Numerous symptoms indicate a blown head gasket: engine misfires, coolant leaks, engine overheating, creamy or white oil, white exhaust, or bubbles along with the cooling system. Labor costs make up the majority of this repair, meaning it could be as high as $2,500.
Head gaskets are designed to last the life of the vehicle, but that doesn’t mean they always do. In fact, some makes and models have problems with head gaskets all the time. If your car has a head gasket problem, you should consider the car’s age. Check for recalls and warranties!
Reasons for the breakdown vary from pre-ignition issues to gasket design. A blown head gasket could act as the start of a domino effect to other vehicle repairs, meaning more hits to our wallets. When you hear “head gasket repair” and “old car” in the same sentence, it might be time to find a junkyard.
Rather than worry, it’s better to inform yourself. Learn about how a little investigation can help determine why the head gasket is blown. Then, estimate the cost of the repair. The repair may not be worth fixing, especially if the vehicle is old.
This article will aid in fostering a stronger understanding of what a head gasket is, how to know when it fails, and how much the associated repairs cost.
What a Head Gasket Does
A head gasket is a vital component located between the cylinder head and the engine block. In modern vehicles, the head gasket is made of several layers of steel, making them more durable and longer-lasting.
The head gasket allows coolant and oil to travel through the engine to cool and lubricate it. Also, it allows the vehicle to produce enough power to move forward. Finally, a head gasket makes sure the pressure created from the spark plug’s fuel vapors remains in the combustion chamber.
What Causes a Head Gasket to Blow?
Although head gaskets are generally designed to never fail or need replacing, they can and do fail. Failure is often caused by pre-ignition issues, overheating, or gasket design. Some cars have gaskets that are poorly designed. They leak easily, causing headaches for car owners.
The greatest cause of head gasket failure relates to the pre-ignition process. When fuel is combusted, a large amount of pressure can occur within the cylinder head. These spikes in pressure put a strain on the head gasket and could cause it to fail.
When a car overheats, the gasket is placed in conditions beyond its threshold, causing permanent damage. This could be a sign of pre-existing failures in the head gasket or something simpler, like a coolant leak.
Another cause is not waiting for the engine to warm up. Applying speed to a cold engine puts the head gasket under extreme thermal stress. It expands too quickly and could cause gasket failure.
Sometimes the gasket is bad, but not ruined. One cold day without giving the car enough time to warm up (especially old cars) could be what does the gasket in once and for all.
Don’t let the coldest day of the year be the same day you have to wait outside for a tow!
Even the design of the gasket could cause failure. Throughout time, several car manufacturers were victims of poorly designed head gaskets. The standard gaskets were not suitable for interaction with the engine block and would fail early into the engine’s life.
If you check your vehicle’s oil, coolant, and allow your engine to warm up before driving, you should be without major problems.
However, it can be a crapshoot in terms of where failures occur and the range of damage is extreme. If you ignore symptoms, you could be replacing the engine too. In older cars especially, this expensive repair might not make a whole lot of sense.
How Do You Diagnose a Bad Head Gasket?
If you have a blown head gasket, you may notice any of the following:
- Engine misfires
- Coolant leaks: under the exhaust gasket, into the oil compartment, or on top of a spark plug
- Overheating of the engine
- Milky oil
- White exhaust
- Bubbles in the cooling system
A blown head gasket will cause leakage from the coolant port to the cylinder. If this occurs while an engine is revving, a misfire will occur, cutting the engine and then forcing a restart.
When a head gasket fails between the cooling system and combustion chamber, symptoms are shown in coolant loss and overheating. Overheating is a particularly sensitive symptom, as it only shows when the vehicle has been driven for some distance; it will normally not occur on short trips along slow roads.
If your car overheats but you aren’t aware of it, the damage is still done. This could mean damage to the cooling system, radiator failure, or erosion of hoses. Sometimes people don’t pay enough attention to the temperature needle in their car.
Others shrug the problem off, driving merrily along while their car takes a beating. Both are bad news.
If the engine is shut off, any coolant remaining in the cylinder can leak into the engine oil, causing a milky appearance. When the engine is running, white smoke will form from whatever is left of the coolant. This can be seen billowing from the exhaust pipes as the car idles.
Additionally, you may also see bubbles in the cooling tank. The bubbles show up even when the liquid is cool because it’s trapped gas, not boiling water.
It is often difficult to accurately diagnose a blown head gasket on your own due to its similarity to other issues.
