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2004 XTerra RWD Auto NA 3.3L V6
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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Hello all, I am in a pickle.
Out in Joshua Tree California my Xterra overheated and coolant burst a radiator hose while driving (it was a perfect storm of uphill at 70mph, air-conditioning on low and a hot day). I've done little jobs before so I thought about trying to tow it to a parking lot and fix it myself but I if it was more than the radiator and hoses then I wasn't sure I'd be up for it. I had it towed to a shop and slept in it until the shop opened the next day (I brought my camping stuff anyway) and had it inspected. Mechanic took a look and repaired all the hoses, replaced the fan etc but eventually realized it was almost definitely was gonna be the head gasket.
In total, he quoted me $2500 for the head gasket(s). As he put it, the head gasket is a bit of a gamble since it might come out to more like $3300 if the heads are warped. I asked about rebuilt or replacement motors but I guess rebuilt motors are on backorder for 4 weeks and the only other motor available at the moment has 120,000 miles but we weren't able to get a price so he'll call me back on that.
I bought this car a month or so ago with 63,000 miles and I've put a lot into it in terms of new tires, plugs, fluids, battery etc so I do not want to sell it. That being said, I don't really want to spend 3000 more dollars on this since that's almost exactly what I paid for the car in the first place. I also live 3 hours away from Joshua Tree so if I do opt to sell it then that will be a pain as well.

What do you guys think?
 

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Hello all, I am in a pickle.
Out in Joshua Tree California my Xterra overheated and coolant burst a radiator hose while driving (it was a perfect storm of uphill at 70mph, air-conditioning on low and a hot day). I've done little jobs before so I thought about trying to tow it to a parking lot and fix it myself but I if it was more than the radiator and hoses then I wasn't sure I'd be up for it. I had it towed to a shop and slept in it until the shop opened the next day (I brought my camping stuff anyway) and had it inspected. Mechanic took a look and repaired all the hoses, replaced the fan etc but eventually realized it was almost definitely was gonna be the head gasket.
In total, he quoted me $2500 for the head gasket(s). As he put it, the head gasket is a bit of a gamble since it might come out to more like $3300 if the heads are warped. I asked about rebuilt or replacement motors but I guess rebuilt motors are on backorder for 4 weeks and the only other motor available at the moment has 120,000 miles but we weren't able to get a price so he'll call me back on that.
I bought this car a month or so ago with 63,000 miles and I've put a lot into it in terms of new tires, plugs, fluids, battery etc so I do not want to sell it. That being said, I don't really want to spend 3000 more dollars on this since that's almost exactly what I paid for the car in the first place. I also live 3 hours away from Joshua Tree so if I do opt to sell it then that will be a pain as well.

What do you guys think?
So what was the "mechanics" reasoning for "realizing" it was gonna be the head gaskets? After he replaced the hoses did the motor run and maintain normal coolant temperature? Did he replace the thermostat? Got to wonder if he is fishing for $$ since you are a long way from home and under pressure.
 

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2004 XTerra RWD Auto NA 3.3L V6
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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
I wondered the same thing. He did run it after new coolant, hoses and thermostat and it still went past H on the thermometer. I watched and it only took maybe 5 minutes before it got to the upper limit of the temp gauge. I'm a little torn because even if he is screwing me over I don't know what my best alternative is.
 

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I wondered the same thing. He did run it after new coolant, hoses and thermostat and it still went past H on the thermometer. I watched and it only took maybe 5 minutes before it got to the upper limit of the temp gauge. I'm a little torn because even if he is screwing me over I don't know what my best alternative is.
So did you get any feedback from them on the radiator and water pump? Did they test the radiator and were both the upper and lower radiator hoses getting hot when it was run for the 5 mins that put the temp gauge in the red? If the radiator fan is not turning and the coolant is not flowing through the radiator then the motor is not going to be happy. The heater inside the vehicle should certainly be able to blow hot air and help keep the engine temp down to some degree.
 

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So what was the "mechanics" reasoning for "realizing" it was gonna be the head gaskets?
these are the type of messages that make me sad.

