Opinion please; Blown Head Gasket?

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Car info: 92 Honda Civic DX 340k(engine rebuilt at 300k)
About a week ago my engine troubles started. Was driving home when the engine temperature shot up, checked the
coolant and there was none there. Refilled it, took it to a mechanic friend, he said the Thermostat wasn't working, which was resulting in the coolant being boiled off. Seemed reasonable, changed that, coolant hasn't been dissappearing much or at all since then. (timing belt is going, can't drive it around much to check) WAS going to get the belt changed, but the mechanic at the place I took it to was pretty convinced I had a blown head gasket or cracked head. All he did was take off the valve cover, didn't do any compression tests etc.
There seems to be no coolant in the oil pan, and no oil in the coolant. But the inside of the valve cover is covered in this brown sludge.
I'm not sure what to do. Is it definitally a blown head gasket/cracked head? Could that brown sludge have formed inside the valve cover any other way?
Not really willing to dish out the 1500 to repair the head gasket right now, or the 3000 to repair the head. Want to be sure of where I go from here and would appreciate any opinons. The car is a really nice ride and I'll be sorry to see it go.
Here are a couple pictures of the valve cover and lifters etc
http://i36.photobucket.com/albums/e15/Greyjaei/2.jpg
http://i36.photobucket.com/albums/e15/Greyjaei/1.jpg
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See my response to Hendersauce's post, "Need some DIY input to replace a headgasket on my 93' Civic DX" earlier today.
The sludge is mostly the result of too much time between oil changes - see http://tegger.com/hondafaq/sludge/index.html
I'm not sure I understand why the mechanic removed the valve cover if he suspected a head gasket or head problem.
Mike
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Michael Pardee wrote:

Sorry, the Mechanic was removing the valve cover while going to change the timing belt, but he stopped because of the sludge, he was pretty sure it was coolant mixed with oil. Is there anyway for coolant to get into the valves without it being a blown head gasket or cracked head?
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Greyjaei wrote:

I can't really think of how it would get in there if it WAS a blown head gasket, unless it was just leaking from the water jacket into the crankcase or an oil feed, in which case you'd should signs of it on the dipstick as well.
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That's! what I'm trying to get to the bottom of Matt Ion wrote:

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More often coolant in the oil makes it milky looking, because the leak is not often small. Sludge normally comes from condensation of the water vapor from combustion blow-by; every gallon of gasoline produces approximately a gallon of water in the form of vapor when it burns. A little of it always mixes with the oil, and if the car isn't driven long enough at a time the "oil" can actually become up to a third water. Sludge time!
If there is coolant in the oil you will probably also see oil in the coolant (oil is forced into the coolant when the engine is running, and coolant is forced into the oil when the engine is cooling off). That is easy enough to see, even in tiny quantities - it floats on the top of the coolant in the radiator and the reservoir.
Mike
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I had the privilege of recently seeing the old oil from a car with a blown head gasket. It looked exactly like what filled up the valve cover in photo 1 that you linked. It's the consistency/thickness of a milk shake, and brownish-green, as described at many web sites.
Sludge that forms due to a lack of regular oil changes seems to me to be more black in color; more tar-like. (OTOH, I recognize Michael as an expert here... )
From reading here, and working with a friend's car this past summer, the oil-in-the-coolant and coolant-in-the-oil indications do not seem to always appear. My friend's Civic was experiencing regular overheaing. Ultimately she had to have the coolant tested for exhaust products at the local dealer. That nailed it. Her 99 Civic, about 115k miles, needed a new head gasket. Years before she had had one overheat episode. But it might have just been the very hot summer this year that put too much strain on the gasket.
If the car is not overheating, then from what you say, I guess I'd change the oil and monitor for a few weeks. Or consider having the coolant chemistry tested for something like $50.
With the recent overheat episode, I would not be optimistic.

