Need Camry Head Gasket Help!

I just replaced the head gasket on my '96 Camry 2.2L four-cylinder (175,000 miles) and it’s back to it’s bad habits after just a couple hundred miles. It’s consuming coolant at an alarming rate! It’s not yet puking oil into the intake tract and billowing smoke like crazy (as it did in the latter stages before I replaced the gasket), but it probably will if I keep driving it. What is going on? Is this motor just unstable? Is there some other way that coolant could be getting into a cylinder or escaping from the engine such that I can’t see any evidence of it? If the new head gasket is bad already and a cylinder is sucking coolant, WHAT DID I DO WRONG??? I really need to sell this car, but I can’t sell it like it is. Could the head be warped? Should I have had it checked/machined flat? Does this engine have some weakness that I need to know about?

Yes, you should have checked it for flatness, either you or someone else. That’s a routine procedure. Did you clean the head bolt threads in the block using a tap? Did you check the head bolts for stretching? If they are torque to yield head bolts, did you replace them? Did you scrape the block deck and head surface clean?

The head may have gotten warped. If this is the case the head will need machined, and or replaced, also it should be checked for cracks.

If the car is still in excellent shape a better option may be a used engine. This one sounds like its gone through hell.

I should add that just before I replaced the head gasket, the oil was cleary emulsified with coolant – thick-n-pastey, tan colored – and was getting pumped into the intake tract between the air filter and the throttle body. And, for what it’s worth, I used a Fel-Pro gasket. One wierd thing about this engine is that the head torque spec says to torque it to 36 ft-lbs + 90 degrees. What the heck is that? I mean, I did it, but why would a torque setting be specified like that? Whatever happened to “75 ft-lbs?”

I’m praying to God that I don’t have to replace that dag-nabbed gasket again. What a nightmare. On a four-cylinder, no less. What a freaking nightmare. Toyota clearly has absolutely NO concern whatsoever about the servicability of their vehicles. I think they’re still really miffed about WWII.

  • 90 degrees is a torque to yield head bolt and they cannot be reused. You must use new ones.

Many newer engines, especially with aluminum heads, use torque to yield head bolts.

I wrote out a thorough reply to your comments, only to have it DISAPPEAR when I hit “submit.” Let’s try this again, briefly.

AlanY: I cleaned the bolt threads meticulously and yes, I tapped out the bolt holes in the head. Oiled the bolt threads before insertion. Didn’t check the bolts for stretch as the near-useless Haynes manual I have didn’t mention it. Yes, I cleaned the block and head surfaces meticulously and also cleaned the piston tops and combustion chambers. And FWIW, I used a Fel-Pro gasket. Before I started it up I ran a cold compression check and it came out 195, 189, 187, 197. Not bad, huh? I was impressed.

americar: As you implied, the engine did overheat once or twice, possibly warping the head. Shoulda had it checked. Rats. With the compression as good as it is, I’m inclined not to suffer the expense and headache of replacing the motor. Hope it’s not necessary. If we assume the head is warped, would you guys recommend getting a replacement, or would you trust this one if I get it machined flat and checked for cracks?

Finally, are you guys confident that the head gasket seal is the root problem? Are you sure that I need to tear into this [expletive deleted] engine again and re-do the whole thing?

Thanks for your help, fellas.

Thanks for the info. Now I have yet one more new-fangled, hyper-technical, tedious, costly advancement to hate: torque-to-yield bolts. I wonder what they cost. A hundred dollars apiece? A one-use bolt. What crap.

Screwed that job up good, didn’t I? Didn’t machine the head, didn’t use new head bolts. No reason to expect that gasket to stay sealed.

What a pain-in-the-arse job.

Where’s my pistol? I only need one round.

“I wonder what they cost. A hundred dollars apiece? A one-use bolt. What crap.”

About $20.00 for a hole set.

Yes, you should have checked the head for flatness while you had it off. You should also have checked the intake manifold mating surfaces, both on the head and on the manifold, because that’s another way for coolant to get into the combustion chamber. Inspect the water passages carefully, it’s possible that the aluminum has deteriorated to where the gasket can’t seal the surfaces.

Crack in the head or block?

At this mileage and with that problem, it could be time for a newer car. It is nice to know that you want to sell the car, but is it worth it to try getting top dollar by non-fixing it yourself without any training? You did a good amount of work well, but the skipped steps are hurting you. If you fix it right, it will cost almost what the car is worth, especially with the money and time that has already been invested. You have gone over the line that separates profit from loss. Try to get $300 for it without wasting any more time or resources.

Americar: you’re right. I got a new set of head bolts a Kragen for $23. Not bad.

hd72mm: You nailed it!! You get the prize today! (Actually, as I look back, I see that Americar also said I should have had the head checked for leaks, so you two get to share the prize.) I took the head back off and had it pressure-checked and sure enough, the head is cracked, allowing coolant to get into the intake manifold. Bought a rebuilt head for $377, confiscatory CA sales tax included. That’s a good lesson. If you have a coolant consumption problem, don’t assume it’s the head gasket. Have the head pressure-checked, too – especially with aluminum heads.

Pleasedodgevan: What in the world are you talking about??? Total cost: $570.

