The head gasket replacement is considered as one of the most expensive car parts to repair. If you experience car issues such as overheating, power loss, excessive smoke, oil contamination, or external leaks, it can be an indication that your car needs a head gasket replacement, something that car owners don’t want to deal with. It is not cheap. A head gasket replacement can cost you around $2,000 or more. If there are other engine problems, the cost can go up to $5,000.
Many people might wonder why it costs that much since the head gasket itself does not even cost that much. It costs that much since the head gasket forms a seal between the engine head and the engine block. To fix it, the mechanic will have to tear down almost the entire engine. The process is laborious and may require some special tools or equipment to properly repair it .
Head Gasket Replacement: How Do I Know if my Head Gasket is Blown?
A head gasket replacement is usually needed when you have a blown head gasket. But first, what is a head gasket and why does it blow? The head gasket is the one that seals the combustion chamber and allows the vehicle to build proper compression and keeps harmful gases from exiting the combustion chamber. It is also the one that keeps the coolant and oil out of the combustion chamber. It is positioned between the engine block and the engine head.
The head gasket should be able to withstand the stresses of the two components that are constantly expanding, shrinking, and rubbing while it seals in the coolant, oil, and the cylinder pressure. Since the head gasket deals with all of them and is also exposed to a wide range of temperatures, it can develop leaks over time.
A blown or damaged head gasket is usually caused by an engine that has gotten too hot. The engine overheats when there is a lack of coolant in the radiator. When you have a blown head gasket, it is very important to have it repaired immediately. Driving a car with a blown head gasket can cause severe and irreparable damage to the engine since the blown gasket can no longer function as a seal, allowing pressure to escape. Coolant and oil will also start to leak into the combustion chamber.
Aside from overheating, there are also other causes of a blown head gasket that can warrant a head gasket replacement include:
- Warped or cracked engine block or cylinder head.
Excessive heat can also damage the engine block or head, especially on engines that are built with aluminum parts since they wear more easily. When the engine block or the cylinder head gets warped or cracked, it can break or interrupt the flat surface required to make a seal. Since a head gasket acts as a seal to both of these components, it tends to fail when it can no longer seal properly because of this problem.
- Pre-ignition issues.
If there is even a slight change in the timing of the combustion process, it can result in sending too much pressure into the cylinder head. This can result in head gasket failure. You might notice that your car is running roughly when your gasket fails.
- Head gasket age.
Head gaskets typically last as long as the car. It can last 200,000 miles given that your car is properly maintained. However, years and years of being exposed to temperature fluctuations, engine block and head movement, and extreme pressure, it can wear out, break down, lose integrity, and eventually fail even before it hits its 200,000 mile mark.
Now, to answer the question, how will I know if my head gasket is blown? You will know if your car is due for a head gasket replacement when you experience any of the following symptoms?
- Bubbles are seen in the radiator.
Bubbles in the radiator is an indication that you have a blown head gasket. You can check your radiator if it is bubbling. To do this, you need to wait until the engine of your car has completely cooled off. Once cooled down, remove the radiator cap using a rag or cloth carefully. Then crank your car up and see the coolant flow across the radiator’s filler neck.
If you see a few bubbles, it might just be some trapped air escaping from the cooling system. It is normal. However, if you still see bubbles after twenty minute of idling, it means that you might have a blown head gasket. This can happen since a blown head gasket allows combustion gases to enter your car’s cooling system. A damaged head gasket can no longer seal the engine block and head and keep the gases away. It can result in the combustion gases entering into the cooling system, which causes the bubbling in the radiator.
- White smoke coming from the tailpipe.
Head gasket leaks usually happen inside the engine, allowing coolant to enter the combustion chamber on every intake stroke. When the engine burns the air and fuel mixture for the combustion process, the coolant will also be burned with them which causes the white exhaust smoke.
It is for this reason why you should pay attention to your exhaust when you start your car. You should see colorless smoke or a blackish gray one when your car uses diesel. But if you see white smoke coming out from your tailpipe, it means that there is moisture in the combustion chamber that can be caused by a blown head gasket.
- Engine overheating.
Like mentioned earlier, one of the causes of a blown head gasket is overheating. However, a blown head gasket can also cause your engine to overheat. It can be one of the signs that your car needs a head gasket replacement.
