Problem with my 1990 Civic 4WD wagon

I appreciate all comments about my 1990 Civic 4WD wagon. Two weeks ago, I bought the car from an old lady that I knew for over 10 years. She bought a brand new Camry, so she had not been driving the Civic for
3 months. Well, after I test-drove it for 10 minutes, the engine over heated. I drove it back to her, checked the radiator - I did not see any coolant. Then I bought a gallon of coolant and filled up the radiator with almost 1 full gallon. Then the over heat problem was resolved and I bought the car for $2000 (did not negotiate.)
I have been driving it to work for 2 weeks. Every day when I drive the car, I smell something very unpleasant and the smell makes me sick. It smells like coolant, my wife said it smells like exhaust gas. I took the car to a "moon-lighting" mechanic. After a few minutes diagnosis, he commented that the car did not worth $2000. The car may need new brake pads and the CV joints may not be in good shape. These may cost $400. Other than these, he could not find the source of the unpleasant smell. Then he started the engine and noticed that there was excessive white smoke coming out the exhaust pipe/muffler. He said it was abnormal, the engine has potential problems. From my home to his garage, it was 25 miles. He said, the exhaust gas should be pretty clear. Then he stopped further checking and asked me to return the car to the seller.
The lady refused to take it back, of course. But she admitted that she had been smelling the odor since she bought the car 2 years ago. She was willing to return $300 to settle with me. Without any other choices, I accepted it. Now I am worried that this car will cost me lots of money to repair.
My questions are (1) what is the smell, where is it coming from? (2) What caused excessive white smoke in the exhaust? I appreciate any comments.
HWL
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bunny wrote:

    Just a guess, but I think the head gasket would be a good bet. You might have $600 to$700 in getting all the things fixed, but then depending on rust, you might get three or four years out of it. At a grand a year, you would be about normal for car costs.     If you want to get out now, let me know where you are. I know someone who is looking for that car. bob (N.E.Ohio)
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Two weeks

over 10 years.

the Civic for

engine over

did not see

up the

problem was

negotiate.)
when I drive the

me sick. It

gas. I took

minutes diagnosis,

may need new

Do you hear any clicking noises while driving? That would be /a/ symptom of CV joints going bad.
Brake pads are trivial and I wouldn't slam the seller for these. Find a good import car shop and have them use genuine Honda pads. Or buy the pads yourself at www.slhonda.com 's web site, take them to Pep Boys, ask how much to install, but with you providing the pads. All told, shouldn't cost more than $100.
While Pep Boys or whoever does the pads, ask them to look at the CV boots, which fit over the joints. Ask if they see any tears. This takes just a minute or so per side to ascertain. Report back.

the unpleasant

was excessive

it was

to his

should be pretty

return the car

admitted that she

years ago. She

other
will cost me

from? (2)

appreciate any

I agree with what NE Ohio Bob said. That's not cool, selling a car possibly in need of a head gasket. OTOH, you did test drive it, and it overheated right away... Now you know a little more about serious warning signs, so this wasn't a complete waste. Every person I know has had one or more bad car buying experiences, but ones that end up making them better negotiators in the future.
Try to always have a mechanic look the car over before purchasing, or at least put off purchases until all your questions and concerns are answered.
About that coolant you put in: Use only OEM coolant or Havoline Dexcool. If you don't know exactly what's in it now, drain and refill.
If it continues to overheat in the slightest, do not drive it. You'll do much more serious damage. Get the new head gasket (or whatever is the problem) fixed first.
www.edmunds.com says a 1990 Civic 4wd wagon with 100k miles and a major mechanical problem goes for $1300 from a used car dealer. It goes for $2300 in clean, good running condition. Private party prices are much lower.
You weren't too ripped off, money wise. Maybe inconvenience-wise is the main burden.
How many miles are on this car? If no more than about 100k, and assuming you don't drive it when it's overheating, and assuming you repair the cause of overheating, it can serve you well for several years.
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bunny wrote:

