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Hi - I bought a certified used 2009 Sienna in 2011. It now has 142K miles on it. While driving it yesterday, there was a lot of smoke from the front and rattling noises. I managed to pull into a local road and then it died. Got it towed to dealer repair center. They have been fair with me before when I needed repairs. I am told that the vehicle needs a new starter and radiator. The total bill before taxes with diagnosis is at $2200. But they cautioned that it might need more parts and there could be engine damage from high temperature (275+) and might need a new engine. KBB on it can't be more than $3.5K - especially after a deer crashed the right sliding door last year. They also said that there is no way to tell if it needs a new engine before doing all the repairs.

So now it appears my choices are to gamble or cut my losses and junk the vehicle. Greatly appreciate input. Thanks in advance

SM
 

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This is a crappy situation to be in. I don't know enough to tell if $2200 is correct for starter and radiator but it does seem a bit high unless hoses and electrical stuff were damaged. Did that tell you what they believed happened (their diagnosis)? If not, it would be difficult to know if something similar might happen again. Let's say the radiator cracked. If it is fixed, it is unlikely to happen again. But they should be able to tell you why the radiator cracked. Beyond that, you need to make a decision with incomplete information and you will not have some of that information until you are already $2500 into the process and at that point might still have an inoperable vehicle. Your all-in repair costs are between 2500 and 5000 (and perhaps 6000). If you can afford to cut your losses, it might be a good time to do it.
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
Thanks for the response. $2200 includes parts and labor for radiator, starter plus 3 to 4 hours of diagnosis. Tax not included.

I guess this is what it comes down to - can I afford to buy another minivan? Just dumbfounded that I am in this situation with a Toyota with only 142k miles on. I thought it would reach at least 180k.
 

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Posts like this terrify me. I have a hand-me-down 06 with 120k. Rear hatch doesn't work (powered or unpowered) unless I first disconnect the battery, power sliding doors work sometimes, and rack and pinon has minor leak. All stuff I can live with. But I am hoping I don't have to deal something huge like a blown motor because I will be in same boat as you trying to determine if it is worth repairing. Good luck to you and provide an update when you make a decision.
 

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I think you will get some better advice from more experienced members, but the fact that you drove it until it died makes me less optimistic. Toyotas do last a long time, but any engine when overheated can suffer expensive damage. Do you have an idea of how long you drove it after the smoking and noises started until it died?
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
After smoke and rattling.. no more than 10 mins.

Before driving of off there driveway, I put lots of coolant in the radiotor. I saw the temperature gauge jump up and down after 30 mins. Assumed the gauge was malfunctioning. As soon as I saw smoke and rattling, I took the local road and tried to reach home. But it died in 10 mins.
 

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People are unique, and situations are unique, so lots of variables. I have a local mechanic shop that is much better than my local Toyota dealer. Dealer has charged me hundreds in diagnostic time, only to conclude "we don't know" and have a nice day. Your mileage may vary. When I was younger and in better health I did most of my mechanic work. Had to, couldn't afford to pay someone to do the work.

I'm thinking along the lines of a second opinion. First you have to have someone good and qualified, not a quack. Second you would have to get the van towed to them to look at it. I am sure you don't want to become an ATM for the dealer's revenue stream. As they say in the old country, this is ugly math.

I'm wondering how a starter is bad when the van died while it was running. Where I am going is you can start an engine and run it for a brief period of time with zero cooling just to see a little about the engine. Since it would be cold, does it knock? It can't run long without cooling or it will kill it. Engines die very soon without proper lubrication and cooling my dad always says. Perhaps you could ask the dealer about just putting a starter on it, and get it started to see more about the condition of the engine. You would still be into them for diag and starter install. Seems like that would be the lowest cost way to get some insight as to how deep the hole is. Then you could make a more informed decision. In my part of the country, this is just not a good time to be buying a used or new car. Very few choices, and they are up significantly in cost from before Biden being in the white house. NOT making a political statement, just a reference in time.
 

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Along those lines, you don’t need a radiator or starter for a leak down test. Start with a few turns of the engine by hand to make sure it isn’t binding or seized. There’s time involved getting to the rear cylinders besides the leak down test itself.

You should price replacement vehicles to help you decide how much is worth spending on repairing this Sienna. Don’t spend more getting the Sienna running than you can sell it for, deer hit and all.

Any chance of moving it to an independent shop that will install a used starter and engine?

