Q: Should I have a massive cooling system replacement done?

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Engine overheated after never ever ever overheating. Water came out (I believe) of the radiator cap. My bad mechanic (who seems to just not want to work on my truck) said he wouldn't touch it unless I agreed to a 1200 dollar cooling system replacement. Wouldn't explain a specific problem, and the engine was still hot when he gave me the ultimatum. Before I left he put in a new radiator cap. I took the truck to my old mechanic (who I like) and said it had overheated and that the former mechanic wanted to replace the water pump and everything related. He came up with as price of 860, but seemed to focus on a leak in the timing cover gasket. Seems to be a "while we're down there you might as well replace the x and y" etc. I caught a doubling of labor charges on their write up and am sleeping on the decision. Bottom line: I'm a girl. Everyone says it's too big a truck for me. Bottomer line: I love this truck. Any advice? How long can I drive like this? Thanks!

My car has 180000 miles.
My car has an automatic transmission.

To answer your last question first, if the truck is "overheating", you can’t drive it at all, not even to a repair facility. Overheating, if severe enough, has the effect of warping the cylinder heads, block, and manifolds. Even if you don’t warp the heads and block, if you end up with a warped exhaust manifold, you can get an exhaust leak, which is labor intensive to fix due to the amount of disassembly required. Hopefully, no damage was done and you are simply in a circumstance now where you need to identify the component in the cooling system that caused the overheating.

So, basically, you need an intelligent and accurate diagnosis before you can make any decisions about the reasonableness of the dollar estimates you were given. With regard to the first mechanic you mentioned, if he didn’t give you a specific diagnosis based on testing and inspection, that’s not the wisest way to proceed because then you could be paying for unnecessary repairs.

As regards the second mechanic, the visual inspection is part of a diagnostic but is only a small part, so if you go with him, he still has to actually identify the cause of the overheating before a decision is made as to which parts need replacing. Now, in your case, you’ve presented a very intriguing "clue." You mentioned that the overheating is of the "sudden onset" type, that is, you are not reporting that the truck has been consistently overheating. Sudden onset points to faults like a stuck thermostat (not hard to diagnose), failed radiator fan, or large leak.

Not to diminish anything I have stated about the importance of getting an accurate diagnosis (so your cost to repair is kept as low as possible), but there are circumstances where a reasonable case can be made that, given advanced age and mileage, it is prudent to replace a "basket" of parts just as good insurance. So yes, that could still happen as you get into this. But, even in that scenario, you still first need to get the cooling system diagnosed; if the diagnosis reveals that only the thermostat failed, that’s a $10 to $25 part and is a lot different than getting a brand new $1,000 plus cooling system.

I recommend having a certified mechanic, such as one from YourMechanic, come to your location to determine exactly why your truck is overheating and suggest the necessary repairs to get your truck back in proper working order.

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