'97 Honda Accord Overheats

Tiny
FLORIDAHONDA
  • MEMBER
  • 1997 HONDA ACCORD
  • 6 CYL
  • 122,000 MILES
'97 Honda Accord has been overheating ever since I got a oil & lube job. Noticed no fluids were put in by servicers (coolant, water & oil). I constantly check & replace water, oil & coolant. Eventually replaced thermostat. It ran OK for awhile. But now, the temps are in the 90s and the car cannot go more than a few miles without overheating. Fans come on after the engine is turned off. I'm thinking the guys who did the oil & lube screwed up but I don't have the money for a lot of troubleshooting. Can you help narrow this down for me? Thanks.
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Monday, June 20th, 2011 AT 3:11 PM

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Tiny
CARADIODOC
  • EXPERT
Same old story. Everything's the mechanics fault. It sounds more like the head gasket is leaking. You should not have to be adding coolant. If you are, where is it going? During an oil change, a conscientious professional will never add brake fluid and if there is coolant in the reservoir, they won't look in the radiator.

There's two tests that are appropriate here. The first one involves drawing air from the radiator through a glass cylinder with two chambers partially filled with a special dark blue liquid. If the liquid turns bright yellow, combustion gases are leaking into the cooling system. That leak will also let coolant leak into the combustion chamber. The second test is to just add a small bottle of dye to the coolant. After driving a sufficient period of time, you search with a black light around the engine and inside the tail pipe. The dye will show up as a bright yellow stain that you follow to the source of the leak.

When combustion gases get into the coolant it can form an air pocket next to the thermostat. Thermostats do not open in the presence of hot air; they must be hit with hot liquid, otherwise they will remain closed and cause overheating. That air will have to be bled out manually either through a bleeder screw on some engines or by unscrewing a temperature sensor just under the thermostat.
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Monday, June 20th, 2011 AT 4:59 PM
Tiny
FLORIDAHONDA
  • MEMBER
Thanks for your reply, and I'm assuming from your response that you are on the side of the mechanics. I'm not sure where the brake fluid came in -- I never mentioned brake fluid. At any rate, you don't know the whole story regarding the oil & lube. When I came to pick up my car, one of the guys had pulled a part from the engine. He told me this part needed replacing. I told him not to worry about it because I was taking it to Pep Boys. This apparently ticked him off. He threw the part back under the hood and next thing I know, I'm paying up. A day later, my car overheats. I stop and check for fluids. There is nothing in the radiator. It's bone dry. I also had to add three quarts of oil. Ever since then, I've had nothing but trouble. So as far as I'm concerned, the source is the mechanic. I don't trust them. And I have yet to run into one that I'd describe as a "conscientious professional." Where are they?
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Tuesday, June 21st, 2011 AT 12:02 AM
Tiny
CARADIODOC
  • EXPERT
You're absolutely right, I didn't know the whole story because all I had to go on was what you posted. We aren't psychic.

As a former instructor, at least once a week I was asked by other faculty members to review their repair bills and stories and all I got was their one side of the story. As a former mechanic, I can't tell you how many complaints I heard, mostly based on miscommunication between the mechanic, service adviser, and customer. There are bad mechanics just like there are bad butchers, bad accountants, miserable sales clerks, and bad police officers. Only every single mechanic is considered bad simply by being in the profession. They are even held to much higher standards than doctors. When a doctor doesn't cure you on the first visit, you keep going back multiple times without complaint, or you run to a different doctor. When a mechanic can't make an intermittent problem act up so it can be diagnosed, we call him incompetent. We also get angry if we have to go back a second time.

I've been blamed for high-cost repair bills due to the complicated and unreliable computers on today's cars. I didn't design 'em, I didn't build 'em, I didn't sell 'em, and I sure would never own one, but it's my fault when they break down and are expensive to repair.

