Coolant Loss, maybe Head Gasket?

Discussion in 'Gen 2 Prius Care, Maintenance and Troubleshooting' started by mlibanio, Feb 2, 2009.

  1. mlibanio

    mlibanio Member

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    Hello, everyone I have a sudden loss of coolant in both resevoirs. I have checked everywhere under the hood, and I have found no leakages whatsoever. I have checked all hoses and all is well. Recently I have been getting some inexplicably poor fuel economy, as well, I noticed on my last oil change some strange beige looking peanut butter looking stuff under my oil cap, but I think that may be related to something I do not want to even think about. At the time I did not suspect anything, but cleaned it. However does anyone out there think that this might be a head gasket issue? If it is, I am selling the car as I cannot hope to afford replacing that at Toyota, and I will not trust any backyard mechanics touching the internals of the Prius. Anyone have this issue or can offer any help. I am so worried right now. Help! Oh and in case you were wondering it is a 2002 Prius.
     

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  2. statultra

    statultra uber-Senior Member

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    thats odd, unless you recently changed inverter coolant and engine coolant.

    both of the coolant reservoirs your pointing out are separate, both have separate lines.

    I have no idea what would cause this other than if you changed your fluid recently and they didnt purge the air from the system.

    forgot to mention the head gasket would not effect the reservoir next to the inverter, since that coolant doesnt go through the engine.
     
  3. Patrick Wong

    Patrick Wong DIY Enthusiast

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    It appears that engine coolant is leaking into your engine's crankcase due to a faulty head gasket. An engine cylinder compression check at your Toyota dealer would confirm this.

    The inverter coolant loss is a separate issue.

    What is your odometer reading, and have you had any problems with engine overheating in the past?
     
  4. jayman

    jayman Senior Member

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    The peanut-butter like stuff buildup under the oil filler cap is usually a good indicator of a coolant leak. A used oil analysis will postively confirm this

    Don't wait too long before doing something about it. The coolant is just leaking right now, the gasket hasn't entirely failed - yet. You risk a lot of damage to bearings, as the glycol will ruin the oil's lubricating properties.

    Once the head gasket does blow, it's a catastrophic failure. You will need a tow, at the very least. If the engine is starting to overheat, it doesn't take much for an aluminum motor to be ruined by partial overheating
     
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  5. mlibanio

    mlibanio Member

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    Well I found out what it was. Apparently my Toyota Technician told me that the recent trip to Florida was the root cause. From what was explained, the Prius when transitioning from the very cold state of Kentucky between my next fill up at Jacksonville Florida, the temperature variation caused the computer to get crazy readings. This caused the rad fluid to pressurize and thus caused fluid to spill out while I was driving on the highway. I now remember commenting to my wife that I thought the "Stupid GMC Suburban" was reeking of burning coolant, in the end it was my car. But the kicker is when the Prius is restarted it senses the temperature variation and reacts accordingly. The tech knows this as he has a 2004 and says he drives to Florida regularly and experiences the same issue each and everytime.

    Interestingly, he says that 2004 ato 2006 Prius' are prone to this happening when transitioning from Extreme Cold to Extreme Heat without stopping. 2007-2009 do not have this issue as Toyota has recalibrated the software to compensate for this, and the Prius now checks for these conditions.

    Of even more interesting news, my father who is a proud owner of a 2006 Toyota Highlander Hybrid, suddenly became curious and checked his fluid level.... wouldn't you believe it... SAME PROBLEM!!! Not as low as mine, but both the inverter coolant and the Engine Coolant were both very low.

    Well I hope this helps other people out there. Any thoughts?
     
  6. mlibanio

    mlibanio Member

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    I should mention that my father came with us to Florida as well, that is how it happened to his Highlander.

    Oh and for all us Classic owners out there, I was told to use Toyota Long Life Coolant, mixed to 60% Coolant/40% Water, not 50/50. This works for both the inverter coolant and the engine coolant as they are the same. The tech did not charge me for diagnostic and only charged me for the bottle and told me that I could do it myself. Really great guy!

    For you 2nd Gen Prius owners its Toyota Super Long Life Coolant. Mix is already pre-mixed for you at 50/50.
     