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Thanks, I like that idea, Coolant testing, I live in kind of a back-water place though, wonder if we'll have it
Elle wrote:

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Definitely - failure from the combustion chamber to the coolant passages is pretty common. I imagine it has something to do with extremely hot gasses under high pressure hammering on it ;-)

That's the part that worries me, too. Even a single serious overheat can warp the head (and it's not just a Honda thing), causing the middle to lift up from the gasket. The repair is the same as head gasket replacement with the addition of having the head planed at a cylinder head shop or machine shop. In any event, the head will have to be checked for flatness and should be looked over by an expert before reinstalling, if you (the OP) do have to remove the head.
Mike
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The head gasket is most likely torn or burned and also there may be a tiny crack in the engine block or warping due to heat. The Civic's have been having a lot of these types problems and I personally know someone who had to replace the engine in his 98 because of a crack. Because of other problems he had to sell the car and lost a whole bunch of money in the long run by doing the repairs. The Hondas are not the only make cars suffering these type problems and it seems the auto companies have cheapened engineering and quality of parts to save a few cents here or there. I would recommend you ditch the car as is by selling, maybe give to donation to Red Cross or something like that and get a tax deduction. Use the money you would have spent on the repair and then buy or lease a new car. Try to buy an inexpensive car and run it into the ground. It's sad but cars with these types of problems usually become deep money pits. Other's may disagree but that has been my experience with both foreign and american branded cars. Good Luck to You, Rick
On Fri, 22 Sep 2006 09:07:57 -0400, Michael Pardee

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Michael Pardee wrote:

not only that, it's about the /only/ way an open deck honda motor can leak!

indeed!
head skimming is /not/ always essential, and i recommend against it where possible. for a diy repair where cleanup can be done at home and deck flatness can be easily tested, there's no reason to skim. it makes sense to shops because they don't want to spend too much time and they want to cover their asses in the event of return, but imo, it's shoddy practice based on habit, not reality of the repair.

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E

While that's my (admittedly amateur) bet, I wouldn't put all my money on it, because I am baffled as to why the oil around the rocker arm assembly is not all green-brown milk shake looking. (Well nor does it look sludged from not having the oil changed regularly, but maybe the camera is not capturing all.)
Like you and others seem to suggest, if the valve cover top has all this coolant-in-the-oil look to it, one would surely see the same around the rocker arms, etc. wouldn't they?
Like I mentioned, I saw a guy dumping a pan full of coolant-contaminated engine oil (from a definite blown head gasket), and its contents looked like what the OP's valve cover photo showed, but I did not walk over to the car and look at the rest of the engine. (This was an aside to an automotive course I took recently.)
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Greyjaei wrote:

mayonnaise is definitely head gasket or worse - unless there's some really basic error like someone "filling" the radiator using the wrong hole.
since this motor has already been rebuilt, and since mayonnaise is a comparatively rare symptom of gasket failure in open deck honda motors, i would be worried about cracked block or head and therefore /not/ repair it. instead, buy a jdm replacement motor for ~$300. it's quick, cheap, and a lot better than stripping, testing, replacing & rebuilding what may be a piece of junk.
are you in northern california and is the transmission automatic? if so, and if you don't want to deal with a repair like this, let me know - i may be interested in buying it...
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Thanks everyone, this is all great advice and I appreciate it! I'm leaning towards selling the car, it still looks nice and for the moment it runs great. But I'm betting on a cracked head. I have a feeling other things are going to start going, they may be minor but they'll start adding up. Boy I'll miss this car if it goes though, good car. I'll look into the engine replacement, not sure that's an option. I live up North near Alaska, things like that may be hard to come by. Thanks again.
jim beam wrote:

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Greyjaei wrote:

google for jdm import engines. they're cheap and they ship to your door. even alaska.

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Did a compression test today, here are the results from left to right as you look at the motor from the front of the car.
190 240 185 175
May have been coolant spraying out of the second. There was also a puddle of oil forming under where the timing belt should be.
any more thoughts on this?
Greyjaei wrote:

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Ouch! There isn't much point in putting labor into that engine. Those numbers tell a grim story and in combination with the other indications a replacement engine from Japan is going to be your best bet if you want to keep the car. The others here can give you pointers with that. (That 240 is actually from the second cylinder?)
Mike
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The 240 is the one that is the second closest to the distributer cap. Not too sure on the ordering, so bear with me :)
Michael Pardee wrote:

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Yeah... my concern is that typical (not necessarily all) head gasket failures are in the center of the head, and especially those resulting from overheating. If you had 185-160-150-175 I'd think a head gasket would get you looking decent again. With the possibility of coolant in the oil but not oil in the coolant and the atypical compression numbers, plus the other observations you have, I'm concerned you will find a crack in the head or block. That would allow coolant into the crankcase without letting oil into the coolant. It also is not what you want to deal with. A replacement engine is the clearest path to daylight again.
Mike
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That slow creeping dreadfull feeling inside of me was right ;)
Thanks again!
Michael Pardee wrote:

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