Is your engine tired or worn out? Do you have debilitating engine leaks? When you’re driving down the highway, a geyser of steam billows out from under your hood. Or, your engine cranks but won’t fire up. Car engine problems come in various shapes and forms. Sometimes they cause a minor annoyance and other times, your car is totally and utterly useless.

Symptoms of Engine Problems

  • Rattling noise from engine
  • Engine oil drips on the ground
  • Engine turns over but doesn’t start
  • Temperature gauge reads hot
  • Engine stalls while driving or idling
  • Bubbling noise after engine turned off
  • Coolant leaking
  • Black, blue or white smoke from exhaust

Do you have one of these car engine problems? Hopefully not. But if you do, check out what could cause your symptoms, what repairs you need, and an average cost of repair.

Rod Knock
Engine Overheating
Engine Oil Leaks
Engine Won’t Start
Broken Timing Belt/Timing Chain
Check Engine Light On
Blown Head Gasket
Turbocharger Failure
Cracked Engine Block
Seized Engine

Rod Knock

Symptoms of Rod Knock

When you’re in traffic and you hear a ‘TAKA-TAKA-TAKA’ when you arrive at a stop light, that’s not a good sign at all. Then when you drive away from the light and you have a constant ‘TOK-TOK-TOK’ from your engine, like someone’s whacking it with a hammer, start worrying. That’s known as rod knock, one of the worst problems your engine can have. Often, symptoms start with the oil light or ‘low oil pressure’ warning coming on and go downhill from there.

What Causes Rod Knock

The symptoms come from excessive play in connecting rod bearings. It all starts when your engine is starved of oil. The metal bearings grind away at the crankshaft until they’re worn too loose. Just a few thousandths of an inch of play makes it sound like there’s a bag of hammers stuck in your engine. Typical causes are a failed oil pump, poor engine oil maintenance, and running your engine out of oil.

Rod Knock Repair Costs

Fixing rod knock will make you cry. Your engine must be stripped down to the block to properly inspect all the components that could be affected. Chances are high that metal shavings have gone through your engine, causing damage all over the place. There’s a slim chance you’ll get away with just replacing connecting rod bearings but more than likely, you need a complete engine rebuild or even a replacement. Expect rod knock repair costs to be anywhere from $1,000 to $4,000 between parts and labor, on average. Maybe more, unlikely less.

Engine Overheating

Symptoms of Engine Overheating

The embarrassing picture of someone standing on the roadside, hood up, waving steam out of their face – if this sounds like you, you have engine overheating issues. The temperature gauge spikes into the red out of nowhere, the Check Engine light comes on, and your dashboard flashes warnings and symbols telling you to shut it down.  Hot green coolant may puke all over the ground.

What Causes Engine Overheating Issues

Alas, there are plenty of causes. Your thermostat may be stuck closed, unable to regulate the engine’s temperature. A coolant leak introduces air into the system, causing an airlock. A plugged radiator restricts coolant flow, causing engine temps to skyrocket. A faulty water pump prevents coolant from circulating at all. It could be something like a head gasket leak that causes engine overheating, or a head gasket leak or cracked block can result from overheating.

Engine Overheating Repair Cost

My friends, it all depends on how quickly you heed the warnings. As a rule of thumb, the more often your engine overheats or the hotter it gets, the worse the damage. For example, a stuck thermostat can be replaced for under a couple hundred dollars in most cases. A water pump replacement could be $500 to $1,500. Radiator replacement is $300 to $500 usually. But if you ignore your engine overheating, look out. You could be looking at cylinder head gasket repair or engine replacement, PLUS your original repair.

Engine Oil Leaks

Symptoms of Engine Oil Leaks

This should be simple to figure out… Engine oil leaks are those black puddles you see on the ground under your engine bay. You’ll want to pretend it’s not from your car; that it’s the person that parked there before you. Engine oil leaks smell awful when they drip onto hot exhaust on the way to the ground, so you might notice a putrid, choking smoke occasionally. Yeah…this is the cause. And if you look under the hood, wetness on the side of the engine is never a good thing.