The engine can overheat because of the lack of coolant in the cooling system as the coolant leaks into the radiator. Since a blown head gasket can also allow the exhaust gases to enter the cooling system, it can heat the coolant at a fast rate. Remember that these exhaust gases are very hot so they can really increase the coolant’s temperature. When this happens, the engine will overheat.
- Coolant and oil are mixed.
Another indication that you have a blown head gasket is when your coolant and oil are mixed. This can be a problem since the coolant and oil should never be mixed. The coolant can’t function like a lubricant and it can cause internal deterioration when it enters the oil passages of the engine. The oil can’t also function as a coolant because it can’t efficiently transfer heat like the engine coolant.
You can check for this by taking a look at your dipstick and around your engine oil cap. You may see foamy, milky white oil when you check on these areas. You may also notice black spots floating to the top of the radiator which means oil is present in the coolant.
- Compression loss.
Compression loss is one of the symptoms of a blown head gasket. This can happen since cylinders are built to trap combustion gases so it can be used to create more energy to power the crankshaft and move the vehicle. When the head gasket fails, The engine won’t be able to hold the pressure properly. Compression loss can cause the engine to run poorly and idle roughly, but there are times that you won’t notice any change with the engine’s performance. To check if your car is experiencing a compression loss, you can try to test the cylinders by conducting a compression test or the leakdown test.
Head Gasket Replacement: How Much Does it Cost to Replace a Head Gasket?
Upon knowing that their cars need a head gasket replacement, car owners tend to worry about the replacement cost. You can’t really blame them since repairing or replacing a head gasket is one of the most expensive car part repairs. It can cost around $1,000 to $3,000. The total bill can still go up if there are other engine problems that caused your head gasket to blow that need repairing.
Many are asking why a head gasket replacement costs that much. Replacing a head gasket is not cheap because it requires a lot of time and effort. It is an extremely time consuming task since the engine head will have to be removed and then placed back again. Because of the location of the head gasket, almost the entire engine will have to be torn down. It might also need a machine shop to have it repaired correctly.
Head Gasket Replacement: Is it Worth Replacing a Head Gasket?
Since a head gasket replacement can cost thousands of dollars, many are asking if it is worth replacing a head gasket. The answer really depends on a lot of factors. You need to consider the market value of your car. If its resale value is lower or almost the same as the head gasket replacement cost plus other potential repair costs, then it might not be worth it to fix the blown head gasket problems. You can just sell your car and move on.
If you think that your car is still worth something or you are not ready to let it go yet, you can proceed with the head gasket replacement. But, you need to have a budget for that. Aside from the head gasket replacement cost, the mechanic might see other problems that need to be addressed as the engine is torn down. It will mean more labor, more parts to buy, and more hours needed to get the job done.
Another thing that you can do aside from replacing your head gasket, is to do an engine replacement or engine swap. It can be done if you can find an engine swap candidate. It can be cheaper than having a head gasket replacement. But it is only cheaper when you install it yourself or hire someone to swap the engines out.
Head Gasket Replacement: Can I Replace the Head Gasket Myself?
If your car needs a head gasket replacement and you don’t want to deal with the cost, you might wonder if you can replace the head gasket yourself. Doing a head gasket replacement is a difficult job. It is best to let the professionals handle it since it requires a lot of experience and some specialty tools.
When we say it is a difficult job, we mean it. Reaching the head gasket can be really difficult, more so if you don’t have any experience. The engine has to be dismantled before you can replace the head gasket. The cooling system will have to be completely drained and the intake and exhaust manifolds will have to be removed after.
You will then remove the timing cover, the timing chain and the timing belt. As well as the valve cover and the camshafts that secure the engine block and cylinder head. After that, you can finally remove the cylinder head to see the head gasket. After removing and installing the new head gasket, you will have to do everything again but this time, in reverse order. The process will take a lot of time and any mistakes, even minor ones, can lead to a complete disaster. Plus, you will have to use new engine studs to make sure that you get an optimal torque. A lot of tests will also be needed before and after the head gasket replacement to ensure that the same problem won’t happen again.
A head gasket replacement is needed when your head gasket has failed. To ensure that this won’t happen, you need to maintain your engine coolant at the proper level. Make sure that it has the right mixture. You can consult your owner’s manual to know the recommended coolant specifications. If you notice coolant leaks or when your temperature gauge is running hot, have it checked and repaired immediately since head gasket failures can happen due to repeated overheating. Your vehicle should never be driven when it is overheated. To prolong the life of your head gasket, you need to make sure that your cooling system is always in its good, working condition.