There are a handful of repair jobs that your car can undergo that are going to really hit you in the wallet. Things like rebuilding an engine or transmission are extremely expensive, and even repairing your air conditioning can be a big setback. But fixing a blown head gasket is also a job that most drivers dread because of how expensive it is. Especially when you consider that a brand new head gasket on its own may only cost you between $20 and $50. The labour involved in the repair job can take it up over $1,000, however. That's why most drivers are happy to find a way to fix a blown head gasket without replacing it. If you could avoid that big repair bill, why wouldn't you?
The question is how do you fix a blown head gasket without replacing it? It may sound too good to be true, but there actually are some things you can do to extend the life of your head gasket and even bring it back from destruction to keep your car working. Let's take a look at what the head gasket even does, how you can tell there's a problem with yours, and what you can do to fix it without dropping a ton of money at the mechanic.
What is a Head Gasket?
Your engine is not one single chunk of metal by any means. Inside your engine you have the engine block itself and the cylinder head. These two parts are separated by the head gasket. It's a thin gasket made of sheets of steel and an elastomer substance. In older vehicles the head gasket is probably made of something like graphite or asbestos, substances that are able to stand up to prolonged heat. When it's in place and working properly it is able to maintain the pressure in your combustion chamber that's required for the combustion reaction to occur and keep your car running properly. It also stops oil and coolant from leaking into your engine as well.
If your head gasket were to fail on you then the pressure in your combustion chamber would suffer as a result. And of course, the oil and coolant could potentially leak in as well which would cause a number of problems. If your head gasket blows there are a number of signs and symptoms you can be on the lookout for to let you know that you have a problem.
Signs and Symptoms of a Bad Head Gasket
Your head gasket can blow for a couple of reasons. One of the most common causes for a head gasket blowing is overheating. It can also be worn down over years of exposure to contaminated coolant that has a pH level badly thrown off what it normally should be. The extreme temperatures and acidic nature of contaminated coolant can eat away at a head gasket until it breaks and cracks. when this happens, it will lead to some symptoms that can let you know that your head gasket has failed.
Overheating: Yes, we just said overheating is what caused your head gasket to fail in the first place. However, it creates a bit of a vicious cycle. Because your head gasket no longer maintains a seal, you can potentially be losing oil and coolant which will cause your engine to continue overheating. So, the head gasket failed because it overheated, and your engine overheated because it failed. It's a problematic circle that can end up causing severe damage to all the other parts of your engine as well. If your engine continues to run without proper oil and coolant circulating through it your bearings, your cylinders, your pistons and more will end up suffering as a result. If it's allowed to go for too long your engine will fail so badly you might need an entire rebuild which can cost many thousands of dollars.
Poor Engine Performance: Because your combustion chamber is going to lose pressure when your head gasket blows, it will no longer be able to perform the way it's supposed to. The pressure that's in part responsible for keeping your pistons working the way they're supposed to will be lost and you're going to suffer some severe performance issues as a result. Your car will have lower fuel economy and will struggle to maintain speed. You won't be able to travel as fast as you're used to, and it will take longer to accelerate as well. Going up hills or towing anything behind you will also cause you to suffer performance problems.
Contaminated Oil: When your head gasket blows it's not able to keep oil and coolant from leaking into the combustion chamber. These two substances will mix together and continue to filter through your engine. The result will be when you go to check your oil next it's going to be contaminated with coolant. That will make it take on a Milky, almost milkshake like appearance and consistency. It will be a creamy sort of brown colour and will no longer be able to properly perform its intended function. You'll need to replace your oil with new, clean oil as a result once you have the head gasket fixed.
Contaminated Coolant: The flip side of the contamination coin is that your coolant will also be contaminated with oil. In this case the oil will likely stay on the surface of the coolant and create a slick that looks something like a coating of mayonnaise. It will be on top of the coolant in the reservoir and likely on the cap to the reservoir as well. Again, you're going to need to do a full coolant flush to get this cleaned out so that your coolant can work properly.
Smoke: When either oil or coolant get into the combustion chamber they are going to burn inside of your engine. Coolant will evaporate in the high heat of the combustion reaction and the result will be white smoke visible from the exhaust of your car. On the other hand, if you start burning oil aside from a burning smell, you're also going to be producing blue or grey smoke from your exhaust as well.