What Causes Engine Oil Leaks

Oil leak causes are too many to name each one. The main issues are valve cover gaskets, cylinder head gaskets, the front or rear crankshaft oil seal, the oil pan gasket, PCV valve, and engine oil cooler hoses. Gasket material deteriorates over time, as do rubber seals. When they crack, oil ends up on the wrong side of the seal – that is, it leaks. Too much internal engine pressure can blow out seals too which is the case when the PCV valve freezes in the winter. Many a front crank seal has met its end this way.

Engine Oil Leaks Repair Cost

The cost to repair engine oil leaks runs the gamut. A new PCV valve could be as little as $10. A rear main engine seal or cylinder head gasket could be upwards of $1,500 to $2,000, much more on a diesel engine. Here’s the worst part: if one seal starts to leak because of aging, you can expect others to be close behind. Time to turf that junker.

Engine Won’t Start

Symptoms Your Engine Won’t Start

It’s not always what it seems. There’s more to it than just your engine won’t start. Does the engine crank? Do you have battery power? Is there any noise when you turn the key? It’s an obtuse problem with many, many causes. The symptom always remains the same, though. Your engine just won’t run.

Causes of Your Engine Not Starting

It could be a very long list of causes including electrical, mechanical, or your neighbor doing voodoo.

If your engine turns over but doesn’t start, it could be bad fuel, no fuel, no spark, broken wiring, poor timing, blown fuses, or an anti-theft system. If your engine doesn’t turn over, your starter may be toast, your engine could be seized or hydrolocked, or it could be an electrical issue.

If you don’t have any lights, check your battery. It’s most likely dead. Boost it, charge it, or replace it.

Engine Won’t Start Repair Cost

It all depends what the problem is. Fuel system concerns are typically $300 to $1,000 to repair, while electrical issues could be $1 for a fuse, and up. If you need a new battery or alternator, a few hundred dollars should get you back on the road. If you cooked your starter, it can vary depending on the labor to replace it, anywhere from $300 to $1,800 on quirky models. And if your engine is seized, expect to spend several thousand in repairs.

Broken Timing Belt/Timing Chain

Symptoms of a Broken Timing Belt or Timing Chain

Imagine yelling at your kids in the backseat or belting out the words to your favorite Celine Dion song at full volume while cruising on the interstate. When you look back at your gauges, your speed is dropping and you realize your engine isn’t running anymore. That’s what happens when your timing belt or chain breaks or skips. The engine shuts down and won’t restart.

Causes of Broken Timing Belt

It’s all about maintenance, folks. When your owner’s manual says your timing belt needs to be replaced at a specific interval, do it. As a timing belt ages, the rubber deteriorates, cracks, and stretches. If there’s oil leaking on it, that’s even worse – the rubber swells. Eventually, it just snaps or the teeth on the belt crack off.

Timing chains don’t have a replacement interval; however, they can stretch or the tensioner collapses. You probably won’t see a broken timing chain but it can skip teeth on the cog. The results are the same – your engine won’t run anymore or will run very poorly.

Broken Timing Belt Repair Cost

Maintenance is much less expensive than repairs. Timing belt replacement as routine servicing is usually $300 to $500. If it breaks, you’re tripling that amount without breaking a sweat. Valve damage is common – even piston damage. In some instances, the whole engine replacement is less expensive than repairs for a broken timing belt.

Check Engine Light On

Symptoms Common with Check Engine Light On

This is awkward… the symptom is the Check Engine Light is on, isn’t it? Along with the CEL light on, you might notice a handful of other issues or symptoms. You might find your car is burning through more gas, smoke from your tailpipe, your engine might run rough, or you might not notice anything else at all…yet.

Causes of Check Engine Light

The number-one cause of an illuminated Check Engine Light is the emissions system. Your oxygen sensor has burned out, the catalytic converter isn’t operating efficiently, a purge valve is stuck open, or your gas cap is loose. It could be a malfunctioning mass airflow sensor, low-quality fuel, variable valve timing problems, or an engine misfire. It’s a one-size-fits-all system – almost any problem can cause the Check Engine Light to come on.