Several times a year, someone brings me a vehicle that is in very poor condition, usually just got towed down after dying while trying to climb it’s first mountain. Its never the fault of the driver never taking care of their vehicle and it’s certainly never the driver pushing their car too hard.

it always seems to be the fault of some “mechanic” at the “stealership” and the customer always feels ripped off because they haven’t paid xxx for maintenance in the life of the car and now someone wants to charge xxx to repair it.

many times, my customer will print pages from a forum online and it’s up to me to explain in depth what’s actually wrong with the vehicle compared to what someone online is speculating. 100% of this time spent is uncompensated and usually the customer still doesn’t trust me because of what some troll 1000 miles away typed on his keyboard even as they’re driving away in the vehicle I repaired.

@XT2015, you’re one of the best here. Let’s give a stranger the benefit of the doubt. Maybe he sucks or maybe the car is actually broken but before we know anything about what happened or what needs to happen let’s not attack someone’s credibility
 

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these are the type of messages that make me sad.

Several times a year, someone brings me a vehicle that is in very poor condition, usually just got towed down after dying while trying to climb it’s first mountain. Its never the fault of the driver never taking care of their vehicle and it’s certainly never the driver pushing their car too hard.

it always seems to be the fault of some “mechanic” at the “stealership” and the customer always feels ripped off because they haven’t paid xxx for maintenance in the life of the car and now someone wants to charge xxx to repair it.

many times, my customer will print pages from a forum online and it’s up to me to explain in depth what’s actually wrong with the vehicle compared to what someone online is speculating. 100% of this time spent is uncompensated and usually the customer still doesn’t trust me because of what some troll 1000 miles away typed on his keyboard even as they’re driving away in the vehicle I repaired.

@XT2015, you’re one of the best here. Let’s give a stranger the benefit of the doubt. Maybe he sucks or maybe the car is actually broken but before we know anything about what happened or what needs to happen let’s not attack someone’s credibility
Point well taken. I appreciate your feedback because I have grown to respect what you have to say here. I spent time at a garage that used to purposely target old people and women with repairs that weren't needed and charge for parts they never even replaced and I have ever since been on guard. You are right about giving them the benefit of the doubt as a starting point.
 

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It's a 2004 with low miles. That means that it's sat a lot over the last 17 years and it is equally likely that the previous owner rarely if ever changed the coolant. I would say that there is a decent chance that the radiator is plugged/bad. Try running the vehicle with the heat turned on full blast. If it doesn't overheat with the heater turned on then I'd consider that it may simply be a bad radiator. A new radiator is fairly cheap. I think my TYC was under $100. I went with one for a supercharged X because it has two cores instead of one, which is better for the hot climate where I live.

A bad head gasket usually has one or more of the following signs.
1) Coolant in the exhaust (white exhaust smoke and a sweet smell)
2) Exhaust in the coolant (can often be seen as bubbles when you start the engine up with the cap off, but can actually be tested using a kit)
3) Coolant in the oil (take of the oil cap and look to see if there is cream colored scum on the underside of the cap)
4) Obvious exhaust leaking out the side of the engine at the seam between the block and the head.
5) Coolant leaking out the seam at the seam between the block and the head.

Another thing to check is the Fuel Pressure Regulator. When I bought my 2003 X a couple of years back it had a random misfire, was difficult to start after shutting it down and letting it sit for a few minutes, and it was overheating. It turned out that the diaphragm in the FPR was bad and it was dumping raw unmetered fuel into the intake causing it to run rich. To check the FPR just pop the small vacuum line that goes from the FPR to the back of the intake manifold off with the engine running and see if any fuel dribbles out the vacuum line. If it does, you need a new FPR.
 

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2004 XTerra RWD Auto NA 3.3L V6
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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
So did you get any feedback from them on the radiator and water pump? Did they test the radiator and were both the upper and lower radiator hoses getting hot when it was run for the 5 mins that put the temp gauge in the red? If the radiator fan is not turning and the coolant is not flowing through the radiator then the motor is not going to be happy. The heater inside the vehicle should certainly be able to blow hot air and help keep the engine temp down to some degree.
I was only there for part of it so I cannot attest to it all but the radiator fan was indeed turning. Quite honestly I didn't check to see if the coolant was really running and I figured any blockage would have been resolved if the hoses were replaced but I had not considered why we were going with the same radiator until now, I'll have to ask about it when I call him again. It happened in the desert so I assume he knows what he's doing when it comes to overheating vehicles but it doesn't hurt to check. I did not ask about the water pump either so I'll do that too. He seemed like a genuine guy and didn't charge me for the fan clutch labor since it was sort of a Hail Mary on his part to try and see what else it could be without assuming it was the head gaskets.
 

