Blogs Car Info Our Show Deals Mechanics Files Vehicle Donation

Piston Rings/cylinder head gasket

Hello everyone!
I am looking to buy a used Volkswagen, the carfax for this car shows that in March of this year, the piston rings were replaced as was the cylinder head gasket. My questions: what would cause these things to be replaced and, if we are to buy this car, are we walking into a significant problem?

The car is a 2008 model with 43,000 miles. Need a response soon.

Thanks in advance for your help.

The obvious thing is low to zero maintenance. I’d walk. You never know what else was neglected.

Replacing a head gasket isn’t preventative maintenance. Usually something happened for someone to want to tackle that. For instance, it may have overheated and blown a head gasket.
Piston rings is very unusual at 43K.

Are you getting a particularly good deal on this car?
Edit: just noticed mike’s comment above. I agree. Something with those type of problems at that low of mileage can definitely point to neglect.

For instance, it may have overheated and blown a head gasket.

And what caused the overheating??? I’d wager that the fluid was never changed or monitored. Rings are a good sign the oil wasn’t changed at proper intervals (IF AT ALL).

Yeah, I bet you’re right, Mike.
The car may look good and have low mileage but clearly they are hard miles. I’d walk too.

Hey there, thank you for your quick responses. The carfax shows a fairly regular schedule of routine maintenance for this particular car. For example, oil changes every couple of thousand miles but it sounds like if the original owner let the oil let drain down to zero, even once, that could have caused these problems, correct?


That’s not a car you want unless you’re getting it for scrap value.

If the rings and gasket have been replaced, and if all the fluids are maintained religiously, then I assume there should be no problems in the future. Now I know there are no guarantees in life but logically that makes sense,correct?

Now, I should note, we are buying this car from a VW dealership. The car is certified, and comes with a 2 year, 24,000 mile waranty. That reassures me…alittle.

A car that was allowed to run out of oil could have other yet hidden issues. Tread carefully. Is that a full warranty, bumper to bumper, total drive train, etc?
What makes this car so attractive? Is the price particularly good?

My assumption, but I need to check, is the the warranty is indeed bumper to bumper for the first 24 months. Otherwise, the car is in excellent condition. This is a 2008 Eos, hardtop convertible. It is for my daughter, as her first car. According to Edmonds, it is priced alittle below market value. But it’s really the overall condition that makes it attractive.

What other hidden problems could there be?

Thanks again for all of your input.

I’d be worried about hidden engine problems - bearings, things like that. Mechanical things don’t run long without oil and we’re assuming it was allowed to run out of oil because of what they replaced.

It seems like you’re just getting the remaining of the basic warranty, according to the interweb.
Basic (mths/miles): 60/60,000

The powertrain is:
Powertrain (mths/miles):144/unlimited

The power train warranty, will you get that as well? Power train warranty is what will cover the engine and transmission. Not sure what the basic warranty covers.
And if so, will that still be the remaining warranty as well? In that case, you should get about 9 years/unlimited miles. If that includes the engine plus the work they performed, you should be covered. If that car is as good as they say it is and they did the job right, there shouldn’t be a problem giving you 9 years as you’d get 12 years in 2008, when that car was new.
I’d make sure and get that in writing, what’s covered, etc…

If they don’t want to honor the remaining 9 years of the power train warranty, they clearly suspect that something will go wrong or what they did was only a stop gap measure. In other words, they don’t trust the car enough to give you the warranty you’d normally get.
In that case, walk away.

If it was a blown head-gasket and all they replaced were rings and head gasket then I’d be worried. Antifreeze in the oil pan that may have circulated into the bearings is NOT good.

I ALWAYS suspect abuse when I hear of a vehicle with so low miles having a problem like this. It’s one thing if you knew for a fact what the story was…but you don’t. So assume the worse and walk.

While the powertrain warranty may be excellent, the apparent neglect could void it if you have problems with the engine. Let’s say you need a new engine in a year or two because the oil was rarely changed. If the evaluation shows that there is excessive wear due to neglect, you could rightly be denied warranty service whether you ignored proper maintenance or not. You should explore this issue with the dealership before you buy the car. You need to know why the rings and head gasket were replaced in order to determine if this car is a good risk.

Years ago engine rebuilding was much more common that it is today. Even back then, when many mechanics had the proper skills to rebuild engines correctly, it was not uncommon to see a rebuilt engine fail early.

Today it’s difficult to know the skills of the person who replaced the piston rings, because fewer mechanics possess good engine rebuilding skills. Were the cylinder walls properly mic’d and checked for scores and taper? Were the ring gaps checked, or bearing tolerance plastic gauged? And the list goes on…

And, aside from the mechanic skills, was there financial pressure to simply reassemble the engine with as little work and few new parts as they could get away with (to increase profit on the resale)?

Whenever I hear the bottom of an engine was opened up for repair, red flags go up all over.

As others have stated, I would walk away - in a heartbeat.

You’ve gotten good advice to walk away from this thing. Replacing piston rings and a head gasket at such a low mileage points to abuse of some sort.

Replacing piston rings does not automatically mean that everything will be fine in the top end as there are a number of things that can go wrong.
Poor honing job, cylinder wall scoring, cylinder tapering and out of round, ring (or rings) installed upside down, metallurgical problems in the cylinder wall due to severe overheating, etc, etc.
Pick your poison.

Hey again, everyone… Can’t tell you how much I appreciate your input, comments and advice. We’ll be talking with a family member who’s a mechanic tomorrow for a final gut check. Then, I’ll have the conversation with the dealership about the warranty. Appreciate your help. Will keep you posted on our final decision.

Can your family member give it a prepurchase inspection? Does he have the tools to check it thoroughly? I’m thinking about cylinder pressure, for instance, since the engine had severe problems.

I would guess the piston rings were replaced in an attempt to address an oil consumption complaint. If so then I think the car is now on the used car market because the customer was never satisfied. This car does not have a clean record, choose another one.

FYI, in order to replace the rings, the head gasket also HAS to be replaced, the the initial issue with this engine was no doubt the rings. It would be nice if you could get an explanation on why it needed a ring job.

Back in 1962, I bought a 1955 Pontiac from a Rambler dealer whose service department had overhauled the engine. I was replacing my 1947 Pontiac that I had bought for $75 a year earlier. I thought I was getting a good car, but that turned out not to be the case. I think the reason for the overhaul was that an oil filter was an option on the 1955 Pontiac and the one I purchased did not have this option. I had an ongoing problem with sludge getting up into the mounting studs for the rocker arms and then the oil would stop flowing through the hollow studs and the ball mounted rocker arms would make a terrrible chirping noise. I never was able to completely solve the problem. I fitted an oil filter from the salvage yard and changed the oil religiously. My guess is that the previous owner did not do regular oil changes and that, coupled with the lack of the oil filter, caused the engine to need an overhaul at a relatively low mileage. In addition, I don’t think that the mechanic that did the overhaul did the best possible job. I did have a piston slap on one of the cylinders. Fortunately my dad was ready to replace his 1954 Buick, which even with 120,000 miles ran quite well and used no oil. We traded cars and he got a better trade-in allowance for the Pontiac at the same Rambler dealer where I bought the car than he would get for the Buick.
My recommendation from my experience is to run away from this VW. My dad always said, “There are plenty of cars available”. You can do better.