Sixto
‘04 LE FWD 198K miles
 

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I had an Avalon which I believe has the same V6 3.5L engine. The radiator hose had a puncture and the car got so hot it started dieseling (engine kept running without ignition because cylinders were so hot the fuel was igniting without spark). I filled the radiator with the garden hose and it got running again. I didn't drive it much after that but suspect it might have continued to live. These engines are really hard to kill.
 

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I would have it towed to another shop. There is almost NO world where you have to replace a starter to see if you have a blown head gasket. Likewise, assuming by "smoking," you actually mean steaming because of a coolant leak, you can absolutely test a cooling system for pressure without actually replacing the radiator. If you're determined, you can even check for exhaust gasses with some hillbilly engineering (no offense intended to any hillbilly engineers!) A new Denso radiator is about $285 with probably about 5 hours of labor for replacement. Around me (expensive mechanic area), shop rates are $85-125 for independent mechanics and $185-215 for dealer rates. So a radiator replacement would be about $800. If you're in a less expensive region, and they give you the discount price, you might get out of there for closer to $600. Additionally, if a good mechanic knows the situation, he will do the radiator install, fill it and check for a head gasket leak. If there is one, he will stop, leave it disassembled and only charge you half the labor. Now, finding a trustworthy, reputable mechanic with appointments available in a reasonable timeframe can be a challenge sometimes. It seems like all the best mechanics around me are booking 2 weeks out for appointments.
 

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Hi - I bought a certified used 2009 Sienna in 2011. It now has 142K miles on it. While driving it yesterday, there was a lot of smoke from the front and rattling noises. I managed to pull into a local road and then it died. Got it towed to dealer repair center. They have been fair with me before when I needed repairs. I am told that the vehicle needs a new starter and radiator. The total bill before taxes with diagnosis is at $2200. But they cautioned that it might need more parts and there could be engine damage from high temperature (275+) and might need a new engine. KBB on it can't be more than $3.5K - especially after a deer crashed the right sliding door last year. They also said that there is no way to tell if it needs a new engine before doing all the repairs.

So now it appears my choices are to gamble or cut my losses and junk the vehicle. Greatly appreciate input. Thanks in advance

SM
Ouch. My two cents follows.

Dealers are almost always significantly more expensive than a quality independent repair shop. The catch is finding a good shop may be difficult, but reviews on Google Maps or similar can be a good place to start. I haven't actually found an independent shop myself, as I do the majority of my own maintenance work on my vehicles. And for specially stuff that I don't want to tackle, I have just taken it to the dealer (timing belt on my former Honda Pilot, for example).

Do you know someone who does their own vehicle work, or know someone who knows someone? Someone you can trust who knows what they are doing can do some diagnostic work and help you get a better picture. For example, I don't know why you need a new radiator. Perhaps you can clarify this? I'm assuming it's because it's leaking coolant given you talked about adding coolant? If so, depending how bad it's leaking, it may be possible to fill the cooling system with water so the engine can be run to check for additional engine damage before replacing the radiator.

On to overheated engines. Often the first thing that happens is warped cylinder heads, leading to head gasket leaks. Cylinder heads can replaced without replacing the engine. But the problem is the engine wasn't just overheated. It was overheated until it stopped running. Eventually with an overheated engine, the cylinders will expand leading to cylinder and piston damage, and while nothing in an engine is unreparable, at this point a new engine is usually cheaper, since engine rebuilders are few and far between these days.

So, if it was my car, I'd probably start with seeing if the engine starts. BRIEFLY start the engine. Does it even start? If so, does it sound normal or is it making tons of noise? Shut off within 10 seconds. Then I'd see how big the coolant leak is. I'd patch temporarily if possible just so I could fill with water and start the engine and do checks from there, for abnormal noises, cylinder compression, and head gasket leaks. If the engine sounded normal I may skip this and replace the radiator, then come back and check for head gasket leaks.

I'm wondering how a starter is bad when the van died while it was running. Where I am going is you can start an engine and run it for a brief period of time with zero cooling just to see a little about the engine. Since it would be cold, does it knock? It can't run long without cooling or it will kill it. Engines die very soon without proper lubrication and cooling my dad always says. Perhaps you could ask the dealer about just putting a starter on it, and get it started to see more about the condition of the engine. You would still be into them for diag and starter install. Seems like that would be the lowest cost way to get some insight as to how deep the hole is. Then you could make a more informed decision. In my part of the country, this is just not a good time to be buying a used or new car. Very few choices, and they are up significantly in cost from before Biden being in the white house. NOT making a political statement, just a reference in time.
Hmm. I was wondering this too. Part of me was wondering if the engine is seized due to the major overheating from being driven overheated till it died. They tried to start it and it's seized and someone just assumed it needed a new starter rather than considering it may be seized. This makes me think that @sixto's idea to start turning the engine over by hand is an excellent idea.

