'04 Odyssey Purchase - Might have been taken...

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2,852
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Kentucky
I posted a week or so ago about a used Odyseey the girlfriend and I were looking at. The van is a clean one owner vehicle with lots of service records noted on the Carfax. Appears to have been dealer serviced for the first 100k or so. Presently has 136k on the odo. During the test drive the vehicle performed flawlessly-- everything works right down to the power doors. Noted no oddities, leaks, strange noises or anything of the sort. Drove like a dream. Some online researched turned up lots of horror stories about the transmissions on these vehicles. This one exhibits no strange behavior from the 5 speed auto. We ended up talking the dealer down to 5k even, and had them throw in a 90 day warranty that covers major mechanical (i.e. serious internal engine defects and transmission failures). It does not cover gaskets, accessories or anything else, unfortunately. We drove the vehicle 35 miles home with no issues, but we did smell the sweet smell of coolant, which we didn't observe during the test drive. Coolant reservoir was and is still full. After arriving home, we unlocked the glove compartment only to discover a horde of recent service records that were previously unknown to us. These records go back to early 2012, and after looking through them, it's clearly why the previous owner bailed. The two shops they had been taking the van to were ripping them off left and right. They put about $6k into the van in the last couple years, some legitimate repairs, some I feel weren't. The last dealer service had a whole laundry list of repairs they wanted to do (typical dealer stuff)-- it appears they were turned off by the dealer prices and started going to indy shops. That's when the trouble seems to have begun. Complaints of overheating showed up in 2013 after they did the major 120k service which included water pump, timing belt, etc., about $1,400 all told. When overheating symptoms were brought up, the first shop did a coolant system flush (used the wrong coolant, generic green antifreeze), full tranny service, thermostat replacement, hoses, maybe some other things I can't remember. In June, 2014, the van was brought in again for overheating, the shop wrote "van has original timing belt. Timing belt stretched, not making good contact with water pump. Suggest replacement." Note that this is after they had the 120k timing belt service done. They still elected to have the water pump replaced a second time. The van went to a different shop in Sept. 2014, at which time the diagnosis was "observed external coolant leak from cylinder head. Recommend replace cylinder head gasket, mill head if warped." Each time they took it to a different mechanic, they'd suggest things that were done in the last 6 months by the other mechanic such as transmission service (claiming that the fluid is dirty), brake fluid dirty, power steering needs flushed--- when they'd already had it done recently. It was quite comical, but became clear why the PO gave up on the van. I spent quite a bit of time with the van yesterday trying to sort out what is working and what is not. I got the van *good* and hot, letting it idle and driving it around the neighborhood for awhile. No overheating, temp got as high as around 210F on the scan gauge, but would go down when the fan came on. I observed great coolant flow through the radiator, fans are coming on around 205F as they should, and come on with the A/C compressor like normal. I can see where they spotted a leak around where the front cylinder head mates with the block (rear cylinder head is squeeky clean, I could eat off the thing), but this is not a coolant leak-- it's thick slime like an oil leak. I rubbed around in the grime and smelled it, it does not smell like coolant and does not have that consistency. The amount of oily grime leads me to believe this isn't an active leak (it's not making it's way down to the oil pan, and not leaving spots in the driveway). It's more along the lines of what happens when you miss the fill hole when you add oil to your car. Here's the only two thing I observed, and both scare me, but I can't make a definitive diagnosis on these things alone: a) Bubbles in expansion tank-- not a lot, and not consistent, but I can't remember seeing this in other vehicles. Green coolant in expansion tank has a brown sheen to it-- Not the nasty mess you get when oil mixes with it, but does look like maybe combustion gases are mixing with the coolant? What I saw flowing through the radiator looked very clean, so this might just be crud that's accumulated in the overflow. Hard to tell. I swear the coolant smells like exhaust, but could just be my imagination, given that I was in the garage for 45 minutes with the engine running (with plenty of ventilation, doors open and fans going of course smile. b) Changed oil and saw tons of metal at the bottom of the drain pan. *But*, I had just done a transmission service on my '85 pickup, so I last had gear oil in the drain pan, so this could very possibly be left over from that. I took apart the oil filter (a generic Purolator)-- the dirty side was, ahem, dirty... black crud coating the filter material, but certainly not the amount you see when you have a spun bearing or something else nasty going on in the engine. Clean side of filter was extremely clean. I haven't cut open enough filters to determine whether the accumulated crud is normal or not. The oil was brown, not the metallic silvery or copper sheen you get when engines begin to self-destruct. I still think there was enough crud in the filter and metal in the drain pan to be a cause for concern, but still not the smoking gun I was looking for. What I think happened is that the owner drove for 15k miles with the engine hot or overheating and it took out the headgasket. Can't say that for certain, but something must have prompted the owner to take it in for overheating, and it's clearly a problem that persisted for some time. The rest of the van is in good enough shape that it wouldn't break my heart to have to do a head gasket job on it, but I still worry about the overall condition of the engine. My next step is to observe with a scan gauge the temperature during different driving conditions, and a compression check. I suspect it's not overheating because it's winter out, even though it was a solid 50+F yesterday when we drove the vehicle home. Anything else you guys would do as a test? I know absolutely nothing about these engines, and what symptoms they usually exhibit when a head gasket goes, or how common this is. I'm hoping some of you guys on this forum can help fill in these blanks for me, and help guide me toward figuring out this mess! The warranty I bought doesn't cover head gaskets, but if it were to throw a rod tomorrow, it *would* cover that, but only for 90 days, 3,000 miles. Not exactly piece of mind, but it sure is better than having nothing at all. Interested to see what you guys think, and where I should go from here!
 

