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Fiance has a 1999 VW Beetle. Was told two months ago that it was leaking water from a cracked water pump (mechanic). She never got it fixed. About a week ago the car began making a loud noise. She pulled over. Water basically all leaked out, right there. She started it up (with the noise) and drove it about 3 blocks to see if she could get it home. She didn't, parked it.

Took it to a mechanic (same one) and he said a head gasket had blown, something else was warped (will specify what when I have more information).

What is the likelihood of this being true? I'm a little surprised that the engine overheated enough after the immediate death of the water pump to cause this in three blocks driving distance. I could be wrong.

My understanding is also that the sound was present during the 3 block drive. I have a suspicion the sound is actually the water pump. Perhaps it suffered some damage, such as a bearing or something, and is cranking around to make the noise.

Three questions then:

a) Does this story make sense? b) What would I expect to pay to have this repaired? c) What is the difficulty level of repairing it myself? The price quoted by the mechanic would be over the worth. He's offered to buy it for $200. This seems like it might be worth my time to figure out how to fix.

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Modern cooling systems don't tend to hold a lot of coolant. A quick Google suggests that the system on your fiance's car holds around 5L, so attempting to drive it a fairly massive coolant leak is not what I'd call a good plan. The water pump is circulating the coolant surprisingly quickly and if it's got a good size leak that means it'll circulate it out of the system fairly quickly, too.

Water pumps tend to make an interesting noise when the bearing goes and the racket doesn't stop when there is no more coolant left.

There is a good chance that it overheated enough to blow the head gasket and the warped part is most likely a warped cylinder head. It might or might not be warped, but the only way to find out is to measure the head once you've taken it off to replace the head gasket.

Depending on what else was damaged by the overheating, the most cost effective way might be to source a good used engine and drop that in instead of attempting to repair the engine. It's a tough call to make with what little information you have, though, but if the head (and worst case the block also) is warped, either sourcing a replacement head or getting the existing one machined is going to be fairly expensive.

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I appreciate the detailed response. Thanks! –  wasabi Apr 16 '12 at 19:53
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It could be fatal to your engine block, sure - without coolant, various bits can fail rapidly, including the gaskets, and if the head gasket blows, the engine can destroy itself pretty quickly.

As you said though, there are a number of things which could cause clunking that would be less serious than this, so if you are unsure, the best bet is to get a second opinion from a mechanic.

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