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95 XJ Overheated, Shop says Head Gasket, need advice/info

Etherel15

New member
Model: 1995 Jeep Cherokee Sport
Engine: 4.0L
Transmission: Automatic
(First time poster)

Short story: Car suddenly began overheating, stalled at stoplight, and had towed to auto shop. They called and said bad news, it was the head gasket. there was no coolant in it, and was a lost cause, and should just total it and get a new vehicle because it would probably be a 5k-8k engine replacement. I need advice. I'm hoping they're wrong, take it somewhere else, get a better analysis. Tried googling information on XJ blown head gaskets, and feel like maybe if its just the gasket, and not the engine block, its possibly salvagable? I don't know enough to know what questions to ask when I "pick up" my vehicle to get it reevaluated. So I need ya'alls professional help.

Details:
(Past problems that will probably help with diagnosing current situation):
December it overheated fairly bad. I was in slow interstate traffic when engine began feeling "wobbly" and losing power and I noticed the temperature was going critical. I tried driving it to the offramp, and ended up stalling out at the stoplight. I was able to wait a few hours, and drive it home, which was nearby as the temps shot up, maybe 5 mins. Shop repaired it (I believe it was a waterpump / Hose issue?) but it idled rougher after that. Starting getting Check Engine light month or two after that, using the ignition light blinking code read out it was a code 51 [Oxygen Sensor Signal Lean]. Told there was probably a small leak, wouldn't hurt the engine, but might reduce power/efficiency a little.

About a month ago I helped a friend tow their sedan about 6 miles uphill to a repair station. I regrettably didn't check the temp gauge, but noticed after the fact when parked, coolant had leaked out or possibly boiled over, so it was possibly struggling with heat pulling a vehicle up a heavy hill incline. it wasn't enough that the coolant reservoir had an appreciable difference in its levels.

(Current Problem)
Car Overheated again. I've been barely driving it, probaby about 500 miles in 6 months. Today I drove about 20 minutes on interstate, 95 degree temps, AC on low. Did quick shopping, started driving home, and within 5 minutes it stalled out when idled at a stop light. Engine didn't seem to lose power/stability previous to this (AC wasn't kicking out cold air either, but it was the start of the drive thought nothing of it), but when I looked at the dash the needle had bottomed out past 260. We pushed it to a nearby parking lot, popped the hood, and the coolant was boiling over the reservoir and the radiator cap seemed to be hissing.

Waited an hour or so, turned the heater on, started the car for a brief moment. The driver side fan on the radiator turned on, but without gas it stalled again, was still reading 260 degrees. Left it till night, went back, checked coolant levels (reservoir was a little low, understandably, and I added a little), and drove it a few miles. Tried the run-the-heater trick but the air from the vents never went above blowing ambient. But the engine temperature crept from 180 to 260 within a few minutes again so I parked it before it went past 260. popped hood and checked the engine, and noticed that the coolant hadn't overexpanded this time, and the air near the radiator didn't seem as hot as it should be. So my guess was after the overheating from earlier, the cooling system was somehow shot and not working now. So I had it towed to the shop

Guy at shop says (sorry for misquoting, not a car guy, was groggy, and stressed) says its a problem with the head gasket, there was no coolant in it (he's charging me for coolant he tried adding), and that it wouldn't be worth repairing. Said engine swap would probably cost 5k-8k.

I know the system wasn't empty of coolant. it was boiling over and spilling onto the parking lot when it overheated, and when I drove it later that night it still had coolant, so I don't know what he means by that? He's charging me an hour of diagnosis time, so I don't think he's done a deep evaluation to actually check the gasket. made no mention of mixed oils in coolant, coolant in oils, or whatever you call pressure leaking from engine into cooling system, but he may just not share that info with customers thinking they wouldn't undestand.

My Question: Does a blown gasket sound correct? If not, what else? If so, what are the different levels of repair severity involved? If I call back, or when I pick up vehicle, what specific questions should I ask to help diagnose the issue further? What should I ask another potential autoshop if I call around? Frankly, what should I do?