JHZR2

Staff member
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New Jersey
I think you bought a used car. There are always risks, especially in something with as many known problems as an odyssey/Honda v6. If the at went out tomorrow, I'd not think twice, since ATs are always a liability at elevated mileage. The other stuff is questionable, and the fault of both the owner and shop. Though one would like to hope that the shop has all info and is making the next serially best decision, if the owner is unable to properly relay the info, and is using different people time after time, it's the owner's fault. Honestly unless you're really savvy, id probably take it to a dealer, get their laundry list, and pick and choose. Then get their warranty on the work, and have a consistent basis to start from.
 
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Guilford, CT
I would use a combustion gas detector to see if any combustion gases are getting into the cooling system. If it passes this test, then I wouldn't really worry about the head gasket. If it fails, definitely replace the head gasket.
 
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36,473
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ME
Is this a pressurized surge tank or an unpressurized overflow? You could just have a bad radiator cap that lets steam out at too low a pressure. This would cause the smell. You correctly deduced the previous owners were absolute idiots coming to cars and probably think most mechanics are liars, simply because they don't like the answers given and went "doctor shopping". Since they're dumber than stumps the well-meaning mechanics did a "baseline", apparantly repeatedly. They bought Honda because Consumer Reports liked them in the 1980s. If you have their address from the title paperwork and they're local go cruise by, they probably have a condo so they don't have to do maintenance and jumped ship for a toyota sienna. wink Don't give up hope! I'd do cheap 3k OCIs until summer, maybe look for coolant in a UOA as it eats bearings, and simply monitor the situation to see if it gets better or worse. Get the right coolant in for your own peace of mind, and keep that scangauge set up so you can see the fans working.
 
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3,018
Location
texas
Reminds me of the 2000 outback i purchased early last year for a whopping $1100. the owner (2nd owner) took it to the shop and they said blown head gasket. I assumed it was also and bought it from him. It was a loose fuel hose which i'm pretty sure the shop deliberately loosened. I sold it for $2900. What came with the car was a book load of receipts, about 2 inches thick. I didnt total it out, but easily they spent over its lifetime around 20 grand in service. It definitely pays to at least know some vehicular basics so you do not get taken for a long, painful ride.
 
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14,637
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The Old North State
Originally Posted By: exranger06
I would use a combustion gas detector to see if any combustion gases are getting into the cooling system. If it passes this test, then I wouldn't really worry about the head gasket. If it fails, definitely replace the head gasket. [video:youtube] posted/linked above[/video]
+1 I can tell you that on an 01 Civic one the signs of a failing head gasket is bubbling observed in the recovery tank, which was eventually followed by overflowing coolant from the tank. It was driven awhile in that condition, before getting a final diagnosis which was misdiagnosed at a Honda indy shop. After hg replacement all has been well with cooling system(knock wood). Honda stealer also used original green with the service which I got out there immediately, after telling them I wanted at least a free gallon of Type2. Did multiple d&f's using distilled first till clear then Type 2 till 50% concentration using five ball tester to confirm. Anyway, get it combustion gas leak tested to check for hg failure.
 
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522
Location
New York
I have an 04- 257k miles so far. I have brown crud in the reservoir but that has been happening since it was new. Try and get the right coolant put in. Should be Honda blue. These engines are not known to blow HG or overheat. Just watch it and make sure heat is coming out of both the front and the back. Who knows- it could be something as simple as there was air in the coolant system. Oh- the heat for the back comes from vents near the floor - not the top vents. It could be that when they serviced the cooling system- the idiots at the stealership did not get all the air bubbles out and that is why it was overheating. When I change the coolant- I had it inclined and it took a good 30 minutes of having it run while it burped itself with the both front and back heaters going full blast. The smell of coolant could just be where they spilled some coolant or where there is residual coolant dear the drain cock. If you are really worried- have a leakdown test.
 

e40

Messages
386
Location
Wisconsin
I bought one of those AirLift II coolant fillers to refill my Audi after a timing belt change. Worked like a charm and it was also good to verify the cooling system had no leaks by placing it under vacuum. I bought my '02 Odyssey with 219k miles for $2500 from the original owner a year ago, put about 7k miles on it so far as it's just a spare vehicle. Full Honda dealer records since birth including the 30k AT Fluid changes. No transmission service was performed except for the additional injector added around 50k via a recall. It's been good to me so far.
 
