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Will a head gasket do it?

I’m looking at a cousins 1996 integra that has some issues. It’s a hand me down vehicle that has little maintenance. Probably regular oil changes and that’s it. It has been overheated once in the past and uses coolant now. Coolant slowly disappears and she adds coolant to rad when it starts to get too hot. So likely, more overheat episodes. What are the chances just changing the head gasket will resolve the coolant loss?

I’d be antsy about this car if you have to pay someone to do the repairs. Hand me down with little maintenance and an overheating episode in the past can spell problems; especially if this overheating was severe or chronic in nature. This can often lead to oil consumption problems which may worsen after a head gasket replacement.

There’s also the timing belt issue. If this has not been done then that’s yet more expense to be piled on or you run the risk of changing the head gasket and then suffering engine damage if the belt breaks 2 weeks later.

Should I ask if this car is a freebie to you or does someone actually want money for it?
With the former it’s about a 98% no way and with the latter it’s a 100%.

If there are no external leaks, a head gasket is a possible cause of the coolant loss. There are certainly some tests that can be done to verify this, such as leakdown tests and checking for combustion gases in the radiator. If all signs point to a blown head gasket, removing the head is the next step. You will also need to send the head to a machine shop to check for cracks and warpage. Do not neglect this step or you may be doing the job again. If the head checks out fine or is repaired, the engine can be reassembled with all new gaskets and head bolts. The old bolts cannot be reused or the gasket will fail again in short order. Having the engine apart will also prove to be a convenient time to replace aging parts that are otherwise difficult to get to, such as heater and radiator hoses, so if you intend to keep the car, you may consider throwing some of these in there as well.

If I owned a car like that I would not dream of charging even a nickle for it! I would offer it free to a relative with the full disclosure of the actual condition. I have given away 3 cars like that over the years and had the relatives make the necessary repairs since the car was free anyway.

ok4450 makes some good points about chronic overheating and oil consumption problems (or worse). My brother has a friend who used to have a Jeep Cherokee with a four cylinder in it. He asked me to replace the head gasket and radiator. He told me it had overheated and was now running poorly. The machine shop found at least a dozen cracks in the head, so I got him a new cylinder head. Turns out that wasn’t the only head that should have been replaced. The engine started to knock a month after I fixed it. Turns out he had been driving the vehicle for three months with a blown radiator and had severely overheated the engine more times than he could count. All that overheating had apparently fried the rings and bearings, resulting in inevitable engine damage.

I appreciate the responses. This is a case of me wanting to help her out without too much money or effort since she mentioned possibly getting a new car. On the flip side, if she does get a new car I might be able to take this one for little or no money, and it would certainly beat the 18-19mpg I currently get in my truck. I’m sure fuel cost is hurting everyone right now. I know the right way is pull the head and have it checked before putting it back together, but curious to see what I can get away with. But with the mention of oil consumption, maybe I need more information. I don’t even know if she checks the oil regularly or not.

Sounds like it was treated as a disposable car, and now it’s ready for the recycler.

Is the body in good shape? If it’s not banged up or rusty, it might be a candidate for an engine swap. That generation of Integra is well-loved by Honda geeks.

Otherwise, if it’s free, take it, and replace the head gasket yourself (assuming you know what you’re doing, that is). Cheap part, and if you got lucky and the coolant didn’t dilute the oil and cause engine damage, you just got a very cheap and reliable car. if you’re not lucky, it’s not that hard to find B-18 motors to swap in, especially if you’re not looking for the C or C5 variants.