To fix or to scrap

Hello Car Talk Community,
I have a 2002 Jetta Wagan with 108,000 miles (2.0 5 speed). Started leeking coolant recently. Diagnosis is a bad head gasket – $1500.00 to fix. I’m wondering if it’s worth it. I like the car, but it burns oil and has some other problems (door levers inside). Recently changed the tires and replaced the front suspension, so I’m already in about $1000 bucks over the last few months. WWYD? Repair, or get rid of it and get something new(er).
Thanks for your suggestions.

It is easy to rationalize any decision, you have put enough into it to make a head gasket a reasonable expense unless you are looking at a new vehicle. If you are thinking new go for it, if you are thinking used fix it imho. Do not be afraid to get 2 or 3 quotes for the work needed and you could probably do the door levers if you are at all handy. I suppose my final choice would be to find out why it is burning oil and how much are we talking about?

It wouldn’t be very nice to keep your mouth shut about a failed head gasket

If the burning oil is a result of leaking valve stem seals, those can be done fairly easily at the same time the head gasket is replaced. You would have to get that diagnosed first, of course.

$1500 as a one time expense is a lot less than $600 new car payments each month for the next 5 years. So if you are sure it will do the job, I think it makes sense.

hmmm … So would the $1500 pay for the labor to removing the head, then put it back on, but with a new gasket? It seems like for $1500 that’s about all that could be accomplished as this is a time consuming job probably. The reason I ask is that when a head gasket leaks, it might be an indication that the head has become slightly warped (usually from overheating), and there may be other work needed. Like planning the mating surfaces flat again. Or when the head is removed, a visual inspection may reveal a valve or valve seat needs replacement, or the valve guide seals are shot. Also, it might make economic sense in the long run to replace the timing belt and water pump and associated idlers and seals at the same time. A good idea first to identify exactly what this $1500 covers.

Here’s an idea: If this engine has never overheated, there’s a slight possibility simply re-torqueing the head bolts to spec might seal the leak. For a while at least. Worth a shot maybe. To the pros here: Have you ever tried this to fix a compromised head gasket?

Agree with BarkyDog. A 2002 5sp Jetta wagon is a desirable car, worth fixing if the body is straight and rust-free, but any German car with over 100k is more of a vehicle for a do-it-yourselfer than a pay-someone-to-fix-it person. The oil burning issue is worrisome. If it just needs valve seals while the head is off, that would be great.

@GeorgeSanJose, re-torqueing probably will not work. Most modern engines, especially European makes, use TTY (torque-to-yield) bolts. If they lose their clamping power, they must be replaced.

The part about oil burning and whether or not this oil consumption was caused by any overheating episodes is the great unknown. It has not been stated how bad oil useage actually is.

Maybe what should be done is to run both a dry and wet compression test so as to get a handle on the piston ring situation before wading into any head gasket repair.

Are you saying the TTY bolts have somehow lost their clamping power as it sits? Do bolts relax? So u could replace the bolts and somehow restore the seal at head/block interface without removing head or changing gasket? I did my northstar heads so I know all about this mystical northstar headbolt issue.

Thanks for all your comments! The car has always used oil, but more recently it’s gone way up – about half a quart or more every week to 2 weeks. The car hasn’t overheat, and the temp is really constant, so that hasn’t been a problem. The mechanic is including new timing belt, water pump, tensions in the price when he does the work.

Quit throwing good money away,sell it for scrap or parts-way less aggrevation,I’ve done this too many times in the past-Kevin

You don’t have emissions testing in your area do you? If so, at some point that oil burning could be a problem during testing.

Oil burning can also become a problem even if emissions testing is not an issue as oil can ruin O2 sensors and clog catalytic converters along with causing potential EGR system problems.

Seeing as how this is a done deal, I would strongly recommend that the valve seals be replaced while the cylinder head is off. There is no test for valve seals but they could certainly be a cause of oil consumption also.

Head gasket sets come with new valve seals so they should be taken advantage of. However, most of the time this is not done and the valve seal pack is often chunked into the whatever bin…

We do have emissions testing (VEIP), and it has always passed. It’s quite mysterious: it doesn’t smoke, and it hasn’t leaked, but the oil has been disappearing since I bought it. Much more now, though.

Agree w/OK above, valve guide seals should be replaced. It’s an inexpensive insurance policy. The price seems very reasonable to me since it includes the timing belt/idlers and water pump. Usually a mechanic would replace the front crankshaft and cam seals at the same time. If you have any oil leaks dripping to the ground, good idea to ask for these to be replaced too. Also relatively inexpensive if done at the same time everything is taken apart.

I think the comment above about doing a wet/dry compression test would be a good idea before committing to this work btw. If the oil level has been kept up to full and changed regularly, unlikely for there to be a ring problem, but until the test is done, you never know. And if it needs rings too, then a replacement engine might be the better route. In any event, it sounds like your mechanic is on top of things, and best of luck to you.