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Has My Head Gasket Blown?

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Hi there, I have a 2000 ford focus and the other day while driving down the road the yellow exclamation mark light on the dashboard came on, shortly followed by the yellow engine light and a feeling of a drop in the power of the car.

I drove it the extra half mile back to my house. After a couple of hours I topped up the engine oil and the coolant (the coolant reservoir looked completely empty - I haven't had the car serviced for quite a while and didn't even know what coolant was until I googled what might have been wrong with my car. Mind you, the same garage got my car ready for mot 3 months ago - would they have topped up coolant then?)

Doing all that made the exclamation mark light turn off but not the engine light. I phoned the local mechanic and he told me to drive it down the road to him - literally the end of the street 1/4 mile or so)

He's since told me that the water was low because the thermostat housing was leaking, that the head gasket needs replaced and the timing belt kit (or just the belt) needs replaced.

He's told me it's goina cost me £500 to get the lot fixed. £500s a lot of money for me at the moment. I don't know this mechanic well, only been to him a couple of times before. Before that I used to take the car to the ford dealership but they always seem to 'get the arm in'.

What I want to know is how likely is it that the head gasket is blown? I read somewhere that you might need to drive with that engine light on for quite a bit before the gasket blows. I may have been out of coolant for a while but surely a light would come on, or the engine would overheat and a light would come on?

thanks for any advice

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your focus has a fail safe cooling system mode.

stage 1.

the cht sensor sends a signal to the ecu which sends a signal to your in car temp gauge to go into the red. if you dont turn your engine off then the multi function warning light will come on.

stage 2.

if you ignor stage 1 then the ecu will control the engine by cutting out two cylinders and restricting the engine to 3000rpm. when this occurs the engine warning light will illuminate.

note: if the temp should drop to normal, (ie you top up coolant) the ignition will have to be switched off to revert back to four cylinders, however the warning light can only be reset by a fault code reader.

stage 3.

if engine temp continues to rise the engine will be totally disabled before major engine damage occurs. the engine warning light will flash, indicating to the driver that the engine will switch off in 30 seconds.

now i dont know if your head gasket has blown, but the mechanic can do a compression check on the cylinders to test for a blown head gasket. also coolant in your engine oil would be a bad sign. i suppose if you had the warning light reset and the car felt ok to drive power wise then you could assume the head gasket is ok. when you left the car cool and then topped up the engine coolant and oil, how was the engine, did it feel ok on power. you obviously need to sort out the thermostat seal, about £2.50 however check the housing for distortion as they are plastic and prone to warping from normal use, so it would be prudent to change the housing aswell.

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Thanks for the reply. The fella's already changed the thermostat and the housing. When I filled the coolant I did think that the power had gone back to normal, but I was trying to take it really easy and only drove to the top of the street (the mechanic is at the top of my street)

I think I'm going to get my car back and have a check of the oil etc myself. I hear there are codes which can be retrieved somehow (don't know that bit yet) which will tell me exactly what the problem is.

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Just in case anyone's interested. I got the car back from the fella without getting the head gasket fixed. He told me that it would probably be fine to drive the car and it would last a good while as long as I was only doing shortish journeys. I told him I only drive to and from work about 10 miles and he said the car would be fine for that.

Does that sound like the head gasket is really broken?

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Sounds to me that there may well be nothing wrong with the head gasket and the engine management system did its job in protecting it. If the head gasket had gone you really wouldnt want to be driving all that distance to and from work.

I suggest you check the oil level for signs of water as well as the oil filler cap (Mayonaise like creamy white substance). Also check for sludge in the coolant reservoir. If all is OK, I dont believe you have a problem.

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