Head gasket job done and now there is a big fuel leak, engine still overheating
Spark plug was blowing out and after head put back together, it still didn't hold (heli-coil) so "mechanic's" (!@?) decided only solution was to JB Weld the spark plug into place. Once we got it running again, there was a strong fuel odor which only got worse, to the point of it dripping and pooling under car. Mechanics also discovered a crack in the exhaust manifold and the exhaust from engine is extremely thick (white/grey) although no water coming out of exhaust pipe.
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many things cause low power.faulty spark plugs and wires,faulty ignition coil.transmission slipping due to low fluid level plugged filter,clutch slipping if you have manual transmission,clogged fuel filter.low cylinder compression leaking valves or blowed head gasket.engine overheating could have restricted exhaust system.
If the car overheated you may have blown the head gasket and other in the block. In that case the engine may not start anymore because of lack of compression, because piston rings are gone, valves may have been damaged etc. Another part that in many vehicles may blow with engine surge from overheating is the fuel pump. There are more parts that must be tested. If overheating drained the coolant fluid reservoir, then the head gasket usually must be replaced. Try replacing the spark plugs. If there have been overheating and engine surging the spark plugs must be replaced. If that does not do the job, then there is a major fault to troubleshoot.
White smoke from the tailpipe tells it all. You have a bad head gasket & or possibly a cracked / warped head etc. at a minimum which could be either the cause or a result of the overheating.
Weigh your options carefully, especially if it has been badly overheated. The car is after all close 14 years old .
I seriously doubt that your problem is a lifter. I would have a cylinder leakdown test done to check if you have a warped valve or seat (or a crack somewhere you may have missed). You could have checked this with the head removed, by filling chamber with solvent and seeing if anything leaked past the valves. I would also check valve spring pressures...exhaust springs get hotter than intakes do and in an overheat, a weak spring can relax a bit and not hold the valve on the seat properly.
Sound like an air / vacuum leak to me.
Re-check for an air leak on #2 cylinder inlet manifold.
Use a propane torch (unlit, of course) to flood propane gas around inlet manifold/head flange & gasket area.
If there is any change in idle speed during this test you have a vacuum leak.
Sounds like coolant ports in the engine block is gunked up. Did you maybe notice the coolant ports when you changed the head gaskets? And, or, change the radiator cap,if you haven't already done so, I've seen them heat up over that too.