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Discussion Starter #1
2002 MDX. Original owner. The car has been great, and well loved. It has always been maintained by the dealer, and fixed whenever needed. The only major work since new was a tranny replacement and AC needed work.

But then this weekend, the temp gauge started climbing, steam out of engine, shut it down before hit red zone.

Dealer says that a headgasket blew, which exploded the radiator. They are quoting $4,000 for the repair without doing new valves/guides.

I'm struggling with if we should do it. Any comments are WELCOME!

Here are some thoughts:
1. The car's value is probably not more than the cost.
2. If we spend the money, the tranny can go the next day.
3. If we also do the heads and/or rings, the internal pressure will go up, which would put more load on the bottom end, and then increase the risk for failure of the crank, bearings, rods and wrist pins.
4. We can get a used 100,000 mile engine for about $1,000 and have them swap it in for about $5,000. But there is no real comfort on the condition or history of the engine.
5. We can get a rebuilt engine. I don't know price yet. But certainly much more than value of car, and still have the rest of the car at 250,000 miles. But then the car has at least 200,000 mile lease on life, justifying fixing the other things that might come up.
6. As said though, car has been well maintained and lots of things are relatively new, including timing belt, water pump, Michelins, Optima etc.
7. The dealer says there is a risk that they will find one of the heads are cracked, which will add over $1k to the bill. They said there is also a risk that when undoing the head bolts, the aluminum block breaks before the threads loosen - which throws the whole thing into a tailspin.

Is this foolhardy? Do we just let go? Keep in mind that I'm a classic car guy, with multiple cars from the 60s. I haven't let them go. Why shouldn't the MDX maintain a place in the stable?

I do work on those cars myself. I am partly debating doing this myself. But I've watched a video online and saw troubles getting the heads off - and I just don't know if I want to deal with that.
 

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Getting the heads off a J35 is not difficult. If you've got some experience wrenching, and have a garage and tools then it's neither difficult, nor particularly time consuming.


$4,000 for head gaskets and radiator replacement sounds absolutely outrageous, to me.


It's only about $300 in parts to replace the head gaskets and new Denso radiator.
Maybe tack on a couple hundred to take the heads to a machine shop and get them checked out.



 

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Discussion Starter #3
Thanks for the reply and all the work to make the list of the parts. I've rebuilt more than one 60's engine, and changed headgaskets on my Alpine many times (because the steel block and aluminum head used to not get along - doesn't happen anymore since I got a new head). So I'm not afraid to wrench. With your response, it seems like I've got nothing to lose.

I am concerned about their statement that the head bolts get stuck in the block and it actually breaks part of the block when trying to loosen them. That would be a bummer!

But you are so right. If I'm doing the labor myself, that gives me a lot of latitude to have to buy a new/rebuilt head if it turns out cracked.
 

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I completed a front head gasket replacement on my 06 a few months back and have a little over 4K miles on it.

Biggest job I’ve ever done. I think the dealer was covering for worst case and then some. If you take it apart and the head is cranked, block warped, or head bolts strip out, you’ll be in for labor without changing resale value too much. You could decide at that point to keep or sell.

Alt, ps, plenum, intake, and coolant outlet will have to come off too.

Head bolts will take a breaker bar and cheater to remove and replace. Mine were 12 pt heads. Yours might be 6pt.

I used the Honda gasket set - comes in front or back with all gaskets needed, new Honda head bolts, and Honda coolant.

You’ll need new oil too to remove coolant from it. Might want to flush with a cheap brand and then use your regular stuff.

Also purchased a new digital torque gage.

If you don’t have a factory manual, you can probably get a digital one from Rockauto for $25.

I recall paying about $150 for the head resurfacing and valve job.

I spent about $850 total for parts, fluids, valve job. If you search for blown head gasket, my post should come up.

Good luck!
 

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Putting everything in perspective the car is not running now. The dealership wants to take the Customer for $4000.00 with parts included valued at only $300.00. That means they want $3700.00 in labour and i am asuming that is USA Dollars! So your options are sell car as is and get $1000.00-1500.00? 2. purchase another used vehicle for $4000.00 which you have no idea of its history? 3. Take $300.00 and purchase the parts and look at all the videos on youtube and take your time pulling it apart! As you mentioned you have worked on 60 motors and if you have done that you are miles ahead and should have no more issues than you would with other motors. So, even if you strip a bolt it can be fixed and if you take your time the chances are even less likley. Once apart you can check the head for warping as you no doubt have done in the past and as others have said you can send it out for valve job and resurfacing and still be under 800.00. Heck if the head is not warped you could just give the valves a good lapping and reinstall. You dont have to go crazy it is after all a 2002 and things could add up in a hurry if you get nit pickey! So I say take the engine apart as you have little to lose and everything to gain. Who doesn't like to tinker anyway. You can then keep it or sell it for more than you can now and use that money as a down payment toward next MDX! :)
 

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Discussion Starter #6
Thanks both. To be clear, I have not worked on 60 motors! I have rebuilt engines on cars from the 1960s! Ha!

