Will cutting extra radiator air-holes fix a blown Civic head gasket? Sorry, no.

1986 Honda Civic with extra air holes for radiator

But this Honda‘s final owner gets points for ingenuity

I see a lot of low-budget, smacking-of-desperation repairs during my junkyard travels. Replacing a broken side window with acrylic and drilling it full of holes to keep the driver comfortable, for example, or using several small pieces of plexiglass and lots of wood to replace a missing rear hatch glass. On a trip to one of my favorite Denver yards last week (to find another Hyundai Accent radiator fan for solar-powered attic-ventilation use, I spotted a clever, yet presumably unsuccessful, cooling-system upgrade on a high-mile 1986 Honda Civic Si hatchback.

1986 Honda Civic Si engine

I have owned quite a few third-generation (1984-87) Honda Civics, and they were by far the best subcompacts made during the middle 1980s. They were quick and fun to drive, got extremely good fuel economy, hauled a lot of stuff, and usually lasted well over 200,000 miles (unless they were in a rust-prone region of the country, in which case they turned into heaps of reddish powder long before the running gear gave up). The only real weak points were the terrifyingly complex emission-control hardware on the CVCC-engined models and a tendency to blow head gaskets.

1986 Honda Civic odometer with 305,191 miles

This car was an electronic-fuel-injection-equipped Civic Si, so the crazy vacuum-line problem wasn’t an issue. However, a quick glance at the odometer told the whole sad story of why it’s now awaiting a date with The Crusher: 305,191 miles! When a non-collectible car with a battered body and interior reaches that sort of mileage figure, any problem that costs more than, say, 50 bucks to fix amounts to a death sentence for the car.

1985 Honda CRX head gasket replacement

The really maddening thing about the way these cars blow head gaskets is that, most of the time, you don’t get the obvious symptoms, e.g., oil in the coolant, steam coming out the tailpipe, the traditional cues. No, what usually happens is that a little pinhole-sized hole gets burned in the gasket, which then allows combustion gases into the engine’s coolant passages and causes rapid, erratic overheating. 20 or so years ago, I would buy clean third-gen Civics and CRXs with this problem, replace the head gasket, and flip the cars for a nice profit. It’s not a terribly difficult job, but it involves dealing with a lot of irritatingly hard-to-reach fasteners and most shops will charge over a grand to do it.

1986 Honda Civic air holes

So, my guess is that the final owner of this ’86 Civic had a car that would overheat instantly, stalled out in traffic with steam hissing from around the hood, the whole deal. At some level, he or she might have soaked up enough Civic lore to get that this sort of thing usually means the head gasket is toast, but a certain type of automotive magical thinking often comes into play here: it just needs more air to the radiator, and then everything will be fine! I see this sort of thing often among Honda racers in the 24 Hours of LeMons, where Honda E, B, and D engines get replacement head gaskets more often than they need oil changes. The hole saw came out, the radiator got more air… and it made no difference. At that point, getting 50 bucks from U-Pull-&-Pay became the best loss-cutting move available.

1986 Honda Civic Field Expedient Hood Latch

Another thing that fails pretty regularly on high-mileage cars is the inside hood-release cable. This car features a tried-and-true solution to that problem: cut the cable, make a loop, let it poke out of the front hood gap.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


*


Time limit is exhausted. Please reload CAPTCHA.