Reader Question: I have just found out that my engine may have a crack. After lending my car to a friend for two days, it came back to me overheating and with a reading of low coolant. I had it checked by a neighbor and he concluded that the oil had leaked into the coolant area. This would account for the brown liquid where my coolant is and the low oil level. What could cause this to happen?
Also, I have owned two Saturns, and while they perform excellent, when something is wrong my local mechanics usually take many days to receive parts. They say this is because Saturn holds all parts and they must buy directly from them. This results in several days delay and higher costs. Is it more cost and time efficient to go to a Saturn dealership or to a local mechanic? Normally, this would not be an issue, but since this is the engine, obviously it's a major issue to me. I'd appreciate any advice.
Thank you, Misty
It sounds like you probably have a "blown" head gasket, and the basic engine might still be OK. Your mechanic can run a basic compression test to figure out the extent of the damage. If he determines head gasket failure is the problem, I would highly recommend checking the head for cracks (this procedure is known as magnaflux), resurfacing the cylinder head if it's repairable, and performing a valve job. These items should be done in addition to replacing the head gasket. This extra work will cost you a little bit more money, but the results will be much better in the long run if you plan to keep the car. My initial estimate for this job would be a little over $1000, and it would take us about 4-5 days to do, so the profit margins are pretty low. The valve job is what takes so long to have done.
The head gasket failure was the effect of overheating, but you still have to find out what caused the car to overheat in the first place. The head gasket rarely fails just on its own. Overheating is usually the primary reason for head gasket failure. Some common causes of overheating are a clogged radiator, a stuck thermostat, a faulty cooling fan, or even something as simple as a hole in a radiator hose which allowed coolant to escape and the car to overheat.
Head gasket failure is usually attributed to driver abuse or negligence. Continuing to drive the vehicle while it is obviously overheating can cause head gasket failure and other internal engine damage. The driver of the car probably had indications that something major was happening, but failed to heed the warning signs. The engine has to get pretty hot to do this kind of damage.
Regarding your second question, Saturn parts are a little harder to find, but here in Houston we have lots of aftermarket vendors we can buy from instead of going to the dealer. You might want to look for a mechanic who has an established network of Saturn part vendors, but this particular job will be a big one, and you want someone you can trust to do the work properly and stand behind their work for any warranty problems you might have in the future.
In my opinion, the dealer is usually not the best place to have this kind of heavy work done. They will only use factory parts which can be very expensive, and their labor rates are usually very high. This is a labor-intensive job that can end up being way over-priced at a dealership.
Austin C Davis
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