I don't have a lot of car mechanical experience, but I am handy. I don't think I could do a major repair on my own, and would be afraid to without assistance, but I can do/diagnose small things. I am currently already facing a major monetary/job crisis, so money is extra tough atm, and I'm feeling a bit at wits end, and just really need some advice and help on this. Thanks ya'all.
 
Do you think you could do a head gasket on your own?

It is really a pretty simple job with an inline 6. Figure out if you can manage to remove/replace the intake/exhaust manifold bolts that are on the underside of the intake. If you can manage those you can probably manage anything else involved in a head gasket replacement.

I ask if you can do the head gasket because the odds are that is the best way you are going to find out if you really need a new engine or not. Paying a shop to do it carries a good bit of risk that you are wasting that money, but if you can do the job yourself you will at least get the answer as to whether or not the engine is toast. And this way you are not putting much money at risk. Plus you stand to learn something, even if it is just in the skills department.

You will need a torque wrench, but that can probably be rented for free from an auto parts store. You will also need a medium length 12 point socket for one of the bolts at the back of the head. Cutting a deep socket down to length is one way to solve that problem.
 
Coolant in the overflow bottle doesn't mean there is enough in the engine block. As bad as you say it was overheating and the lack of heat from the hvac, I'd say you had no coolant or it wasn't flowing. I'd also suspect you've warped the head.
 
Something cheap to try is a new radiator cap. Also, I'd pull the spark pugs. If the look shiny and new, then you probably have a blown head gasket.
Yes, a new engine could cost $5K installed. Jasper Remans are about $3,800, then install probably $1K-1,500. Or more.
 
The motor can take a crap ton of abuse, that long straight six head, however, has probably been warped at the least, likely cracked after repeated abuse. A head replacement isn't out of the skills of the determined average person. The long block is probably fine.
 
There's a lot you can test before doing any dis-assembly.

Compression test
Cylinder leak down test
Coolant system pressure test
Coolant sniffer test
Scope the cylinders
 
Do you think you could do a head gasket on your own?

I've never tried anything like that before, but would be willing to try if I had the resources to walk me through it. Bit scared of putting 1 thing our of place and ruining stuff, but don't feel I have a lot of other choice money-wise either.
 
Coolant in the overflow bottle doesn't mean there is enough in the engine block. As bad as you say it was overheating and the lack of heat from the hvac, I'd say you had no coolant or it wasn't flowing. I'd also suspect you've warped the head.

how bad is the head warping? Is that a lost cause, or is it replaceable or fixable? Would a blown gasket have caused the overheating, or would overheating have caused the gasket to break down?
 
The motor can take a crap ton of abuse, that long straight six head, however, has probably been warped at the least, likely cracked after repeated abuse. A head replacement isn't out of the skills of the determined average person. The long block is probably fine.

Determined, inexperienced, and desperate here! How would you direct me on where to start?

Is there an easy way determine its warped/cracked?
Suggestions on where to buy a replacement?
Suggestions on replacement gaskets?
Good walkthrough or tutorial?

Trying not to feel over my head, knowledge is empowering. Thanks for the help!
 
There's a lot you can test before doing any dis-assembly.

Compression test
Cylinder leak down test
Coolant system pressure test
Coolant sniffer test
Scope the cylinders

could you elaborate on some of these tests, to help me know what I'd be doing, and what I'd be learning from them, and what problems they'd be diagnosing? Maybe some good resources you could direct me to? Trying not to feel too in over my head and get overwhelmed.
 
You can have a shop inspect and resurface the head if it's warped. Badly overheating due to other problems (coolant, that odd lean trouble code) could warp the head and cause the gasket to fail. RCP is correct there is additional troubleshooting that could be done to narrow down the cause and likely damage, but I'm going to guess the head has to come off at some point anyway.
 
Something cheap to try is a new radiator cap. Also, I'd pull the spark pugs. If the look shiny and new, then you probably have a blown head gasket.
Yes, a new engine could cost $5K installed. Jasper Remans are about $3,800, then install probably $1K-1,500. Or more.

