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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Hey all,

I have a 97 S/C that is my baby. It is any everyday driver and so far has treated me better than any other vehicle I've ever had. I bought the Prev with 110K miles and now I'm up to 160K.

Lately, upon a cold start in the morning, a fairly decent amount of white smoke comes out the exhaust, more than would be caused by condensation, but after 5 minutes of idling or driving all the smoke goes away and it runs perfectly. Also on start up I can smell coolant. Thing is, I am not losing any coolant (reservoir is full and has been that way for awhile), I don't have coolant in my oil, last week the mechanincs pressure checked the cylinders and they came out fine, and the van has never over heated or even come close.

Does anyone have any clue what could be wrong? Am I one of the lucky people who is a legitimate candidate for something like Bars Leak or Steel Seal??? I know that stuff is really intended for small leaks so maybe it would work for me as it doesn't seem like anything like my head gasket is fully blown.

Any advice would be HUGELY appreciated! Thanks guys.
 

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Hey all,

I have a 97 S/C that is my baby. It is any everyday driver and so far has treated me better than any other vehicle I've ever had. I bought the Prev with 110K miles and now I'm up to 160K.

Lately, upon a cold start in the morning, a fairly decent amount of white smoke comes out the exhaust, more than would be caused by condensation, but after 5 minutes of idling or driving all the smoke goes away and it runs perfectly. Also on start up I can smell coolant. Thing is, I am not losing any coolant (reservoir is full and has been that way for awhile), I don't have coolant in my oil, last week the mechanincs pressure checked the cylinders and they came out fine, and the van has never over heated or even come close.

Does anyone have any clue what could be wrong? Am I one of the lucky people who is a legitimate candidate for something like Bars Leak or Steel Seal??? I know that stuff is really intended for small leaks so maybe it would work for me as it doesn't seem like anything like my head gasket is fully blown.

Any advice would be HUGELY appreciated! Thanks guys.
You have a cracked head. The condition will worsen to the point that it will no longer start. It will take 6 months.
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
Well shit, talk about brutal honesty. That sucks to hear but I think you might be right. Where would you recommend I go from here? How can I make sure I have a cracked head? The van hasn't overheated once so I'm not sure how it cracked. I REALLY love this van! What next???
 

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I had the exact thing happen to me.... Little smoke and then it was good after it warmed up. Then about 40 miles later it got to the point that it would't even stay running. To make things even worse, was it was the same day I drove it off the dealers lot. No warranty, nothing. I did threaten them with their reputation, and the offered to pay for the install of a new engine.
So, in a nutshell, I wouldn't wait. I would do something now. Although I don't have any experiance with it, that Steel Seal looks to be a good product. It would be worth a try. I have a friend that got his previa with a blown head gasket from a friend, got some head gasket stuff at the auto parts store, and has just over 10,000 miles now on the fix. It is his daughters daily driver.
I wish I had some solid advice for you, but I don't. If it were me, I would order the Steel Seal and try it.
 

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Well shit, talk about brutal honesty. That sucks to hear but I think you might be right. Where would you recommend I go from here? How can I make sure I have a cracked head? The van hasn't overheated once so I'm not sure how it cracked. I REALLY love this van! What next???
Bean, it has happened to enough Previa owners that Toyota should have paid for it. It's way past that now. If you are not a DIY'er then I suggest you get rid of the van. If you pay to have it done it will cost around 4K. This repair is not for the faint of heart. Here is what you will be told. "Replacing the head is an accident waiting to happen. That a new head will cause increased cylinder pressure and cause the bottom end to fail (rings, wrist pins, big end). You will be told that the engine won't last 15K miles and that you should rebuild the whole engine while you have it down."

This is a possibility. I replaced my head about a 100K miles ago. So I guess I am a statistic. Beware, this repair is an avenue for a crooked mechanic to come back to you with tremendous escalation. The only way to know for sure is to remove the head. Which if it were the head gasket you would be removing the head anyway.

