94 Civic Cranks, No Start, Coolant Loss Post HG Replacement - Seeking Insight!


New Member

Now I'm not a professional but I can follow a technical manual and I can wrench gears.

Context: I replaced my head gasket + did a head job and got my civic back together after it began loosing coolant rapidly and overheating. The HG replacement was prompted because the shop detected emissions in the coolant. So, head was removed, surfaced to the steel (very-minimal warping) and reassembled using a better gasket. The car runs fine for a couple months, coolant level stable.

FF to last week: the first time this occurred, it overheated. I shut it down -- pulled over at a store, to my utmost disappointment the coolant is low! refilled the coolant, and after about 30-40 cranks later (/w jumpstart) it starts! and shoots a massive plume of white exhaust-smelling smoke out the back. The car proceeds to run normally for ~1 week.

Then we arrive to yesterday at the same problem but with a new symptom, The car started fine in the morning -- later (~15 min after staring) while trying to park the car started idle really rough (up-and-down, like it was overshooting, toning it down-- idle too low, toning it up-- idles and repeat) Temperature gauge to concerning levels, I pull over. Wait a while. Refill it. Now it won't start! Im just glad it's stuck in my garage now.

Today (1 day after it was parked): When I crank it over I hear some "water gurgling noises" for a couple seconds after. I noticed when the car was shutdown (prior to not wanting to start again) it made that same gurgling sound. strange.

Spoke with a mechanic and he said something along the lines of "sometimes when the HG is done something(I do not recall) is miss-installed and it causes this problem", "ive done many HG on this car and this is a point of interest". Unfortunately, I had to run to class and couldn't ask more questions.

He recommended that I pull the plugs--crank it over and witness the water shooting out -- I have not pulled the spark plugs to check for water since I have no socket. Furthermore I am 300km from my garage where I did the HG job... so I have basic tools.

The car cranks -- the starter sounds perfectly fine. When it cranks it and I give it a little fuel it feels like its starting up -- release key -- the cranking sound stumbles and it halts.
When I did make it start: The car took many many cranks, it started up pretty rough-- had to force an idle for a bit. Huge white cloud. Car drives fine for a few days!

I have fuel, I have crank, my intake is clear and its sucking it air on crank. Should I even bother exploring my distribution wires? spark plugs?

Here's my questions:

Have I miss-installed something?
How likely is it that I never fixed the primary headgasket-destroying-overheating problem? (and now im at square one again)

I also have one suspicion:
When I received my head back from the machine shop, I was able to assembly it back to the block. Sweet! But I was unable to get the darn timing belt on. So I sent to to a mechanic. They got it fixed in 30 minutes! Sweet! Here is where I begin to sus: The machine shop warned me and even gave me a tag: "Please adjust valve heights", you know using the shims and what not. Even though I "told" the mechanic about this and left the warning-tag in the vehicle in an obvious place. My suspicion is that this was never fixed.

Could improper valve lash heights be the cause of my new troubles? Is it normal for machine shop to not set the heights to spec?
if it WAS this, is it even possible I drive over 1500km over a couple months now with the lash heights improperly set?

Any help would be appreciated. Thanks!

I have attached some photos of the HG job... maybe you can spot something off...

What it looked like when I first took the head off.

New head gasket is on! Woohoo!


5+ Year Member
improperly adjusted valves won't cause coolant issues. but will cause a myriad of other issues, including damage to the valves themselves...

My first thought would be improperly torqued head bolts. did you follow the torque order in the manual? Did you install new head bolts?
you can't reuse the old ones, they're already stretched, and will not hold the proper torque.

Second: The head job. how much did they take off? might need a thicker head gasket. head could be warped, or the job wasn't done correctly.

Third: Is the block cracked? impossible to tell from the photos.

you could try re torquing the head bolts in the proper order, and see if that helps.

If not... I hate to say it, but, you'll likely have to pull the head again
look at the gasket. any signs of leakage between the passages/cylinders?
is there coolant in any of the cylinders (check for hairline cracks)

Good luck