If the engine can't be turned over, then the first repair step is not to replace the radiator, but to quote out replacing the engine (and radiator) from a couple shops (not dealers!) and determine if you want to go down that route or not.

After smoke and rattling.. no more than 10 mins.

Before driving of off there driveway, I put lots of coolant in the radiotor. I saw the temperature gauge jump up and down after 30 mins. Assumed the gauge was malfunctioning. As soon as I saw smoke and rattling, I took the local road and tried to reach home. But it died in 10 mins.
Why did you have to add a lot of coolant to the radiator before your left?

Posts like this terrify me. I have a hand-me-down 06 with 120k. Rear hatch doesn't work (powered or unpowered) unless I first disconnect the battery, power sliding doors work sometimes, and rack and pinon has minor leak. All stuff I can live with. But I am hoping I don't have to deal something huge like a blown motor because I will be in same boat as you trying to determine if it is worth repairing. Good luck to you and provide an update when you make a decision.
I was hoping to get consensus in this forum that I should gamble since Toyotas supposedly run forever.
Toyotas are generally considered pretty reliable. But any vehicle will have things break, and certain actions taken at those points can greatly exacerbate the original issue.

For example, overheated engines can lead to significant engine damage. I had a “tinging” noise in my 2014 when I started my engine a couple months ago after work. I popped the hood and it seemed to be coming from the belt. I drove 45 miles home, carefully watching all my gauges with the intent to pull over immediately and have my van towed if something looked abnormal.

When I got home, I did some searching online and found water pumps may be causing this noise. I looked carefully and the noise did seem to be coming from there. I took the belt off and found I could rock the water pump pulley back and forth. This indicated the bearings were shot. I did not drive the van any more after this, as I knew if that failed completely I’d both overheat my engine and loose power steering and my alternator if the belt came off.

I did the water pump replacement myself. Took about 10 hours of work and $175 in parts. A dealer probably would have been ~$1600 for the replacement. Engine ran just fine after I finished. But my point is that if I had ignored that, and kept driving, the engine likely would have overheated at some point from the pump failing and continuing to drive at that point would mean major engine overhaul or replacement.

Gauges are there for a reason. Having to add coolant and then seeing a temp gauge go up and down, or really, behave abnormally in any way, is a major red flag. Overheated engines are very serious issues, as they get damaged very quickly. If any gauge related to something you just did is behaving oddly, don't ignore it!

For example, when I do oil changes, on first engine start I'm staring intensely at the low oil pressure light. In case I didn't add enough oil, or forgot a drain plug and it drained out, or something. I'm ready to turn the engine off if that light doesn't shut off in a couple seconds after start.

Or after my water pump and filling the drained coolant, I watched my temp gauge carefully during the bleeding process and for the first few trips after that.

General rule of thumb for gauges and lights, from what I’ve read and my understanding:
  • Check engine light shows up with nothing else, no other lights or odd noises or gauges being abnormal. Probably fine to keep driving, keeping an eye on things, but figure out why it appeared when you can.
  • Temp gauge goes hotter than normal, or swings. Potentially serious, should likely pull over and either get it towed or if comfortable an inspection and if needed more coolant may be able to get you back, maybe not…
  • Oil pressure light comes on (the red oil can). PULL OVER NOW and turn off the engine. Check engine oil level. Add if low. If not, pump may be bad, or sensor may be bad. Recommend tow until that’s determined
  • Maintenance reminder light: No issues to keep driving, just a reminder to get the regular maintenance (oil changes, coolant changes, etc per the maintenance schedule)
  • Other indicator lights: Depends on the light(s)
    • For example, an ABS warning light means your ABS is not working or not working properly, but your brakes will continue to work without ABS, so use extra care when braking in wet or icy conditions, especially if you haven't ever driven a car without ABS before
Also gauges or not, with abnormal noises (especially sudden ones) and/or smoke and/or steam. Pull over as soon as you safely can, shut off engine, and inspect. Tows are a lot cheaper than major engine repairs, especially if your insurance covers some of them.