Check Engine Light Repair Cost

Your car could be running fine and require hundreds of dollars in repairs. Emissions systems are mandatory in many areas, and the Check Engine Light is part of that. Sensor replacements are typically a few hundred dollars while a catalytic converter replacement runs upwards of $1,000. Don’t rule out potential Check Engine Light repair costs of $2,000 or more.

Blown Head Gasket

Symptoms of Blown Head Gasket

That sound you make when you blow bubbles in your chocolate milk? That’s what you’ll hear when you turn off a hot engine with a blown head gasket, but it’s not nearly as satisfying. Head gasket leaks cause overheating issues, coolant or oil leaks onto the ground, poor engine cooling performance, lack of heat inside your car, and oil and coolant mixing inside the engine.

Causes of Head Gasket Leak

Your head gasket leak can be caused by a simple gasket failure, but it’s usually more. Your engine has overheated and warped the cylinder head, or your engine overheated due to running with low coolant or a faulty water pump. It’s almost always an overheating issue. The rapid heat increase causes the cylinder head to warp, and the combustion chamber heat burns through the gasket.

Cylinder Head Gasket Repair Cost

In the good ol’ days, it used to be a simple, few-hour repair. Most modern vehicles now are a multiple-day job to replace a blown head gasket. Typical cylinder head gasket repair costs are $1,500 to $3,500 but can reach much higher. And if you’ve run your engine with a blown head gasket for a long time, you might’ve cracked the block or cylinder head. Now you’ll have to replace the whole thing.

Turbocharger Failure

Symptoms of Turbocharger Failure

That satisfying whine when you rev up your engine is the turbocharger, or at least it used to be. A turbo forces a higher volume of air into the engine, increasing power and efficiency. When your turbo has screwed the pooch, you’ll notice. Not only is the whine missing when you hit the gas, but your car won’t accelerate worth beans. Fuel efficiency drops because your engine is trying to compensate for the lack of boost.

Causes of Turbocharger Failure

Turbochargers need lubrication and cooling. That’s your engine oil’s job. Dirty engine oil or low oil levels cause starvation in the turbocharger. Heat levels increase and efficiency decreases until it can’t take it anymore. Bearings fail and the turbo won’t produce boost.

Turbocharger Failure Repair Cost

The cost varies depending on the application. High-performance cars have more complex turbochargers while small commuter cars have dinky little turbos. Diesel trucks have massive turbochargers on them. Expect turbocharger replacement to be from $1,000 on a small car to $4,000 on a performance car or diesel truck.

Cracked Engine Block

Symptoms of Cracked Engine Block

It’s not a common problem, but if it happens, you’re in for a world of hurt. A cracked engine block can be hard to detect initially because cracks are microscopic in most cases. You’ll notice a rivulet of oil or coolant running down the engine from seemingly out of nowhere. You’ll have fouled spark plugs with no visible cause. Your engine overheats because there’s air in the system, or you have coolant mixed in your engine oil or vice versa.

Causes of Cracked Engine Block

Unless you’re wailing on your engine block with a hammer, overheating caused your cracked engine block. In the smallest number of cases, overtightening engine bolts can cause it too, but very seldom. The lesson is to prevent your engine from overheating. If it’s climbing into the red zone on your temp gauge, get it fixed before your engine pops.

Cracked Engine Block Repair Cost

Add the cost of a good anti-depressant to any repair estimates for a cracked engine block. It’s expensive to say the least. Since block repairs are nearly impossible, replacing the engine block is necessary. You’ll want to replace the complete engine instead of just a bare block. Even a used engine will run you $2,500 between parts and labor. If you choose a new or reman engine, expect $4,000 to $8,000 depending on your model. If it’s a diesel engine, double that.

Seized Engine

Symptoms of Seized Engine

Turn your key. If you hear ‘CHUNK’ from the starter but your engine isn’t turning over, you may have a seized engine. If your engine has been overheating and you haven’t dealt with it, and now it doesn’t start, it may be seized. If your engine WAS just running but it shuddered to a stop because it ran out of oil, you probably have a seized engine. If your battery is fully charged and your starter is good but your engine doesn’t turn over, there’s a good chance it’s seized. The main symptom of a seized engine: it won’t turn over at all. Not one bit.

