkers for the name of a reliable experienced local independent garage and pay them for an hour or two of diagnostic time to get to the bottom of this. It’s going to cost you some (more) money, but at this point in for a penny, in for a pound.

Tom and Ray have said this frequently, and I agree, most of the time things like this happen not because the mechanic is a crook but because he lacks diagnostic skill. A leaking head gasket will cause erratic temperature gauge readings because air is getting into the coolant and hot bubbles reach the sending unit. The air can cause an air lock in the heater core so heat stops. An unskilled mechanic looks at the most obvious - engine overheats, must be the radiator. You see this time and again, a car has a dead battery so the mechanic puts in a new battery and the next day the battery’s dead again because the battery was fine, the charging system needed repair. A million perfectly good batteries have been thrown out because mechanics didn’t know how to check a charging system.

There is no way around the fact that you are about $8000 dollars upside down in this van. Also no way to get back the money you spent in unhelpful repairs. Part of a proper head gasket replacement is assessing the condition of the head and block
Put these things out of your mind but asses your finances and see what you want and can afford to do from here.
If you include transmission replacement and the still unsolved overheating/leaking you vans worth approaches $0.
I see an older Dodge minivan in your future but please spend the money to have a competent mechanic inspect it before you buy.

The main thing that would make me not trust the first mechanic’s skills would be the story about some module making the temp gauge go up and down. He’s either BSing you or he’s clueless. I also think you need to take the vehicle to a competent mechanic. I would also see if they can verify that the previous repair work you were charged for has been done.

You’re going to lose a fortune if you trade in the vehicle when you’re so upside down on the loan, so even if it ends up costing you another $1500 or so to sort out the problem, you’ll still be ahead in the long term if you keep the car as long as you can.

Thank you all for your comments and support. I REALLY appreciate it. The mechanic that charged me about 2K for that work and then told me to sell it, he’s a mechanic my family has been taking cars to for years. I am going to talk to him tomorrow and see if I can get a partial refund. I doubt it. I found a recommended mechanic on the car talk list, one in hicksville, precision auto i think. i agree that part of the head gasket replacement is assessing the other parts of the engine. why didn’t he see that when he did the head gasket? I am driving my van around and think what a shame to get rid of it. I will bring it to that other mechanic. i did see a Nissan NV almost brand new with upgrades and double warranty for 25K. i do have a low interest loan approval from my bank. still looking at options. i kind of don’t believe my van is not fixable. that first mechanic said it would cost thousands and he said he felt the tranny slipping. so maybe it is kaput. anyway, thanks again

Your gonna hate this answer. Your description sounds to me like you need a new radiator cap, about $13 and you can do this yourself. If your radiator was actually replaced, new radiators often do not come with a new cap.

This is a very reliable vehicle, this many repairs would be very unusual for this vehicle. With the new coolant being used today, even if you never services the cooling system according to the owners manual, the radiator should not have been clogged up, and chances are that the owners manual hasn’t even specified the first cooling system service at this time. Some are good for as long as 11 years before the first service.

I do agree that your mechanics are not so much crooks as they are just incompetent.

okay, will try the radiator cap. you mean he put the old cap on the new radiator? thanks

No I mean go to a parts store and buy a new cap that meets the specs for your vehicle and put it on.

edit: Oops, I misread your post, that is exactly what I meant. Its not uncommon.

There are a lot of issues here in such a convoluted story but the thing that sticks out to me is the fact that you’re so far upside down on the car loan. The car at this point is nothing more than a wholesale unit for any dealer you trade it to and going even further into debt while so far upside down makes no sense to me.

Trading in on a later model would be like digging your own grave, deciding that 6 feet isn’t deep enough, and then digging on down to the 18 foot mark. :frowning:

The radiator cap is definitely worth a shot as that is an obscure part that is often overlooked or brushed aside during a diagnosis.

“he’s a mechanic my family has been taking cars to for years”

Have you considered the possibility that he has been misdiagnosing problems and/or overcharging your family for years? Many years ago, a friend of mine didn’t want to believe me that Vic, the neighborhood mechanic, was fleecing him every time that he brought his car to Vic’s shop.

Only after Vic died and a new–much more competent and much more honest–mechanic came on the scene did my friend realize that I was right about Vic being an incompetent crook. By my reckoning, my friend probably paid Vic a couple thousand $$ over the space of 4 or 5 years in an attempt to keep his '59 Pontiac running reliably.

I also know a woman who still has her father’s Buick LeSabre, circa 1979. She drives the Buick–maybe–8 times a year, for about 100 miles each time. Once each year, her mechanic convinces her that she needs to replace her air filter, fuel filter, and spark plugs. It doesn’t matter that I tell her she could go for many years with the same plugs & filters, as long as she changes her oil once a year, but–nope–as long as her trusted family mechanic tells her that she needs to replace all of those items every 800 miles or so, she believes him.

i do think he may be extra expensive. so, does it cost 780 to replace a radiator on an 07 sienna?