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Repair or Replace

Own a 1999 Mercury Villager in relatively good shape – no rust. Last year I had major engine work done that started with new engine mounts and the replacement of a leaking oil pan gasket. At that time when I had about 152,000 mile on the vehicle, they also replaced the head gaskets, the head bolts, the thermostat, the water pump the belts, and general tune up. They assured me that the engine would be good for another 150,000 miles. A year later almost to the day, the car is dying and bucking in slow traffic during the two miles between the interstate exit and the mechanic’s shop, so I pull in. He calls this morning to inform me that I have a cracked head and the tab will be $2,600 to repair (Heads $1,200). The car has never overheated and I have checked the antifreeze regularly.

I have been told by other Villager drivers that they have driven the vans over 200,000 mile, one said over 300,000. I’m a senior with limited income. Not certain what I might find for $3,000 and know that I would probably have to buy tires for a new used vehicle plus other unknown repairs since something in my price range would come as is. Should I repair it? If not, what price range am I looking at for a reliable replacement? I really like the Villager because I have a lower back problem and the seats of most sedans are too low. Thanks.

was your head gasket bad when they first replaced it? or was it a preventative fix. same question about t-stat and water pump. was timing belt/chain changed at that time too?

You should definitely get it out of there and get a second opinion. Something isn’t right.

I’m also wondering what the reason was for all that work last year. Can you describe why it was done?

A cracked cylinder head is a diagnosis that is thrown around a bit too freely so a diagnosis like that is always a bit my opinion.

Exactly what kind of diagnosis have they done to arrive at the cracked head conclusion? This should all be explained in detail to your satisfaction.

For what it’s worth and maybe not much, I’ve been a mechanic for 40 years and can count on one hand the number of cracked heads I’ve ever seen. Even then the cracks were irrelevant to engine operation.
I’ve also seen a number of problems blamed on “cracked heads” and the causes of those problems often turned out to be something much, much simpler and cheaper.

Wished I could be of more help and at this point I would advise not blindly wading into that repair.

In hindsight, I may have been suckered. The timing belt was replaced a 115,000 miles. Planning to die before it needs to be replaced again.

Last year my original problem had nothing to do with the engine running poorly. Had a leaking oil pan and was told else
where that I needed the motor mounts replaced. The check engine light had been on since I bought the car from a acquaintance at about 92,000 miles. She had been told and I was later told by reputable shops that it was the knock sensor and not to worry about it.

The shop where the van is now and where it was repaired last year claims to do a 72 point safety check and a complete diagnostic. Can’t recall why the said the head gaskets needed replacing, but since I was about to leave on an extended trip I took them at their word. I pass the shop most days and they appear to stay busy. They replaced the knock sensor since they had the engine apart. The check engine light came on before I had driven two miles from the shop. They checked it again, replaced the MAP sensor, and reset the computer. Engine light came on again. Checked it again and told me it was safe to drive, that it must be a wire and they would check if I could leave it with them, but I put it off for several reasons – mainly unplanned surgery.

Head diagnostic currently according to them is because of moisture in the tailpipe. I checked the coolant tank last Saturday and it was at the full line.

I appreciate the helpful advice. I don’t know enough to be dangerous.

claims to do a 72 point safety check

Just curious. Is this a repair/tire/lube chain shop of any type?

Not a national franchise. Locally owned group of three shops that advertise they do it all, both engine and transmission, using ASE certified mechanics. With all the work they did, I’m told the fuel filter was not changed and needs to be replaced.

wish I could help. something seems fishy…

From your repair history with this shop, which is very fishy and disconcerting, I would take it to another shop for proper diagnosis 1st.

Thanks all. It’s at another shop with a five star rating on Car Talk. Checked and it has lost antifreeze since I checked it last Saturday. It hadn’t before and has never overheated. New shop is testing for a leak before assuming the worst…

I’m sorry to have to say this, but you got screwed big time. They sucked you into the “72 point [let’s find ways to get money out of the customer] check”, then did a whole bunch of very expensive and unnecessary work, apparently not properly. Don’t fall for these gimmicks.

