1984 T-Bird may have cracked engine block .. HELP!

HI --- I know virtually nothing about cars and need some advice. I have a 1984 Ford Thunderbird (302, V8, 130,000 miles on it, air conditioner hasn't worked in 5 years) that I may have killed by
letting it overheat too much.
I was driving down the interstate at about 70 mph when the red engine light came on. (The car doesn't have a temperature gauge -- kind of scary, I know). I stopped the car at an exit. I let it sit for about 10 minutes and then made the mistake of taking the radiator cap off. Coolant spewed everywhere. I added 1/2 gallon of water (which was hot from being in my trunk) and drove the car down to a nearby Exxon station. The mechanic there hosed the engine down with cold water (which worried me --- I thought there might be too extreme a temperature difference). He then added more cold water to my radiator while the car was running and told me to watch for the engine light to go off. It did after a few minutes. He told me to get the radiator serviced when I got to my destination (which was 150 miles away).
Well, only a mile down the road, the engine light came on again. I thought it might go off as the water circulated (wishful and foolish thinking on my part). About 5 miles later, it started making noise under the hood. I was afraid to stop on the interstate with cars whizzing by at 70 to 80 mph. I drove it a few more miles to the next exit ramp where it stalled in the middle of the road and massive amounts of white smoked billowed up from under the hood.
After an hour and a half of waiting for a tow truck, it was finally taken to a local garage. The owner/mechanic said it looked like the water pump went. He said he'd replace that as well as the thermostat. He had trouble getting the pump off due to a bolt that wouldn't budge. It ended up breaking so he had to take the timing cover off. The whole job costs nearly $400.
The mechanic test drove the car for 20 minutes before he planned to give it back to me, and guess what ... It overheated. Now he says 1) there may have been more damage to the engine that he had originally thought, 2) the engine block may be cracked, though it doesn't show symptoms of that, 3) a head gasket could have blown, 4) it may need a new radiator (it still has the original one in it).
It'll be 3 days before the mechanic can do any more work on it. I'm worried sick. I was stupid not to stop immediately when the light came on. What should I do if the engine block is cracked or a head gasket is blown? Until now the car has been very reliable for an old clunker. I'm unemployed and really can't afford another car. And I'm kind of emotionally attached to my old T-Bird anyway.
Thanks,
Sheri
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Nothing scary about that.

That is the scary part, the red light means stop, not keep going till the next exit.

Not so.

Bad advice, should have been towed.

You do need a radiator, it's a 84. But that is a moot issue, The engine HAS been damaged more than you know. Cracked block? Most likely not, crack in the heads? Yes. And lots of damage to the rings and bearings.

Get over the emotion, it is only a car. Start pricing engines. The rings have been overheated, I'll bet my next pay check they are toast. The oil was overheated, which most certainly caused damage to the bearings.

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Are they still making cars with those stupid 'ENGINE' lights? The trouble with those is that you get no warning signs at all. One day everything seems fine, and the next day the light is on. By then the damage is almost certainly done, because the darn thing does not turn on until the coolant reaches 230-240 degrees, and you might have been driving with an overheating engine for a year. To add insult to injury, Ford had the brilliant idea of a twin function: low oil pressure or high temperature, so even when it turned on, you had no clue why.
Years ago I bought a used 85 LTD with this smart arrangement. The previous owner must have been running on tap water for a long time and the radiator was plugged. When the light turned on, the transmission was already damaged. Shortly afterwards a lifter seized, bringing me the joys of camshaft replacement. I left the idiot light connected to the oil pressure switch, and installed an aftermarket temperature gauge. That engine served me for 80,000 miles after the overheating incident. I still drive the car occasionally (now on its second engine and third radiator).
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If you see a engine light turn on, it's not that scary.

If you see an engine light turn on, you should pull over and stop immediately and let your engine cool. (If you are a female driver, tie an orange flag or ribbon to your driver sideview mirror, STAY in your car and wait for help.) If you are a male driver, just pop open your hood and let your engine cool, then get back in your car and wait for help.