But, I'm now fully on board to do this. You guys are right.

I figure if I pull it apart and everything looks good, and the heads need nothing more than surfacing, I'm good to go. If a head is cracked, I'm still under the dealer's current price which doesn't include a replacement head. If the block truly breaks when trying to take out a bolt, then I'm still stuck, but without having a bill owed to the dealer.

If the block does break, or the cylinder walls have slipped, I could always buy a rebuilt engine for about $4k. Yes, the car has had 250,000 miles - but that's like my grandfather's hammer. We have been replacing everything with new factory parts when needed. Yes, the tranny is an unknown. But if the tranny later fails and we have a rebuilt engine, I'd have no problem getting a new tranny at that point.

I've largely changed my tune because of the 1960's cars I mentioned - I also have a classic 1970s car (but haven't rebuilt engine on that one). I would never sell one of these no matter how many miles are on them. Given just how great these MDXs are, and how happy my wife is with the car, why the heck not give it a reserved place in the stable? They don't build them anymore like my sports cars - and they don't necessarily build them like this gen MDX anymore. If we spent $10k on engine and tranny and got another 100,000+ miles on it, zero complaint here.

But that's jumping the gun. For now, hopefully the new headgaskets and radiator gives it what it needs.

I am still debating how much to do on the heads. For my old cars, redoing the heads without redoing the bottom end, puts too much pressure on the bottom end and expedites its failure. I don't know how much of a risk that is for these cars. The dealer was definitely of the mindset to put in new rings and rebuild the heads (another $1,500 all together).

And, one note, the dealer is the one that warned the bolts stick in the block and can rip out part of the block when coming loose. And the dealer warned that the cylinder walls can slip.
 

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FYI: The dealer probably does not want to really do the job. They can make a lot more money doing easy work that has little chance of a comeback. The first rule of shop work is to quote a very high price on work that you would rather not handle. If the customer does go for it, you have a good monetary buffer in case something goes south.

Remember that if you open it up and find an expensive repair looking at you, you can go to plan B and install a used engine. It is time consuming, but not rocket science. I chose the used motor path when my wife destroyed the engine by continuing to drive it after the radiator spit all the coolant out.

 

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How bad the heads are and if the bolts get stuck or block warped will probably depend on if you didn’t notice and kept driving so the motor got severely stressed.

The cylinder head shop I used included testing for cracks/leaks before commencing with the valve job. He said he’s rately seen a cracked Honda head. Then again, depends on how long you ran with low coolant.

It’s a lot of work so take your time. Keep things clean esp the head bolt holes on the reassembly. (I recall there is easily 3-4x diameters of threads so stripping them out on disassembly would seem difficult. The block is aluminum so oiling the threads before torquing the head bolts is super important.)

I also should mention the timing belt has to come off so be ready for that. PS just needs to be disconnected and bunge corded out of the way. The cylinder head should come with the valves preadjusted but you should double check and you might as well check all valves. Block drain is at the back of the engine near the oil filter pressor sensor. The cat has to be at least loosened at the pipe so rust blaster might be needed. Be sure to cover the cat or coolant and oil will enter when you remove the head - ok but will smoke like crazy at restart. (Maybe this is TMI and you already know it).

If it’s a straight removal and valve job, I think you’ll be in for more than $300 depending on if you buy factory gaskets, bolts, or not. Thinking back, I replaced the timing belt, plugs, and found a bad motor mount.

Good luck!
 

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Discussion Starter #9
Small update. I got the car back from the dealer yesterday. I haven't ordered any parts yet. I'm going to wait until I see the condition of the heads and cylinder sleeves.

I did buy the special Lysle impact wrench socket for the crank pulley. it was crazy to watch two videos where they really struggled with a long bar, heat and liquid wrench to try to loosen that bolt. Then to watch the other guy just put his air impact wrench up and get it off in less than 10 sec. Fortunately, I already have the wrench and compressor. I just needed that special thick wall socket.
 