  7. patsparks

    patsparks An Aussie perspective

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    I'm really sorry but the explanation above makes no sense at all.
    I suspect the tech didn't want to do a head gasket today.
     
  8. Patrick Wong

    Patrick Wong DIY Enthusiast

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    I agree.
    1. Radiator pressure is maintained by the low-tech radiator cap, which operates under the same principle as any other car. If the radiator cap is faced with excess pressure, coolant will vent into the overflow container. Then when the engine is turned off and cools down, the resulting partial vacuum encourages coolant in the overflow container to reenter the radiator, so the "engine cold" fluid level in the overflow container should remain relatively constant.
    2. This explanation does not address why your inverter coolant level was low, nor does it cover the unusual substance that you found on your oil filler cap.
    3. I have a HiHy 4WD-i and have driven that vehicle to Lake Tahoe, NV each winter for the last three years, coming from southern CA where temps are moderate. Wintertime ambient low temps at Lake Tahoe are well below freezing. At no time does the radiator or inverter coolant drop down significantly below normal levels.
    Perhaps your father's car was low on coolant for a long time. If his car really experienced a sudden drop, then this should be investigated.
     
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  9. mlibanio

    mlibanio Member

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    Well assuming both of you are correct (which I am not saying you aren't!!! I don't really trust Toyota Tech's at all after my nav system experience), but if its a head gasket, then this means I will sell this car. He told me that in replacing a head gasket on a prius would cost in excess of $2200 + tax. I am not interested in forking over that kind of money. It seems that my past two Toyota's have been so unreliable its rediculous. My 1999 Corolla spent more time in the shop with a failed Engine ECU, then tranny ECU, then Right front suspension went, the wheel bearings. All of this in only 36,000 kms. Now this Prius with a potential head gasket issue is complete garbage.
    I have a 2002 Chrysler Neon that I have had nothing but oil changes and gas for 7 years. Its been absolutely bullet proof. Nothing replaced... ever. My Prius has been a pain like no other. The Inverter has been replaced (covered under warranty), the O2 sensor failed, the Hyrbid ECU under the hood went too (warranty!), then the rear defroster failed, then Daytime Running Lights relay mysteriously burned out... I am getting really tired of this car. It only has 62,000 miles. My 2002 Neon same year, has 119,000 miles with no problems. I will have to watch carefully but if it is, I will never buy a Toyota ever again. Plus cost of parts is insane! I mean 120 for a head gasket... are you kidding me? 275 + tax for a new 12V battery? No way... Prius may have saved me money on fuel, but it more than sucks it back in replacement parts.
     
  10. patsparks

    patsparks An Aussie perspective

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    Sorry to hear you haven't had a good run. Your story is in stark contrast to most who do nothing but oil changes on their Toyotas and still achieve 300,000 miles with little drama.

    I wouldn't have a Toyota shop do the work, the Prius head is no different to a Yaris. Find a non Toyota dealer to do the work. Personally I'd still use genuine parts.
    I've never had occasion to complain about the price of Toyota parts, having only driven Toyotas for almost 25 years I haven't bought too many.
     
  11. mlibanio

    mlibanio Member

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    It just drives me nuts because I like this car otherwise. Oh I am even looking at it outside right now in about 2 inches of snow, and I can't help but love the car. But I just can't get over there reliability issues.

    I really think that this generation of Prius was not made to handle Canadian winters. Other classic owners I have spoken to in Toronto complain of similar issues. We all still like our cars, but its too bad.

    However, for whatever reason, I drove 200 kms since yesterday and the fluid level is perfect no drop whatsovever, so while that Toyota tech may be wrong in some people's opinions (and again they may not be wrong), it seems to be working just fine now. Plus the car seems to warm up a lot faster too!
     