Can you wrench? Do you have a garage? Do you have another daily driver. Do you have the money to pay to have it fixed? Is the rest of the van worth the investment? Do you know an honest, dependable, independent mechanic.

If it were a Nissan I would say, forget it.
 

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Discussion Starter · #6 ·
Oh man that is really bad news. I've done so much research online that I feel like I could fix it myself, but a lack of tools or space makes this impossible. I do have every guide to fixing a head gasket on the previa saved to my computer. Shouldn't there be someone out there who wants to do this repair for half cost? I mean heck if they do it for 40 bucks an hour they are still making more than me!

Also, are you saying that just replacing the head gasket by itself is a bad idea? and that it will lead to other major issue? but you did replace yours right, how much did that cost you and how have your results been?

I just can't see myself getting rid of this van. I've probably got 2k to either fix this van or roll the dice and try to buy some other used timebomb. I'd rather fix my van, but 4k for repairs!!

The ENITRE reason I bought this vehicle was because of its legendary reliability, why am I getting screwed?
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
Well, mechanic confirmed that I do have a blown headgasket :facepalm: He quoted me $1500 to fix it. How does that sound for a fair price? I called a place out in Burbank who quoted me $600 but they didn't seem to have any idea that the Previa was harder to work on than any other vehicle. The people who quoted me 1500 have worked on them before.

I guess I'm going to spend the money to get this fixed. Like I've said before I LOVE my Previa and want to see it go on for a long time. It has 160K miles on it now. Do you guys think that if I get this fixed I should be good to go for awhile, not including standard maintenance? Also, since the engine is going to be out is there anything else I should have done, replace the radiator perhaps?

Thanks for the help guys!
 

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Oh man that is really bad news. I've done so much research online that I feel like I could fix it myself, but a lack of tools or space makes this impossible. I do have every guide to fixing a head gasket on the previa saved to my computer. Shouldn't there be someone out there who wants to do this repair for half cost? I mean heck if they do it for 40 bucks an hour they are still making more than me!

Also, are you saying that just replacing the head gasket by itself is a bad idea? and that it will lead to other major issue? but you did replace yours right, how much did that cost you and how have your results been?

I just can't see myself getting rid of this van. I've probably got 2k to either fix this van or roll the dice and try to buy some other used timebomb. I'd rather fix my van, but 4k for repairs!!

The ENITRE reason I bought this vehicle was because of its legendary reliability, why am I getting screwed?
Bean, I bought my van new in December of 1991. I would buy it again. I do whatever I have to do to keep it running. I have 270K miles on it and now my 16 year old daughter drives it. I have had some expensive repairs over the years. The head replacement being the most expensive. I was told the engine wouldn't last one year before it destroyed the rings from not doing a total rebuild. That was in 1999 with pushing a 150K miles. Sticker price was like 37K. I vowed to get every penny out of this thing. Since then we have had Nissan's and BMW's and both are money pits. The head replacement cost me pushing 3K. The engine had to come out. Maybe you can get it done without engine removal. I am my own mechanic but I didn't do this repair. I knew a guy who had been a Master Toyota mechanic for 20 years and had left the dealer to build race engines. He still took on a Toyota project every now an then. It was in the winter and he was idle so I got lucky. The engine has performed flawlessly since the repair and you see the mileage. You must remove the head to replace the head gasket. At that time I would definately have the head checked for the crack. It was readily visible on my head and the head gasket was not compromised. And I was intending to just replace the head gasket. But because my gasket was in fine shape it prompted my mechanic to look elswhere. It started at the end of the summer with the white smoke after starting in the morning. After 5 minutes it was fine. The second month it was 10 minutes with more smoke. The third month it was becoming difficult to start and wouldn't run good for 30 minutes. The fourth month I could not deny I had a major problem. By the sixth month it would not run. The smell of antifreeze was previlent from the beginning. The exhaust was dripping with moisture. Luckily, nothing else was damaged. I think the head had a design flaw but that is just water under the bridge. These vans were built in Toyota's heyday. So if you are to put money in a used car I guess this van is the one to do it to. The bright side is that it might not be a cracked head. Don't take my words as gospel. But at least you know what the worst case scenario could be. Now you need to go to a dealer and price a head. Good Luck. And please, for others sake, post your updates. Don't leave us hanging like so many others do.
 

