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Garage blew up Gasket After changing water pump, radiator and Thermostat, to Repair a heating problem in my Celica 2004

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My Toyota Celica 2004 vti had a heating problem - blowing cold air but no heating. 

the car was bought new,  has been serviced and MOT certified at the same garage since 2004.  My wife and I have seen no signs of a leak of any sort on or under the car, no white smoke emitted, and the engine showed no sign of overheating.  everything seemed normal when the car was checked in for repairs- apart from the heater blowing cold air, but no heating. 

The weather since Chrismas 2020 was generally cold (frost at night and some days occasional snow). And as we were in the Covid - 19 lockdown since last March 2020, the car was used only for very short distances and occasional drive to keep the Battery working. 

The car service and MOT was done in March 2020.  Inin July 2020 Covid Lockdown eased, so we decided to visit friends and family.  The car was not accelerating properly , we thought may be because the car was stationary most of the time.   After we drove about  90 miles the car stopped pulling altogether but luckily managed to get to the hard shoulder on the Motorway. So we had a breakdown. 

Motorway recovery helped us and brought the car to our usual Garage.  They fitted a new clutch that cost us about £ 800 UK pounds.  With the Covid lockdown becoming stricter, the use of the car became even more limited - only going shopping or going to the doctor or collecting medication.

About two months ago the car stopped heating altogether, and because all our travel was almost less than ten minutes drive each way, we thought may be it was the freezing weather.  But one day - the 21 February 2021 was a relatively warm day, but the car heater still didn't work - blowing only cold air from the two air vents on the driver and passenger side, but no air at all from the two vents in the middle of the dashboard between the passenger and the driver seats.    So I stopped by the Garage and reported the problem.  The Garage owner, who was also a mechanic asked me to check the coolant level and the thermostat - I couldn't find where it was located, so I went back to the Garage.  The coolant level was low and booked the car for repair on Tuesday, 16th of February 2021

On Wednesday, the garage telephoned us to say that they had to change the water pump, and after that they rang to say they need to change the radiator as well, which they said will get it and fit it on Friday 21 February, they also said they changed the thermostat.

On Monday they rang to say they changed the radiator but the Gasket blew up when they started the engine, and  that repairing the gasket would cost about £1500 plus VAT and that, coming on top of £500 cost of replacing the water pump the thermostat and the radiator, and given the  age of the car- it won't be worth going ahead with repairing the Gasket.  That was shocking.

  They offered us -a £300 as part exchange towards buying one of their used cars and a cancellation of the £500 - the cost of replacing the water pump, the thermostat, and the radiator.

The First Question to be raised here is:  

Whose responsibility it is? Us or the Garage? I believe the car was put safely under their care and the Garage should bear responsibility for what they did and didn't do and should at least restore the car to what it was and repair the Gasket.  what do you think? 

The Second Question is:  what checks should the Garage have done before starting the engine which, they said, blew up the Gasket.

as they started the engine?

The Third Question is:  Was it really necessary to change the water pump, the radiator, and the Thermostat to repair the heating problem that remained unsolved?.   Aren't these parts checked when the car has been serviced? And if the radiator was rusty, why it was left to decay and never pointed out?   

Thank you for your thoughts and contributions  in anticipation.


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The problem was most likely weeping of coolant from the bottom corner of the radiator. Because the coolant collects on top of the under engine plastics, rather than leaving a small pool under the car, the first you are likely to be aware of a problem is cold air from the vents. This is a very common issue on the Gen 7.

The radiator isn't checked as part of a service, as it would need to be removed for the bottom to be closely examined for pin hole leaks.

If I was having this work done at a garage, I would expect to pay £50 for a new radiator (Koyo), about £40 for Toyota LongLife coolant, and a maximum of 1.5 hours labour, including bleeding the system of air (I've watched a friend do exactly this work on my 2004 VVTi as preventative maintenance).

I should add that HGF is very rare on these cars.

It's a shame you've waited 17 years to come on the forum, and only then when it's too late. The advice the gurus on here give would have saved the car, and the hit on your pocket.

Have you contacted Citizens Advice or Trading Standards?.

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Yes, that sounds a bit of a shame esp regarding it's history and your recent expenditure.

As been stated, head gasket wise these cars are pretty robust, however during the tricky coolant bleeding procedure is probably the one time when some of this engines fragilities of overheating coolant and Oil can come to the fore.

I've seen quite a few of these cars for sale in the past with exactly the same alleged issue after having had the work done.

Redress sounds tricky, however the first thing I think I would want is confirmation and if necessary a second opinion that the head gasket has indeed gone, and not that it is just an incomplete, as yet, attempt at bleeding the coolant, and an opportunity to upsell you into another car.

What sort of a dealer is it and where is it located?

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Thank you gezhenry and Scarlett Arrow, your response is much appreciated. 

