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Money blown?

I have a 1998 Nissan Frontier. It had been having some head gasket issues such as puttering and blowing white exhaust. I was driving one day and it died. I had it towed to a mechanic and told them that it may have a bad head gasket. They looked at it and decided it was a bad head gasket. They went in to replace it and found that my cylinder head was severely warped and that I’d need a new head. I paid them $2000 to fix that as well as a new water pump, exhaust manifold and other smaller issues. When I go the truck back, they told me I had some oil blow by and that I’d need to keep an eye on the oil. I did. I drove the truck 350 miles and had to put in 5 quarts of oil to keep it at the right level. Oil was coming out of my exhaust. Now they are saying I have bad rings in one of my cylinders and that I need a new short block. Should they have discovered this when I brought it in? Shouldn’t they have run a compression test? Or am I just S.O.L. and blew $2000?

Was this engine ever overheated?
Was overheating the probable cause of the warped head and blown gasket?
If so, then lots of internal damage could have occurred as a result of overheating.

Should they have run a compression test? Yup!
However, they could only get an accurate reading after doing the repairs to the head and head gasket.

They can’t really get an accurate compression reading on a cylinder(s) with blown head gasket. It seems you ran the motor for some time with knowledge that you had a bad head gasket. Doing so allowed coolant into the cylinder and that can cause more friction on the cylinder walls and it also can pollute the oil. All this makes the inside of the motor more subject to wear, and it appears your rings are worn and perhaps you have gouges in the cylinder walls.

When they pulled the head they didn’t take out any pistons to measure the rings. So, they wouldn’t be able to tell you if they were worn. They might have been able to see a badly scored cylinder wall. Basically the worn rings now show up because the motor is back together and running again.

I think you may be SOL on this one.

They knew, and tried to warn you, when they returned the truck to you that you had an internal cylinder problem. In fairness to then, it can be difficult to determine this before disassembly when the headgasket is already blown. Any compression test will just leak through the headgasket breech.

The real source of the damage was driving the vehicle with the headgasket blown, which was allowing coolant into the cylinder and probably also allowing it to mix with the oil. Sine the head was badly warped, I’m guess that it’s been overheated also, even though you didn’t mention it. That makes everything even worse.

Coolant makes a poor cylinder lubricant. And overheating can cause coking of the oil and gumming up of the oil rings.

IMHO they should have warned you of the risks of simply replacing the head before they began disassembly, assuming they had all the information, but it’s hard from here to say they did anything dishonest.

Some of the most expensive,dissapointing,and questional repairs I have seen involve head or head gasket repairs. There are so many chances for things to go wrong or have less than desirable results that I avoid doing them in most cases.

One cannot run a valid compression test on a specific cylinder that is known to have a head gasket breach. It’s just not possible. I see two things wrong here.

One is that this shop probably should have advised you of a potential problem before doing this work, ASSUMING the shop was aware of the number two point.
Two is that this problem was caused by your continuing to operate the vehicle with a known problem. Coolant is not a lubricant and will wash the cylinder walls and piston rings down while the engine is running. This will chew up rings pretty quickly.

thanks for all the replies. Looks like I’m the dumbass on this one. I appreciate the input.

Don’t be so hard on yourself. Nobody is born with this knowledge, and sometimes it comes with a price.

Sincere best.

I’m in agreement with moutainbike; don’t be hard on yourself.

Just my opinion, but when it comes to a problem like this I think it’s incumbent upon the shop to advise the customer of potential problems like this.
When coolant gets into the combustion chambers or mixes with the oil it can not only chew up piston rings it can also wash out crankshaft bearings, chew up cam lobes and lifters, etc.

This kind of gets back into oldschool’s comment about being leery of performing repairs like this as there are things that simply can’t be known or tested for. Still, the shop should make the customer aware of things like this before wading into a 4 figure repair.

My position is that head or head gasket replacement costs alot of money and these are the repairs I have seen most often go bad after so much money has been put in. I guess next comes timing belt replacements that go bad for what most often turns out to be an error by a mechanic that is still learning. I myself learned on other peoples cars and it is a practice that I think is one of the worst in the industry.

How does a customer know that after they leave the shop that the job does not get turned over to a really new mechanic? and this is not fair to the customer.

I totally agree with you that a head gasket job especially can easily go bad, very bad.
That’s why it’s so important for a shop to know every single detail behind a failed head gasket. By details I mean any history of overheating, whether the car was purchased from new, etc., etc.
An engine that pops gasket quickly due to a brief and one-time overheating episode is, normally, not a worry. Everything else could be and that’s why the shop and customer should be on the same page. That’s often difficult or impossible to do though.

Another Subaru Master Tech I worked with got tied up a real mess along these lines.
Subaru towed in with a gone south water pump. Called customer and under questioning she stated it had never overheated, replace the pump.
Once the pump was replaced the engine turned over about 2 times and locked up. This was due to coolant hydrolock on the left bank of cylinders.
They called her back and grilled her a bit at which time she stated that it HAD overheated but she shut off immediately. She was informed that these details were critical to the repair process and she stuck by this story.

So my cohort replaced both head gaskets, changed the oil (which was pretty clean), and upon startup the engine had a bearing knock that could be heard a block away.

So back to the phones. Under another cross-examination by the prosecution she NOW states the car had been overheating for several months and had actually seized up on her before having it towed to us.
Once informed the engine was trashed she then went on a tirade against the dealer and accused the service dept. of being a bunch of dumb, incompetent twits; followed by having the car towed off and threatening a lawsuit. The entire debacle could have been avoided by giving us the last story first.
(Sigh, another day at the office.) :slight_smile:

We can end by saying to our non-mechanic readers,people who are simply looking for some idea how to procede with fixing their damaged vehicle, not every car/engine is a candidate for a headgasket/head replacement, things should be looked over very carefuly and the mechanic really does not want to put his best effort in and then start the engine and hear a rod knock. Everybody looses when this sort of thing happens.