i. 1 & 2 are blown head gasket. ii. the brakes & drive shafts could be the mechanic just fishing for work since you seem to be a mechanical newbie. get a second opinion. iii. the 4wd civic wagon is quite a sought-after vehicle in some circles. if you don't want it, and rust is not a problem, you won't have much problem reselling it.
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Thank you Bob, Elle and Jim for you comments.
I live in Minnesota. Old cars in this state are normally rusted. There is no exception on my wagon. Its body has rust all around. Its mileage was 86K when I bought it. Nevertheless, the engine does not run as smoothly as my another 90' Civic DX does. That one has 200K mileage on it, and still running great.
Last night, I took the wagon in for oil change and had 40 points inspection. The mechanic said the brake pads and tires should be good for another 9 months. CV joints' problem is very minor, should not worry about it until they get worsen. The mechanic did not look for the source of the unpleasant smell. He asked me to drive it for another month and observe if the smell persists.
When I drove, I did not hear clicking sound. Only when I backed out from my garage to the street and had a 90 degree turn. Then I would hear clicking sounds under the hood near my steering wheel and in the back.
I don't understand why a blown head gasket would cause over heat and white smoke in the exhaust and lower the gas mileage. Could you direct me to any website where I can get some technical information on that topic? I did observe that the coolant level in the radiator dropped. It is now slightly above the coolant fins. I tried to trace where it leaked but found nothing. Gas mileage is 24 mpg. It was 30 when I drove to Chicago a day after I bought it. It seems the engine is not that bad. Should I go ahead to replace the head gasket or wait until it gets worse?
HWL
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bunny wrote: <snip>

because you're losing compression, losing coolant and overheating the motor.

no! get the gasket replaced.

replace it. driving in this condition can fry the engine and you'll end up having to replace the whole thing. not only is that VERY expensive, you could be on the freeway, seize the engine and find yourself very inconvenienced. replace and be safe.
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rusted.
around. Its

engine does not

has 200K

points
should be good

should not

I think this will invite further comment.
But the head gasket is the bigger concern, for now.
Despite what the mechanic said, I would not drive this car. If I had to, I would be very careful about doing so, and be cognizant that I was risking more serious damage to it by doing so. Don't rely on it to get you anywhere. I wouldn't exactly call the car safe to you, the driver, either, given the CV joint clicking. But see what others say on the CV joints.

it for

backed out

Then I would

and in the

over heat and

You understand that this car's engine has four cylinders into which gasoline and air are introduced, and then ignited with the spark plugs, right? And then the piston moves, right? And a crankshaft converts the up-and-down motion to rotary motion, ultimately turning your car's wheels, right?
The part of the engine that holds the cylinders is called the "cylinder block." It has passages drilled in it so anti-freeze can circulate around the cylinders etc. and keep the cylinder block relatively cool. See the cylinder block at
http://www.hondaautomotiveparts.com/auto/jsp/mws/prddisplay . jsp?inputstate=5&catcgry1=Civic&catcgry290&catcgry3=WGN+4 WD+1600&catcgry4=KA4AT&catcgry5=CYLINDER+BLOCK-OIL+PAN
Sitting on top of the four holes (the cylinders) in the drawing above is a "cylinder head." See it at http://www.hondaautomotiveparts.com/auto/jsp/mws/prddisplay . jsp?inputstate=5&catcgry1=Civic&catcgry290&catcgry3=WGN+4 WD+1600&catcgry4=KA4AT&catcgry5=CYLINDER+HEAD
Notice part #6 is the head gasket. If it tears, due to pressure and age, say, coolant can leak from the cooling passages in the block into the cylinders themselves. Imagine what this does to the usual combustion of fuel and air!
First, combustion is going to be poor. The car is probably blowing a lot of unburnt fuel right out of the exhaust. Hence the poor fuel mileage you're getting, most likely. Second, that white smoke is from either the heating of the coolant during the combusion to a weird kind of steam, or some odd product of combusting gasoline, air, and some of the coolant. You most likely will also smell anti-freeze in the exhaust gases coming out the tailpipe, too.
Anti-freeze may also get into the engine oil, since the cylinder walls are lubricated by the engine oil, and the residual oil falls ultimately into the oil pan. Add anti-freeze to the cylinder, and it's going to do some mixing with the oil lubricating system, too. Very bad... Very risky.

information on that

Google for {"blown head gasket" symptoms}, and a number of sites will come up. They tend to say the same thing, meaning that, while this doesn't happen to all cars, it happens often enough that it's a topic often treated.

dropped.
trace where it

With the white smoke and lowered coolant level, it certainly sounds like a blown head gasket, which means the leak is internal to the engine block. You won't be able to see the leak per se, because it's occuring within the engine's "guts." You can only see what comes out the cylinders (through the exhaust pipe, ultimately) and quite possibly also what gets into the anti-freeze (e.g. oil), or what gets into the oil.
If you check the dipstick, you might notice anti-freeze in the oil. Which, as I noted, is also very serious.

engine is not

I agree that's good intuition, but you're really rolling the dice at this point. As long as you don't let this engine get overheated, or the oil and cooling systems don't beome too contaminated (fat chance?), then at only 86k miles, there's some serious hope that you'll get some serious years out of this car. With some work, it might one day soon run as well as your other Civic. There are a lot of little, fairly inexpensive items that might drastically improve its performance quickly, once the head gasket is fixed.