NEVER, take the radiator cap off when the engine is still hot, EVER! Wait for it to cool down first.

Very BAD advice. You should never trust a mechanic at a gas station. It should have been towed to a nearest garage.

It's unlikely that an engine block would be cracked, but it can happen. It's more likely that your engine heads is damaged in the rings and bearings.

You shouldn't be too worried about your car. It's only a car. Even if you are unemployed, you may want to look in some junkyards for some replacement radiator and engine since it's a 1984 Thunderbird 302 V8. Who knows, you may find them for really cheap.
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<snip>

What rock did you crawl out from under? Go to the Archie Bunker school of wisdom?
<snip>

So all mechanics at gas stations can not be trusted?
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If the car had a crack block or cracked head or a blowned head gasket you would have seen other signs than overheating after replacing the water pump. A blowned head gasket would be blowing white smoke out the tail pipe along with water. I think that a crack head will do the same thing as it will also caused the head gasket to blow. With a cracked block you would be leaking water out the side of the block or leaking water into the oil. All of these conditions should be readily visible after the water pump repair or even before. If the Mechanic drove the car for twenty minutes before overheating he may be trying to fuck you. Start the engine if no white smoke out the tailpipe I do not think you have a cracked head or blowned head gasket. Check the oil for water in oil, It will show up as little beads of water on the dipstick and oil may be milky looking.
-- javatek?@usa.com
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Being as it's an old car, the radiator is probably the problem. In an effort to save money, call a few junkyards and ask what the newest radiator is that will fit your car. Radiators are very generic and one radiator will fit many models and years. If you can get one that's only a few years old, get a used one from a junkyard, flush it out well with a garden hose and put it on. If the newest you can find is more than 6 or 8 years old, your money is better spent on a new one or on getting yours reconditioned. On an older car keeping it cool is #1 priority. Take it from one who's been there and done that. LOL While replacing the radiator, install an aftermarket temp gauge. You can get a mechanical one (not electrical) for $25 or less. Installation is simple. Turn the gauge so that normal temp has the needle pointing straight up. That way you don't have to actually read the gauge, just give it a quick glance.
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Does your car still have the original water hoses ? Ford had a bad time with hoes in 84 and 85, Pinhole leaks would developed in the hoses that would bleed off the water once the radiator temp got up to normal temps. I had trouble with the heater hoses in my 85 tbird
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Hi again --- Thanks to everyone for your advice/suggestions. The mechanic did say the car isn't acting like there's a cracked engine block or blown head gaskets. Right now he seems kind of baffled that it's still overheating. He said he can do some tests to determine for sure about the engine block and heads before he proceeds to the radiator. I'll keep the things you all have said in mind when I talk to him in a couple days.
I always worried about the car just having an ENGINE light. I did know that it meant 2 things --- an oil or coolant problem. I just didn't know what to think when that light came on. I've had the car 11 years and that light has never come on when the car was moving (I used to see it just when the car would stall due to a chronic EGR valve problem, which hasn't been a problem for several years, because I now have it routinely cleaned).
When I saw that ENGINE light, all I could think of is getting off that interstate. My dad knew a man whose brother stopped on an interstate to help a stranded motorist. Someone plowed into them and this man's brother was killed. This apparently is not uncommon. I think several policeman were killed in SC last year helping motorist, and a few years back a tow truck driver was killed helping someone stranded on one of those maniac interstates near Charlotte. People just don't slow down. The one thing that made me feel some comfort in this situation was getting off at an exit and onto a secondary road going into a little town where the speed limit was 35. I just wish that exit had been closer --- my poor engine really suffered in the process of getting there.
Thanks again,
Sheri
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The getting hit while broken down on the interstate is not as common as you are believing. First and foremost you need to understand how to do it safely. Pull all the way over in the shoulder, if there is grass beyond that go there. Turn on your hazard lights and put a white towel in the drivers window ( universal distress signal ). You now have a few options. If there is a safe place to walk along the interstate, and a call box is with in safe walking distance, do that. If you do not feel safe due to maybe being night, wait in the car with the doors locked. State police patrol and will be at your aide. If you have a cell phone, better yet, make the call and wait in the car. Do not have a cell phone? A prepay type is just the perfect tool for those unforeseen types of trouble. The point is keep your head where it should be, do not let emotion guide you, that is what will get you hurt or killed. In this instance would have also saved you a lot of money.
The other piece of advise? Change "mechanics" If he is stumped by a constant overheat condition, he does not know what he is doing and will cost you a lot more funds.

