Your vehicle’s head gasket has a major role in the combustion system. It doesn’t only prevent oil and coolant leak to the cylinder; it also provides the required compression to maintain the engine’s power production.
It is very important to maintain a good head gasket in your vehicle to prevent dealing with engine overheating and misfire issues that can easily result in a complete engine failure.
Most of your vehicle’s parts will tell you they’re getting worse before they even do. Similarly, there are very common signs for a blown head gasket.
If you noticed any of these signs, you must have your vehicle inspected and repaired by a professional mechanic.
In this article, we help you understand the overall role of the head gasket. Then, we highlight the top symptoms that you need to look for to answer the question, “How to tell if you have a blown head gasket.”
Furthermore, we provide some insights and cost estimates for replacing your vehicle’s head gasket along with some suggestions on whether it’s worth fixing your head gasket or not.
What is the head gasket?
The head gasket is one of the most vital components in your vehicle. It is made of a series of rings and is placed on top of your combustion system's cylinders.
The head gasket is responsible for creating a barrier between the cylinder and the engine to prevent the engine’s liquids from making their way to the cylinders.
Furthermore, the head gasket maintains the optimum compression level in the cylinders for best operation by providing the necessary sealing.
With the critical position between the engine and the cylinders, it is not surprising to deal with a faulty or “blown” head gasket due to the continuous exposure to extreme temperatures.
In most cases, a blown head gasket occurs primarily due to overheating resulting from the cooling system not doing its required job.
How to tell if you have a blown head gasket?
Luckily, when your head gasket tells you, it’s getting worse before it even does. The critical question here is how to tell if you have a blown head gasket?
There are clear signs and symptoms of a bad or blown head gasket, including:
Coolant or oil leak to the cylinder
One of the first and most obvious signs of a bad head gasket is oil or coolant leaks to the cylinders.
As we mentioned before, the head gasket seals the cylinders to prevent any of the engine’s fluids from getting to the cylinder. If the head gasket is not doing its job or is blown, the fluids will easily get to the cylinder.
The best way to confirm is by visually inspecting the cylinders and look for any signs of cracks or breaks around the head gasket.
Engine misfire is another significant issue that could face your engine and might result in complete engine failure.
Engine misfire happens due to many other reasons; however, a blown head gasket can be the culprit.
In general, an engine misfire happens if the engine has a problem with one of the following items:
- Issues with the air-fuel mixture
- Problems with the ignition spark and the engine are not able to start the explosion
- The cylinders are not receiving the operating compression
- Issues with the timing belt.
Where the head gasket comes into place is with the compression issue. If the head gasket is not sealing the cylinders well, the cylinders will not operate because they don’t have the required pressure.
Engine overheating is one of the most critical issues your engine could face. This is because it results in catastrophic results in a very short period.
If your vehicle is dealing with engine overheating, you MUST stop driving immediately and get your vehicle inspected and repaired by a professional mechanic.
While engine overheating might happen due to many factors, a blown head gasket might be the culprit, but it is not the most obvious symptom.
Blue smoke coming out of the exhaust system
As a rule of thumb, if you see any weird colors in the exhaust smoke, there something wrong with the vehicle. You don’t want to ignore the problem as it could be an easy fix, and ignoring it might make it just worse.
When you have a blown head gasket, there is a high chance that the oil and coolant leak to the cylinder’s area. As a result, the air-fuel ratio affects your vehicle to run lean or rich fuel.
This issue with air-fuel ration usually gets reflected on the smoke coming out of the tailpipe of your exhaust system.
Significant reduction in the car’s power
Since your engine doesn’t have the required compression with a bad head gasket, it will not generate the required power as you press on your gas pedal.
That’s why, if you are dealing with a bad head gasket, you will notice a significant power reduction.
Milk –like substance below the oil cap
One of the most straightforward ways to confirm issues with the head gasket is checking the oil cap.
If you found a chocolate milk-like substance under the cap, there is an obvious problem with the head gasket.
