lent my Toyota starlet to a friend today and they broke down. On investigation it appears the bit the radiator lid attached to has blown off. There was very little coolant in it and remnants were all over the engine bay. There was an inch of coolant in the overflow though. I refilled the coolant and tried to restart but couldn't get her turning over. Not sure what to check or do next, any tips?

Background: had the water pump replaced recently, no leaks around there since. Also fixed a hose leak going from radiator to the engine the other day, no visible leaks there after either. Haven't noticed the fan working in a while.


I think the car is a write-off now. I bought a new radiator today and installed it, only to find that I could only just start the car again, and when I eventually got it running it was blowing white smoke out of the exhaust profusely. After doing some searches online and watching some videos, it looks like this is a blown head gasket from driving it into the red, probably the engine is processing the coolant. I'm guessing that's the end of it, but if you have any thoughts otherwise, please let me know. What a waste of time and money I've spent on this banger :o(


Maybe I'm getting confused here but it was my assumption that if you run the engine into the red it could crack the engine block and the chambers inside allowing coolant and oil to mix and to try to be combust ed in the chambers? And if that has happened there will be an almighty mess in every part of the enfine, hard to clean, and even if I could clean it won't it happen again? I watchef a video of a guy trying to fix what I thought was the same problem and it took him ages, and he was a mechanic.

Assumptions aside, here's what happened:

  • car overheated, friend kept on driving it until it stopped, maybe 10 minutes in the red

  • was able to start the engine the next day fairly easily, giving it some gas to help, but that's fairly normal with this car

  • next day i changed the radiator and refilled the coolant

  • tried to start her again and was much harder this time, took maybe 30 seconds of constant turning over. Manafed to start her but white smoke was pouring out of the exhaustime. Engine didn't sound as efficient as before incident, maybe less cylinders running, not sure. Went for a short drive with the choke out all the way, engine died when turning a corner on a junction as the revs fell.

  • haven't been able to start her since

  • took the top of the engine off this morning and below are the photos. Can see some light sludge in parts but not overwhelmed

Any ideas what I should do and whether this is salvageable?

enter image description here enter image description here


Watched some more videos last night and I think I understand a bit more. Depending where the leak on the head gasket is will give different symptoms. One of those symptoms, that the coolant boils over into the overflow tank, was happening before the major incident. Now after the incident I'm experiencing more symptoms, white smoke out the exhaust, coolant in the oil, both of which weren't happening before the incident. So it looks like the overheating completely ruined the head gasket. From what I've seen this doesn't necessarily mean the engine is cracked as I'd assumed before. So it's pretty clear the head gasket needs to be replaced...should I attempt this myself? :0/

  • 1
    Do you have any idea how long they were driving without coolant? Did the engine temperature get really really high?
    – Bob Cross
    Oct 18, 2017 at 22:21
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    They said the needle was in the red, maybe 5 minutes, can't be sure Oct 18, 2017 at 22:34
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    Does the car do anything at all when you turn the key? Is there any indication that the engine can rotate at all?
    – Bob Cross
    Oct 18, 2017 at 22:58
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    Can you post an audio recording of attempting to start the engine? If possible have someone crank it over and record from the engine bay.
    – Ben
    Oct 18, 2017 at 23:14
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    It seems to turn over a bit but can't start fully now and all the coolant sprayed out. I thought you could start the car with the radiator cap off and bleed the system of air? Going to tow the car back home this afternoon where I can look at it better Oct 19, 2017 at 8:57

1 Answer 1


Everything depends on the tools you have at your disposal.

If I suspect a blown head gasket or warped head or crack I'll use a coolant pressure tester or leakdown tester.

Fill the cooling system up completely. Place pressure on the system. Remove the spark plugs. Look into the spark plug holes with a flashlight and look for coolant on top of the cylinders. You may have to slowly turn the engine over by hand to get a better look at the tops of all the cylinders. Obviously, if you find coolant there is something allowing it to come into the cylinder.

The leakdown tester works in the opposite way. It puts pressure into the cylinder through the spark plug hole. Remove all the spark plugs. Turn the engine over by hand until, one at a time, each cylinder is at top dead center on the compression stroke. Apply pressure to that cylinder. Watch for bubbles to come out of the radiator. If bubbles come out then there is something allowing the air to get out of the cylinder. Be careful. With pressure applied to the engine, the engine may spontaneously rotate.

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