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Well, mechanic confirmed that I do have a blown headgasket :facepalm: He quoted me $1500 to fix it. How does that sound for a fair price? I called a place out in Burbank who quoted me $600 but they didn't seem to have any idea that the Previa was harder to work on than any other vehicle. The people who quoted me 1500 have worked on them before.

I guess I'm going to spend the money to get this fixed. Like I've said before I LOVE my Previa and want to see it go on for a long time. It has 160K miles on it now. Do you guys think that if I get this fixed I should be good to go for awhile, not including standard maintenance? Also, since the engine is going to be out is there anything else I should have done, replace the radiator perhaps?

Thanks for the help guys!
Bean the OEM radiator is plastic. It costs about $600 dollars. When I lost mine I opted to put a copper one back in. It cost $200 dollars. That was about '97-'98.
 

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Discussion Starter · #10 ·
thanks for sharing your story, sounds like I have the exact same issue you did. The mechanic I spoke to today did say that the bottom end may need servicing but when he found out that it wasn't burning oil and that I never had to add oil between changes he seemed to think the bottom end might be fine.

I was referred to this guy buy someone I really trust and he seemed to know exactly what he was talking about. Like I said before he quoted me $1500 to do the head gasket repair, said it would take around 4 days. I'm going to drop the van off there in the morning and pray for the best. I think you're definitely right that if you had to sink some money into a used car this is a good model to do so. I use this van for camping trips almost every weekend and it doubles as my work vehicle during the day. I'm a free lance filmmaker and the Previa is perfect for carrying gear around.

I certainly won't leave you hanging and I'll update as soon as I hear something. Thanks again.
 

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Sounds like you have already made your decision on the route of repair you are going to do. But I wanted to throw my 3 cents in anyway.

If it were me in your shoes, And I have been there....... I would first try the Steel Seal . I only say that because of my friend that used some magic fix in a bottle on his Previa with a blown head gasket and now has a little over 10,000 miles on the repair.
When my Head gasket went out on my 97, It was cheaper for me to get a JDM engine from an importer and have it installed than to have the head gasket repair done. I went that route and was very happy with the result.
In Japan, they have VERY strict rules as to how many miles they can have on their cars. their taxes are partly based on the milage. For many, it is cheaper to have the engine replaced at around 60,000 miles , or to scrap the car, than pay all the taxes. Us as Americans, are thrilled to buy a cheap used engine with such low miles.
I have noticed that JDM engines have come down in price a little over the last couple years since I got mine... it cost me $500 to have it put in, but I now know that I could have shopped around and gotton it done for cheaper, or even done it myself.

Good luck to you. Fixing it is most likely the way to go. I say that assuming that the rest of the van is nice.
 
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Discussion Starter · #12 ·
Thanks for the advice, but now I'm kind of second guessing myself. I haven't really looked into a JDM motor, would it cost less than $1500 to purchase, ship and install? How are they as far as reliability goes?

My van is in great shape, with this in mind do you think that after the head gasket is replaced it should be as reliable as ever? I'm also having them change my trans fluid and check to see if I need a new radiator, anything else I sold have them look at? Hopefully nothing else comes up that needs to be fixed.

I'm just praying that once this is done the van will run for another 100K before needing anything major done to it...
 

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The JDM (Japanese Domestic Market) was the way I went and was happy with the results. It cost a tad bit less to buy it, ship it, and have it installed than what I was being quoted to have a new head gasket installed on an engine that already had 140,000 miles.
here is the ebay link to a Company in your area that Looks pretty good. because they are near you, you could pick it up instead of having it shipped and save you a few extra $$$ . I paid like $200 for shipping on my engine...

http://cgi.ebay.com/ebaymotors/94-9...ptZMotorsQ5fCarQ5fTruckQ5fPartsQ5fAccessories
 

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If you're interested let me know, i can look around here in Japan and see what i can come up with for you...Also, the thing with changing your head is that you don't know if you caused any other damage. Warped valves, block etc. I think that its best to go with a JDM replacement. It will definitely come out cheaper in the long run. Not only that, most JDM engines have less that 55000 miles on them.
 