it
I would take it to an independent import car shop, preferably Honda, have them double check that it's a head gasket. They'll call you to confirm it is, then have it done.
If this car overheats, then the metal of the cylinder can warp, and the damage will be much more expensive to repair.
Sounds like you're keeping coolant in the car with you and watching the levels closely. That's good, but again, you're really rolling the dice. The head gasket leak may not be bad now, but it will likely worsen.
After the head gasket is done, we can talk about a full, basic tuneup (new plugs, wires, distributor cap, rotor, air filter, fuel filter, possibly new PCV valve, all genuine Honda parts, and then check the timing), then go from there to see how it's running.
From reports here, new head gaskets are running $600 to $1000. The tuneup I mention above will run maybe $100 for parts, $100 for labor. Though if you're handy, you can do much of the tuneup yourself.
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Hi Elle and Jim,
Thanks again for the valuable technicial information. Now I understand more about the relationship between cooling system and the engine. I will take your advice and fix the head gasket soon.
Yesterday I testdrove a 1994 Accord LX. The car has little rust on the body, same areas that most Honda's cars had. Its mileage is 135K. The seller put new battery, new tires last year, replaced quite a few major components for the last 2 years, and replaced the muffler last week. He said he used genuine Honda parts. The car runs really great, did not feel any problem about the brakes and CV joints. It also has security system and remote engine start control installed. He is asking for $2500. It seems to be a good deal. Should I take it with full price?
HWL
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> Thanks again for the valuable technicial information. Now I understand

engine. I

rust on the

is 135K. The

quite a few major

last week.

great, did

also has

He is asking

with full

I think you have some tough decisions to make--ones with which people from afar can't really help very well without seeing the cars up close.
Figuring out which of the two cars will give you the most bang for the overall buck spent is very difficult at this point. I don't think the 94 Accord is going to be trouble-free, but it may very well be less trouble. Do you want to put up with the hassle of having the 90 wagon fixed up? Or are you ready to give up on the 90 wagon?
How many miles does the 1990 wagon have on it? I can't remember if you said.
Like I mentioned before, check www.edmunds.com 's used car, appraiser section. It does suggest the price for the Accord above is very good. If you continue to consider it, then you should insist the car be checked out by a mechanic (of your choosing, not the seller's) first. Then, if it appears to be in good condition, offer $2000 and see if he'll come down to at least $2250, say. Or, if you hate haggling, and it's in good repair, just pay the $2500.
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My 90 Wagon has 87K mileage on it. I do plan to fix it up and drive it until it dies, because I don't think I can sell it for $2000. My wife likes it and fits inside quite well because she is only 5' tall.
My another 90 Civic DX has 200K mileage on it. I am considering getting that 94 Accord LX to replace it. I was thinking to offer $2100 and see how the seller responds. Before I bought the 90 wagon, I had a 93 Accord EX but my wife ran into a tree in a snowy morning and damaged it. It would cost $1600 to repair, so I trashed it. I had spent a lot of money to up keep it. It has been running great for the past 2 years without any problem. The mileage just reached 220K.
I remember I spent lots of money to keep both cars running when their mileages reached 160K. I think that 94 Accord LX would have similar problems at that mileage. So I will see how it goes tomorrow when I deal with the seller.
HWL
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My daughter's '93 Accord LX has given good service in the 4 1/2 years we've had it (has it really been that long?) It needed the timing belt, since it apparently had the original at 163K miles. A pair of drive axles, a radiator, an igniter and a coil, a window regulator. A pair of front brake discs because I didn't watch the brakes closely enough. Oh - an oversize drain plug. I think that's all it took to get it through about 50K miles. It only stranded her once (the igniter) and threatened to strand her once more (the coil.) I wish my old Volvo had aged that gracefully.
Personal note to Elle - thanks for the advice about the coil. She made it to San Diego and back on their belated honeymoon without a hiccup!
Mike
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message .

up and drive it

$2000. My wife

5' tall.

considering
to offer $2100

wagon, I had a

morning and damaged

had spent a lot

the past 2 years

running when their

have similar

tomorrow when I

4 1/2 years we've

timing belt, since it

axles, a

pair of front brake

Oh - an oversize

about 50K miles. It

strand her once more

coil. She made it to

hiccup!
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coil. She made it to

hiccup!
Michael Pardee, thank you, but <head in hands> are you now revealing you sent your daughter on her honeymoon with a non-OEM ignition coil?? Oh m'goodness...
I'm betting the brother had something to do with this. Rascals all...
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Actually both the seller and I take our cars to the same moon-lighting mechanic for repair. It is the mechanic who refered me to the seller. The mechanic suggested me to test drive it and if I like it then get it. He did not ask me to negotiate. But when I told him on the phone about the 90 wagon, he said the car did not worth $2K because some repairs would be expected. Well, I made a wrong judgement and did not get a good price on the wagon.
HWL
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