I Think My Engine Blew and Head Gasket – How Do I Know For Sure?

Reader QuestionHello Austin, First of all, thanks for providing such a great site! This is a long story but pretty interesting.

About two weeks ago, I took my well-running vehicle in for it’s 90k service at a shop near my office, which cost a few hundred dollars. Four days later, my wife is driving the car and out of nowhere the “check gages” light comes on and the temp gage is heading up fast. She pulls over to let it cool. Luckily she is very near to an auto shop run by a friend. After waiting a while to cool it down, she tries to get the rest of the way there but it stalls out within pushing distance of the shop.

Upon inspection, our mechanic find that the radiator drain plug was loose causing the coolant to run out. He inspects the car and at that time thinks we got off lucky with no damage. The coolant is replaced and we’re back in business.

A few days later, while traveling, the temp gage heads up again. I can’t see any coolant in the radiator so I refill it again. When we return I take it back to our mechanic who can’t find any leaks so he replaces the radiator cap.

The vehicle overheats again so we take it back to our mechanic. Upon thorough inspection he finds that the vehicle needs a new head gasket.

I contact the shop that did the 90k check (and left the plug loose), and after discussing with our mechanic, they offer to pay half.

It just does not seem right to me that I brought a vehicle in that was running just fine, spent hundreds of dollars for a service, and now must pay hundreds more to replace the gasket.

My question is, in your opinion, do you think that being reimbursed for half the cost is reasonable? Should I ask for a refund of the 90k service?

I could really use a voice of experience here, so thanks for your time!


Hey Joe

That is a VERY tough question to answer. My first response, just from what you told me, it does NOT sound like you have a blown head gasket problem to me. You did not mention smoke out the tailpipe, running rough, water in the oil, all are signs of an internal coolant leak.

Since this mechanic looked at your vehicle 2 other times without finding a leak other than the drain plug was loose….makes me really question their ability. I would definitely get a second opinion on the head gasket job, probably from a dealership. Would be $75 well spent.

If the other shop drained out the coolant, and had a reason to remove the drain plug, they COULD be at fault, but that is hard to prove. For them to pay half, that is pretty darn good, most shops would let you take them to court and try to prove their liability.

You did not mention what kind of vehicle this is, but it does strike me as strange that it overheated while she was driving, presumably while on the freeway, which is an indication of a restricted radiator. The radiator could be full of calcium deposits at the bottom, which might cause the radiator drain plug to blow out if the engine overheated enough….do to poor coolant circulation from a restricted radiator.

Get a second opinion!!

Austin C. Davis

Posted in: Over Heating

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