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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
It's a 2004 with low miles. That means that it's sat a lot over the last 17 years and it is equally likely that the previous owner rarely if ever changed the coolant. I would say that there is a decent chance that the radiator is plugged/bad. Try running the vehicle with the heat turned on full blast. If it doesn't overheat with the heater turned on then I'd consider that it may simply be a bad radiator. A new radiator is fairly cheap. I think my TYC was under $100. I went with one for a supercharged X because it has two cores instead of one, which is better for the hot climate where I live.

A bad head gasket usually has one or more of the following signs.
1) Coolant in the exhaust (white exhaust smoke and a sweet smell)
2) Exhaust in the coolant (can often be seen as bubbles when you start the engine up with the cap off, but can actually be tested using a kit)
3) Coolant in the oil (take of the oil cap and look to see if there is cream colored scum on the underside of the cap)
4) Obvious exhaust leaking out the side of the engine at the seam between the block and the head.
5) Coolant leaking out the seam at the seam between the block and the head.

Another thing to check is the Fuel Pressure Regulator. When I bought my 2003 X a couple of years back it had a random misfire, was difficult to start after shutting it down and letting it sit for a few minutes, and it was overheating. It turned out that the diaphragm in the FPR was bad and it was dumping raw unmetered fuel into the intake causing it to run rich. To check the FPR just pop the small vacuum line that goes from the FPR to the back of the intake manifold off with the engine running and see if any fuel dribbles out the vacuum line. If it does, you need a new FPR.
That is a fair point. I hadn't considered how old the coolant probably was which I'm really kicking myself over because I had done my motor, trans and diff oil on the previous weekend and I was gonna wait to buy a new thermometer before I did the radiator. I tried to drive it as little as possible after the incident so I cannot say if the white smoke was coming from the exhaust cause it was cold that morning or because of other issues. I want to double check some of those symptoms with him too when he is back on Monday because while he did drive it a bit his main point was the overheating and not any smoke or loss of power, coolant etc.
 

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I had a 01 V6 that had some cooling system issues. I went through 3 thermostats on it from when I bought it at 133k miles to when I sold it recently at 204k. The last time the thermostat went it was overheating and I was basically positive it was the head gaskets. But an honest shop tested it and didn't get exhaust gasses out the radiator. They diagnosed it as another bad thermostat. And that fixed it. I think those gen1 V6s just have weird cooling systems. So check the water pump and thermostat before you do anything else.
 

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these are the type of messages that make me sad.

Several times a year, someone brings me a vehicle that is in very poor condition, usually just got towed down after dying while trying to climb it’s first mountain. Its never the fault of the driver never taking care of their vehicle and it’s certainly never the driver pushing their car too hard.

it always seems to be the fault of some “mechanic” at the “stealership” and the customer always feels ripped off because they haven’t paid xxx for maintenance in the life of the car and now someone wants to charge xxx to repair it.

many times, my customer will print pages from a forum online and it’s up to me to explain in depth what’s actually wrong with the vehicle compared to what someone online is speculating. 100% of this time spent is uncompensated and usually the customer still doesn’t trust me because of what some troll 1000 miles away typed on his keyboard even as they’re driving away in the vehicle I repaired.