  12. jayman

    jayman Senior Member

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    Winnipeg is quite a bit colder than Toronto. I have not had any of the issues you describe. I should though, I have a heated garage so going from -40 outside, to +15 C inside, should make those sort of issues pop up

    At the very least, I would pay $20 for a used oil analysis to prove or disprove coolant in the oil
     
  13. mlibanio

    mlibanio Member

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    There seems to be some confusion here. The issue is a very rare occurence and happens over extended periods of time, not short trips. This condition allegedly occurs when the cars starts off from a very cold temperature (example when I left Toronto, it was 5°F). When I filled up in Kentucky where this issue really began it was roughly 4°F, and from there I drove all the way to Jacksonville without stopping. The temperature that day in Jacksonville was an awesome 85°F!!! The computer then thinks its gradually overheating and the pump apparently behaves very strangely for both the inverter coolant and engine coolant. The excessive pressures cause the fluid to leak out of the overflow's of each resevoir. There is evidence of this now that I look more carefully there are indications of some residue all over the back side of the bottle. Therefore I believe this adequately explains my dramatic loss of coolant for both my dad's HiHy as well as my poor Prius.

    Mind you the car was simply incredible and my fears of it having a heart attack up the mountains was groundless. Total cost for my trip was an unbelievable $66 going there and $59 coming back! The car was awesome and quite the bladder buster. I guess that K&N filter and those new Bosch Platinum +4 Fusions really did the trick! My trip average was about 850-920 km's per tank!!! And that was doing about 72-80 mph most of the way. Since I did just those two mods I find that I get my best mpg around that speed. Well over 50 mpg in most cases.
     
  14. mlibanio

    mlibanio Member

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    Oh and thats between 500-550 miles per tank for you american viewers! :)
     
  15. Patrick Wong

    Patrick Wong DIY Enthusiast

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    US MSRP for a head gasket is $53.
    ToyoDIY.com
    However, other gaskets will have to be replaced when the cylinder head is removed.

    US MSRP for a 12V battery is around $130 to $160.

    I agree that the number of failures your car has suffered is quite high considering the odometer reads 62K miles. Classic Prius reliability has sometimes not lived up to normal Toyota standards - this is a risk taken by early adapters.

    Back to your "peanut butter" observation on the oil cap when you changed the engine oil: did this happen before or after your extended road trip?

    What does the underside of the oil cap look like now? If you are still finding these unusual deposits, then your engine will need a rebuild in the near future - if the head gasket is not replaced very soon.
     
  16. mlibanio

    mlibanio Member

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    Well it has not happened since. And yes I noticed the "peanut butter" before the trip, but at the time I just attributed it to the previous few weeks of short 10 minute city driving stints I was doing. I know this happens to some cars because of condensation buildup that occurs when the engine warms up then shuts down before having time to evaporate that out. At any rate, I cleaned it and have not seen this since. I just checked it today and it is totally clean, and also why the Toyota tech said that it was just coincidence, nothing related. But I just drove another 60 miles home today, checked when I got home, and the level is fine. So I guess that Toyota tech was right. If its a head gasket it would have surely started guzzling after over 300 miles. The oil looks great too, its still a golden brown.

    Patrick, I just want to thank you for your support. I knew when I bought this car that I would be a pioneer and would certainly have to swallow a few problems. It is just that as this car gets older, throwing money like that at it becomes increasingly difficult to justify. My Prius restored my faith in Toyota, especially after the disastrous experience with that POS Corolla LE I had. However, I have since calmed down on my poor Prius, and realize it has indeed been a great little car. I guess that is the price I paid for being among the first Prius owners out there!
     