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Discussion Starter · #15 ·
Well guys i just got my van back. $1500 to repair the headgasket and install a good used head. I went to Kondo Motors here in Santa Monica as I heard they were the go to guys for Toyota work around here. When they first quoted me for the repair they warned that more work might need to be done on the bottom end if its not in great shape or it wouldn't be worth just fixing the gasket. This would have bumped the price tag to $2800. Thankfully, they said the bottom end looked in great shape and was in no need of service. The owner of the shop said I should be good to go for another 100K. God I hope so!!

Thanks everyone here for the advice, it was immeasurably helpful. If I had more time and to do it again I might look more into getting a JDM engine but I'm pretty happy and optomistic that my van is ready to rock just like the mechanic said.

I love my Previa so freakin much. I use it for rock climbing trips with my girlfriend and buddies every weekend. I pulled out the middle row of seats so I've just got the back ones that fold up. We get where we're going and fold the babies up and hit the sack like we're in a motel room. During the week I use it as my production vehicle. I stuff it full of camera gear and it never lets me down.

Thanks again.
 

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I have changed head gaskets before and never thought about the bottom end going bad. I have always had success without any further complications. sounds like the shop did a very good job and at a reasonable price. It does not take much to rack up a $1500 auto repair bill in todays world. Labor rates for the shop are not cheap and the complexity of modern cars adds to the labor cost.
 

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I am so glad you got it fixed... no matter what route you took.... I Hate seeing these in the salvage yards...
 

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Discussion Starter · #18 ·
i'm so happy I got it fixed too. You know, for a minute I almost went the Steel Seal route. I know its worked for some people but from what I've learned online that is mre of a tempory solution than anything and it can damage your engine. I litteraly want to keep this van for like another 10 years. I want it to be like my friend's old VW van, except for the fact that it runs reliably.:lol:

Right now its my daily driver but, God willing, in the next two years or so I hope to make a little more money which is when I plan on buying a second vehicle, like a little car with great mpg, and then use the Previa only on weekend trips and if I need it to haul camera gear. Hope that will insure a long life with my bean :naughty:
 

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I have an 89 S15 Jimmy that I bought new it now has 421K on the odometer it is my daily driver. I did put a replacement engine and trans in and it has been painted so it is in great shape and still looks and runs good. Good maintenance and repairing the things that brake will go along way to keeping it a long time. For a lot of the plastic parts the junkyard has been my savoir.
 

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Well guys i just got my van back. $1500 to repair the headgasket and install a good used head. I went to Kondo Motors here in Santa Monica as I heard they were the go to guys for Toyota work around here. When they first quoted me for the repair they warned that more work might need to be done on the bottom end if its not in great shape or it wouldn't be worth just fixing the gasket. This would have bumped the price tag to $2800. Thankfully, they said the bottom end looked in great shape and was in no need of service. The owner of the shop said I should be good to go for another 100K. God I hope so!!

Thanks everyone here for the advice, it was immeasurably helpful. If I had more time and to do it again I might look more into getting a JDM engine but I'm pretty happy and optomistic that my van is ready to rock just like the mechanic said.

I love my Previa so freakin much. I use it for rock climbing trips with my girlfriend and buddies every weekend. I pulled out the middle row of seats so I've just got the back ones that fold up. We get where we're going and fold the babies up and hit the sack like we're in a motel room. During the week I use it as my production vehicle. I stuff it full of camera gear and it never lets me down.

Thanks again.
Bean, pay attention! What do you mean he installed a good used head. First I heard you needed a head. Last I heard you only needed a head gasket. When did the head come into the picture. You want to tell the whole story so we all can understand exactly what happened and apply this information to our repertoir. Be complete dude! Was the head cracked or did you just replace it thinking you should? What's the whole story?
 
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