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Signs and Symptoms of a Blown Head Gasket

Signs and Symptoms of a Blown Head Gasket

The signs of a blown head gasket include oil leaks and an overheating engine. It might seem look coolant is disappearing or that the exhaust has a white tint, too. A blown head gasket comes with a hefty repair bill of anywhere from $1400 to $2500, depending on the car’s make and model.

Auto Repairs Are EXPENSIVE


Driving around downtown, speeding fast, and you’re ready to head home- then you notice something bad. The engine is running hot. The exhaust coming from behind has turned white. The engine could even start misfiring.

If you’re behind the wheel, and this starts to happen to you, you might (wisely) think to pull over to assess the situation before making your next move. Checking the engine oil for a creamy texture or to see if bubbles are in the radiator could help you determine if a head gasket problem is to blame.

If the car is really bad, don’t open the engine hood. The cooling system could be pressurized and dangerous. Call a tow truck, roadside assistance, or a mechanic. Proceed with caution.

Making matters worse, this repair is stressful because it’s expensive. It often happens older cars that are barely worth the repair.

To learn more about a blown head gasket, it’s important to study up on what the part does, the signs and symptoms that the head gasket is blown, and the costs associated with the repair. 

If the mention of dollar signs is sending you into panic mode already, don’t sweat it! We have a few other options, too.

What is the Head Gasket?

The signs of a blown head gasket are obvious, but the part does when it’s not broken? Not so much.

Many people don’t know the first thing about what goes under the hood of their “pretty little souped-up” ride. All they know is their car has leather seats and four-wheel drive! The head gasket is an important part nonetheless.

The head gasket actually looks like a plastic stencil. If you don’t know a lot about cars, you might not guess it was so important. It stops the engine liquids from find their way into the engine cylinders. That’s a big job, and if the head gasket breaks, trouble is certainly on the horizon.

The part must be top-notch to perform well because of its placement between high-temperature parts. In other words, it must be able to withstand heat and rapid temperature changes. Not all materials can do this. Even the head gasket can break down as time goes on, making the problem likely in old cars.

The part, on its own, can be obtained online, at an auto parts store, or from a local junkyard for only $20-$40 bucks. Taking the engine apart to install it, however, is going to cost about $1500 with a mechanic.

Signs and Symptoms of a Blown Head Gasket

There are a few red flags that indicate that the head gasket is blown. Look for these symptoms:

  • White Smoke is a bad sign. If you see it coming from the exhaust, there could be coolant in the cylinders. 
  • Bubbling in the radiator is another major indication that the head gasket is need of major repair. The bubbles don’t go away when the temperature drops, either. It’s not boiling, but it looks like it.
  • Coolant seems to vanish into thin air. This means that the coolant is burning up. If there’s a leak, there’s something else happening.
  • If the oil on the dipstick is coming up a little creamy, whiteish, or milky – that’s a reaction caused by coolant mixing with oil. Take caution.
  • Overheating engine – when this happens, the head gasket is completely busted. Time for a tow truck and a big repair bill.

Engine power could suffer as well.

Note: Mechanics warn that if the engine shuts down, don’t tinker with the hood. The cooling system could become “pressurized” which would be dangerous for a layperson to attempt to scope out.

Instead, send the car to a mechanic via a tow. It’s better not to drive around a car with a broken head gasket, especially when the problem advances to full-blown engine problems.

Driving a Car with a Bad Head Gasket

Some cars have head gasket problems. For example, back in the day, the Dodge Neon was known for its head gasket problems. Some people drove around town letting the car leak oil here and there, thinking it wasn’t a big deal.

However, when the head gasket blows once and for all, danger and misery will be afoot. Why? Because the little oil leak and pit stops to throw another quart of oil into the engine are one thing, but when the coolant starts getting into the cylinders, it’s another.

In short, it’s better to treat the head gasket problem as soon as its suspected. 

If the high price of the repair is making you wait, you need to realize that the money you’re saving by not doing the repair is going to be put towards an even more expensive invoice in the future.

How Much Does It Cost to Repair a Blown Head Gasket?

The symptoms of a blown head gasket might lead the car owner to a new question – how much is all this going to run me in the end? The short answer: a pretty penny ($1400-$2500).

A blown head gasket is one of the most frustrating repairs out there. It’s this flimsy-looking part that is essentially a super seal preventing engine fluids from mixing, and yet, if it breaks down, there is chaos.

For example, the coolant enters the cylinder and mixes with the oil. Not you have two systems on the fritz: the motor oil one and the engine coolant one. 

If you know the head gasket is bad, a lot of headaches can be avoided by acting early. Some people rely on the drive-until-failure method, and it’s not recommended in the slightest. 

The part itself is usually less than $50. Some cars have different gaskets because of how the engine is constructed, so it’s important to only use the gasket that fits the particular car engine. It’s not something that can be swapped out for something similar.

The material of which the gasket is made is also special. This means that you can’t trace it on a piece of foam and stick the foam where the head gasket part was. The foam will melt and your car engine will be totally ruined.

Trust a mechanic on this one. If you can’t find the part because your car is too old, you may need to visit a junkyard to get a new (used) head gasket piece.

The total bill for head gasket repair can run as low as $1400 but as high as $2500. Generally speaking, the invoice lands on the higher side of the spectrum, so be prepared to pay to get this problem resolved.

Head Gasket Repair Alternatives

If the high cost of head gasket repair has your head spinning, you can kiss those head gasket symptoms goodbye once and for all by getting rid of the car. Yes, there are options!

  • Sell the car to a mechanic. Sometimes these problems cost the everyday person a lot of money, but a mechanic who can do the labor can profit on the car. Check with mechanics and car freaks to see if they want in on the action.
  • You could donate the car to a charity. 
  • Call a neighborhood junkyard. We’ve all seen commercials on television for tow companies that pay cash money for used and old cars. These deals are real! If your car has some use left (almost all do – even as salvage), a junkyard will take the car. In this deal, you make a little cash.

Sending the car to the junkyard may seem like a drastic action if it’s just the head gasket that’s broken. Keep this in mind if you’re unsure: recalls and warranties make repair costs easy to manage. If the repair costs more than the car itself is worth, and you’re paying it, think twice before making the investment.

Staying Ahead of the Game

The only way to avoid a major head gasket blunder is to keep an eye on your car and keep up with regular maintenance. 

The head gasket isn’t something that breaks down in every make and model. Many cars never show symptoms of head gasket problems. Others, however, especially older cars, do. This means you have to know where you’re going with your financial plan.

If you know this car is going to make it another year or two, then perhaps the repair cost is worth it. If not, why not trade that old car for something a little more reliable?