Causes of Seized Engine

It’s possible that a mechanical failure inside has randomly caused your seized engine, but not likely. It’s probably because you didn’t check your oil level and ran it dry. Or, you’ve had an overheating condition and neglected to have it repaired. The connecting rod or crankshaft bearings superheat from friction and weld themselves together, and everything grinds to a halt.

If the engine has been sitting unused for years, it might’ve rusted inside and seized, but that’s not usually it.

Seized Engine Repair Cost

To start, a seized engine must be stripped down to a bare engine block. Every part must be inspected and its condition verified. Whatever is damaged, scored, scratched, or overheated needs to be replaced. All the gaskets are required as well as any parts that break when disassembling the engine. In essence, you’re building a brand new engine. Often, it’s more cost-effective to replace the engine assembly with a remanufactured or used engine. Your seized engine repair cost ranges from $3,000 for a replacement used engine to $8,000 or more for a new or reman engine. It’s better just to change your oil regularly, don’t you think?


Proper Engine Maintenance Is Crucial

When you buy a car, there’s a booklet that contains a bunch of checklists. It details the routine maintenance your car requires to stay running well. If you decide not to follow the maintenance guide, you’re asking for car engine problems. Here’s what you need to do for proper engine maintenance.

Engine Oil and Filter Changes

Follow your maintenance guide for correct oil change interval. Typically, it’s between 3,000 and 5,000 miles, although some are longer than that. Always use the grade of oil specified by the manufacturer and a good-quality, new oil filter.

Air Filter Replacement

Your air filter only needs to be changed when it’s dirty, but how do you tell? Hold the filter up to a bright light. If you can’t see light through the filter, it needs to be replaced. Expect that you’ll need a new air filter roughly once per year.

Coolant Flush

Every 5 years or 100,000 miles, change out your engine coolant. The pH levels get all screwy because of chemistry and stuff. It’s important to do so, otherwise corrosion forms inside the cooling system and restricts coolant flow.

Timing Belt Replacement

Don’t miss this one. Timing belt replacement is due anywhere from 60,000 to 100,000 miles on most vehicles. If you skip it, you’re asking for major engine repairs like you’ve read about already. It’s a bit expensive, but the alternative is much worse. Don’t skimp on the timing belt either – cheap belts are prone to premature failure.

Makes with Common Engine Problems

Make and Model Engine Issue Average Engine Replacement Cost
04-10 Chevrolet Silverado 5.3L Burns engine oil $3,800 to $6,000
00-01 Dodge Intrepid 2.7L Engine knock from oil sludge buildup $4,200 to $5,000
96-01 Ford F-Series 5.4L Blows spark plugs $3,675 to $4,475
97-04 Audi A4 1.8T Sludge buildup causes engine failure $4,000 to $5,000
97-04 Toyota Camry 3.0L Seized engine $2,400 to $4,600
02-03 Nissan Altima 2.5L Burns oil and coolant $2,500 to $4,100
04-06 Mazda RX8 1.3L Renesis Low compression, burns oil $4,150 to $6,375


How to Sell a Car with a Bad Engine

Looking to sell a car with a bad engine? That’s not an easy task. Your car’s value has taken a massive hit and you might have trouble grasping just how much. Here’s what you can expect:

  • Your car may be for sale for quite some time. There aren’t many people interested in a car that doesn’t run.
  • People who inquire about your car will offer you ridiculously low prices.
  • You’ll have people offer to ‘take your car off your hands for free’.
  • Buyers will ask how much it will cost to fix.

You can call junk yards to find out how much they are willing to pay for your car. You’ll be able to get rid of it quickly but for much less than it’s worth, even with its car engine problems.

You can advertise it for sale privately, either online or in your local paper. This could take a while, and you could end up with a bunch of yahoos who want to take it for a drive (but can’t), or want to arrange to see the car at inconvenient times. It’s just not ideal.

You can trade it in on a new car. Again, you’re going to get virtually nothing for your car with a bad engine on trade to the dealership – maybe less than the junkyard. But it’s quick.

A Better Way to Sell Your Car with a Bad Engine

Selling a damaged or broken-down car can be a hassle, but it doesn’t have to be. offers a great solution that’s fast, convenient, and puts money in your pocket. Here’s how it works:

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