For example, a warped cylinder head could affect the gasket, or corrosion at the surface of the head gasket will cause a leak, but neither indicates a gasket is blown.
Some of these symptoms resemble head gasket failure but originate from other places, such as overheating from a restricted radiator or coolant in the oil. It is important to have your vehicle diagnosed by a mechanic.
Can You Still Drive a Car with a Blown Head Gasket?
Frequently, drivers ignore blown head gasket symptoms due to the cost of repairs. This is a huge mistake as blown head gaskets lead to more trouble if you continue driving.
If your vehicle exhibits two or three symptoms of a blown head gasket, you probably do have a blown head gasket, although it isn’t certain until a professional mechanic confirms it.
The components that connect to the gasket can become irreparably damaged leading to huge repair bills.
Driving a vehicle with a blown head gasket comes down to the severity of the problem. If you only notice a slight loss of pressure, you may only have a slight problem. But, if you constantly add coolant to the engine to stop it from overheating, you have a serious problem.
The problem is that the part is really all or nothing. You might be able to get away with the drive for a little bit, if it’s a small leak. However, one day, the whole engine is going to need major attention. It’s better to swap out the part right away. The only problem is the high cost of labor to do so.
Even if the engine doesn’t overheat, driving with a blown head gasket can cause irreparable damage.
It is not safe to drive a vehicle with a blown head gasket. Once you notice symptoms, take your vehicle to the mechanic for a proper diagnosis, as the underlying issue may be related to something besides the head gasket. You never know where or when the big breakdown will occur, adding risk to the situation.
Overall, you could drive your car with a failing head gasket depending on the severity, but you shouldn’t.
How Much Does It Cost to Replace a Head Gasket?
Due to the placement of head gaskets, the replacement for a blown head gasket is generally expensive.
There may be simpler solutions for a fraction of the cost, but those only act as bandages in healing the real issue. There are solvents that can make seals swell, for example. This isn’t a good choice. Just do the repair or send the car to the junkyard. You can’t mess around with a head gasket problem.
A head gasket costs approximately $1,400 to $1,600 to be replaced. The variations of each make and model affect the price of parts with labor costs being the most expensive.
When it comes to replacing a head gasket, repairs are often outside the budget for the average driver, particularly in older vehicles. Luckily, other options exist, like sending the car to a junkyard.
Can I Replace a Blown Head Gasket Myself?
Paying a mechanic to repair a blown head gasket with a new part can be very expensive, but there is a point where the damage is too extensive and you need a professional.
Accessing head gaskets in modern engines is incredibly difficult. Unless you are a mechanic or other auto professional, you will spend a great deal of time sifting through the maze of parts to reach it. Then once the repair is done, you face another maze as you put it back together.
Call several area mechanics, explain your vehicle symptoms, and ask for a quote for a simple diagnosis. If the diagnosis leads to something else, you will not be looking at the expensive repair of head gasket replacement, saving you money.
If the head gasket does need to be replaced, you could always scrap the car at the junkyard.
Is Fixing a Vehicle with a Blown Head Gasket Worth It?
Head Gaskets are essential to our car’s health. If a head gasket is blown, we risk further damage to the vehicle and our safety.
A blown head gasket repair can take hours or even days to repair. On top of that, $1,400 to $1,600 in repairs is a huge chunk of change.
While you do not want to drive your vehicle with a blown head gasket, there is a factor to consider: the age of the vehicle. On older vehicles, the investment required for a blown head gasket is often not worth it because of the car’s value.
If you find yourself in this situation, you are better off getting paid for the replacement instead of paying for it. You can sell the car to a junkyard and get paid cash.
A Blown Head Gasket: The Silent Car Killer
Damage to the engine because of a blown head gasket is extensive. Ignoring the repair to a head gasket may mean you now have to repair the engine block, cylinder heads, or completely replace the engine.
If you notice symptoms of a blown head gasket, have an inspection done immediately. A proper diagnosis will reveal all of the options. The underlying issue may be less expensive than a head gasket replacement.
Don’t risk driving your vehicle around because you cannot afford to repair a blown head gasket. If you decided the investment is not worth the repair, send your car to a junkyard instead. The cash payment you receive from the junkyard will aid in purchasing a new vehicle.
Vehicles require a lot of investment and maintenance. Even when properly maintained, vehicle repairs are inevitable. Keep your safety and finances in mind, and make the best decision for you.
It doesn’t hurt to test and check head gaskets before they kill the car.