Misfires: If you have a bad enough crack in your head gasket you may end up suffering misfires because you're unable to maintain the proper compression in the cylinder for the combustion reaction to take place.
External Leaks: This is a more rare symptom of a blown head gasket and sometimes it's misdiagnosed as a problem with the head gasket when in fact it's a valve cover gasket or something else that is led to the problem, but it's not impossible that you will be suffering from coolant or oil leaks that are visible externally on your engine.
All of these problems can become bigger and costlier the longer they are allowed to continue without getting them repaired. Fortunately, there is a way to fix a blown head gasket without replacing it. Head gasket leak sealers are available at auto supply stores as well as on sites like Amazon.com.
Do Head Gasket Sealers Really Work?
There are numerous different head gasket sealer products on the market. Products like Steel Seal, K Seal, Blue Devil and more are all popular brands that have great ratings on Amazon and other sites. They are liquid chemical compounds that come in bottles and you pour them into your radiator.
You need to make sure you're buying the right kind of gasket sealer for your engine, and they do tend to work better in smaller engines than larger ones. If you've got something like a 2.5 L flat-4 engine a good bottle of gasket sealer could potentially fix your blown head gasket almost as good as new.
When you pour the substance into your radiator it will flow through your coolant system as you let your car run. Typically, this has to go for about 15 minutes to 30 minutes or so but the instructions on the bottle will let you know for sure. As it circulates through your engine and heats up, the chemicals will harden in the cracks and breaks in your head gasket sealing them and repairing whatever damage is present.
Head gasket sealers are actually very effective with certain kinds of damage. However, if you have a seriously damaged head gasket with large breaks in it, a head gasket sealer may not be up to the task of repairing it.
That said, a product like Steel Seal actually comes with a money-back guarantee that it will get the job done for you. Just remember, you have to follow the instructions exactly. If you don't do exactly what the instructions tell you to do, it may not get the job done properly or at all.
How Long Does Head Gasket Sealer Last?
The question of how long a gasket sealer is going to last is a hard one to answer. If you want to know how to fix a blown head gasket without replacing it, this is an important answer to have. There are many different kinds on the market and obviously they're not all going to work exactly the same. Head gasket leak sealers are not always a permanent solution to a problem. However, some of the higher quality ones could be considered a permanent solution to minor cracks and damage to your head gasket. It really depends on the level of damage that your head gasket has suffered and the kind of sealer that you use on it.
If you have a serious leak in your head gasket, then this may only be a temporary solution to the problem. You could consider something like this a stopgap measure that might give you another six months of use out of your head gasket, give or take a little bit. After that time, you will likely need to have a full gasket replacement. But again, there's no way to know for sure without knowing the extent of damage that your head gasket has suffered.
As long as you're using a quality brand of head gasket leak sealer it should be fine for your engine in the other parts of your vehicle as well. They will also work well in either diesel or traditional gasoline engines and shouldn't react to aluminum, plastics, steel, or cast-iron in any way.
All of that said, there is one thing you need to be on the lookout for and that's how well the sealants will work with the coolant in your system. Depending on what colour antifreeze you use, the gasket sealer may have a bad reaction to it. Just make sure the two substances are compatible before you commit to buying anything. The label of the gasket sealer should let you know what kind of coolant you can mix it with and what kind you should avoid.
What Does it Cost to Repair a Head Gasket?
If a head gasket leak sealer is not able to properly perform the job for you and get your gasket sealed so that it still works, then you are going to have to replace it. Unfortunately, replacing a head gasket is a costly job that's going to set you back between about $1,000 in $2,000 depending on the make and model of your vehicle. That's why you'd want to know how to fix a blown head gasket without replacing it.
On the other hand, head gasket leak sealer will only cost you a few dollars by comparison. If you were to go to Amazon to buy some Steel Seal for a 6-cylinder engine it would cost you about $120. That's obviously quite a bit better for your wallet then paying for a gasket replacement.
The Bottom Line
No one wants to pay for a head gasket repair if they can avoid it, nor do you want to endure any of the potential damage that can be caused as a result. Unfortunately, if the damage has already occurred your options are definitely limited in how you can go about fixing it. Head gasket leak sealers are a very cost-effective option that can definitely get the job done for you in a pinch. They may not always be permanent solutions, but they could buy you some time so that you can better prepare for fixing the damage and you're not saddled with a large and sudden repair bill.