Also regular maintenance and watching for warning signs. This situation was likely almost certainly preventable. It appears the OP was adding coolant. This is NOT a normal activity. Having to add coolant is almost certainly a sign of a coolant leak, and these only get worse with time. The 2009 V6 model (I'm not sure if the OP has a I4 or V6, but V6 is much more common) uses the 2GR-FE engine. This engine in particular is known for having water pumps commonly failing between 100-150k miles. My own water pump made it 113k miles. The engine was (and is) in otherwise great shape otherwise. The most common symptom of a failing water pump is leaking coolant from the water pump. If this is seen, a new water pump is needed. If you see low coolant, then initially you can top it up, and watch. If it keeps dropping, check for leaks. If you see coolant coming from the water pump for example, then you need to get a new water pump ASAP. If you see coolant leaking from the radiator, then a new radiator.

Basic tips for reliable cars (targeted to Siennas, but all cars are more or less similar):
  • Perform maintenance per the owner manual's maintenance schedule. I've had people be shocked when I told them cars have maintenance that's required besides oil changes. Examples of this include, but are NOT LIMITED TO:
    • For 2GR-FE engines, coolant change at 120k miles and every 60k miles thereafter
    • Transmission fluid partial drain and fill (NOT a powered flush!!) - not actually mentioned in the owner's manual unless you tow, but consensus is if you want it for a long time, do this.
    • Air filter changes
    • General inspection for leaking fluids, torn driveshaft seals, etc, having repaired or replaced as appropriate
    • Check fluid levels - brake fluid, coolant, oil on a regular basis. Once a month. Or just pop the hood when you're at the gas station waiting for your tank to fill and check them.
    • Spark plugs every 120k miles - this is coming up for me. I'm doing it myself as it's another of those $1000 dealer type services cause it takes a couple hours to dig out the rear plugs.
      • Spark plugs won't cause engine damage if you don't do this, but may lead to reduced fuel economy, increased wear on the plug coils, and increased chances of having failures later on
      • My plan is to change my spark plugs and 3 rear coils and carry around the 3 rear coils pulled, and if a front coil dies I can swap it in.
      • If paying someone to do spark plugs, pay the extra few hundred and have them swap the spark plug coils while they are at it, since these generally start dying between 120-200k miles.
Ultimately, performing the recommended maintenance, watching for leaks, unusual sounds, and avoiding driving if something isn't right will lead to a much more reliable, longer lived, cheaper to own vehicle with cheaper repairs.

Also to the OP: I am not judging you at all. The vast majority of the population has zero clue when it comes to cars. I am just trying to explain best practices to help you and anyone else reading to avoid expensive issues in the future. Knowledge is power. :)
 

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There’s no point in replacing the radiator or the starter (which I bet is just fine) if the engine is seized. Figure that out first. If seized, figure out if it’s worth replacing the engine and radiator and go from there. Running an overheating engine that’s making odd noises until it stops almost certainly means that it’s seized.

-Mike
 

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They are charging you for "3 to 4 hours of diagnosis" and this is the best answer that they can come up with?
I had a BMW dealer do this one time... My wife's battery was dead 30 miles from home. The dealer near there said they couldn't do anything, as the battery was discharged. I asked if they could put it on a charger or just hook up a spare battery or jump box to get it started and they said they couldn't and none of their equipment would work if the battery wasn't fully charged. They wanted $300 for the battery installed ($219 for the battery and another $100 for installation because it was a "big" battery) and then it would be 3-4 hours of labor for diagnosis to find out if it was just a bad battery or a bad alternator. So, I drove up, jumped her car, and followed her home. Turned out that the alternator was under-performing, so that jumpstart plus highway speeds was enough to keep it running. Of course, it still ended up needing a new battery because it got toasted by being discharged too far.
 

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My Sienna needed a radiator last year. It did get hot, but it’s always hard to know just how hot as when that sensor in the bottom of the radiator has no coolant, it’s not going to register as overheating. It’s fine, still runs freat
As everyone is saying, the car can be momentarily started without a radiator to see if it’s knocking or a leak down test could be done. We used to put a giant shop fan in front of them if we were thinking that the cooling system was clogged, just to be safe. I’d find an independent shop, one that is run by an older person, graybeards as we used to call them. This is a mechanical issue and they will be able to diagnose this quick and efficiently. If the engine isn’t toast, this car will likely last you a long time.
If the engine is good, consider a water pump, heater core flush and if not quoted, a thermostat as those parts take a beating when overheated.
 

