Car Experts: I Need Advice

So last week I noticed my 94 Mercury Sable was acting funny. It was vibrating a little, then one night it had trouble starting, and when I did get it started it was smoking from the exhaust, although it still ran. So I took it in and they told me it’s a serious problem: cracked cylinder heads. I have no idea what that means, but they also mentioned something about coolant leaking out, getting into the radiator and also causing the smoke I was seeing.
To fix it the guy said the need to take the top of the engine apart and send the cylinder heads to be pressure tested to see if they can be repaired or need to be totally replaced. In addition, the radiator might need to be replaced if a lot of coolant got into it. Here’s the kicker: it will cost at least $2000-$2500 just to take apart the engine and see if the heads are repairable and (I think?) to repair them. If they need to be replaced he said it will cost a lot more. If it really will cost this much then I’m not sure it is worth the value of the car to pay for it, especially if there’s the risk that they might need to be totally replaced.

So my question is, is this an accurate estimate or is the guy totally taking advantage of me? ANd if it is accurate, should I try paying for the testing or should I just try and sell it?

Any advice would be greatly appreciated!

Yes, he is taking advantage of you, the radiator is supposed to have coolant in it. Now oil, that’s a serious problem. The smoke is caused by coolant and or oil getting into the cylinders and burning, causing the white and or blue smoke.

If you can, go somewhere else. Or bring someone who you know, know something about cars. That’s a bit pricey for a tear down and inspection.

Hmmm, well I am not an expert by any streatch, however, I do know a few things about cars… I would say that it will be very expensive if the cylinder heads are indeed cracked.

A 94 sable may not be worth even paying to check if they are cracked (high milage?) and if they are cracked it almost definatly won’t be worth replacing… again, just one half assed do-it-yourselfer here…

$2500 doesn’t seem unreasonable to repair cracked heads. But they can most certainly be pressure checked without taking the damn thing apart and for a hell of a lot less than $2500. A pressure test is a fairly simple and common exercise, shouldn’t cost more than 50 or a hundred bucks. $2500 should be enough to get the heads replaced.

Of course, I’d have to question the competence of your mechanic if he really said “the radiator might need to be replaced if a lot of coolant got into it.” Your coolant circulates through your radiator to remove the heat conducted to it by the combustion taking place in the cylinders. Hence, it’s supposed to be full of coolant.

However, from your description of symptoms, it sounds very likely you have at least one cracked cylinder head. You should certainly have it tested before investing that kind of cash in it. If your mechanic recommends otherwise, go elsewhere—he’s scamming you.

Selling your car in this condition, without warning the potential buyer of the suspected problem, is unethical. And possibly in some states, actionable through civil suit.

IANAMechanic But, it will definetly be costly for a set of cylinder heads for parts and labor. But just to take them off and pressure check them? For $2000??? I don’t care how cluttered that motor is, that’s just too much. A descent pair of used heads with a light surfacing and a basic valve job for even six cylinder ford, is under $500 alone. Maybe $1500.00 for tear down, inspection and installation of new or used heads.

The 2 and 0 is just bending you over, the other two 00’s are for breaking it off.

2-2500 is pretty high for just a top end teardown/inspection. $2000, say at $50 p/h, comes out to 40 hours. He must be planning on some awfully long coffee breaks. I’d get a second estimate for sure. On the plus side, it may just be the head gasket, and not the heads.

Then again, you’ve probably got a lot of mileage on that baby, so it may not really be worthwhile to dump a whole bunch of money into at this point. Definitely not worth 2-2500 IMO.

I am a mechanic, I’m betting it’s a 3.8 liter engine. They are notorius for failing head gaskets. There is no way he knows for sure without taking the heads off if they are cracked, even if they are you can see the crack with the naked eye. I’d say out of over 200 I did only, one had a head crack the others were just the gaskets. He should be able to see which one by pulling out a spark plug. Around here, in Michigan, the job would run any where from $900.00 to $1,300. You need Head gaskets, valve cover gaskets, intake gaskets, head bolts, coolant, oil and filter, spark plugs. If it was run a long time like that it may need a O2 sensor and a cat.
At the very least get another estimate from another mechanic or two.