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689
Location
us
Buying this time of year you might not normally take a long trip, but you could use it as an excuse to head south. You have 3000 miles to put it to a test. A lot of that stuff you mentioned does sound a little scarey, but you say it runs OK and doesn't overheat, so maybe it is OK. Maybe you should do an UOA, but do it on your 2nd change ( another excuse for a road trip to rack up some miles).
 

01rangerxl

Site Donor 2021
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Birmingham, AL
Originally Posted By: eljefino
Is this a pressurized surge tank or an unpressurized overflow? You could just have a bad radiator cap that lets steam out at too low a pressure. This would cause the smell. You correctly deduced the previous owners were absolute idiots coming to cars and probably think most mechanics are liars, simply because they don't like the answers given and went "doctor shopping". Since they're dumber than stumps the well-meaning mechanics did a "baseline", apparantly repeatedly. They bought Honda because Consumer Reports liked them in the 1980s. If you have their address from the title paperwork and they're local go cruise by, they probably have a condo so they don't have to do maintenance and jumped ship for a toyota sienna. wink Don't give up hope! I'd do cheap 3k OCIs until summer, maybe look for coolant in a UOA as it eats bearings, and simply monitor the situation to see if it gets better or worse. Get the right coolant in for your own peace of mind, and keep that scangauge set up so you can see the fans working.
crackmeup Not trying to make light of the OP's situation, but that likely correct assessment cracked me up. It could have a very intermittent problem that the PO did not address when it was happening, and the shops were unable to reproduce when the vehicle came to them. Since you like the van and want to keep it... 1) Buy the correct coolant, and flush the green out completely. You could skip this part if you are unsure if you will be keeping it. 2) Bleed the system as thoroughly as possible after. 3) Buy new OEM radiator cap. Not Stant. 4) Monitor for symptoms. 5) If symptoms of potential trouble reappear, consider the combustion leak tester exranger06 mentioned. Some AAPs have these in store. If you cannot find it locally, many options are available online. Expect to spend about $75 for the kit in store, but you can get them for much less online. Also, check the condenser/radiator for clogging in the fins. I haven't personally seen a car that had so much debris there it was causing overheating, but always start with the simple stuff.
 

JHZR2

Staff member
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Originally Posted By: eljefino
They bought Honda because Consumer Reports liked them in the 1980s. If you have their address from the title paperwork and they're local go cruise by, they probably have a condo so they don't have to do maintenance and jumped ship for a toyota sienna. wink
Love it! I agree on the radiator cap. But how sure are we that the thermostat is OK? Is the temperatures seen the correct value? Is it supposed to have a cooler thermostat?
 
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Location
Richmond, VA
Do the exhaust gas test in the video ASAP, bubbles mean pressure is coming from somewhere, it's a likely slow headgasket leak caused by a warp from an overheat, sorry to hear it. I'd be making copies of what you found and be chasing someone down right about now.
 
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Location
CA
> full tranny service Wonder what that was? Over the holidays I replaced 3rd and 4th gear pressure switches on my '03 TL-S, trans fluid, and external filter. A guy in Australia recommends replacing the pressure switches every 50k miles. http://www.brisdance.com/Honda/AutoTrans1.html I'll say "he's one guy", so take it for what it's worth. But I did ask if it's worth replacing the pressure switches a week or so ago on BITOG and several members said yes.
 
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395
Location
San Diego, California
Originally Posted By: JHZR2
I agree on the radiator cap. But how sure are we that the thermostat is OK? Is the temperatures seen the correct value? Is it supposed to have a cooler thermostat?
OE temp is 170 I believe. If he is seeing 210 on a cool day there is a problem somewhere. My Pilot (same J35 engine) only hits 196 on a four mile pull up a 7-9 percent grade on my way home. Closely inspect the plastic end tanks of the radiator. Some of the OEM Denso units start to show very small and fine cracks around this age and mileage. Flush the coolant well, and refill with Honda spec blue. Use an Airlift. It is hard to get all of the air out of these units with the rear heat\AC. I have worked on many J-Series V6 engines. Unless it was severely overheated I would not expect a headgasket leak. Look to the rest of the cooling system first, and consider dip-strips or a reagent style kit to check the coolant for exhaust gases.
 