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Discussion Starter · #17 ·
Ty all for response. My friend connected me with someone who has lots of experience with Toyotas and works on them in private garage. He says the rattling noise I heard at the end was the engine giving up its soul and that I should cut my losses.

Timeline of events:
1) 7 months ago the vehicle wouldn’t start. I managed to somehow start it and get it local garage. They said there was no coolant and attributed it to unsealed radiator cap

2)end of July. I take it to the garage for inspection and they said the Sienna has a small coolant leak and I should take it to dealer. they didn’t tell me (I should have asked) they used stop leak solution as a stop gap

3) 1st week of august. the dealer’s service center wasn’t able to detect any leaks

4) Aug 17, the vehicle breaks down and I managed to get it towed to dealers service center. And then you know the rest.

I have 2 options:
1) I may have found another mechanic and thinking of getting it towed to his garage and have him determine if the engine is really bad

2) the dealer offered $1000. If there vehicle was working, kbb would be $3.5k
 

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A few things... "If there vehicle was working, kbb would be $3.5k" The vehicle is NOT working. I used to work with a guy who was super-intuitive with cars. He would find these grannie grocery getters and excess 3rd small sedans that parents would get for their kids to drive and then the kids would move out. They were either non-running or barely running. He would scoop them up, knowing that they only needed plugs and wires or only needed a little persuasion with a breaker bar. He would scoop them up for $0-$500, throw 5-10 hours and $0-$500 worth of parts at it and sell it for $1500-2000. None ever needed something as extensive as a new engine.

So, as of right now, as far as you know, your van is worth scrap value is about $400-$500. The dealer is offering $1000 as a trade-in, I assume. You can try to negotiate that up, but, if you were buying a car from them, you'd probably be better off negotiating a purchase price down. Alternately, you can seek out a new-to-you private party sale to avoid the COVID-markup at the dealers and sell your van for scrap to a salvage yard. Alternate to that, you could call up that guy with lots of experience with Toyotas and ask how much it would be do drop a used engine in. You might find that the cost to drop in an engine is less than the cost to buy a new/used vehicle. Finally, you could have it towed to another mechanic and find that it is indeed toast and pay him for his troubles. Personally, if it were me, I'd probably cut my losses but look for a private party sale. It's a seller's market (still) for used cars and there is very little inventory (although getting better) for reasonably priced cars in reasonably good condition.

Related side note, based on your timeline, my guess is that, 7+ months ago, you had a "small coolant leak" and ran your engine dry and overheated it which created a head gasket leak. Without knowing it, your engine was probably toast at that point. At the end of July, the stop-leak probably barely sealed the head gasket leak, allowing it to run a little longer. On/around the 17th, the barely sealed leak probably let loose and sent exhaust gases into the coolant, boiling it and explosively blowing open your original "small coolant leak."
 

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I would agree that you need to know if the engine is seized. Any mechanic should be able to try to turn it over by hand with a breaker bar. If it's seized, cut your losses and use it as a learning experience. If it's not seized, go from there on getting it started and see what happens. You shouldn't do anymore damage if it starts and idles for a minute or so. Even without any coolant, it'll take a bit to heat up the engine. Knowing these two things can help us guide you.

As a side note, I took a seized Toyota 4-cylinder and using a 3/4 breaker bar with a very long cheater bar, I broke it free and it ran for at least another year (when I lost track of it). I don't recommend this, but I was young and poor. :)
 

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Hi - I bought a certified used 2009 Sienna in 2011. It now has 142K miles on it. While driving it yesterday, there was a lot of smoke from the front and rattling noises. I managed to pull into a local road and then it died. Got it towed to dealer repair center. They have been fair with me before when I needed repairs. I am told that the vehicle needs a new starter and radiator. The total bill before taxes with diagnosis is at $2200. But they cautioned that it might need more parts and there could be engine damage from high temperature (275+) and might need a new engine. KBB on it can't be more than $3.5K - especially after a deer crashed the right sliding door last year. They also said that there is no way to tell if it needs a new engine before doing all the repairs.

So now it appears my choices are to gamble or cut my losses and junk the vehicle. Greatly appreciate input. Thanks in advance

SM
I use repairpal.com to see what area garages are charging. It puts things in perspective.
It also gives you names of garages in your area. Good Luck.
 
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