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Sheri opined in

SHeri... sorry to hear of your plight.
Anything and everything in the responses MAY be true... but your decision is going to have to be based on what it's going to cost you to get the car back home, troubleshooting and repairs costs.
For that you need the advice of your friends and friends of friends... plus availability of replacement car.
It may be lots cheaper to walk away from it. Or trade it for something else.. some guys can get "their cars" towed back for nothing, in their accounting systems - but would have to charge you.
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Backyard Mechanic wrote:

BM's thought might be well worth considering.
However, keep in mind the OCO Law. (Older-Car Owner's).
"The owner of an older car shall dutifully perform haphazard maintenance, regularly tow or push vehicle to automobile service shops, and expend in repair bills no less than three times the market value of the vehicle in any given twelve month period. After which time that all end-of-life-cycle moving parts have been replaced in their entirety, the owner shall, in complete exasperation, divest her/him self of said vehicle. The subsequent owner shall then take possession and benefit no less than one hundred thousand trouble-free miles."
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My vote is with the majority, new radiator time. It is possible that the fan clutch is bad but it wouldn't overheat on the highway, only when moving slower. I loved my '84 T'Bird and hope you can get yours fixed properly. The 302 is almost bullet-proof. If there is no white smoke from the exhaust and no milky gunk in the oil, I suspect the engine is OK. I am a bit suspicious of the mechanic, tho.
Paul in Dayton

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Hi again:
To Steve: A few years ago, a heater hose went on the car. I could see water pouring out from underneath. I was less than a mile from the Texaco station where I usually have it worked on. I drove it to the station (engine light never came on). Also, a while back, I noticed a split forming in the upper radiator hose. I bought another one at NAPA and had the guys at Texaco put it on.
To Farley : I had to chuckle at your analysis of owning old cars.
This problem couldn't have happened at a worst time. I just moved one week ago to a town on the other side of the state where I don't really know anyone yet. When the breakdown occurred I was driving back to my hometown to see my parents and get more of my stuff. Right now the big dilemma is, if the engine is severely damage, do I send it to the junkyard, get it towed back here (it's 50 miles away) and worked on, or get it transported back to my parents house (almost 200 miles away) where I do know some honest mechanics.
It's hard living in a new town. I don't know who to trust and people like me with little knowledge of cars do get cheated. A couple years ago, I had a battery put in at Sears. The guy claimed my alternator wasn't working properly and that I'd probably get stranded on my way home. I told him I wanted a second opinion before getting it fixed. I drove it to my trusted Texaco station. They tested it and the manager came out smiling. He said "I'll replace your alternator if you want me to, but there's nothing wrong with it."
To Paul: The mechanic did say the fan clutch is bad, but didn't fix it since that wouldn't cause overheating at 65 mph. He's going to do some kind of chemical test tomorrow to check for a cracked engine block, and then probably replace the radiator as the next step. He seems very knowledgeable and has been super nice. Because I was stranded in a place far away from friends and relatives, he actually got his son to drive me back to my new apartment (50 miles away). There were no rental cars available (due to the Labor Day holiday) and not even bus service, a cab, or a hotel in that little town. I gave the kid $30 for his trouble. Even if I didn't make it home for the weekend, I was so relieved just to get back to my new place.
I'll write again tomorrow when I know more.
Thanks,
Sheri
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Please keep us informed.
Paul

