97 Lumina - driving with leaking intake manifold?

Hi!
I am thinking about buying a used 97 Chevy Lumina LS...in fact I would have already, had the mechanic not told me that the car has a leaking intake manifold (a common problem with these engines as I have found
out looking on the web). She said that this might eventually cause coolant leaking into the oil.
My question is: how safe is it to drive around with that without fixing it (it would cost $600, quite a lot compared to the $1.800 purchase price)? I only need the car for 4 months (I am an exchange student and going back to my country after that) and am probably going to drive some 10.000 miles. The mechanic told me that it is fine to drive around without fixing it, she could just check, every time she performs an oil change, if the coolant had already started mixing with the oil. However, she told me before going on a longer trip, I should definetely get it done, because it could leave me stranded on the road.
What would happen if the engine locked up? Would that ruin the engine for good, or could I still just get the manifold replaced?
I am reluctant to doing this repair, since the previous owner was/is driving around with the car without problems. Also the mechanic was a little contradictory in her arguments. On the one hand she said, I don't need to get it fixed, it's fine if she just checks the oil. On the other hand, I should do it before going on long trips. But what's the difference? If my engine is ruined I don't really care if it happens in my town or somewhere else.
Thanks for any help you can give me!
Martin
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Martin,
As an exchange student you probable have a lot of things you want to do while you are here. The last thing you need is a car leaving you stranded somewhere. Could ruin your whole visit! Either plan on having it fixed right away, or walk away from it.
Ed

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I would avoid this car. In the worst case, you can ruin the engine. In a milder case, you will be walking when you want to be riding.
Most later model GM cars (from about 1993-1994) have some weaknesses inherent with the engines. This included the 3800, and the 3.1-3.4 litre engine series.
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That's the million dollar question Martin. All of these GM 6 cylinders suffer this problem and there are tens of thousands of them driving around the roads every day, with leaking manifolds. They will go for a long time leaking, and present no other problems. At some point the gaskets degrade to the point where the leak is noteworthy though. If the gaskets degrade to the point that you are letting coolant into the oil in significant amounts, you would certainly be suspecptible to a major problem. Can't say you'd suffer a major breckdown for sure, but water in oil is always an alarming condition.

How daring are you? Like I said - there are tons of these driving around on the roads. You might simply add one to that number, with no additional problems. Then again... The good part is that with any kind of a watchful eye at all, this is not the kind of problem that results in a catastrophic failure that sneaks up on you. There's enough warning signs leading up to any failure.

Junk.
I'm certain your mechanic is trying to do two things at once - give you a practical perspective (there are a ton of cars like this on the road), and a certain cautionary note as well. Without knowing the actual extent of the leak and the degradation to the gaskets, she can't be much more reassuring, and there is a risk of engine failure on the extreme side.
It's really hard for anyone who has not seen the car to give you a real recommendation. Your mechanic has seen the car and she wasn't confident enough to give you a solid "buy" signal. These leaks do develop to the point where they are of a serious concern and where serious engine damage can result, especially if you are the type of driver who never looks at your oil, etc. You can't even guess by the mileage, what the odds are. My daughter's Malibu went over 100,000 before I replaced the gaskets. I don't know when they started leaking because the car was used. Hers was consuming an alarming amount of coolant. My car (an '03 with a 3.4L) had only 39,000 mile on it and needed gaskets. The '03 was just beginning to show leakage and would have gone for some time with no attention, but I had that fixed because the car was under warranty.
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Thanks for all the replies!
Mike, actually the mechanic did talk quite nicely about the car, she said it would definetely be a good car to have, and that there was nothing "major" wrong with it, even though, in relation to the purchase price, I think this is quite a chunk of money. The car actually has a 160.000 miles on it and the mechanic told me, that most likely the gasket had already been replaced once (because it has been driven so much). You said, that there are enough warning signs before anything major occurs. Can you elaborate on that? Is it possible to just peak into the oil tank and see coolant floating with the bare eye? Unfortunately I don't remember how the oil tank looked like, and if that is possible.
Well, as luck may have it, I just ran across a 95 Lumina today. I am going to check it out tomorrow. Asking price is $1.600, if I can get it down to $1.200 (KBB price) or at least $1.400 I'll take it. Then I'll have the mechanic check it out as well and just pray that the manifold isn't leaking...
Martin
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Martin - you will notice the coolant consumption rate increase as the problem worsens. You may see water in the oil - on the dipstick. With an eye towards these things you won't be taken by surprise by a sudden failure. It is a problem that should be repaired if you were going to keep the car, but you're not.
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