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How long can you drive with a blown head gasket?

Help, Advice and DIY Tutorials on Volvo's extremely popular car line -- Volvo's 1990s "bread and butter" cars -- powered by the ubiquitous and durable Volvo inline 5-cylinder engine.

1992 - 1997 850, 850 R, 850 T5-R, 850 T5, 850 GLT
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theWIFES_S70
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How long can you drive with a blown head gasket?

Post by theWIFES_S70 » Wed Apr 27, 2016 10:43 pm

Hey everyone, just let go of my lifelong dream of owning a Saab 9-3 Turbo earlier today and had a scrapper come by and get her. Alas, life goes on.

So yes, I really love the feel of my wife's 5-speed S70. So I think I'll hold out for for a manual transmission P80. I know what to look for and what repairs cost and the like. Many thanks to all of you and this great community.

The only manual transmission ones I see in my price range have blown head gaskets. But the ads all say that the cars are driveable... I haven't driven a car with a blown head gasket since my Golf, and I never would've considered that car driveable in that condition.

So a few questions:
- How far/long can you drive a P80 with a blown head gasket?
- How difficult is it to tackle the head gasket job?
- I know that the head gasket makes all sorts of foamy/frothy stuff appear, is it ever something other than the head gasket?
- How pricey is it? Do you simply buy the FCP Victor Reinz head gasket kit, new bolts, and sealant?

Many thanks. As always, your insight is greatly appreciated!
1998 Volvo S70, N/A, 5-speed, 183K
2007 Volvo S40, 2.4i, 5-speed, 97K

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Re: How long can you drive with a blown head gasket?

Post by JDS60R » Wed Apr 27, 2016 11:02 pm

7 feet.

Easy job

Often is the oil cooler in radiator and not the head gasket on turbo models.

If actually head gasket - about a 6 out of 10 is difficulty.

Pull head and drop off at machine shop for complete valve and guide service along with head skim.
Buy Victor Reinz gaskets and head bolts and Volvo anaerobic cam cover liquid gasket.
Use acetone to reduce hydraulic effect from oil on head/block.

Pit it together and use synthetic oil and Volvo coolant and distilled water. Put in a new Nissens rad from FCP. With Gates hoses and powergrip clamps

If its pre 96 I like to replace piston rings with total seal. but that's me. Also like to retime cams as exhaust often moves
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Re: How long can you drive with a blown head gasket?

Post by erikv11 » Thu Apr 28, 2016 12:19 am

What JD said looks good to me but I think it is more like a 7.5 out of 10 for difficulty. You have to be careful and not make mistakes, my first couple took a long time.

You can often drive it across town. Last one I picked up I drove it home 25 miles. It was the kind of breach where exhaust gases were spewing into the coolant. So I pulled the reservoir cap and once I got up to speed on back roads it stayed cool. I don't remember if I had to stop and refill the reservoir but in NY you probably would. Ah but I threw that engine away I did not refresh it. Not driving it very far is good advice.

Total cost the way JD described it comes to something like $650 if you replace all timing components (and I would). You may spend a few bucks on tools, too.
'95 854 T5-R, Motronic 4.4, 185k
'96 855 NA, 145k
'98 S70 NA, 220k (living out west)
'98 V70, T5 tune-injectors-turbo, LPT engine, 285k
'06 S60 R, 165k
'99 Camry V6 :shock: 125k
gone: '96 NA 850 210k, '98 NA V70 182k

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Re: How long can you drive with a blown head gasket?

Post by rspi » Thu Apr 28, 2016 1:36 am

My daughter drove her car about 10,000 miles with a bad head gasket. Even took it on road trips. It really depends on how bad it is. If it doesn't have a misfire you could drive it a while as long as you keep coolant in it.

If you have fluid mix, I would not even start it. Those usually trash the turbo as well.

Heads come off easy enough. Can be rebuilt at home, should be made true and install isn't that bad. If it is post '98 the level of difficulty is increased by 50%. VVT cam hubs, cam locking tool, lifter spacing for the solid lifter models, it can be a mess.
'95 855 T-5R M, Panther - 22/28 mpg
'98 S70 GLT, Lil' Red 25/32 mpg
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Re: How long can you drive with a blown head gasket?

Post by rspi » Thu Apr 28, 2016 1:44 am

Start at 4 minutes.

'95 855 T-5R M, Panther - 22/28 mpg
'98 S70 GLT, Lil' Red 25/32 mpg
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Re: How long can you drive with a blown head gasket?

Post by theWIFES_S70 » Thu Apr 28, 2016 8:01 am

Thank you all for the responses!