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Hi again --- Thanks to everyone for your words of wisdom. The verdict on the car is that the engine block isn't cracked, and the heads aren't damaged either. What was causing it to overheat again was the new thermostat. The mechanic said the parts place sold him a bad one. Once that was replaced it was running fine. I just made the 50-mile trip back here, and it seemed like its old self.
I am pretty nervous about the permanant damage I may have done to the engine that will show up later. The mechanic said he can't determine ring damage at this time, but that he didn't see any of that bluish smoke coming out of the tailpipe. He seemed very optimistic. I will however check the oil frequently. It was never an oil burner before, so at least I have that on my side.
As for the radiator, the mechanic said it's not leaking so I'm just going to wait to get it replaced. I'm just too broke right now.
If that ENGINE light ever comes on again, I will definitely stop immediately. I'm mad at myself for not doing so (and pretty upset with the first mechanic at the Exxon station who just assumed it was low coolant levels and sent me back onto the interstate --- I feel his bad advice really caused a lot of extra damage).
I know I'm lucky because the mechanic at the garage who fixed my car said that same day, another girl had driven her overheated Oldsmobile (early 90's model) until it stalled at that same exit. She was like me --- she just wanted to get off the interstate, but her engine block ended up cracked.
I'm hoping to get a newer car within a year or so, but maybe keep the Thunderbird. It's needs a new paint job and some body work to be restored to its former glory:-)
Thanks again everyone,
Sheri
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More than likely the water pump was not defective. It was probably a bad thermostat all along and the mechanic only said he replaced it the first time.
-- javatek?@usa.com
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I'm glad to hear everything seems to be OK.
My '84 with the V-8 check-engine light came on one night while driving on the freeway in East St. Louis. I was nervous about stopping since I had heard recent news stories of people getting beaten up in that area when stopped. The light would go off if I drove about 40 mph. There was no steam, hoses were firm and not overly hot and no odd noises from the engine. I drove about 100 miles to get back to Springfield, IL. I found the oil pump had clogged (thank you, Slick 50). After cleaning it and changing oil, I drove the car another 100,000 miles with no problems at all. That's why I say the 302 is just about bullet-proof. Enjoy your car - I miss mine, it was a lot of fun to drive.
Paul in Dayton

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Sheri,
I'm also glad to hear that everything seem to be okay. I usually don't trust gas station machenics anywhere. Consider yourself lucky that you found a pretty decent mechanic nearly 50 miles from your apartment. The Exxon station mechanic was going to put all the extra damage on your car. You should try to get a newer car within the next year or so and keep your T-Bird. I currently own a 2002 Ford Taurus SEL and I love that car. Try test driving some newer cars from between brand new and 5 years old.
I used to have a '94 Ford Taurus GL. It had problems with the brakes. I had to put new brake pads on all four tires. Put a new left front caliper on it. That whole job costs about $400. Then, a couple weeks later, I was driving in the snow and my '94 Taurus was skidding and almost hit a guard rail and an approaching vehicle. So, I knew it was time to put 4 new tires. I wanted to put Michelin Weatherwise tires on them, but they were too expensive. So I settled for the all weather Goodyear tires for about $250 for all 4 tires. The heater worked fine, but the AC wasn't working. So, on a warm February day in Vermont last year (It was actually 65 - 70 degrees that day, I decided to trade in my '94 Taurus for a 2002 Taurus SEL. I traded in my old '94 Taurus as is with no warranty. I got a dadgum good deal on my '02 Taurus. The trade-in value was a little low, but the dealer allowed me to put down $2000 on my '02 Taurus and drive it home.
Please keep us Ford motorheads posted on your condition with your '84 T-Bird 5.0 302 V8.
~CyberWolf
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