Niagara Gazette

August 22, 2013

TOM'S CORNER: Indication of a blown head gasket

By Tom Torbjornsen
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — This week’s column features a few questions and answers.

CANDY FROM CINCINNATI: I own a 2002 Chevy Cavalier with a 2.2 liter 4-cylinder engine and it’s been running rough lately. The other day I checked the oil to see if it was low and it looked weird. Instead of that clear caramel color, it looked like light chocolate milk and it was foamy. Is this an indication of trouble? Please help!

TOM: This would explain the engine running rough. Based on what you describe, I would say that a head gasket has blown in the engine. When a head gasket blows, if it’s close to a coolant passageway in the head, water spills down into the crankcase (or oil pan). This contaminates the oil causing it to take on a milky appearance. If run too long in this condition, the lower end of the engine will suffer. Rod and main bearings will be damaged because the oil has mixed with water, which causes heat and friction buildup and if let go too long, engine failure. Get it into a shop to confirm my suspicions.

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DEB FROM LITTLE ROCK, Ariz.: I drive a ‘98 Honda Civic with 40K miles (automatic transmission). Lately the transmission seems to be amiss. Sometimes the car seems to downshift or lurch slightly. I told my husband about it and he asked me if the “check engine light” comes on, and I told him no. He said not to worry about it. However, I have a feeling that he is just too lazy to check it out himself. Should I be concerned? Also, my mom changes the oil every 3,000 miles on her car. Is it okay if we change it every 5,000 miles instead? Thanks for your help.

TOM: There is a TSB (Technical Service Bulletin) from Honda for this very condition on your transmission (bulletin # 00-012). Call your local Honda dealer and ask them what this TSB entails. As for the mileage recommendation, if you are using synthetic oil, then every 5,000 miles is fine. If you are using conventional oil, then stick with every 3,000 miles. Good luck.

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JIM FROM WILLINGBORO, N.J.: I own a 2008 Dodge pickup with the Hemi engine. I switched to Pennzoil full synthetic oil at 20K miles. The truck now has 40K on it and it’s due for an oil change. I was told that Chrysler would not stand behind the warranty if there were an engine problem because I used full synthetic. Should I switch back, or is it too late?

TOM: Who told you this? The dealer? Your Uncle Charlie who used to work on cars back in the ‘60s? Unless stated specifically in the warranty or owner’s manual, this is false. The Magnuson Moss Warranty Act of 1972 protects against this sort of thing. It states that the manufacturer carries the burden of proof of any failure whatsoever. They must prove that the installation of the aftermarket product caused the problem. If they can’t, then you are covered. Get the facts straight before changing back. By the way, changing between synthetic and conventional oil does no harm to the engine. Success to you.

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MAY FROM LANDS END, N.C.: My ‘95 Toyota 4R is flashing an O/D OFF light. Also, I am having a hard time rolling the car after I stop for a red light. Could this be a simple problem? Can I still drive the car in this condition? I am not ready to buy another car yet!

TOM: The light is on because the drivetrain computer sees an anomaly in the system. Have the vehicle scanned for codes to identify the cause and repair it. The fact that the vehicle has a hard time rolling concerns me. It could be that the transfer case is locking up due to an electrical malady. Get it scanned and fixed before you do irreversible damage to the drivetrain. Best to you.

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MARK FROM CAMDEN, N.J.: I own a 2001 Toyota Avalon with 81K miles. About 20K I had the brakes changed to long-lasting, heavy-duty brakes. When I step on the brakes the car stops fine, but the front end shimmies. What’s causing this shimmy?

TOM: Check the brake calipers to see if they are sticking. Also, check to see if there is a blocked rubber brake hose. Both of these conditions could cause the brakes to stay applied with your foot off the brake pedal, which would cause the rotors to heat up and warp. Rotor warpage causes run-out, resulting in pedal pulsation. Also check for worn inboard CV Joints, which could cause the pulsation as well.

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JEAN FROM DALLAS: I have a problem with my “service engine” light. Every time I fill the vehicle with gas the “service engine” light comes on. After driving the car for several miles the light goes off. I have taken it to the dealer many times but they say nothing is wrong. What could cause this problem?

TOM: It sounds like there’s a problem with the gas tank vent valve, or the gas cap seal, or the evaporative emissions system. Go to the shop immediately after filling the vehicle when the light is on so that they can pull a code for diagnosis. Or you can schedule to leave the vehicle with the shop for a few days. Make sure the gas tank is low so they have to fill it. When the light comes on, they can scan for a code and track down the problem. Best to you.

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JOSH FROM SAGINAW, M.I.: I just replaced the drum brakes on my ‘85 Jeep CJ-7. I keep hearing a cyclical sliding noise (not squealing or grinding, but something is definitely touching) when I drive at all speeds. Also, the driver side drum overheats excessively to the point where I won’t drive the vehicle. I have tried adjusting the brakes significantly to see if the shoes were too close to the drum, but that hasn’t helped much. Do you know what would cause this noise and what I can do about it?

TOM: Check the emergency brake cable on the side that’s overheating. It sounds like the cable has seized, causing the brake to stay applied. Other conditions that cause brakes to hang up are worn return springs, loose anchor springs, and leaking wheel cylinders. Good luck.

‘Til next time ... Keep Rollin’

"America's Car Show" with Tom Torbjornsen airs 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, 9 a.m. Thursday and 11 a.m. Saturday on WBBZ-TV.