Replace head gasket or not?

John Mendes

Asked by John Feb 18, 2013 at 08:11 AM about the 2002 Saturn S-Series 4 Dr SL Sedan

Question type: Maintenance & Repair

My 2002 Saturn SL has 108000 miles.  I have owned it since it was new.  I have had to replace a front spring and tie rod (on the same side) within the past year. I am now told it has a small head gasket leak. The car has been serviced according to the book (probably more).  My choice is to add oil or replace gasket to the tune of $1200.  Since the car is only worth $1400. I would like to fix it but people are telling me that it is not worth it.  Please help

10 Answers

Tom Demyan

If you plan on selling it soon, then I wouldn't worry about fixing it. But it's worth it if you like the car and plan on keeping it for some time. Do get some other estimates to see if you can get it done for a little cheaper. I suspect you can get it done in the $600-$800 range.

5 out of 5 people think this is helpful.
Not Active

Is your oil a chocolate/milky color on the dipstick and over full? IF so, it's not a small head gasket leak, it's big and "big" can mean an opening the size of a pencil lead and IF it is in fact a blown head gasket it will only get worse real fast ..does it over heat John?

3 out of 3 people think this is helpful.
Not Active

Better answer than mine Tom. By far

2 out of 2 people think this is helpful.
Alex Nazarian

Like David said, check for the chocolate milkshake on your dipstick and in the coolant bottle. A percentage of heads on these cars have a casting defect and develop a crack in the head, leaking coolant into the oil. But from your suggestive answer to "add oil" Im assuming that the problem is primarily oil burning, in which there is no cure for(save rebuilding the bottom end). Let us know which of the 2 problems youre having.

1 out of 1 people think this is helpful.
John Mendes

Thank you for your suggestions Alex. I have driven about 150 miles since the oil change. The oil is nice and clean (no milkshake). There are spots in the driveway and my parking space at work. Is it worth have the "bottom end" rebuilt or should I just add the oil. I never mentioned that I only drive this car about 6000 miles per year now. It would more cost effective to add the oil but way less green. I am thinking that by rebuilding the "bottom end" that the top end (if there is such a thing) may need rebuild sooner than later.

Alex Nazarian

Just run the car if youre not driving it that much. These motors are notorious for burning oil if you dont change the oil religiously every 3000 miles. The problem is that the pistons in these motors do not have oil drain back holes to allow oil to fall back down into the bottom of the engine. There are only 2 little reliefs on each side of the piston to let oil fall back down. As a consequence, the dirty grimy oil will gum up and make the oil control rings get stuck, therefore allowing the oil on the cylinder walls to get burned up during combustion instead of getting scraped off by the rings.

2 out of 2 people think this is helpful.
Alex Nazarian

In short, its not worth the trouble and cost of rebuilding the engine. That is the only "defect" of these motors. You could try the Marvel Mystery Oil piston soak to try and loosen up the gunk around the rings, but thats up to you. Most Saturns will burn a quart of oil every 500- 1000 miles. Even more if the rings are stuck pretty bad. Just keep checking your oil levels every couple hundred miles and add the necessary amount and it'll run forever.

1 out of 1 people think this is helpful.

Something to check on also is your PCV on your valve cover is that valve is stuck it will build up pressure causing the oil in the top of your engine to either find a weak spot in your valve cover causing a leak or going down your valve guides and burning in the cylinder causing your car to use more oil I have a 2000 Saturn SL1 with 165,000 and it uses about 1/2 quart every 3000 miles / per oil change. So it's worth checking out the PCV pull it off the rubber hose and shake it it should rattle or just replace it about 8.00 dollars or so. Thanks

2 out of 2 people think this is helpful.
John Mendes

Thank you. I had the oil changed today (B4, I got your Email) It had been 3000 miles and In my opinion only trace oil was lost. In High School I had a 68 Chevy Bel Air that went through a quart every 100 miles or so. I will check out the PCV valve tomorrow just for the why not of it. I appreciate that you took the time to answer.


I have a 96 Saturn SC1, it's main running hot, I check the coolant system and it's a milky thickness coming out of the coolant bottle. I'm burning a lot of oil. From my understanding it make be a blown head gasket, I can't afford a replace gasket at the shop for 1200.00, how can I fix this problem or go buy used head gasket for this car.

9 out of 9 people think this is helpful.

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