1998 Plymouth Neon Oil Gasket Head

  • 6 CYL
  • 2WD
  • 220,000 MILES
My car hit a elevated piece of concrete in a driveway. It began leaking oil. I took it in to find the head gasket seal off and paid $540 to repair it. It runs fine. But I remember the mechanic saying "You shouldn't have driven it". I'm afraid the oil went through the lines and my car may be full of oil and sludge and going to stop soon. How would I check this--which fluid? Should I do something?
Do you
have the same problem?
Saturday, April 25th, 2009 AT 12:24 PM

1 Reply

I think a whole lot got lost in the translation.

Head gasket seal? The head gasket can leak, but not from hitting something. There are seals on the ends of the head, but they are near the top of the engine and don't pop out from hitting something.

The head is on the top of the engine and would not be affected by hitting something. The oil pan is on the bottom and would get punctured and leak oil. Your mechanic was dead on about not driving a car without oil. It's common knowledge that oil is like blood. The engine won't last even a few minutes without it. It is possible, however, that the puncture was up high enough that some oil stayed in the engine. If enough oil is lost, there will be a "Check Gauges" warning light, and the oil gauge will read low. Failure to stop the engine immediately could result in the need for a complete engine rebuild, typically over $2000.00.

$540.00 seems kind of high to replace an oil pan and gasket so I'm guessing there were other parts involved. They might have replaced other questionable parts to prevent related problems in the future.

I can't imagine what you're referring to about lines and sludge. The fact that the engine is running good now tells me there was no catastrophic damage done by driving it without sufficient oil so that should be the end of the story. They wouldn't have given the car back if it wasn't safe to drive or if they didn't explain why it couldn't be driven. They were obviously confident it wouldn't let you sit, as am I.

Sludge is thick gunk that builds up in the engine oiling system when the oil is not changed on a regular basis. In fact, that's the main reason for changing oil. Sludge drains out with the old oil, and new oil has additives that wear out while driving. Seal conditioners and detergents are the two most common additives.

I don't have a clue what lines you're referring to. Is it possible the mechanic mentioned something about the leaking oil collecting in hidden places? There are parts of the body and frame of the car that are, in effect, hollow tubes where spraying oil could collect. Some of this oil will drip out later, especially if you park on an incline. Part of the repair procedure involved cleaning off as much oil residue as possible but it's impossible to get it all. The attempt at cleaning the area is an indication of a quality job and a conscientious mechanic / shop owner. The mechanic will inspect his work to be sure the new oil pan gasket is properly sealed and not leaking, but he can't do that if the engine and frame are coated in old oil.

Despite his best attempts, don't be surprised if you find spots of oil on the ground where you park. These will get smaller and fewer as time goes on. If you're still finding spots after a month, take the car back to the same shop for an inspection. Also, if you don't know how to check the oil level periodically, the next time you take it in for an oil change, explain what happened, then just ask them to check the level before they drain it. If it was still full, you can rest assured that any drips are not from a leak in the engine, but rather from old oil that got trapped somewhere.

If you do check your own oil, be aware that most dipsticks are no longer marked "ADD" and "FULL"; there will only be two marks or it will be marked "MIN" and "MAX" for minimum and maximum. All the manufacturer cares about is that the level is between those two points. If the oil is lower than the minimum, it is possible for the oil pump to momentarily suck up air instead of oil when you make a hard corner. This usually only lasts for a few seconds and doesn't cause permanent damage. Over-filling past the maximum point can allow rotating engine parts to whip up the oil and aerate it. Air in the oil compresses and cancels the oil's ability to lubricate high-stress parts in the engine. This can also lead to engine damage. The damage may be in the form of accelerated wear, not catastrophic failure that leaves you sitting on the side of the road.

This entire problem and discussion has been about engine oil, so I'm not sure why you're asking "which fluid" to check. If you've never checked fluids before, consider asking your mechanic, (if he has time), or the Dodge dealer how to do these checks. Mechanics are usually paid by the work they produce, and many demanding customers would get angry if he stopped in the middle of their job to answer your questions, but if work is slow, or it's the lunch hour, many mechanics will be happy to help you take care of your car.

The Dodge dealership I used to work at held night classes once a month for everyone who recently bought a car from them, new or used. They covered checking fluids, tire pressures, tire wear, they explained what the warning lights mean and what to do when one comes on. They also ran tours of the Service Desk and the Parts Department, explained how to order accessories, how to schedule a service appointment, and how to get emergency service after hours. That is actually the biggest part of the salesman's job but there's just way too much stuff to cover that most people hardly remember very much. That's why they covered it again in the night classes.

Bottom line is I think you have nothing to worry about, but if you're like my mother, you'll worry anyway!

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Wednesday, April 29th, 2009 AT 3:15 AM

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