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Mystery Issue(s) with my 99 Honda Civic

Hello! Hope you are all well!

Just reaching out to see if there is anyone out there could provide insight.

I have a 1999 Honda Civic that I absolutely love. I am less then 400 miles til I reach 200,000 miles and I have had the following replaced:

-catalytic converter
-door locks
-exhaust and manifold
-oxygen sensors
-spark plugs
-belts-- fan, air conditioning, power steering, timing (twice)
-right and left front bearings
-front and rear struts
-water pump (twice)
-all new hoses
-Car has been up to date with oil changes, fluid maintenance, tires and other little maintenance.

Last month, I took my car into the local Honda dealer for an oil change. The service manager called to say the mechanic found that the coolant was a dark brown color and that was an indicator of a possible bad head gasket.

Prior to this, there was no indication that the car was having problems- especially head gasket problems. The car isn’t eminating white smoke from the tailpipe and the only time I had ever had the temperature gauge reach hot was when I was stuck in traffic during a huge snow storm December 2010.

My husband and I decided to create a base line. He took out the coolant tank and purchased a new one. He completely flushed the radiator and the engine with distilled water- he did this three times. He then filled the pump up with brand new coolant and we monitored it to see if any oil crept back in. To this date, a month later, there has been no oil in the coolant. I had the coolant flushed January 2010 (not by Honda) but now my husband seriously doubts that it was done correctly or at all. At this point, we don’t know.

After my car came back from the oil change, I did start to see that when I am in traffic, the temperature gauge will rise up to hot again but once I start to drive, it settles to normal.

Will I need a new head gasket? How will I know? The Honda service manager is telling me that without taking apart the head gasket, there is no way of knowing for sure. My car is still running great so I have no idea what is going on.

Any information/suggestions would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!!


If the temperature rises in traffic you should verify the operation of the cooling fans. They should come on before the gauge shows hot. If the fans are operating properly the gauge really shouldn’t move much at all, regardless of traffic conditions.

Here’s how you test the fans: Start the engine and let it idle. As the engine and coolant reach normal operating temperature the fans should cycle on and off to cool the radiator. If they don’t, there’s a problem. The engine should be able to idle all day and never overheat.

I suggest you continue to monitor the coolant condition and level on a regular basis. If it remains clean and you’re not losing any, the likelyhood of head gasket problems is small.

Replacing a head gasket is not something you want to do on a guess. There are tests to confirm a leaking head gasket, none of which were done by the dealer according to your post.

It’s possible that the overheat in December 2010 could have damaged the head gasket. I’m not saying it did, just that it’s possible.

JC19805, you need to resolve the overheating problem before you do anything else. Then closely monitor the condition of the coolant. Replacing the head gasket without resolving the overheating issue will not solve anything.

My my 1998 Civic, the temperature gauge moves from the bottom to one position, and while the car is in use, it never moves. If the needle on your temp gauge moves at all while the car is in use, even if it never reached the H or the red part of the gauge, your cooling system has a problem that needs to be diagnosed. As long as the cooling system has an issue, fixing anything else is a waste of money.

When your husband drained and refilled the cooling system, did he make sure there were no air pockets? If there’s any air trapped in the cooing system it can cause problems. There may be a bleed screw on the engine to allow any trapped air to escape.

i would start by checking the thermostat. If it is stuck open or mostly closed it will cause those problems. Also check the hoses sometimes the collapse when the get old and restricts the flow.


All of the hoses are new! Did you read?

…and how would a thermostat that is stuck open make the engine overheat?