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Why can't I get a good mechanic?!

What is wrong with me?

I recently had a car which I suspected had a failing head gasket, mechanic fixed a bunch of other stuff and used up my entire budget for a head gasket, told me all was well, drove off and a few months later got stranded in Big Timber, MT with a blown head gasket. I KNEW it was a head gasket issue, but as far as I could tell, they didn’t even do a chemical test for emissions in the coolant. I foolishly thought that I must have been wrong. After all, I took it in to an expert for repairs. What do I know?

Now I have a dodge durango. Soon after I bought it my water pump failed. No biggie, it can happen pretty much without warning. Got it replaced, paid the mechanic and went on. I started noticing I was loosing coolant pretty quickly. Took it into another garage for a complete coolant flush and had them check for leaks. They put the system under pressure and found no leaks. Said the system was full. Ok. I must have been reading the dip stick wrong?

A few days ago I was driving along and got an overheat warning. Turned off the air conditioner, and got the temp back down. Found the reservoir bone dry. Bought some coolant and noticed a faint antifreeze smell around the radiator cap.

Certainly they replaced the radiator cap when they changed the water pump. CERTAINLY if they hadn’t they would have when they did the flush. CERTAINLY they would have inspected the cap when they were looking for leaks … right?

Well, no. The interior gasket, the one which keeps the coolant inside the radiator was badly warped. You’d THINK somewhere along the lines they’d have at least LOOKED AT THE FRIGGIN CAP!?


First off what year model and engine are we discussing here? And are you complaining that the radiator failed or the head gasket? If your engine is a Mopar V-8 a blown headgasket is quite unlikely. I have never seen a blown headgasket on a Mopar V-8 and I have seen them with valves stuck in the top of pistons that had been molten from heat when the engine stalled.

Rod, read his post. It’s pretty clear that he is talking about the gasket which is part of the radiator cap.

LOL. Yeah. I am :slight_smile: The rubber seal on the cap was warped, causing an evaporative leak.

Needless to say, consistantly running it low on coolant probably didn’t help the old water pump’s condition either.

Thanks melott. I let myself get lost in the thread.

In all seriousness, what can I do to make sure this kind of stuff doesn’t happen? The head gasket failure in my previous vehicle in particular was troubling for me.

The least they could have done was run an emissions test on the coolant. They replaced the MAF and a few other things, which is great I suppose. I know that the MAF is very important. But in the order of what’s essential to having a car run, not having coolant in the combustion chamber probably should take priority.

IDK. If someone says to me that they suspect a head gasket problem and that they only have $1000 to work with, I’d make certain that there is no problem with the head gasket.

I feel like I can never really get mechanics to do work. I don’t mind spending a bit of money on diagnostics, you’d think that they wouldn’t have a problem taking it.

The only way to hedge your odds is to ask everyone you know, family, coworkers, friends, people you meet at work, all who they recommend and who the suggest avoiding… and why. There’s no absolute way to guarantee a good shop. The best you can do is try to improve your odds by getting as much information from others as possible.

Even I’ve gotten screwed on occasion.
And about six or eight months ago I was with a friend who got a “song and dance” that she needed a new engine. She didn’t. The mechanic’s explanations made no sense, I explained to her why, and she had him replace the part I recommended and drove away. The car has run great ever since. And that was about 20,000 miles ago.

I wish I had a better answer. But I’ve never found one.

You check the coolant with a dipstick? When did Dodge start his?

The radiator cap is NOT routinely replaced with the water pump, or when you flush the system. [quote=“shawn_kearney, post:1, topic:94735”]
CERTAINLY they would have inspected the cap when they were looking for leaks … right?

This they should have done.

In the second generation Dakota/first generation Durango. The overflow tank was opaque black plastic and mounted on the front of the radiator support panel. There was a dipstick attached to the cap for measuring coolant level.

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I’m glad you posted that information. I thought you were being outrageously sarcastic.

I’ve never run across this either. I’d like to have a long talk with the idiot engineer who specified this.

I wouldn’t fault the shop for not checking the radiator cap on your Durango when they replaced the water pump. There’s no reason the water pump failure would be associated with the radiator cap, so that’s not part of a routine water pump replacement job. When you noticed coolant loss later, at that point, presuming a visual inspection for leaks didn’t show anything, they’d usually pressure test the cooling system and test the cap. But where testing the cap comes in the sequence of possibilities, that varies shop to shop. I expect they are trying to save you $$$ by not testing every possibility, but focusing on the most likely culprits.

All that said, it can be difficult to find a really good shop. It isn’t just the mechanic that needs to be good, it has to be the entire shop. The shops need the best diagnostic equipment in order that the mechanic can do a proper diagnosis. And diagnostic equipment can be very expensive, and they often need a different version for different cars.

One idea, there just aren’t any good shops in your area. Not an uncommon thing in rural areas. If you live in an area with sizeable population, very likely there are some excellent shops there. You can’t find them with the yellow pages or social media though, you’ve got to ask your trusted sources. Friends, relatives, co-workers, you local auto parts guy you’ve been doing business with for years. Come up w/a list from that, then interview each shop to see if their philosophy matches up w/your expectations.

I prefer a shop philosophy where I agree to spend more now, in order to save me money in the long run. I’d rather pay more, considerably more even, for an oil filter, if it does a better job in other words. Or if the water pump was being replaced, I’d want the shop to ask me if I wanted the cooling system flushed, pressure tested, the belts changed out too. Whatever was easy to do as part of replacing the water pump in other words. In fact I’d be happy if they just did that as a routine course of a water pump, and didn’t ask me, except to show me the bill. But not everything wants it that way. Good idea to communicate to your shop what your philosophy about it is.

And I prefer a shop that specializes in the make/model/year of car I need serviced, not a shop that services every make/model/year. For example, if I pull into a shop with my 70’s truck, and they say they don’t service vehicles with carburetors, I’ll know that’s probably a good shop to consider to take my Corolla, which is fuel injected. A shop that services both carb’ed and fuel injected vehicles, I’d be a little dubious.

If you’d like to read how some really good shops do the work, suggest to review some of the past “Hot Rod to the Rescue” articles in Hot Rod magazine. They use among the best shops in the nation for that, and really experienced mechanics. However, you take your vehicle to one of those shops with a minor problem, you might come back to find the engine in pieces on the shop floor, and the head being skimmed to within 1/10,000th accuracy. And a bill in the thousands of dollars. You pay your money and you takes your chances I guess. Best to us a shop that matches up w/your philosophy.

The stick for the coolant no doubt for a non-pressurized overflow bottle and one doesn’t measure or test the cooling system quantity that way.

The only thing standing out to me is not eyeballing the gasket on the radiator pressure cap and recommending a replacement.


Check out the Mechanics Files. You might find someone nearby who has done good work for other Car Talk people.

And good luck. I’ve been burned a few times, but have finally found several good indy mechanics who can work on my diverse fleet of hoopties.

The last service chain I used forgot to tighten the lug nuts on one of my vehicles after a brake job but that’s for another thread…

Huh…a coolant reservoir dipstick. I just learned something. Cool.

The coolant bottle in my oldest son’s '96 Camaro also has a dipstick for the cap on the coolant overflow tank.
I vaguely remember the Honda Goldwing motorcycles also having a coolant dipstick.

[quote=“ok4450, post:13, topic:94735, full:true”]
The stick for the coolant no doubt for a non-pressurized overflow bottle and one doesn’t measure or test the cooling system quantity that way.[/quote]Absolutely correct.