  17. edthefox5

    edthefox5 Senior Member

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    You never answered Patricks question? Have you ever overheated before?
    The Toyota techs explanation is ridiculous. There's nothing the computer can do to "pressurize" anything. The system is already pressurized.The worst thing it can do is maybe turn off the electric cooling fans. Which would throw a check engine code. Everthing else is mechanical. Thermostat...water pump...Those mechanical things work no matter what the computer is complaining about.Any check engine codes thrown? Red warning lights on the dash?
    Whats the state of tune on this car?
    Last time coolant was replaced?
    There's no sensible connection between fluid loss in both the Inverter coolant and the Engine coolant. The only place they meet is in the radiator. Maybe the radiator has failed internally allowing contamination between the 2 or is just plain leaking. In any case I would not continue to drive without some sensible and inexpensive troubleshooting. Especially with your luck. At the least have a pressure test done on the radiator. See if your leaking there. Cheap. 5 minutes. Have someone or yourself do a visual check of the entire radiator top to bottom to see if it or its associated hoses are leaking. Put the car on a rack and inspect it for leaks. Take a real close look at the weep hole on the water pump.Known leak issue especially if coolant quality condition not maintained.
    Above all get that gnarly motor oil out of the engine. For some reason you have contaminated motor oil. Get it out of there. Immed. oil change and immed. coolant flush too.
    And Patricks right. Get some tests done on this car. If it was me I would take it to a garage and have them do a vacuum gauge test. If the head gasket is blown it will show up on a vacuum gauge as a wildly fluctuating meter. While there have the garage pull out a sparkplug or 2 and see how ugly they are. Thats around $75....If that proves inconclusive you must take it to the dealer for a compression test as you need a special scan tool as this car will not crank over.Most garages will not have that tool.
    Call the dealer and inquire how much please? You must know because if you drive around with a leaking head gasket sooner or later it will fail and destroy the motor.
    BTW, head gaskets are not known to fail on this car unless there is a severe overheat episode which usually warps the aluminum head too.
    Good luck & report back.
     
  18. patsparks

    patsparks An Aussie perspective

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    I thought the gunk under the oil cap was from after the trip, it may be that if you had lots of short trips you had some condensation in the engine, this could indicate a failing PCV valve. A long trip may well drive off any water in the oil through the PCV valve but if you haven't already have the oil changed and as said by the last posters have a sample sent for analysis. It is possible there was some air trapped in your cooling systems which has found its way out of the system on a long hot run accounting for the drop in levels.
    In the old day when I worked on cars I used a very simple method to check for a head gasket leak but I don't know how to do it with a Prius. It goes like this.

    Do with engine warm, not hot or boiling
    1. Block overflow hose, fold hose or clamp closed
    2. Fill cooling system to overflowing
    3. Disconnect spark plugs to prevent firing
    4. push you finger into the coolant and remove so coolant level is about 1/2 inch below overflowing If to hot splash a little out with a spatula.
    5. Have someone crank engine and watch coolant level

    If coolant rises in the filler neck in pulses the head gasket is compromised and compression gasses are finding their way into the cooling system. This is one of several tests I would perform but this test is conclusive IF the coolant rises in pulses. If it doesn't it doesn't rule out a head gasket but if it is a positive test you have positively got a head or gasket issue. How you spin over a Prius engine, I have no idea. And if you spin a Prius engine at 960RPM I doubt you will see pulsing. I have used this test where a CO test has failed to find a leak and it has worked. It has never lead me astray, ever.
    After testing aways rinse off any spilt coolant.
     
  19. mlibanio

    mlibanio Member

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    Nope my Prius has never once overheated! Thankfully. Again, I did find dried coolant behind the bottle. Not sure when this happened. could have been before or after. I rinsed it off.

    However, I took the car for a compression test at Toyota this morning at 7:00am as per advice. I just got a call at 10:35am, and again THANKFULLY, the car passed. They told me everything is totally within tolerance. They are checking all hoses, connections and will look into using a scope if the results are inconclusive. In an excellent gesture, and because of the strangeness of this occurance, they will not charge me for the scope. They said my motor looks great, and oil condition is fine. Boy its expensive to do the compression test, but worth the peace of mind. Thanks guys for your advice again. I know you guys are just trying to help me!

    I told the technician about your comments so far, and he said that while he agrees it makes no sense, the fact is that it happens every year, only whenever he goes to Florida. But he says the last year he took more frequent stops and his last trip he avoided this drop in coolant.

    Further, the fact that three different Toyota Hybrid vehicles do it, my 2002 Prius, a 2006 Toyota Highlander and 2004 Toyota Prius do it, means it cannot be just coincidence. Mechanically it makes no sense, but I am confidant that the Toyota tech knows what he is talking about being a Prius owner.
     
  20. jayman

    jayman Senior Member

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    There is nothing unusual about a road trip from a cold region to a warm region, plenty of folks here do it every winter, for obvious reasons too

    If this were a common occurance, we'd see TSB issued that comments on driving from a cold region to a warm region

    Something is up with your Prius, I can only hope minor
     
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