Head Gasket Replacement for Misfire Codes?

I received an email from a lady who was referred to me by a mutual friend. The email went something like this:

“[Mutual friend] gave me your name and said you may be able to help us with a repair we need on our Honda. It’s a 2003 Honda Civic with 161,000 miles on it and it idles really rough. We took it to meineke and they said the head gasket needs to be replaced. Is that something you could help us with? If so, what would the charge be?”

In response, I said:

“I possibly could, if that is really what the problem is. Let me know when we could talk?”

She sent me her phone number and I called when specified. She stated they had diagnosed a misfire code, had subsequently changed out the spark plugs (not a bad thought), but the misfire continued to happen. Meineke then told them they’d need to change out the head gasket, but was unsure if it would solve the issue. The cost of the head gasket replacement: $1800. I ran through some other over the phone diagnostic questions:

  • Q: Does the oil look milky like chocolate milk? A: I don’t think so.
  • Q: What were the exact codes? A: They didn’t tell us, just that there was a misfire present.

At this point I asked if I could come over and take a look at the car. I was pretty sure the car wasn’t in need of a head gasket and that someone at Meineke was trying to have a good Christmas at the expense of this couple.

When I got to the car, I read the codes. Sure enough, there were misfire codes for cylinders 2&3, along with some other general misfire codes (which is not unusual). I swapped out the #1 and #2 coils and what do you know, the misfire was no on the #1 cylinder. Diagnosis: Bad Coils. With 161k on the car, this isn’t hard to imagine or diagnose. I had looked online at my favorite online parts retailer when I was first contacted, RockAuto.com, and discovered the parts would be about $25/coil. I looked on Advance Auto. They wanted $56/coil. I suggested to the couple if they didn’t need the car they should order them online, which they heartily agreed with. I also showed them they could find a 5% discount code really easily for RockAuto, which almost paid for the shipping. RockAuto stated it should take 3-4 business days for the parts to get to their house. I took the owner outside and showed him exactly what to do to change out the coils, which two coils to replace, and that he should do it one at a time. This is really a simple job which is actually easier than changing out the spark plugs which the owner had done before.

Bottom line, as long as my diagnostics are accurate, the vehicle owner has saved a ton of money. Realistically, their 2003 Honda would not be worth the $1800 quoted for the job, then the job wouldn’t have fixed the issue in the first place. This couple decided to get a second opinion and in my eyes, this paid off big time. If you go to a shop and they tell you there is a big cost involved, don’t necessarily just buy off on it and take their word for it. If a shop tells you they want to charge you a large amount for a job, yet they don’t know if it will solve the issue, you really need to get a second opinion. Especially if it’s a muffler shop talking about big engine repairs which definitely doesn’t fall into their bailiwick.