Is my car drivable?
July 8, 2013 6:29 PM   Subscribe

Hey, I am hoping that someone more mechanically-minded can help me out here. Is my car drivable or doomed/a deathtrap?

I was driving home from work today when I noticed smoke starting to come out from under the hood. I looked over at the temperature gauge and it was definitely in the waytoofuckinghot range. (Pretty sure that's the technical term for it.) I pulled over (thankfully I was very near my house already) and popped the hood. Something had definitely melted. Can you tell me what that something was, and if my car is drivable or not? I'd like to avoid the hassle of going to a mechanic if it's just a matter of fluid or something.

Pictures of the melty thing here.

Other relevant details:

+ I drive a 1997 Toyotal Avalon
+ It was warm today, but not crazy hot. Maybe low 80s.
+ I drove 20 minutes from work, stopped at the grocery store, and drove another 10 before the smoke appeared.

Thanks a bunch, and I will try to follow up if anyone has further questions.
posted by too bad you're not me to Travel & Transportation (20 answers total)
I can't quite tell what melted, but overheating is a really good way to destroy your engine. Unless you are ready to shop for a replacement car, you should not drive it until you get a mechanic to look at it.
posted by jon1270 at 6:34 PM on July 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

I'm an ultra-amateur mechanic so please don't take my word for it, but it looks like what melted may have been a connection between the radiator fan and the radiator. It could be that your fan burned out, which is a relatively cheap fix but a bit more than just a matter of fluid. You can test it by letting the car run for a little while (keeping a very close eye on the temperature gauge) and seeing whether or not the fan turns on after a little while. It wouldn't be the worst thing in the world to drive with, but the engine will overheat pretty fast if you run it for a while which can be pretty destructive.
posted by ltisz at 6:36 PM on July 8, 2013

Hmm. If it was not crazy hot and it overheated your radiator or cooling system might be gone. Don't drive it. Was cooling fluid leaking from anywhere?
posted by vrakatar at 6:38 PM on July 8, 2013

I'd check your coolant level as well. As the above poster said, you'll know for sure it's not a matter of fluid if your coolant level is fine.
posted by sevensnowflakes at 6:39 PM on July 8, 2013

I am no "car person" and others will come in to let you know for real what to do, but smoke=fire to me. Do not drive!
posted by bebrave! at 6:42 PM on July 8, 2013

It looks to me like the radiator popped a leak which then allowed steam to escape which then melted the radiator top tank. That's why there is that frayed look. If I'm right, it is not drivable until it is fixed.
posted by gjc at 6:45 PM on July 8, 2013

Hope that you didn't damage your engine and get your car towed to a trustworthy mechanic. Do not drive the car unless your mechanic happens to be 1-2 blocks away. Waytoofuckinghot range temperatures are always a reason to stop the car as soon as you can safely do so and then it goes to the mechanic.
posted by quince at 6:51 PM on July 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

Smoke: fire melting plastic from jug holding windshield wiper fluid.

Steam: windshield wiper fluid leaking and hitting the engine block.

This happened to me once, but it was under very specific, stupid conditions. Ask your mechanic about your specific conditions after you've gotten it towed on over there.
posted by oceanjesse at 6:53 PM on July 8, 2013

Without a functional, effective coolant system your engine Will overheat, in minutes. It's not drivable and not safe. Get it towed to a garage and fixed. You're looking at either a car fire (carbq) or a sudden seizing of the engine at speed if you risk driving it.

It's a lot cheaper to replace a coolant hose/fitting/pump than to buy a new engine.
posted by ceribus peribus at 6:55 PM on July 8, 2013 [3 favorites]

Best answer: It looks like you have blown a hole in your radiator.

Get it towed. With luck, you haven't already destroyed the engine. Any more running of it almost certainly will.

It is possible that you have a blown head gasket, and this caused a build up of pressure in the coolant system, causing that blow out you see there.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 6:59 PM on July 8, 2013

If ltisz is correct and the fan burnt out, I would not drive your car without getting it looked at by a mechanic.

This happened to me recently. Since my car seemed to just be running hot, and it would cool down if I got up to certain speeds on the freeway or coasted downhill a ways, I figured it was nothing. Then it stopped cooling down on its own. A few days after that, it went from "running a bit warm" to inching perilously close to overheating even when I'd barely driven at all and my engine should still be relatively cool.

I finally decided to bring it to my mechanic, which is only a couple miles from home, and I'm lucky that's where I was headed because the engine overheated as I pulled into the parking lot.

It was a $50 fix. I would go now before you ruin your engine.
posted by Sara C. at 8:13 PM on July 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

JulThumbscrew, Destroyer-of-Cars Here: n-thing everyone else. I'd drive a car that had been in a crash, or was making a weird noise, or shuddering, or pulling to one side, or threatening me in a Megatron voice, but I would ABSOLUTELY NOT fuck with a car that was heating up too fast. That's a one-way ticket to New Enginesburg, Population: Several Thousand of Your Personal Dollars.
posted by julthumbscrew at 8:15 PM on July 8, 2013 [5 favorites]

Yeah, back when I was a stupid teenager I had a V8 that developed a hole in the radiator and after running the engine for about 5 minutes you could see a hazy cloud of gaseous antifreeze rising from the hood. In January. In a -30C Canadian winter.

I stupidly limped it to a garage by periodically pulling over and refilling the rad with diluted antifreeze, since I at least knew it would be game over if that ran out. A tow would have been cheaper and safer.
posted by ceribus peribus at 8:26 PM on July 8, 2013

I can say, with assurance, that smoke from your engine whilst having the engine temp pegged at hot is really bad. You shouldn't drive the car anymore. If the car is otherwise in good condition have it towed to a good mechanic. Further driving is asking to have a very bad situation.
posted by Splunge at 8:41 PM on July 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Ok, fine, you've convinced me I need to go to a mechanic! Will go tomorrow and report back, if anyone is curious.
posted by too bad you're not me at 9:11 PM on July 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

Yeah, it's important to remember that your radiator failing can mean serious issues even when it's not 119° out (which is was here two weeks ago. oy.) The engine can run up temperatures internally and in the oil flowing through it to the 300°F+ range. In my car, it can handle that temperature, but it's not good. In your car, it may be lower. Once you exceed that threshold either because your radiator has failed or there's some other cooling issue, your engine is at extreme risk of complete failure, as others have mentioned, either by way of seizing or catastrophic failure from parts melting or other fun, like you've already saw.

But you're already heading to a mechanic, which is a bummer, but completely necessary here.
posted by disillusioned at 2:11 AM on July 9, 2013

I can't see your picture, but my guess is that you melted the relay that switches the fan on and off, so it doesn't come on. My son's 1995 Escort does that periodically. There is a Ford-specific part for that (with several relays in one assembly), but it is easily replaced by individual generic relays. (I found directions for this on a Ford Escort online forum.) It could also be the fan motor itself.

If you're in the same situation, going to an independent mechanic who likes to tinker will likely be cheaper than going to the Toyota dealer.
posted by Doohickie at 9:21 AM on July 9, 2013

So, whats the diagnosis ?
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 1:58 PM on July 10, 2013

Response by poster: It was a busted radiator. Set me back a bit over $300, but it could have been worse, I'm sure. Thanks to everyone!
posted by too bad you're not me at 4:23 PM on July 10, 2013

Good deal. Glad it wasn't more severe - sometimes the busted radiator is the symptom.

Keep a close eye on your oil and coolant over the next couple weeks. With some motors even a little bit of overheating can warp the heads.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 5:48 PM on July 10, 2013

« Older How do I stop monitoring people's emotions...   |   Can Google Calendar give more details with... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.