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Replacing valve cover gaskets on 2001 Mercury Sable

I own a 2001 Mercury Sable that I maintain meticulously. It has just over 32,000 miles on it, is in great shape and I intend to drive it until it drops.

In January this year, I noticed a “hot” or burning smell under the hood, and discovered oil was leaking, apparently from the oil filter (which had been replaced Oct 2011). Took it to the dealer, who said it hadn’t been tightened properly, fixed at no charge to me. On and off since then I smelled the same “hot” odor, so when I took it in last week for it’s 6-month maintenance (oil, oil filter, air filter, check battery/tires, etc.) I mentioned that to the service guy. He called me later to tell me the tech said I needed to replace the valve cover gaskets, the “cam synchro O-ring”, and the upper intake gasket (because they need to go through it to get to the valves). $108.04 for valve cover parts, $61.95 for the intake gasket parts, and $448.31 for labor for a total of $618.30 + taxes and shop costs.

On top of that shock, the tech who worked on my car said I needed a new oil pan gasket - which had just been replaced in April of last year to the tune of >$300. The tech also said I need a coolant flush, brake flush, and power steering flush, all of which were also done last April at the same time the oil pan gasket was replaced. If I do everything the tech says, it will come to $2100 - just a bit less than the car is worth.

I feel I’m being taken for a ride, even though the dealer has treated me fairly over the years.

How serious is the valve cover gasket issue, do they really have to go through the intake to reach the valve covers, and could I really need an oil pan gasket replaced after just 12 months?

Last September someone ran into the right rear of the car while it was parked in a lot and left without leaving any info. Required major work on the right rear fender and rear bumper. Could that have affected the valve cover gaskets, etc.? If so, why wasn’t the damage caught in October?

This is all at a dealership? That’s pretty much what you get. Their goal in life is not to help you take care of your car. Its to sell you as much stuff as possible.

Get the car out of the dealership. Ask around among people you know for a trustworthy locally owned, independent mechanic. There’s little “magic” about any car that will get you better work or knowledge at a dealership. Its often the reverse.

Before you throw money at this car get the PCV valve replaced . With the low mileage on your car that valve is probably plugged and is the cause of the valve cover leak . It may not cure the leak but if the valve isn’t replaced any new gasket will start leaking too .
As far as the flushes - brake fluid - every two or three years . Coolant if it hasn’t been changed at least once since the car was new it absolutely needs changing . The power steering flush is a waste of money .
Find a compétent indépendant mechanic to do the work .

The valve cover gasket is a frequent source of oil leaks on many cars. So your experience isn’t unusual. When this happens on my car (early 90’s Toyota) the first thing I do is tighten the bolts that hold the volve cover. This usually fixes the problem.

If you aren’t a handyman type, don’t do this yourself, as these have to be done with a torque wrench to avoid overtightening. But you might ask the shop to try that and see if it works. Tightening a few bolts shouldn’t cost much. If it doesn’t work, you can bring the car back in and get it properly fixed with new gaskets.

The $600 or so you are being quoted to replace the valve cover gasket set seems a bit on the high side, but I don’t have any experience with your make/model. Some cars are more difficult than others. So it may be ok. (On my car, the gasket set costs about $40-50 as I recall, and it takes me 1.5-2 hours to do the job. That could bring the cost to have a pro-mechanic do it to $250-$350. But that’s my car, yours may be more difficult.)

Beyond checking/replacing the PCV as mentioned above, I wouldn’t do the other things recommended at least until the oil leak was confirmed fixed. Focus on one thing at a time.

The fact that they recommended those other things when they had already been done all of them recently is a cause for concern. Has this shop done a good job for you in the past? If not, maybe ask your friends and co-workers for other recommendations for shops and try one of those out next time.

Thanks to everyone who posted. Today I took it to an independent neighborhood service garage who told me only thing wrong was that the oil that had dripped from the filter previously and that had been dumped during the January oil change had gotten all over the body, and the heat of the exhaust was causing the burning smell. No need to replace valve cover gaskets, oil pan gasket or anything else. Charged me $50 for the mechanic’s time. Batterygal

After reading no further than the end of your original post I had a feeling that you were being yanked around on those leaks. Valve cover and oil pan leaks are not near as prevalent as they used to be back in the day when many were made of cork. It’s not likely that you needed a new pan gasket last April either.

The dealers that do this reflect upon the trade as a whole and it’s disgusting to say the least.
Just my humble opinion, but I think you should carry this one step further. You should write a short and politely worded letter stating what you were told about these issues and what the outcome was when you went to the independent shop. Send this to the owner and/or General Manager of the dealership.
There is a reasonable probability that behind the scenes and unbeknown to you someone involved in those recommendations may get whacked a bit.

Valve cover and oil pan leaks are not near as prevalent as they used to be back in the day when many were made of cork.

Some were a design problem. Not sure WHY my S-15 gaskets leaked all the time. They came with cork gasket…but the second time I replaced them I replaced them with a new gasket from felpro. Still had a problem. After my 5th set of gaskets in two years I went to Cast valve covers. That fixed it.

@batterygal - you only drive 3,000 miles a year? This kind of low use means the oil that leaked stayed around for awhile. Your driving hardly warms up the engine and exhaust enough to burn off the oil. The next time the car goes out for a 2 hour trip on an interstate all your oil will get burned off and no more smells.

Email to general manager, service manager, guy who handled the service call and the guy who is my usual contact is going today. To Uncle Turbo - I only drive 3000 miles a year because I live in a major city where everything I need is within 5 miles of my house, except for the airport, which is 27 miles away. I used to work from home, and am now retired.

Talk to the manager. You are getting soaked. All this is not needed at all. The issues you are worried about should be less than $100 with labor. I would really write to the owner of the dealership. Send him this quote and ask why they are asking to repeat work done last year, work that should last at least 5 years. I have never had a power steering flush and I only have cars 9-17 years old. Never had a rack or power steering issue. The oil pan gasket should never leak at 1 year in age. The intake gasket does not need to be touched at all you have no symptoms to need this and it has nothing to do with the valve cover gaskets, It is easier to replace the intake gasket with the valve covers because the amount of parts in the way of both jobs are similar. But if you do not need it you dont need the intake gaskets.