Two head gaskets: $116
Head bolts: $23
Pressure check: $54
Rebuilt head: $377

" . . . Over the line that separates profit from loss"??? KBB private party value for a '96 Camry in good condition is $3450. That’s ll.5 times the $300 you recommend that I sell it for, unrepaired. While the repair time IS costing me my time, I’m not paying anyone for it. All it’s “costing” me is the loss of the other non-paying chores and activies that I would otherwise be doing. You know, the “opportunity cost.” In the economic calculus of DIY, it’s not valid to make calculations as though Joe Homeowner is getting paid full shop wages – or is PAYING full shop wages – for his DIY time investment. You are clearly comparing apples with oranges here.

Unless . . . unless what you actually meant was, “If you PAY SOMEONE ELSE to fix it right . . . ,” which, um, ISN’T GOING TO HAPPEN. And in which case you should have said, “if you PAY SOMEONE ELSE to fix it right,” rather than, “if YOU fix it right.”

“Without any training”??? Please. Your self-importance is oozing out of your pores. Actually, I take that back. I think what you’ve done here is just make the mistake of overstatement that is common in everyday speech and discourse. Reminds me of how marriage counselors very frequently advise people not to use accusatory terms of absoluteness such as, “you always . . . ,” and “you never . . . .” I think what you meant was not that I don’t have ANY training, but that I don’t have the full compliment of training experiences that a modern, professional mechanic would have. And that’s very true, of course. But it doesn’t mean that I can’t get the job done. I may have to back up a few times, but I can get the job done.

The “skipped steps” are and were easy to remedy. Once I got over the mental resistance to doing the job again, it was all pretty easy. Because I don’t do this every day, the first time around took a lot longer than the second time did. I actually timed both, and the second time took only half as long as the first. Not a bad improvement, huh?

I think it’s worth noting that I spoke with two professional mechanics about this problem before I started, and neither one of them mentioned getting the head pressure-checked for leaks. They both said the head gasket was bad. One of them said that Toyotas are notorious for having head gaskets go bad. (Funny, I’ve read here on this site the same thing about Saturns.) Both of them are top-notch guys that I really respect. Just goes to show that not every mechanic will necessarily think of everything on every given day. Notice that I didn’t say " on ANY given day." I said, “on EVERY given day.”

Had either one of them said, “Make sure you have the head pressure-checked because today’s light, aluminum heads are more prone to cracking than the heavy, cast iron heads of yesteryear,” I would have found the root problem the first time around and I never would have made my original post – this discussion would not have taken place.

I still say we should have a Constitutional Amendment prohibiting non-reusable head bolts. How unbelievably stupid.

Had either one of them said, “Make sure you have the head pressure-checked because today’s light, aluminum heads are more prone to cracking than the heavy, cast iron heads of yesteryear,” I would have found the root problem the first time around and I never would have made my original post – this discussion would not have taken place.
Very possible but you still might have had to redo the job because of the torque-to-yield head bolt issue - unless they saw fit to mention that too. In any case, you certainly gained valuable experience and learned a lot, albeit a bit painfully.

thats a 3 hour job,and it is easy to work on,whats with the WW2 crap.?

Yip. I learned several valuable facts. 1) Aluminum heads are more prone to cracking and warping than the cast iron heads of yesteryear, so S.O.P. is to pressure check and “flatness check” the head any time you have any kind of head problem. Don’t assume the problem is the gasket or anything else, and don’t skip this step in the name of saving time or money – that’s a false economy. 2) Al. heads often use “torque-to-yield” head bolts, so replace ‘em if that’s what you have. 3) Shop manuals made by the British company “Haynes” are more useless than even I previously believed – and that’s sayin’ somethin’. (My Camry manual by Haynes recommends cleaning the old head bolts before you reuse them. But then, what would you expect from a buncha Europeans? Are you aware that the word “European” is a contraction and formalization of the phrase, “you are a peon?” Heh heh.) 4) CarTalk is full of great guys who’ve been around the block a few times and really know what they’re talking about. I can’t tell you fellas how much I appreciate every last one of you taking the time to respond and help me out by sharing your wisdom. 5) Since I’m not a professional mechanic with, as Pleasedodgevan was getting at, all the extensive training that any pro has and needs these days, the next time I have a major repair job staring me in the face, I need to sign on to CarTalk BEFORE I start it and get any recommendations concerning the latest technology, practices and procedures. Sheeesh!

Thanks fellas!

Parenthetically, I’m guessing that torque-to-yield bolts stretch and act like rubberbands – and don’t need to be re-torqued again. Ya know how we used to re-torque head bolts after 500 miles or whatever on old Detroit iron? I’m guessing that torque-to-yield bolts are used in a lot of OHC and especially DOHC engines in which the cam gear blocks access to the head bolts. It actually makes sense, 'cause who wants to remove the dern cams just to re-torque the head bolts??? The only problem being, of course, that the metalurgical properties of such bolts allow the stretch to occur only once – and it’s permenant – thus they cannot be reused. I’m just guessing here. It’s also true that paying $25 for a new set of bolts that don’t have to be re-torqued is a lot cheaper and/or less painful than having to go in and actually re-torque the heads – regardless of whether a pro is doing it or Joe Homeowner is doing it.

Representative Herbertificus: So Mr. Speaker, with your permission I’d like to revise and extend my remarks. I’d like to offer a motion that my Bill concerning the Prohibition Of Torque-To-Yield Head Bolts be tabled, and that all time earmarked for discussion of said Bill be re-allocated to my Bill concerning the Prohibition Of Europeans.

Representative Curmudgeon: Mr. Speaker, I second the motion.

Speaker: Without objection, the House will call for a voice vote on the motion before it.

[Uproarious cheering and applause.]

Speaker: It appears the “Yeas” have it. The motion is carried and time so re-allotted.