@XT2015, you’re one of the best here. Let’s give a stranger the benefit of the doubt. Maybe he sucks or maybe the car is actually broken but before we know anything about what happened or what needs to happen let’s not attack someone’s credibility
Yep, as an ex dealership parts guy, saw this frequently, it's on the forums, it's gotta be the same problem on my car, F"'*ing forums. Everyone totally distrusts the dealership, or a quality shop, but these are either factory trained or been in business long enough to know what's going on, but the forums said this is my problem so that's gotta be it. As for the original posters issue, have the heads resurfaced as needed, do a valve job, generally the lower end is still in good shape, and be in your way for another 150k. Or put in a used motor with no history and hope for another 50k before the head gsk blows
 

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I agree. It's important to trust your mechanic, but it is equally important to have an understanding of your vehicle and how it works so that you can do at least some of the more basic troubleshooting yourself. It never hurts to ask questions and add in a "Could it be this?". There are a lot of great mechanics out there, unfortunately there are also some subpar mechanics out there and being armed with some basic knowledge goes a long way.
 

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2004 XTerra RWD Auto NA 3.3L V6
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Discussion Starter · #13 ·
I had a 01 V6 that had some cooling system issues. I went through 3 thermostats on it from when I bought it at 133k miles to when I sold it recently at 204k. The last time the thermostat went it was overheating and I was basically positive it was the head gaskets. But an honest shop tested it and didn't get exhaust gasses out the radiator. They diagnosed it as another bad thermostat. And that fixed it. I think those gen1 V6s just have weird cooling systems. So check the water pump and thermostat before you do anything else.
Thank you for the insight. He just started dismantling the engine today so I'll get to hear back if it's the water pump or radiator being faulty. Due to the nature of the abrupt overheating I would assume it's not the thermo but it doesn't hurt to keep it in mind (plus he installed a new one so I'd hope it reads accurately). I went forward with the head gasket and hopefully that'll provide some insight as to what is going on so I'll keep you guys posted. It really sucks having my truck so far away but after a considerable stab wound to my wallet and some insight from you guys, I'm more optimistic than I was a few days ago.
 

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Discussion Starter · #14 · (Edited)
Hey all, I got my truck back and quite honestly I should've been more forward with that mechanic. He replaced the radiator and the problem disappeared. I guess the previous owner had used some radiator sealant stuff that had been knocked loose and blocked a part of the radiator so simply replacing it was the only repair needed. He tested the radiator fluid and did not find any oil so we should be clear on a head gasket. I'll keep an eye out for leaks and other symptoms just to be safe but it seems my truck is back to its' usual self. Thank you for all the insight you guys offered, it helped me feel a lot less lost when my car wasn't right in front of me. Hindsight is 20/20 as usual and I got my eyes ripped out on repair costs but I'll get over it. The mechanic was a nice guy he seemed to feel really bad about not testing the radiator straight away, I suppose I placed too much faith in a desert mechanics ability to correctly diagnose an overheating issue but life goes on.
 

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Maybe that shop could have done better, but we weren't there to hear all of the conversations.

To me, a guy who'll give you a quote on head gaskets and then finds the actual issue is a whole lost less money is a gem of a guy! Instead of letting his ego get the better of him and having to "save face" by doing an unnecessary repair, he was humble enough to do the right thing.

I'm not so sure I'd be putting the bus in reverse and backing over him.
 

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Discussion Starter · #17 ·
Maybe that shop could have done better, but we weren't there to hear all of the conversations.

To me, a guy who'll give you a quote on head gaskets and then finds the actual issue is a whole lost less money is a gem of a guy! Instead of letting his ego get the better of him and having to "save face" by doing an unnecessary repair, he was humble enough to do the right thing.

I'm not so sure I'd be putting the bus in reverse and backing over him.
That's fair, I hadn't really considered that he could've just not told me and gone through with it.
 

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That's fair, I hadn't really considered that he could've just not told me and gone through with it.
It's decent of you to consider that thought. Good job, sir!

I'm sure you also really appreciate having it back and knowing the true condition of things. I hope you get a bunch of happy miles with it. :cool:
 

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Clogged radiators are very common in older vehicles. Over time scale builds up on the inside of the hoses. From time to time it breaks free and plugs things up. If someone squeezes the hoses it definitely breaks free (ask me how I know) and gets flushed through the system until it finds a place to get stuck. From there it builds upon itself creating a dam. If you squeeze your radiator hose and you feel or hear a crackling sound it's time to replace the hoses, or at the very least remove them and clean out the build up on the inside while flushing them with clean water.
 
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