In my experience, mechanics, including myself, at the mass merchandisers and speedy lube places are still learning, and they make mistakes, but I've never worked with anyone who would intentionally do damage to someone's car. Later, when working at a very nice new car dealership, I worked with some really professional people who knew what they were doing but still received customer complaints. Almost every complaint about a mechanic's actions I heard about was unwarranted and was due to the customer's lack of automotive knowledge. Isn't it funny we know more about our bodies and we trust our doctors, but we know nothing about our cars and we don't trust the experts? If you expect to find fraud among every member of the profession, that's all you're going to find. That is grossly unfair to the 99 percent who try to do the best job possible for you, and it is why, without knowing the whole story, I am inclined to side with the mechanic.

Knowing now the rest of the story, it is entirely possible the guy did something to your car. His attitude made the problem worse, but where the biggest problem lies within the profession is proper communication. I took every opportunity with my students to purposely misunderstand what they were telling me to point out how important communication skills are and exactly why and how the problem you had could have been avoided. Mechanics have no trouble explaining a problem in understandable language, ... To another mechanic. They are not good at putting it into words a service adviser can understand. That service adviser has to take information that is confusing to him and put it into words he thinks you will understand. Service advisers who are good at that get praised but there's very few of them. Some are accused of "dumbing it down" or talking down to customers, while the same person saying the same thing to a different customer could be accused of insulting their intelligence by making it so complicated. It's not often they're going to hit the right level of technical clarity while keeping it simple and understandable. That alone will add to your feelings of mistrust.

Another potential problem that may have occurred with your car is some part was about to fail very soon and the mechanic caught it and brought it to your attention. I often noticed things like that on cars that were just about to go out of warranty, and no one ever accused me of causing the damage because they weren't going to have to pay for the repairs. The story was different though when I was asked to align a car to reduce the tire wear problems, and I found loose or worn parts to be the cause of the problem. A car can not be conscientiously aligned and be expected to stay in alignment with worn parts but customers didn't want to hear that. If there were no noises or handling problems, their belief was there couldn't possibly be anything else wrong. I'm not saying for certain this is what happened on your car, but it's something to consider.

The biggest flag in your story was your comment, "Eventually replaced thermostat. It ran OK for awhile". Does that mean a few miles, days, or weeks? Why did it need a new thermostat? My first thought was the thermostat housing was leaking and the mechanic brought it to your attention. That is fairly common on a lot of car brands, and it can leak for months before it produces symptoms. You may never know when it started leaking and you won't know it is now until someone looks under the hood. I'm only guessing now, but if my example is right, you will lose coolant while you're driving and the engine will overheat. That coolant loss is not the mechanic's fault. Regardless, if anything was leaking coolant, even very slowly, the overheating would have become an issue whether you visited that shop or not. THAT'S where the "ever since" syndrome originated. "Ever since that mechanic changed my oil three months ago, my steering wheel is off-center". "Ever since I had it to that shop a year ago, I keep having electrical problems". People also have a tendency to be much more critical of their cars after they've been serviced. You'll pay attention for every squeak or rattle that may have been there before but had gone unnoticed. You'll watch the gauges closer. You'll check for the slightest vibration or anything else that seems different. That's just human nature, but some of those things may have always been there and were not mentioned or expected to be addressed.

What you have a right to expect is your seat and mirrors should be in the same position as when you brought the car in, the radio should not be fiddled with, there should not be any greasy fingerprints on anything, and if there is anything wrong after the work is done, that should be spelled out and explained. I do know there are unscrupulous mechanics but they are in the very small minority. One of the best ways to avoid them is to stick with one shop that has people you like. Regular and repeat customers tend to get better service partly because they know you and mostly because they want you to come back the next time. If someone knows they will likely never see you again, what reason do they have to keep you happy? The same can be said of a restaurant, gas station, or any other store. In the absence of knowing which part the mechanic wanted to replace and why, you were right to refuse the additional work. In cases like that where you don't know what the part is or does, a second opinion is in order. My question is why the engine didn't overheat right away if he left the coolant low? Coolant should not have to be added periodically unless something is leaking. I realize my bringing brake fluid into the story added to the confusion and I'm sorry for that. My reasoning was that many mechanics get blamed for not topping off all fluids during an oil change based on the low brake fluid level. That complaint is unwarranted because the level will come back up when the brakes are replaced in the future. You CAN expect to have the washer fluid filled. The power steering and automatic transmission fluids will also be filled although if no leaks were observed under the car, there would be no reason to expect those fluids to be low so some people don't bother checking them. If you had been regularly adding coolant or any other fluid, you should mention that to the service adviser so those fluids are sure to get checked.

