Trying to save an otherwise junkyard bound car

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21
Location
Midwest
Thread starter
I'll preface this by saying I'm just an internet-educated hack with some tools and a decent barn where I can work on things.  Plus two teenage boys with a propensity to tear stuff up so fixing up an older, inexpensive car to keep around as a spare has a certain appeal. The car is a 1998 Saturn SL2, 1.9L DOHC, 170xxx miles that blew a head gasket after overheating.  Car is in decent shape but has been parked in the barn for the past 6 months because it's not worth taking to a professional shop and spending $800-1000 for repair. Thinking I might try to fix it myself, I priced a set of bolts and gaskets at $60.  Decided if I can't fix it, I'll just trailer it to a junkyard and sell it for a measly Benjamin. Took the head off. Checked flatness and found it out about 0.008".  Filled chambers with water and found 9 out of 16 valves leaking to one degree or another.  Checked top  of block and found flatness to be out 0.002".  Decided it would be silly to slap the head back in with leaking valves.  Not sure about the lack of flatness. Talked to a couple local places about rebuilding this head.  They are quoting $200-300 and anywhere 3 weeks to 3 months to get it in for a rebuild. I can afford the money but don't really want to wait 3+ weeks.  Found another shop who said he could machine it to make it flat next week.  Found an online rebuilder in a neighboring state that can ship me a rebuilt head for $300 within a few days.  Found another head for $125 at a local scrapyard but I'm assuming there are no guarantees that it is in any better shape than mine. I'm guessing the scrapyard would frown on me measuring flatness and dumping water in it on their counter before purchasing. Decided to start by lapping valves and see if I can get my head to stop leaking.  Watched youtube videos.  Bought a Lisle tool to remove the keepers from the recessed bores.  Lapped valves and put it back together.  Several valves are still leaking.  Watched more videos.  Decided I didn't do a good enough job so I pulled the 4 valves out of one cylinder and tried again.   Leak rate is now down to maybe a few drops worth in 15 minutes or so on that cylinder. Questions: 1. Let's say my goal is not perfection but just to just get it running again to last for another 30k miles or so.  Is a couple drops of water in 15 minutes enough to worry about? 2. Everything I read says if the flatness is out more than 0.001" per cylinder over the entire length (so 0.004" for this 4 cylinder head) then it should be machined.  I'm seeking real world experience to see if I can get by with 0.008" or is 0.004" a pretty hard and fast rule?  3. Any suggestions if I can't get the valves sealed good enough on my head? I can get a new set of exhaust and intake valves delivered for about $60 (Enginetech brand from Rockauto) so I'm debating between trying to find a machine shop to also machine the seats and then buy and then put new valves in myself vs. just buying a complete remanufactured head. Thanks for reading and any feedback you may have.
 
Messages
21,053
Location
Apple Valley, California
3+ weeks for a head is nuts. Nobody here would stand for that. Especially when a family on vacation needa their car fixed by the time vacation is over. Did you check with Napa? Maybe find a rebuilt on ebay?
 
Messages
492
Location
South Wales, UK
You'd be amazed at how much you can actually get away with, especially on a beater like this! I'd get an aerosol can of copper slip and give the new head gasket a good coating of it and just fit it. I think you'll be just fine.
 
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6,236
Location
Kalifornia Kollective
Valves are fine. They'll work great at that low leakage rate. Iffy at 0.008 ... That's a pretty good warp. Get it machined. Get a can of Hylomar (same as RR head gasket dressing) and treat both sides. Install with assembly lube on threads and drive it till the sun dies.
 
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243
Location
ga
A guy I know went to a head stone place bought a scrap piece of stone finished on one side stuck sandpaper on the flat side and resurfaced his block and heads with some elbow grease. Truck was still running last I saw him. Your valves should be checked with gas or not water. If they are letting Water buy waste of time to put head back on like that.
 
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2,495
Location
wv
If i put myself in your place.. I would.. A) Look at Ebay. I just looked and a used head is $100 a Reman is $300 B)Sell as Is- You can probably double your Benjamin if there is a Saturn Nut out there. C) Personally I would not be afraid to do what you have to at your local Junkyard. You will probably be the only guy that ever looks at that head anyways. Just ask first im sure they understand what you need to do. If not see A. If that works i would sell it. and quadruple your Benjamin. PS. Isnt that engine known for coked rings and high oil consumption?
 
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6,911
Location
The Midwest
A high mileage head from the scrapyard even if it test good, has already lived 8 of it's 9 lives. My dad told me he built up a 350 Chevy in the 80's and scoured scrapyards looking for good double hump cylinder heads. He said most of them were cracked and it was a chore to find good ones.
 
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2,162
Location
Flaherty, KY
You have to weigh the risk vs. reward. The risk of simply slapping it on there is that the head gasket doesn't seal completely because of flatness, you've wasted some money on a gasket set and however much time. The reward is that if it takes, you've saved yourself a good chunk of money and get a running car three weeks sooner. The less mission critical the car is and the easier it is to work on, the more likely I'll take that gamble. On a transverse straight four and the fact those Saturns are pretty easy to work on and parts are cheap, I'd probably roll the dice. I've done quick fixes that most would consider crazy (like sand rough/scored spots on a cylinder down to smooth metal and slap a head back on) and I've always had a decent running car after, but not something I'd do on a car that has to get me to work and back every day or I expect to last for many years. I should note that when I was younger I did a head gasket on ‘94 SC2 that had been overheated (had 150k or so) and I never checked flatness and didn't know to at the time. Don't know what it was but the engine ran great afterward for a year or so until I traded it in.
 