I'm looking at FCP right now, I'm getting a price of around $700 for everything... and that's not including getting the head machined or a new heater core! :shock:
Volvo Cylinder Head Bolt Set - Ajusa 81019800 $45.99
Volvo Head Gasket Set (850 C70 S70 V70) - Reinz 275254 $116.99
Volvo Timing Belt Kit (850 C70 S70 V70) Contitech - TBKIT252-OEM $218.99
Volvo Radiator Non Turbo (850 S70 V70) - Behr 8603769 $129.97
Volvo Thermostat 90 Degrees (850 960 S40 S60 S70 S90 V70) - Wahler 271664 $14.99
Volvo Coolant Fan Temperature Switch (850 S70 V70) - Genuine Volvo 9186486 $57.95
Volvo Expansion Tank Hose Lower (850 C70 S70 V70) Mackay 6842894 $8.99
Volvo Expansion Tank Hose Upper (850 C70 S70 V70) - Mackay 9135267 $8.99
Volvo Radiator Hose Upper (850 S70 V70 C70) MacKay 1335433 $14.99
Volvo Radiator Hose Lower (850 S70 V70 ) - Rein 6842428 $15.99
Volvo Anaerobic Sealant (S60 V70 XC70 S80 XC90) - Genuine Volvo 30644517 $42.95

I guess if the car doesn't need suspension work, PCV or a tune up, and if it's solid all around, this seems like a worthwhile investment... (But at these ages, I imagine our P80s always need something here and there...) But wow. I thought it might be more affordable...
1998 Volvo S70, N/A, 5-speed, 183K
2007 Volvo S40, 2.4i, 5-speed, 97K

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Re: How long can you drive with a blown head gasket?

Post by erikv11 » Thu Apr 28, 2016 9:43 am

I wasn't including a radiator in the cost estimate, or all new hoses, ECT, or thermostat. The last two are so easy to replace later, I wouldn't bother unless they are bad. Those MacKay hoses are junk in my opinion. On the hoses I would do the lower rad hose if it looks old using a Dayco, Gates or Volvo hose, and do the other hoses only if/as needed, again because they are so easy to do with the engine in the car.

Also implied by JD but not detailed specifically is that for SURE get the valve stem seals replaced by whoever does the head work and you must buy Volvo on these or you are shooting yourself in the foot. So that's another $70 (http://www.matthewsvolvosite.com/forums ... hp?t=71962), you are probably up closer to $800 by the end, yes. It's been a few years since I priced out one of these jobs. FCP is my go-to for most things but usually not for genuine Volvo parts, in most cases you're going to pay more there and it adds up.

It's not cheap to do the head right (but a lot cheaper than taking it to a shop!), and for the huge majority of us DIYers it's not "just another weekend job" either. Sure it is pretty easy to take it apart, but you have to be careful and pretty meticulous putting it back together it is easy to screw up the head or block surface, or to not get it clean enough. It's a tricky one, mistakes may not show up until a year or two later when the head gasket is leaking again due to a little section of the block gouged or not cleaned well during assembly, use of a cheapo head gasket, etc. But the engine will go another 200k+ no question, if you do it right.

It is really not worth paying much more than scrap value for one of these with a bad head. If the rest of the car doesn't have some major pluses (e.g. great body and interior and/or other parts well maintained, etc.), I would walk away.
'95 854 T5-R, Motronic 4.4, 185k
'96 855 NA, 145k
'98 S70 NA, 220k (living out west)
'98 V70, T5 tune-injectors-turbo, LPT engine, 285k
'06 S60 R, 165k
'99 Camry V6 :shock: 125k
gone: '96 NA 850 210k, '98 NA V70 182k

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Re: How long can you drive with a blown head gasket?

Post by bugs11 » Thu Apr 28, 2016 11:34 am

The Fel-Pro gasket kit that I used for my head came with a tube of aerobic sealant, car's a 96 850 Turbo.

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Re: How long can you drive with a blown head gasket?

Post by theWIFES_S70 » Thu Apr 28, 2016 8:15 pm

erikv11 wrote:It is really not worth paying much more than scrap value for one of these with a bad head. If the rest of the car doesn't have some major pluses (e.g. great body and interior and/or other parts well maintained, etc.), I would walk away.
erikv11, thank you for this insight. I think this is the key here. I know what you get for scrap for a Saab here in NYC. (It ain't pretty...) I won't pay more than scrap unless I know the car is worth it. I paid $800 for my wife's S70 and I put $2000 (maybe more!)of parts into it. In hindsight, it would've been much more economical to try to get in better shape. (And I still have to replace some axle seals and my power steering lines!) I think I have an idea of what costs what, so I will proceed accordingly! Many, many thanks to you all for your insight.
1998 Volvo S70, N/A, 5-speed, 183K
2007 Volvo S40, 2.4i, 5-speed, 97K

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Re: How long can you drive with a blown head gasket?

Post by rspi » Fri Apr 29, 2016 5:24 am

I did a head about 2 years ago and about 13 months later the car started blowing oil out the tail pipe. A month or so later it was dumping about a quart every 300 miles. After ruling out several things, finally pulled the head and found the valve stem seals leaking pretty badly. Withe less than 10,000 miles they were bad. They were not hard, just leaking.

Installed Volvo seals this round.
'95 855 T-5R M, Panther - 22/28 mpg
'98 S70 GLT, Lil' Red 25/32 mpg
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Volvo's of past: '87 740 GLE, '79 262C Bertone, '78 264, 960's, '98 S70 GLT, '95 850 T-5R YellowVolvo Repair Videos

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