To sum this all up, yes, I'm on the side of "good" mechanics because they are on your side. As a member of the profession, I want you to be happy with the service you receive. A common thought in this business is "it takes more advertising dollars to get one new customer than it takes to keep ten current customers happy". Repair shops don't stay in business very long unless they treat their customers and their cars with respect. I will never defend anyone who is less than professional. I know the laws vary between states, but typically, when other repair needs are noticed, the mechanic will document it in writing on the repair order, plus, if it is safety-related or could lead to further damage soon, he will tell the service adviser who will make that known to you right away. You should always have the choice to refuse any additional work without feeling pressured. Many shops have incentive programs for their mechanics to find these things but that is so they will actually take the time to look for them. For example, some cars have a known history of steering parts falling apart leading to a crash, (not your model or brand), and finding those worn parts before that happens is in the customers best interest. It also adds to the shops revenue if they find those things before they cause you trouble and some other shop gets that work. With many of the cars I worked on, there were way more than enough additional things to find wrong to keep us busy that there was no thought of causing additional damage to someone's car.
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Tuesday, June 21st, 2011 AT 3:06 AM
Tiny
SATURNTECH9
  • EXPERT
Well written caradiodoc amen I agree labeling all people who fix cars as untrusting not professional I totally disgree with that statment.I have worked for car dealers well over a decade and half and was always professional and tried to save the customer money when I could.I even had customers request me that were regulars so saying that they never met a trusting person that fixes cars is way out of line.I hope you had a great fathers day caradiodoc.
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Tuesday, June 21st, 2011 AT 3:21 AM
Tiny
CARADIODOC
  • EXPERT
I'm not a father but thank you for the sentiment. We know what causes that now. Those women don't use protection. They have to be especially careful when eating those watermelon so they don't swallow any seeds, otherwise you see what happens!
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Tuesday, June 21st, 2011 AT 3:36 AM
Tiny
FLORIDAHONDA
  • MEMBER
Caradiodoc -- I was ready to compliment you on your response and tell you that in my opinion, you must make an excellent instructor (I am a college instructor myself). And I was ready to tell you about my unfortunate experience at Pep Boys following the oil & lube & the overheating. But then I read your response about "those women" and the watermelon seeds and that changed my attitude. It is no more fair for you to generalize about women than for me to generalize about mechanics. I have had an endless series of costly experiences with mechanics. I know because of hindsight. I now go out and research any car issues BEFORE taking it to a mechanic. Why? Because if I don't, a mechanic will see a female coming and immediately think: "Oh here's a dummy. Let's take her for all we can get." In fact, I came to this forum as part of my research. So thanks for your thoughtful reply. I will continue researching. And I do hope you will check yourself on this board before your tendency to insult women pops up again. We do not like it.
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Tuesday, June 21st, 2011 AT 1:36 PM
Tiny
CARADIODOC
  • EXPERT
You mistook my meaning. Being an instructor, you certainly understand the importance of facial expressions and voice inflection, and had you heard my self-deprecating joke in person, you would have seen the humor was meant to pick on me, not women.

Every class has its top students and every teacher has their favorites ones. I had a total of five female students over nine years. Two of them were definitely in the wrong field, but the other three WAY out-performed the guys. They had insatiable appetites for knowledge. They wanted to learn to work in a professional manner. They never complained; and they were always careful and respectful of other people's property. And believe me, they had the respect of their classmates. So you don't get to fall back on that "here comes a woman" excuse. There are just as many guys who are clueless about cars, and I personally know two of them.

Have you noticed the change in car advertising over the past few years? The manufacturers are catering to women more now because as of a few years ago, 60 percent of new car buying decisions have been made by women. They are more informed than the guys, but sadly, everyone in my opinion is informed about the wrong things. Manufacturers tell you their car has the most room, or the most toys, or the best whatever-they-think-you-want-the-best-of, but they don't talk about the high cost of repairs and the frequent breakdowns. By me trying to educate people about these things, I come across as negative and crabby. The point is there are plenty of people, me included, who can tell you the positive side of the story, but I'm the only one who tells the bad side.

