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Repair Head gasket vs replace engine?

Looking for sound advice… here’s the scoop:

Background: A '97 Eagle Talon Tsi AWD Turbo with 85350 KM - never had any issues with it.

On the highway, my car overheated, 300 miles from home I took my car to the first shop. Mechanic said head gasket - “I can smell it; sorry I’m backed up for for 2 weeks” we did a quick air lock test and he said “yeah, head gasket.” I gotta get home…

So I take it another shop: they say it may not be a head gasket so I ask them to do some tests… like a leak down test…

Shop conduct (or outsources) an oil analysis, a “sniff” test etc… and they assure me that it’s not the head gasket they haven’t found any coolant in the oil. good… but they don’t know why it overheats. I ask them to replace the thermostat and flush the rad. I try to drive home…

20 min out of the town I’m stuck in the car starts to over heat. The coolant went into the overflow, boiling. I call the shop and they say to bring it back. it overheats at highway speeds - fine in the city…

I leave the car and leave town… got to get back to work. the shop FINALLY performs a leak down and determines it’s a head gasket. confidence with the shop isn’t high at the moment…

They said they are going to provide some options in a few days

two questions and advice:

  1. repair vs replace the engine? I suppose it depends on the scope of repair - my sense is that the head gasket just starting to go and the car engine likely isn’t warped.

  2. Do I trust these guys? or take the business to another shop (remember, I doing this remotely: My car is 300 miles away)

Advice: should I give these guys a hard time for an incorrect diagnostic?

Based on their hit an miss analysis, I would say don’t trust them. Head gasket breeches are relatively easy to detect if you know what you are doing. Several posters here would have guessed right without even seeing the car.

If you can find a competent shop, go there. The standard charge for a head gasket repair is somewhere between $900 and $1200 for a compact 4 cylinder engine. But it takes good skill to get the sufaces prepared right. Therefore a GOOD shop is essential.

Did you try Mechnics Files above to see if there is a better shop in the area?

If a head gasket was the cause of overheating the problem would occur all of the time; not just on the open road.

Overheating on the highway could be due to:
Clogged radiator. Flush the radiator may or may not help.
Inoperative cooling fans.
Missing air dam underneath the lower radiator support. If this is missing the engine will overheat at highway speeds and engine temps will remain normal in city driving.

AIr dams are often knocked off by curbs or animal strikes on the road and air dams are especially critical on cars with small frontal areas such as yours.

@Docnick the shop would outsource machinist work. what I hearing you say is research the shop, get a good one and REPAIR the head gasket, not replace…

@knfenimore‌ in Canada, so N/A for the files…

@ok4450‌ interesting… I can ask them to check… shouldn’t be too hard to look… a little confused as your assessment is counter to the leak down test result, yet consistent with the oil analysis…

here’s what confuses me… oil analysis checks out, but the leak down suggests head gasket…
any other ideas? or next steps before committing to a course of action?


Agee. When I had head gasket problems, it would be better on the highway than in town. Radiator, collapsed hose? I dunno, I’d really just try to get it home. If if doesn’t heat up in town, take the back roads and drive it home slow to a shop you can trust-or even tow it.

Two bad leak down tests plus “boiling” (much more likely to be exhaust fumes bubbling up) in the overflow tank say bad head gasket to me.

Lack of coolant in the oil is irrelevant. It simply means coolant isn’t leaking into the oil passages. It does NOT mean that coolant isn’t leaking into the cylinders. All other signs suggest that is in fact what’s happening.

^ This thread is three months old and the OP is likely gone.

“This thread is three months old and the OP is likely gone.”

That’s true, @jesmed1, but when somebody wants to post advertising spam, this is the type of thing that they do!

@vdcdriver, oops, your eagle eyes are sharper than mine. :wink:

Nice catch, jesmed, and nice deduction VDC.
A tip of the hat to you both.

Yep, got a cargo carrier full of Japanese engines just shipped in so need to stimulate sales a little.

Personally though, I don’t like opening up old engines and would rather go with a rebuilt long block from a reputable rebuilder. I dunno about used. Maybe if you can determine the quality.

True when there’s lower end damage, Bing, but in this case it’s a headgasket.
To answer the original question: I’d go elsewhere. And unless something unexpected pops up when the head gets pulled, I’d just replace the headgasket.