After the radiator seemed to be hissing I thought it would be safer to replace it. I can't afford an engine replacement, can you elaborate why you believe a blown head gasket should jump to an engine swap rather then trying to fix the blown head gasket? I honestly don't know the details of trying to fix the gasket, or the possible other problems that would prevent that from being a good fix, so any info is very helpful in trying to figure out life right now. thanks
 
Engine isn’t a lost cause. I would take it to someone else. If it isn’t seized up. you can get it going again. If you don’t want to do it then take it to someone else. Or learn and do it yourself like others have said it’s not bad. Get a manual and follow the procedure. take the head to a machine shop to get it machined. Once the head is fixed and installed. test it out again if it starts to get warm again don’t drive it. Bring it back and start checking other problems. But yeah your head is most likely warped or cracked. Doing the work yourself taking your time. $400 with machine work and new gaskets
 
You can have a shop inspect and resurface the head if it's warped. Badly overheating due to other problems (coolant, that odd lean trouble code) could warp the head and cause the gasket to fail. RCP is correct there is additional troubleshooting that could be done to narrow down the cause and likely damage, but I'm going to guess the head has to come off at some point anyway.

It sounds like your right. Not sure if a gasket problem caused the overheating, or the overheating broke the gasket, but everything seems to lead to a gasket/head issue. Monday I'll try to get help towing it home for now, and try to inspect the Oil and Coolant, see if I can see any cross contamination.

If the engine Block isn't damaged, is the (reasonable) worst case scenario replacing the gasket, and resurfacing or replacing the head? Or are there other problems that would have occurred from all this? Just trying to learn and wrap my head around this, thanks for your input and help!
 
Engine isn’t a lost cause. I would take it to someone else. If it isn’t seized up. you can get it going again. If you don’t want to do it then take it to someone else. Or learn and do it yourself like others have said it’s not bad. Get a manual and follow the procedure. take the head to a machine shop to get it machined. Once the head is fixed and installed. test it out again if it starts to get warm again don’t drive it. Bring it back and start checking other problems. But yeah your head is most likely warped or cracked. Doing the work yourself taking your time. $400 with machine work and new gaskets

Yeah, it started and drove, but overheated within minutes. Really praying that that's a good sign to just replace the gasket/head. Would you recommend any good resources or guides for the process? There a preferred manual people get? I'm willing to learn.
 
Overheating that fast makes me suspicious that you either don't have coolant in there, it's not holding pressure and boiling, or it's just not pumping coolant. Could be a crappy water pump that failed, coolant leak, and/or the gasket failed. Being 27 years old, you're probably well overdue for a new radiator.

I'd be tempted to call around and find a good independent mechanic willing to troubleshoot a bit more that "bad head gasket - replace engine".
 
Overheating that fast makes me suspicious that you either don't have coolant in there, it's not holding pressure and boiling, or it's just not pumping coolant. Could be a crappy water pump that failed, coolant leak, and/or the gasket failed. Being 27 years old, you're probably well overdue for a new radiator.

I'd be tempted to call around and find a good independent mechanic willing to troubleshoot a bit more that "bad head gasket - replace engine".

The radiators only a couple years old (the engine was swapped when I bought it at 130k, with a 35k motor, its about 170k now) but maybe the radiators not that great. It had overheated badly in December, and the pump and lines were replaced, so perhaps they did a shotty job?

I plan on getting another diagnosis, just hoping to wrap my head around what could be wrong, so I could be better informed when talking to a different mechanic/shop. knowing what I'm getting into will help with the stress.
 
It wouldn't surprised me if they put in a cheap pump and the impeller disintegrated. It would be really helpful to do a few of the basic tests like compression and leakdown which could confirm a bad head gasket before digging into it. Even just starting it and watching for bubbles in the radiator could be conclusive.

Got any neighbors or friends who are car savvy that might help for the low, low price of a 6-pack?
 
It wouldn't surprised me if they put in a cheap pump and the impeller disintegrated. It would be really helpful to do a few of the basic tests like compression and leakdown which could confirm a bad head gasket before digging into it. Even just starting it and watching for bubbles in the radiator could be conclusive.

Got any neighbors or friends who are car savvy that might help for the low, low price of a 6-pack?

I desperately wish I did, I'm the one "fixing" other peoples weed whackers & faulty outlets. always the helper never the helped.

I'll try researching those tests. can't get the car back till Monday. still trying to figure out towing without paying another arm and leg (once again, I usually was the one doing the towing oh well)
 
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