When it comes to that service, I worked with three service advisers at the dealership. The first one had been there many years and had a huge base of repeat customers who he knew by name when they walked through the door. It didn't matter if you were a man or a woman, you got the same friendly greeting and attention to detail. The only thing was he was incapable of speaking without using his hands. The few times I called the shop to speak with him, he sounded like an entirely different person when I couldn't see his hands flying around.

The second service adviser had little good to say about any customer. Not that he was critical; it's just he needed to make some little negative comment about each person. He didn't last long because he was not suited for that job and wasn't happy in that position.

The third adviser was a young woman. She too knew very little about cars, but she had excellent communication skills and plenty of empathy for customers who were sort of down on their luck.

Those two service advisers were a major reason that dealership had such a huge customer base and the owners knew it. When a customer brought cookies for the crew, came in smiling, came in screaming and angry, explained in great detail what symptoms they had documented, expected to have their car serviced right then and there with no appointment, questioned a diagnosis, argued about a bill, said "thank you", or any other thing you can think of, there was a 50 percent chance it was a woman. You may be FEELING that you're going to be taken advantage of but that probably projects to the person you're dealing with and becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. I could see that in my mother and her friend. They never questioned anything; not just about cars, but at the grocery store, the department store, etc. The problem wasn't the mechanics or the sales people, it was them. I'm somewhat the same way. That's my fault, not the salespeople's.

Now, to offer some advice that might actually be useful, you might consider looking for a night class related to cars and consumers. We used to call that "Automotive Fundamentals for Women" and no one looked for a reason to be offended. Today, in the world of silly political correctness, and especially because there are so many clueless guys, we call it "Automotive Fundamentals for Consumers". This class is not intended to turn you into a mechanic. It is intended to make you a more informed customer. Many of these classes are modified according to the wishes of the group. As an example, a group of senior citizens might learn how to recognize a tire going flat or an engine that is starting to overheat. Younger participants might be taught how to change a flat tire or how to nurse an overheating car to the repair shop without causing engine damage. The classes also explain how repair shops and dealerships work, how they figure out what's wrong with your car, how they determine the repair bill, and how you can help keep costs and repairs to a minimum. My dealership held a similar class once a month for recent car buyers to explain proper maintenance and operating features, then the service manager, parts department manager, and body shop manager each took turns explaining how their departments worked and how customers could get the most benefit when visiting them.

There is no reason for you or anyone else to assume you will be taken advantage of just because you're a woman. It's true that's a common feeling still, but it has been changing gradually over the years. Some women customers are doctors and lawyers, and real estate agents, and the service advisers know they all deserve the same respect. One of the top Ford mechanics in our city is a woman who was a product of my college before I got there, and heaven help the service adviser who tries to talk down to her. She will clear up any misconceptions about female customers. In reality, it's not the female customers my service advisers have trouble with; it's the guys who think they have all the answers just because they're guys, and they knew how to fix a few things 30 years ago. Times are changing. I personally prefer explaining car problems to interested ladies vs. Disinterested guys.

There was no insult in my joke. I've used those lines many times including with my female school president, and not a single person complained, so you don't get to be offended either. Take it in the spirit it was meant, not what you choose to read into it. One of the few things I hated about teaching was the higher-ups actively searching with great effort for reasons to be offended and looking for every opportunity to talk down to us about it. Common sense has gone out the window. No one is allowed to laugh at themselves anymore. Isn't it funny that the world of academia is one of the few places where we no longer have freedom of speech?

Anyhow, I'll get off my soapbox now. FloridaHonda, might I suggest the next time you have a car problem, come back here and list the symptoms so you can go the repair shop prepared with some possible solutions or recommendations. A lot of people do that, not because they want to fix their car themselves, but so they know in advance what to expect. We can also give you some questions to ask, and we can suggest things to observe that might speed up the mechanic's diagnosis. Some people come here after they think they were ripped off. That's hard to tell without knowing all the details and no one likes to tell people, "you should have, ... ". If there's anything else I can add or answer, be sure to ask.
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Tuesday, June 21st, 2011 AT 8:46 PM

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