I think it is wiser not to name the garage at this sage lest it be regarded 'defamatory'.    No. I have not  consulted anybody yet.  I am using my own legal knowledge ( I am a retired university lecturer in Law), and the knowledge I got from reading manuals and expert opinions about the specific problem in hand, namely: the heater blowing cold air but no heating. 

The garage has a duty of care, and in my view their care in this case was sub-standard.  In my view the garage blew up the gasket out of negligence, ignorance,  or both. 

I am writing to them to ask for a step-by-step report on how they dealt with car from checking in to blowing the gasket. I think that the main point in my favour is that, they are not denying that the gasket blew up when they started the engine,   after they had completed fitting a new water pump, a thermostat, a radiator, and filled the coolant tank.  in my view, there should be no doubt about the garage's responsibility in this case.  In my view, what ever it was that caused the gasket to blow, they should have checked iy out and neutralized.  That is common sense as well as professionalism .  

I'll report back on any progress in this case, and once again , thank you for your interest.     

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Sorry to hear about your problem.  I have a 2002 GTS auto with 320K miles, original engine and xmission, still runs smooth and strong.  I routinely cruise 90-100 MPH on long trips.  the car runs smooth like new, no problem, never broke down once.

When was the first time you noticed the car hard starting, runs rough, hesitates, cannot accelerate?  That was the point the head gasket was blown, causing low compression in the cylinder(s), leaking coolant, leaving cabin heater's core with no hot coolant to generate heat.

Blown head gasket is most likely caused by over heating the engine due to mineral deposits in radiator core restricting coolant flow in the cooling system, or by a broken water pump.

Whoever caused the overheating event is liable.

Check the coolant reservoir.  It should have only clean coolant.  If there is Oil, suds, soapy foam ect, cooling lines in engine block or head may have been cracked.

You can remove and inspect the spark plugs.  Blown gasket would leak coolant into cylinder, leaving hardened white deposit on the plugs.  do a compression check to find which cylinders have been damaged.

Heat damaged, cracked engines are every difficult and expensive, if not impossible to restore. If engine is confirmed cracked, it's better to swap in a known-good reman or refurb engine, about US$3,000-4000 engine and labor.

Hope you will be able to fix your problem.

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Hi Captain Solo, and thank you for your response. 

To your question: When was the first time I noticed the car hard starting, runs rough, hesitates, cannot accelerate?

My honest reply is this:  There was none of this when I reported the car to the garage (10 February 2021), and none of that when delivered to the garage 0n (16 February2021).  The sole problem we know of and for which the car was taken to the garage was that there was no heating inside the car and the heating/cooling vents were blowing cold air,  but the middle vents between the driver seat and the passenger seat were not blowing any air. 

Being in Lockdown almost a year all we drove in a year was probably between 300 and 400 miles.  

When they started to repair the heating system, they first said the need to change the water bump.  Next day the said they need to change the radiator as well, which took few days to get and fit.  After that the garage rang to say that "when they started the engine it got very hot and the gasket blew up, and that the engine would blow up if they drive the car.  

I said I hold the garage responsible and at their expense, they should restore the car to where it was when they got it.  But they think they are not responsible for any of that, and, apparently, they think that we are still responsible for the cost of their work and the new parts tin their attempt to repair the heating system, which they said had already cost £500, probably plus VAT on top of that.  The car is still at the garage and the dispute still unsolved..

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  • 3 weeks later...

Heater blowing cold air means there was no coolant circulating in the cooling system to heat the heater's core.  Coolant must have leaked out,  engine was running dry a while and overheated.

The car was not accelerating properly because there must have been damages to pistons, cylinders or valves head, such that there was too much friction on moving parts, or not enough compression on 1 or more cylinders to produce power. The engine was already damaged before this lack of acceleration event.  Whoever serviced or repaired the cars before this event should be responsible.

Unless the engine had a proper mixture of antifreeze, freezing weather may freeze and expand coolant/water and crack the engine in many places in the block or head of an aluminum engine.

Another possible cause is using tap water with high mineral content in cooling system.  Calcium deposits can block cooling lines in the engine or radiator, causing the water pump to overwork, burn itself out, and overheat engine. perhaps you did not notice engine overheating due to the freezing temp where you live.

I feel sad it happened to your car, but it may be difficult and expensive to legally prove someone else caused the damages.  I would reason with the shop and try to reach a compromise.  If you want to keep the car, it's best to throw away the heat-damaged engine because there are no cheap and reliable way to repair it to last a few years.  It will crack again in other places.  Best to swap in a tested, known-good, low-mileage reman engine with 20K to 50K miles warranty.  1ZZ engine should cost about US$1K with about $1K labor in California.  With many instruction videos in Youtube, any average mechanics with tools can swap this engine.  I don't suppose you want to trade your law books for a bunch of tools? 

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