92saturnsl2

Thread starter
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2,852
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Kentucky
Originally Posted By: JHZR2
But how sure are we that the thermostat is OK? Is the temperatures seen the correct value? Is it supposed to have a cooler thermostat?
I suspect the thermostat is okay, because I can see the flow through the radiator with the cap off. When cold, the fluid is stationary; as the thermostat opens, the coolant begins to flow slowly across, and when it's fully warmed up, that coolant is straight MOVING through the radiator. The thermostat was one item that appears in the service records as having been replaced when the overheating problem was first observed. They used a 172 degree unit, which I think is the OE temp on this vehicle.
 

92saturnsl2

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Kentucky
Originally Posted By: Jim_Truett
OE temp is 170 I believe. If he is seeing 210 on a cool day there is a problem somewhere. My Pilot (same J35 engine) only hits 196 on a four mile pull up a 7-9 percent grade on my way home. Closely inspect the plastic end tanks of the radiator. Some of the OEM Denso units start to show very small and fine cracks around this age and mileage. Flush the coolant well, and refill with Honda spec blue. Use an Airlift. It is hard to get all of the air out of these units with the rear heat\AC. I have worked on many J-Series V6 engines. Unless it was severely overheated I would not expect a headgasket leak. Look to the rest of the cooling system first, and consider dip-strips or a reagent style kit to check the coolant for exhaust gases.
Keep in mind that the 210F temp I observed was brief (before the fan turned on), and that was after sitting in my garage (60 degrees or so in my garage) idling for a good 45 minutes or more. Once the fan kicked on, it went down to around 198. To give you an accurate running temp requires some time behind the wheel with the scan gauge, something I haven't had a chance to do yet. Thanks for the suggestion on inspecting the radiator. In the cold weather, should I see steam emanating from the area of any leaks? That would certainly make it easier to trace. At present, there are no drips of coolant on my garage floor after running for a very long period of time. Part of me thinks the head gasket diagnosis was the mechanic's way of opting to replace the part that was most likely to avoid a call-back (and generating the most income, though I can't be certain of this) -> when you replace a head gasket, you end up eliminating most other possibilities in the process, because of all that you have to remove & replace. I don't trust either of the mechanics they used as far as I could throw them, given the number of times I saw them suggest work that was done weeks prior by the other mechanic. And I'm not talking about thermostats and things like that, cheap items you'd replace from the start when diagnosing an overheat condition. I'm talking more along the lines of "the brake fluid is dirty and rotors need replaced" only two weeks after the fluid had already been flushed and rotors replaced. You can't tell me the fluid can get that dirty in two weeks, or that rotors warp in two weeks of driving.
 

Nick1994

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Phoenix, AZ
I'd change the thermostat and radiator cap regardless. Also service the transmission either yourself or by the dealer. A year ago I bought a Camry that had recently been serviced by Brake Masters. The previous owner paid for a transmission flush. When I drained the transmission it looked like chocolate milk, literally! Obviously wasn't fresh fluid. I refilled with fresh fluid and did this 4 times over the period of 10,000 miles. Each time it looked much much better, nice and red.
 
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395
Location
San Diego, California
Originally Posted By: 92saturnsl2
Keep in mind that the 210F temp I observed was brief (before the fan turned on), and that was after sitting in my garage (60 degrees or so in my garage) idling for a good 45 minutes or more. Once the fan kicked on, it went down to around 198. To give you an accurate running temp requires some time behind the wheel with the scan gauge, something I haven't had a chance to do yet. Thanks for the suggestion on inspecting the radiator. In the cold weather, should I see steam emanating from the area of any leaks? That would certainly make it easier to trace. At present, there are no drips of coolant on my garage floor after running for a very long period of time.
The 198 temp is a little more realistic. I just did the idle learn routine on mine. This is ten minutes at idle starting at operating temp with no electrical loads. It was 193 to 195 degrees on a 60 degree day. The last radiator I replaced had a few minor white spots on the tank. No steam, and nothing wet yet, but the sweet smell of coolant was present. When I popped the tanks off of the core I found a ton of cracks on the inside. The white spots were dried coolant on the opposite (outside of the tank) side of some of the worst cracks. I firmly believe the previous owners were taken advantage of by unethical mechanics.
 
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texas
please give us one more update when you determine the final answer. This may be a cautionary tale. Today cars with 120,000 miles on them may have a lot of life left or the owner may have bailed out of a problem. The back handed upside is that if you can resolve these suspected issues, you have a vehicle that has had a lot of other new parts installed. I always wanted to buy a car that the owner got tired of throwing money at but didn't realize that the car was now good to go for awhile.
 
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