Usually, if you look under the oil cap, you shouldn’t see anything but some engine oil. As the head gasket gets damaged, the oil gets mixed with the coolant as they pass by the head gasket. This is known as engine oil contamination.
If the engine’s oil gets contaminated, it will not do its job. In other words, the engine oil will not lubricate the engines’ moving parts properly. As a result, the engine’s moving parts generate a lot of heat due to friction and wear out against each other.
Therefore, if you confirmed this sign, you must get your vehicle’s head gasket replaced immediately.
It is important to differentiate between chocolate milkshake substance due to a blown head gasket or a stalled vehicle.
In other words, if you don’t drive your car only for shorter distances, there is a high chance that a lot of the engine’s fuel was not burned completely, which ended up condensed at the oil filler cap.
Lower fuel efficiency
As the head gasket goes bad, the engine will not have the required compression, coolant or oil will leak to the cylinder, and the air-fuel ratio will be affected.
Therefore, the engine will start not to burn all the fuel it receives, and therefore, the engine will ask the fuel pump to send more fuel to generate your desired temperature.
Can you drive a car with a blown head gasket
It is never recommended to drive your vehicle with any sign of a bad head gasket. This is because the head gasket maintains a barrier between the engine and the cylinders preventing oil and coolant from leaking to the engine.
Furthermore, the head gasket keeps the required pressure in the cylinders for the best performance.
While your vehicle will keep working with a bad head gasket, most head gasket failures start very small and grow as you drive your vehicle.
As a result, ignoring the problem and keeping driving can overcomplicate the problem and result in a significant increase in the repair costs that could replace the entire engine’s block.
It is important to note that a blown head gasket doesn’t usually cause sudden, same day engine failure.
Some blown head gaskets last up to one month, but the engine is usually in a very difficult situation by the time you get to the month.
What causes a blown head gasket?
It is not surprising for the head gasket to get damaged considering the critical location it is placed in.
The head gasket deals with extreme temperatures from the engine all the time. If the engine gets overheated due to any reason, the first consequence would be a blown head gasket.
The head gasket is not designed to maintain engine overheating; yes, it is made in a way that makes it stand very high temperatures, but not above the engine’s operating temperature level.
Engine overheating occurs due to a problem with any component of the vehicle’s cooling system like the coolant, the water pump, the radiator, the thermostat, etc.
For example, if there is a significant coolant leak, the engine will not find enough coolant to reduce its temperature and, thus, will overheat immediately.
The same goes for the other cooling system components.
How much does it cost to replace a head gasket?
On average, replacing your vehicle’s head gasket costs between $1000 and $2000 depending on your car’s make, model, and year.
Blown head gasket’s repairs are usually one of the very expensive repairs that many people can not afford and prefer to get rid of their cars instead of paying this much, especially if repair cost approaches the vehicle's value.
Is it worth fixing a blown head gasket?
Answering this question depends on many factors, and there is not clear, yes or no.
There are a set of questions you can ask yourself before deciding between repairing your vehicle’s head gasket, including:
- Is your vehicle old and has a lot of mileage?
- Are there any other major issues with the car like problems with the transmission, engine, etc.?
- How about the total repair cost? Is it approaching your overall value of the vehicle, if not more?
If your answer to any of these questions is a “yes,” it might not be worth spending a penny on repairing your vehicle’s head gasket.
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The head gasket is a very important part of any combustion system.
It prevents liquids from leaking to the cylinders and causing a misfire. The head gasket also maintains the required pressure in your engine’s cylinder to perform properly.
It is important to keep your head gasket in good condition all the time; otherwise, you will be dealing with complicated problems that might cost you a complete engine failure.
Therefore, automotive experts recommend keeping an eye for blown head gasket signs like engine overheating, the chocolate milk-like substance under the oil cap, engine misfire, reduction in fuel economy and power, and weird smokes coming from the exhaust system.
If you noticed any of the listed symptoms, you must get your vehicle inspected and repaired by a professional mechanic as soon as possible.