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Leaking head gaskets - dealership to blame (even a little bit?)

hi all. my 1995 4Runner (4x4, V6, 105k miles) overheated (complete with burning smell, loud humming engine noise and smoke) a month ago while I was driving. had it towed to the local dealership (I’m new in town and didn’t know where else to go); they said the engine temperature sensor was bad and that was causing coolant to boil over (hence the smoke and burning smell); so they replaced it and also decarbed the induction system (the engine had been straining whenever I turned on the a/c, they thought this would help that issue). when I got my truck back, I noticed that the engine was running really rough/loud. the dealership employee assured me it had been checked out/was repaired/was fine. ok then.

fast forward one month: it’s been running ok but still LOUD. the other day, I am driving and while stopped at a light, notice that the engine is revving. then I notice that the temperature gauge is in the red zone. so I drive to a nearby mechanic, who checks it out and says that both head gaskets are blown and are leaking coolant (as an aside, in 1998 I had the head gaskets replaced pursuant to a recall). now, I know that head gaskets should last a long time but will fail if the car is running hot. I think the dealership screwed up somehow. they either missed the issue with the head gaskets the first time, or the new temp. sensor they installed is defective? I’ve had the car towed back there - not because I trust them at all, but because I want them to pay for at least part of what is going to be an expensive repair. anyhow, do you think their “fix” contributed to the present issue? and also, the truck is 16 years old, it’s in really good shape otherwise (I’m the original owner and had a really great mechanic take care of it over the years until I moved recently to a new state) - when do you stop paying $$$ into an old car and cave and get a new one? (I"ve never bought a car in my life, if you can’t tell, and I’d prefer not to start now!)

long message - if you are still reading, thanks!

The dealerships work did not contribute to your engine overheating. Considering that you were able to drive the truck for a month with no overheating I’d say that the head gaskets were not leaking at the time you initially took it to the dealership. When you noticed that the temp gauge was in the red you decided to drive to a mechanic. This was a bad idea, you should have stopped and turned off the engine immediately. I’d say that you are completely responsible for all repair costs at this point. The truck is 15 years old but has relatively low miles, if it is in good condition otherwise, I’d fix the head gaskets.

thanks for your reply. I did continue driving, partly because unlike the previous incident this time there was no smoke/burning smell/weird sound, and partly because the mechanic was about a mile away. one of my reasons for casting aspersions on the dealership is that when I got the car back from them, the engine was running unusually loud. I mentioned this to them, but they just blew off my concerns. I should’ve pushed the issue harder, but I am a very busy and very distracted grad student (my fault, not theirs). anyhow, I will wait to hear what they have to say, I guess

The issue is that the truck made loud noises only after it overheated, that it never made before, and it continued to make these noises after the problem that caused the truck to overheat was repaired.
What the dealership missed is that something was damaged when the truck was overheated, causing a loud noise that you noticed, and that should have been addressed as part of the truck’s overall repair when you brought the truck in. The noise could have been a failing water pump bearing or a damaged piston, or whatever. It doesn’t really matter, no mechanic should ever undertake a repair that repairs the cause of engine damage without repairing the damage! What should have happened is the dealer should have put together the cost for the complete repair for your truck and given you the option to repair the car at the cost for the complete repair or to give up on the truck. Your dealer didn’t do this. They made the truck able to run poorly for a little while and charged you for a repair that left you with a truck ready to fail.