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What Are The Symptoms Of A Leaking Valve Cover Gasket? 

Leaking Valve Cover Gasket

Once the topic of sealing an engine is at the forefront of your car care for the day, you have the matter of the gasket -which is the hardworking and “relentless trooper”. While that valve cover gasket takes lots of abuse, it generally is not given the “appreciation” it deserves. Your valve cover gasket is one of the most vital gaskets with the task of keeping oil from leaving your motor. Many valve cover gaskets are crafted of cork or plastic. They work as a seal between the valve cover, and the cylinder head. Even though the valve cover gasket has protection from the bottom and top, it is still a very delicate and fragile component- that is prone to damage. Over time, the gasket can become cracked and brittle because of exposure to heat, dirt, debris and other elements. 

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Once this occurs, the gasket may lose its integrity, resulting in leakage. As you come face to face with this issue, you as a vehicle owner are looking at the possibility of reduced performance from your engine as well as oil that may begin to leak. A certified ASE mechanic needs to replace this valve or you may experience complete failure of your engine and adjoining parts. There are several symptoms that will signal a potential issue with a failing or bad valve cover gasket. Should you recognize any of the warning signs below, it’s time to get that vehicle of yours into a mechanic’s garage bay for a fix ASAP.   So, what are the symptoms of a leaking valve cover gasket? 


A Burning Oil Smell 

When a valve cover gasket is cracked worn out or pinched, there will be compressed oil that will come from underneath the valve cover and then escape. Once this take place while the vehicle’s engine is running, the extra oil will drip onto the cylinder head, the exhaust pipes and even the fuel intake. All of these car parts, are HOT car components that can and WILL burn the oil and create a burning oil smell. You will be able to recognize it as a driver. 


Low Oil Levels in the Engine 

Once oil leaks from the valve cover gasket, it’s important to note that it also escapes from the oil pan. This can result in the check engine light illuminating on our dash. Low engine levels will reduce the potential for proper lubrication of the internal engine parts. Not only can there be excessive heat that builds inside the motor, there is the potential for serious engine damage. Should your check engine light come on, then it’s time to take your car to a local mechanic for a fix and evaluation. 


Valve Cover is Dirty and Leaking Oil 

Many oil change auto techs will inspect the valve cover, when they perform oil changes. The reason for the valve check, is to see if there is any leak that is originating from the valve cover gasket. The fastest “red flag” for auto techs to take notice of, is when the valve cover head is filled with dirt. 


It’s common knowledge that oil collects debris and dirt under the hood. That debris will also collect to the point that it is “caked” and stacked on the cylinder head or the valve cover. So, if you look under your hood and see if your valve is dirty, then there is a good chance that your valve cover gasket is bad and needs to be replaced. 


You Have a Rough- Running Engine, that is Also Misfiring  

Many times, when oil leaks from a valve cover gasket, that oil will find its way down to the spark plug galley – eventually seeping into the spark plug tubes. Misfiring as well as a reduction in engine performance will soon take place.  That oil seepage can also cause a cause a fire under your hood. All of these issues can stem from a valve cover gasket that has pinched, broken or cracked. These issues can also be due to an improperly applied cover too. Once you notice these symptoms, then you need to get your vehicle over to a mechanic ASAP. 


Can You Drive With A Bad Valve Cover Gasket?

The short answer to this question is “yes”.  But you want to ensure that the amount of oil that is leaking is small and there is no oil that is making its way onto any HOT engine parts. As we mentioned, oil sitting on hot engine components, can cause a fire.  Are you noticing oil leaking onto the ground beneath your vehicle after you park it? Then you need to have a mechanic look at your car. Sure, your car is drivable, but that doesn’t mean you should ignore any issues such as leaking oil. 


Is A Valve Cover Gasket Leak Serious Business?

When you have a gasket leak, you can encounter hesitation, a check engine light and other issues. So, yes, a valve cover gasket leak is very serious. You don’t want to ignore it – and then have to pay for additional repairs that could have prevented.  The longer you wait, the more you risk complete failure of your vehicle’s engine.  


Is A Valve Cover Gasket Expensive?

The replacement cost of a valve cover gasket can run you as little $90 and as much as $350. The parts can cost between $30 and $50. We all know that labor is at the heart of any fix. So, count on that being anywhere between $50 and $300.

How Does A Mechanic Go About Replacing A Valve Cover Gasket?

A certified mechanic will take the time to successfully replace a broken or fractured valve cover gasket. of course, the steps he or she will take, will depend on your particular vehicle. Check out the general steps that a mechanic will to replace a worn valve cover gasket.  

First Step 

The mechanic will first remove the engine cover. Many engines have plastic covers that span over the entire top. The plastic engine cover will be removed so that your auto tech will have full access to the valve cover. 

Second Step

Your mechanic will then proceed with removing the components. With a four- cylinder engine, typically the valve cover is accessible, once any electrical parts as well as the emission control tubing are taken out. There may be some accelerator linkages that may be in the way, so your mechanic will remove those as needed.  With a six or eight-cylinder engines, the mechanic may or may not remove the air intake plenum. The removal of this component will be dependent on which valve cover gasket has the leakage problem. 


Third Step

When your mechanic has access to the valve cover, he or she will then take off the retaining bolts off, followed by the cover. The valve cover sealing surface will then be checked with a straight edge, ensuring that the cover is flat, secure and reusable.

Fourth Step 

Now comes the installation of the new gasket.  The mechanic will place a new valve cover gasket on, coupled with any new rubber grommets. Should any spark plug tube seals need replacement, those will be taken care of too. 

With some applications, the mechanic will use an oil resistant room temperature vulcanization or RTV sealant on various specific segments of the sealing surface, so that there is a secure effective and air-tight seal. The mechanic will then take the cover and bolt it down.  Typically, he or she will use a calibrated inch pound torque tool wrench for the bolting process. Then he or she will place all other components back in their original position.

Fifth Step 

After the installation process, the mechanic will give the engine and run and look for any leaks, before sending you on your way.  

When Replacing A Leaking Valve Cover Gasket, What Should I Keep in Mind? 

Take a look at a few things you want to keep in mind when replacing a leaking valve cover gasket: 

  1. The mechanical parts of a vehicle engine will generally outlive the gaskets that are used to seal the engine. There are many gaskets- the valve cover gasket included- that are quite easy to replace. 
  2. Steer clear of any “stop leak” kind of products you see for your engine oil. They sound good in theory, but generally they create more of a hassle than they are worth. Most of these chemicals and products aren’t even approved nor specified by equipment manufacturers. So, leave them be, as they have a tendency to create additional problems while hiking up the amount of money you will spend for repairs. 
  3. Many times, if a vehicle is old enough, to have a valve cover oil leak, you can just about count on other leaks too. So, it will be to your benefit to ask your mechanic to perform a leak inspection. What good is it to repair one leak, only to have more there?  
  4. On occasion, the Positive Crankcase Ventilation or the PCV valve is inserted into a rubber grommet that is in one of the valve covers. With an old and cracked rubber grommet you may have a potential leak source. Your mechanic will inspect those components and replace the components accordingly, while he or has access to the valve cover. 


What Related Content Can I Read About A Leaking Valve Cover Gasket? 

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