Q: Last year I bought a used 2002 Honda Accord with around 152,000 miles. While I was driving on Route 128, the car overheated, smoked and turned off. I had it towed into a shop to have the problem diagnosed. Once they opened the hood, they immediately noticed a white, waxy film over the entire engine. They called me out to look at it and asked if I had installed any kind of a sealer or similar product in the radiator. I had not. They said they would diagnose and call me back with an estimate. Do you have any idea what the white/gray waxy substance is on my engine?
A: The white, waxy goo and the overheating go hand in hand. This typically happens when the transmission cooler that is integral to the radiator starts to leak transmission fluid inside of the radiator assembly. As the synthetic transmission oil gets boiled in the radiator antifreeze, a lot of the ingredients will evaporate except for the paraffin that is used in the makeup of synthetic oils. So, taking it one step further, the waxy goo is now trying to flow through the cooling passages of the engine to remove engine heat. Obviously, this goo can’t do the same job as antifreeze. So now the engine gets so hot it just shuts down. Most likely the plastic radiator is also destroyed, as well as the engine head gaskets. Worst case scenario, you could be into this repair for up to $3,000 if the cylinder head is not cracked. Without sounding like an advertisement, annual maintenance of the fluids, such as flushing, might have revealed the problem before it became catastrophic. Also the maintenance of the fluids will bring the pH level in balance. The old acidy fluids may have contributed to the root source of the overheating problem. If the cylinder head gasket has to be replaced, plan on doing the water pump, timing belt and drive belts at the same time.
Car Care Tip: Although your car may be equipped with what is called permanent antifreeze, you should replace it every two years in order to reduce water pump failures, head gasket failures, and radiator failures.
Larry Rubenstein is a master technician who owns a North Shore service station. His column appears periodically. Write to Larry at Gloucester Daily Times, c/o Auto Scanner, 36 Whittemore St., Gloucester, MA 01930, or send an email to email@example.com.