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New update. We did a leak down test. It shows no leak, and pretty even across the board.

My first thought was that the dealer was BS'ing me to get the work. And if I agreed, I'd never know if it had a bad head gasket.

A local Honda independent said that the chemical test that the dealer did is not good, and a leak down test is accurate. The independent also said that it is super rare for head gaskets to blow, and then cause the radiator to break - which is what the dealer said happened.

But, a mechanic I know says that the head gasket can still be bad, and that a blown head gasket can definitely push water out of the radiator cap. So presumably that pressure can break a fragile plastic radiator.

FWIW, the dealer did not refill the radiator - it was still 100% empty when I got it back from them. So it is unclear how they did the chemical test.

So right now I'm going to replace the radiator (and hoses, and thermostat). Get it running again, and see if there are signs of blown head gasket - and do the chemical test myself.
 

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Couple more things to check for blown gasket that are inexpensive.

Looking on the inside of your oil cap, see if there is any Vaseline colored “jelly”. That material forms from water/coolant in the oil.

You can also buy an inexpensive bore scope, remove the spark plugs, and look in the cylinder.

https://www.amazon.com/gp/aw/d/B00JERRES6/ref=ox_sc_saved_image_8?smid=A20ANCJS9NOCG6&psc=1

My post of the head gasket repair shows the cylinder with water droplets.

https://www.mdxers.org/#/topics/160169

FWIW, I found the chem test helpful. It coupled with the borescope gave certainty to the problem. I also did the compression test, helpful, but not definitive by itself.

Hopefully, it’s just your radiator.

Good luck!
 

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Thanks! FWIW, spark plugs are dry as can be. Oil cap, normal. Oil dipstick, normal.

I'm hoping, but not holding by breath.

Thanks for the reference to the scope. I've been wanting one for a while, but the prices are always above that "just because" threshold. But I can't argue with this price!

I have the new radiator. So I'll be putting that in on Saturday. We'll see.
 

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Update. I put in the new radiator, hoses, thermostat and fan switch. Runs fine and cool. No issues noted.

So I borrowed one of those blue fluid testers that is supposed to turn yellow if there is CO2 in the radiator. It stays blue.

Note, I'm told this tester requires the engine to be run to do the test and pressure to build up. How the heck then did the dealership use this tester when my radiator was empty and broken??? The mechanic I borrowed the tester from questioned if they really did the test.

I've driven the car around the block for about 15 minutes - just in case something happened so I could still get home. All seemed fine.

So I'm going to start driving it to work and test with the blue fluid tester again.

But, right now I'm assuming the dealer out and out lied to me. I think I will also go back and demand they refund my $168 car inspection fee.
 

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Check each cylinder with a bore scope. If you see carbon on all the pistons there is probably no head gasket failure, If one or more pistons look like they were steam cleaned you probably have a head gasket issue.
 

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What you should think about doing is going to a local mechanic. The dealer is definitely over charged. Considering the age of the car you should avoid the dealer and their premium prices


Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk
 

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New update. Everything is great. This included multiple drives up and down a very steep and long freeway grade near us, in 100* temp with the AC going. No issues at all.

It sure seems like the dealer lied or is incompetent - or both.
 

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That is terrific news and to the individuals that complain about individuals here calling them stealership's and much worse this is a prime example of why one needs to be extremely cautious when taking their vehicle in and relying on their diagnosis. The dealership here would ultimately have fixed the vehicle for the reported $4000.00 price tag and would have performed the work and simply "justified" the work to the owner even though it was totally unnecessary and no way to prove different! The rent on those service bays at the dealership does not come cheap but at the same time taking advantage of customers to fill them is so those that think the dealerships get a bad Rap to continue to take your vehicles to them but stop asking us for our advice if the quote from the dealer is fair or if your getting screwed! Pay them and take the spanking and live with your decision to support these premises that are licensed to print money but at your expense!


Those that have their vehicle at the dealership and experience these high quotes should have them hold off while you talk it over and meanwhile call the smaller shop and arrange to have the vehicle towed there for a second opinion. If driveable go in and pay the bill and tell the dealership you will get back to them and drive it to the smaller shop. The smaller shop will be much cheaper and any specialty work like head work or transmission repair will be farmed out not unlike the dealership. A transmission shop might be half as much and they specialize and actually add improved parts that last longer.


Glad that working on 60 cars paid off!:)
 
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