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35,760
Location
ME
Could you find a running but rusted out one for $250, grab the head you need, part out the rest, and dump the chassis at the junkyard? Hate to add mission creep, but if you have the head off, it may make sense to pop the pistons out and re-ring them. Rockauto has clevites for $19. Con-rod bearings should still be good, so you'd just have to reseal the oil pan with RTV as your only other expense/ hassle. Beware, 1998 is (near) a transition year, IIRC the intakes and throttle bodies have a running change halfway through. I used to geek up on these better. Saturnfans.com has the swap guide.
 
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2,155
Location
Virginia
Two questions... Mechanical odometer or digital? Early ‘98 was mechanical, late ‘98 was digital Manual transmission? If so, you can swap the .730 5th gear for a .605 out of an SL1, drop the RPM's in 5th by 1000. Just don't shift into 5th before 2250...
 
Messages
596
Location
Georgia
You're being an impatient tightwad. The worst combination you can have mentally when it comes to fixing a car right. 1) Get the heads machined. There should be a place nearby that has a good reputation and can handle it. 2) Make extra sure you have all the tools. A lot of folks watch a video and don't realize half way through that they don't have what's needed. 3) Drive it around town for a few thousand miles before heading out for a trip. This would also be a great time to replace all the fluids and do a drain and fill on the transmission. Finally, figure out why it overheated. Just treating the symptom won't solve the cause.
 
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2,700
Location
USA
If it has been driven overheated until it will go no more, that engine is toast. Swap the whole engine or if that is not practical, junk the car.
 
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Messages
8,855
Location
Marshfield , MA
I replaced 2 burnt #4 exhaust valves on a twin valve CRV engine. I lapped 2 new valves and put the head back on. My DIL put another 75K miles on it before driving it to JY. BUT.it wasn't an overheat.I also took pains to do a 3 stage back off of the head bolts to prevent any chances. I'd bring a straightedge and a set of feeler gauges when buying a used head and go from there. Best would be an entire engine. Do you know what caused the over heat?
 
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1,986
Location
NC
If I had a barn for storage I'd definitely fix the beater. It's always useful to have a running beater to use when you have to repair the better cars in the fleet.
 
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4,080
Location
Texas
Saw a youtube video of a guy using a sheet of glass and sandpaper / emery paper to hand " machine " an aluminum head " flat " . And elbow grease . DIY . Would not worry too much about the valves . But before you get into this , make sure you solve the over heating problem that caused all this in the first place .
 
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11,638
Location
North Carolina
Originally Posted by WyrTwister
Saw a youtube video of a guy using a sheet of glass and sandpaper / emery paper to hand " machine " an aluminum head " flat " . And elbow grease . DIY . Would not worry too much about the valves . But before you get into this , make sure you solve the over heating problem that caused all this in the first place .
I've done this with Saturn s oil pump housings, but nothing as big as a head. It works.
 
Messages
1,615
Location
Cincinnati, USA
Scrap value in this market is about $200. Repaired ready to drive, it's worth what, about $800 if not rusting out? You didn't mention rust but that would be high on my list of considerations. I think you will be putting a combination of time, parts, fluids, etc in, worth more than the vehicle so that exceeds my evaluation of whether to fix it up, since it isn't anything special, unless it has sentimental value. On the other hand I appreciate people who want to fix things and being familiar with a vehicle has its benefits so I could still see fixing this vehicle if you have the spare time, unless the undercarriage rust is extensive. If it is, it's just not worth the bother.
 
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Messages
9,793
Location
Jupiter, Florida
Sometimes it's worth it to get an older car running again. I've got an older Jag X-Type with 200K miles. I just put some effort into it and will drive it until it dies for good. It owes me nothing and having a "beater" has it's benefits. The valves will be fine. However, I'd be concerned about a cylinder head crack. As long as you are sure the head is intact, why not use a little backyard engineering to resurrect it? Draw-filing with a big flat file can be a very effective way to remove high spots. Just make sure to keep filings out of oil passages to the cam bearings.
 
Messages
21
Location
Midwest
Thread starter
OP here. Lots of comments to sort through. Some made me laugh. Yes, I can be an impatient tightwad. smile Part of my impatience is that I don't want it to drag out so long that I forget how it goes back together. Overheating was caused by a cracked radiator. I replaced the radiator and drove a couple tanks of fuel through the car. But it had a slow coolant leak and then one day my son was driving it and it spewed coolant out the overflow tank. He got it home (without overheating) but it wouldn't start. No compression on 3 and 4. Bubbled in overflow tank when pressurizing the cylinders through the spark plug holes. I'm thinking my current plan will be to lap the rest of valves again and if I can get minimal water leakage on all of them then make another call to the one machine shop I found who could machine it flat this week. If his cost is reasonable, then I'll get it machined. I have no desire to use sandpaper and glass (or stone, or tablesaw surface) to "machine" it myself. Even I'm not that much of a tightwad. I'm guessing the one shop told me it would be 3 weeks because I have no existing relationship with them and I asked about a full rebuild. I think the 3 month shop may do a lot of racing stuff so not a good fit either. I will also check with Napa.
 
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