Yeah, I’d bet it’s the head gasket. I think every single 3.8 V6 engine that Ford ever built eventually blew a head gasket. My mom’s 1995 Windstar had it happen at 42K miles. You might want to take it to a reputable Ford dealership…I guarantee they’ve done this repair hundreds of times and know exactly how to do it.

-Andrew L

I had an 88 Cougar with a 3.8L, and the first thing I thought of upon reading your post was “blown head gasket”. Mine ran for a few weeks with big clouds of white smoke from the exhaust before it went completely and started overheating rapidly.

I didn’t know the specific problem at the time, but my father knew to check the plugs as described above and sure enough it was the last one that was wet (the one that was most difficult to get to, of course). Fortunately his co-worker was a part-time used car dealer, had a garage to tow it to, and knew reasonable, honest mechanics. I think I paid about $500. YMMV.

Wow, I wasn’t expecting such good responses. About the radiator- I think that’s my mistake, he probably said there was oil in the radiator and I changed it to coolant. I told you I know nothing about cars!

There was definitely a lot of white smoke at one point. I hope it’s just a gasket.

Okay, I just called another nearby mechanic and explained the situation. He said that the worst case he’s seen with this cost only $1400! He also said he’d check out the car for free tomorrow, so I’m gonna tow it there.

I at least want to have it tested for a reasonable price…my life would suck without a car.

Thanks for your help,
Rachel :slight_smile:

Check out www.cartalk.com .
Their MechanicX files have consumer ratings of mechanics.

You need to decide how much the car is worth to you. I’ll second the call for a second opinion, but be prepared to spend more than the $1,500. The thing is, that if you decide to make this repair, and the car is worth it to you, there will almost surely be more work that should be done. Valves and timing chains and pulleys and everything else. You don’t know what they will find when they tear the head off, and you shouldn’t contract for the job unless you plan on doing any of the tangential work that may show up.

I saw a dealer check a head just using a straight metal bar. But thing is, if it was the gasket your temperature gauge should have been in the hot zone & that would have told you to pull over. Its important to check the temperature gauge frequently.

I’m pretty sure that my car was not overheating. One guy told me that because I had coolant coming from the muffler that it had to be a cracked cylinder head, it couldn’t be a gasket, but another guy told me that it might still be the gasket. I towed the car to the cheaper mechanic today so I should find out sometime tomorrow.

That makes more sense. However, even if you do have quite a bit of oil in the the radiator, it’s likely that the cooling system can be flushed and in the extreme case the radiator removed and dipped in acid. This should be cheaper than replacing it. You might wish to check that with your second mechanic.

OK, as far as I understand it, the new mechanic saw the same problem - it’s either cracked cylinder heads or the head gaskets - and he can’t tell which until they take the engine apart. He says there are two options:

  1. Do a top end job - heads & valves which could range from best case $1450 to worst case $1850 (I guess this is if the heads are cracked?).
  2. Take the entire motor out and put in a used one with less mileage - $1950. This option is more expensive but this way I won’t have to worry about the lower end later on. He says there’s lots of coolant in the lower end, and in the crank case where the oil goes. He seemed to think that I might have a problem with the lower end later on and then all the money I put into the top end would be wasted.
    Which would you choose, and does this assessment sound right?

according to NADA, a 94 sable is only worth $3500 or so. Why bother, i’d just get a newer car and use the $1800 you’d use on repairs or a new engine for this one as a down payment on a newer one.

this post kindof ties into my post about used car warranties, and whether they are a good idea.

http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php?s=&threadid=164163

according to NADA, a 94 sable is only worth $3500 or so. Why bother, i’d just get a newer car and use the $1800 you’d use on repairs or a new engine for this one as a down payment on a newer one.

this post kindof ties into my post about used car warranties, and whether they are a good idea.

http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php?s=&threadid=164163

according to NADA, a 94 sable is only worth $3500 or so. Why bother, i’d just get a newer car and use the $1800 you’d use on repairs or a new engine for this one as a down payment on a newer one.

this post kindof ties into my post about used car warranties, and whether they are a good idea.

http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php?s=&threadid=164163

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