First of all, timing belts do not need periodic changing. They usually last the life of the engine. Those that do not tend to last upwards of 200,000 miles.

An oil pan leak could easily have been just a clogged PCV valve. As a matter of fact, oil on the oil pan bottom is more often than not migrating there from a weeping front main seal. Worst case, if it actually is weeping through the oil pan gasket it’s meaningless as long as you monitor your oil level, which you should be doing anyway. I have a usual dissertation on this subject involving crankcase pressure due to blowby, the fact that the oil level in the pan is below the gasket level, etc. etc., but you’ve suffered enough so I’ll spare you.

If you had a blown headgasket you’d know it. The cylinder(s) would be pumping hot exhaust gasses into the water jacket with every combustion, and the engine would be over heating. Cooling systems are not designed to dissipate that much heat. And you’d be losing coolant, because the cylinder(s) would be drawing it into the engine with every intake stroke.

For the record, a knock sensor if bad should not be ignored. It prevents preignition, which can damage the engine, and if it needs to be used too much it triggers a fault code telling you that the cause of the preignition needs to be checked out.

Honestly, I’d get the van out of that shop.

"First of all, timing belts do not need periodic changing. They usually last the life of the engine. Those that do not tend to last upwards of 200,000 miles. "

We know you didn’t mean that, did you?

You definitely need a second opinion, moisture in the tailpipe is not diagnostic of anything. When you burn gasoline, water is the result. Antifreeze in the tailpipe is a problem but that alone could be a faulty gasket- perhaps the gasket they replaced. Any competent shop that replaced the head gasket and didn’t check the heads for straightness or cracks is lazy or incompetent. I suspect their head gasket job was botched and now they are telling you the head is cracked, although if your head was warped and not surfaced they could have cracked it when they (over) torqued it.

The 3.3L Villiager has a timing belt and it is an interference engine. Gates says the replacement interval is 105,000 miles. I will assume that the timing belt should be replaced every 7 years if that is shorter than the time to reach 105,000 miles since my Accord also has a 105,000 mile timing belt replacement interval along with the 7 year caveat. But if the water pump really did need replacement, you might as well do the timing belt while you are in there.

I believe TSM above meant to say timing chains, not “belts”.

“moisture in the tailpipe is not diagnostic of anything. When you burn gasoline, water is the result”

That brings back memories of my childhood!

My father used a young indy mechanic who really seemed to know his stuff.
Unfortunately, the mechanic’s father was the “gas jockey”, and knew only enough about cars to be dangerous and to get customers upset with his bogus diagnoses.

I can distinctly recall that, on a few occasions, the mechanic’s father told my father that our Plymouth was suffering from “mersture in da’ muffler”, and that this was a very bad thing.
(For those who speak English, he was saying something about moisture in the exhaust system)

When my father finally consulted with the mechanic son, he essentially said to ignore everything that his father said.

Thanks Guys. You’re right. I meant to say chains. Now, once again, I need to get my foot extracted from my mouth.

Combustion is the process of hydrocarbon molecules (HC, which is what gasoline is made of) separating and bonding themselves to the oxygen atoms in the air. The carbon atoms in the HC molecules bond with the oxygen to form carbon monoxide (CO) and carbon dioxide (CO2). The hydrogen atoms in the HC bond to the oxygen atoms and form H2O (yup, water). It then gets carried in the exhaust stream to the outside world. If the exhaust system is cool, or the exhaust stream not sufficiently hot, the water will condense on the metal. Some will drip out the tailpipe, some will drip out of the “weep hole” that muffler manufacturers often put in their mufflers to allow the condensation to drain and prevent rotting.

Water out of the tailpipe is normal, as long as it’s clear.

“Head diagnostic currently according to them is because of moisture in the tailpipe”

Not a very scientific way to diagnose a vehicle . . .

“Not a very scientific way…” is a polite way of saying hokey as hxxx. :slight_smile:

“hokey as hxxx” is a polite way of saying…
oh, never mind! {:stuck_out_tongue: