A blown head gasket is one of the worst vehicle problems that any driver doesn’t want to deal with.
The head gasket has a vital role in any vehicle with a combustion engine. The head gasket separates the very hot cylinder from the cold engine and prevents engine liquids from leaks to the cylinder.
Like any other mechanical components, your vehicle’s head gasket can get damaged over time of use. Therefore, you will get to a point where you need to replace the head gasket. Luckily, the head gasket would tell you when it is about to fail before it does.
In this article, we provide you with an overview of what the head gasket is and what it does and highlighting the different head gasket types. Then, we provide you with a list of the most common signs of a bad head gasket to keep an eye for.
What is the head gasket, and what does it do?
The head gasket is one of the most important parts of any combustion system. It is a metal ring placed between the engine and the cylinders to prevent oil and other engine fluids from leaking to the cylinders. If the oil made its way to the cylinder, you might see blue smoke coming out of the tail top, indicating oil burning. On the other hand, if the engine coolant leaked through to the cylinder, you might see white smoke coming from the tail top, indicating a burning coolant.
Because the head gasket is located between significantly different temperature parts, it faces severe low temperatures and severs high temperatures. While the head gasket is made to withstand this temperature range, the head gasket can get damaged sometimes.
There are different head gaskets, including the Multi-layer steel (MLS), the composite, the elastomeric, and the O-ring head gasket.
The Multi-layer steel head gasket is found in most modern vehicles. As the name suggests, the MLS head gasket is made up of two to five steel layers. These layers are covered with a rubber coating to adhere to the cylinder head and the engine.
Signs of a bad head gasket
Now you have a good understanding of what is the head gasket and what it does, it is important to keep an eye for signs of a bad head gasket, including:
Your engine might overheat
Both the engine overheating and a bad head gasket are related. When the engine overheats, the head gasket can get damaged and vice versa. That’s why pinpointing the initial damage is very challenging, like answering the question of “ which came first, the chicken or the egg?”
Think about the close contact between the head gasket and the engine. When the engine overheats, the head gasket can swell and not do the required job. On the other hand, when the head gasket does not separate the heat coming from the cylinders from the engine, the engine can get extremely hot.
Whatever was the cause for engine overheating, you must not ignore it. Engine overheating is one of the quickest ways leading to a complete engine failure. Thus, when you see the engine overheating check light illuminating, you MUST reduce your driving as soon as possible and get your vehicle checked by a professional mechanic.
In some severe engine overheating scenarios, you might not be able to drive your vehicle to the repair shop and must have it towed there.
The more you wait on engine overheating, the more complicated the problems, and the higher the repair costs.
You will experience rough ideling
While rough ideling can be due to many problems in your vehicle, a bad head gasket can also cause rough ideling.
As we mentioned before, the head gasket securely locks the engine cylinders and maintains the required pressure for the best efficiency. As the head gasket goes bad, the cylinders will not have the required operating pressure. As a result, you will experience rough ideling and vehicle poorly running.
Clear smoke coming from the tabletop
The head gasket prevents engine fluids from leaking and burning in the combustion chambers. If the head gasket goes bad and the coolant gets to the cylinders, a clear white smoke will come out of the tail top, indicating coolant burnt.
On the other hand, if the engine oil made its way to the combustion chambers, a blue smoke will start coming from the tail top, indicating oil burnt.
It is not always a bad head gasket causing clear smoke from the tabletop; several vehicles might omit white smoke as they warm up during low-temperature conditions. However, if the smoke is constantly coming from the tail top, this is a clear indicator of a bad head gasket.
Again, seeing strange smoke coming from the tail top must not be ignored as it is a clear indication of significant internal problems.
The milkshake-like substance under the oil filler cap
One of the first signs to confirm a blown head gasket can be found under the oil filler cap.
In an engine with a good head gasket, if you look under the oil filler cap, you will not find any clear substance, and the cap is usually dry. However, if you are dealing with a bad head gasket, the oil cap will build a mysterious milkshake-like substance.
This substance is a combination of engine oil and coolant leaked and contaminated the oil container. When the engine oil gets contaminated, it will not do the required job of lubricating and preventing engine overheating.
Thus, if you see this milkshake-like substance, you must get the head gasket replaced immediately to avoid fast engine damage.
Checking for this substance under the oil filler cap is very helpful UNLESS you drive your vehicle for shorter distances. If most of your rides are for short distances and you don’t use your vehicle very often, a lot of the vehicle condensation might not be completely burnt and can cause a similar substance under the oil filler cap.
Therefore, if you drive your car for shorter distances, this test can not help you.
While there are obvious signs of a bad head gasket, it is always hard to confirm that the problem is due to the head gasket. This is because most of the mentioned signs can also happen due to problems with other engine components.
For example, if the cylinder’s head gets chipped or warped, similar issues would occur as blown head gasket issues. Furthermore, if some corrosion on the head gasket surface might lead to coolant leak to the combustion chambers; however, the problem is not related to a blown head gasket.
The best way to confirm the problem is to take your vehicle to a professional mechanic to use certain tools to pinpoint the routing problem.
How much does it cost to replace a head gasket?
Replacing the head gasket is one of the most expensive repairs that you would think of. To replace the head gasket, you need to pay somewhere between $1,000 and $2,000 on parts only.
It is important always to remember that repair costs are divided into parts and labor costs. Thus, labor costs can increase the price significantly, especially if you are having the work done at a dealership. Even if you take the vehicle to a small repair shop, replacing the head gasket is not an easy task, and it will take a lot of time and effort.
While many people consider doing their DIYs and replace damaged parts by themselves, replacing the customers can never do a head gasket without going to a professional mechanic.
Many people complain that the head gasket repair costs are very high. It is not surprising, though; replacing the head gasket doesn’t mean removing the old part and installing a new one. It involves sorting the problem out and pulling the entire engine out.
Is it worth replacing my head gasket?
This is one of the most common questions regarding a blown or failed head gasket. Answering the question about whether it's worth replacing the head gasket or not depends on several factors.
If the vehicle has high mileage and other complicated significant problems, it might not be worth spending more time and money replacing the head gasket.
Furthermore, if the repair costs of the head gasket are getting closer to the value of the vehicle, if not more, then it's not worth replacing the head gasket.
What you would do in this case, you should scrap or sell your vehicle as junk. Luckily, Cash Cars Buyer can assist you!
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How to save on head gasket replacement repairs?
While head gasket repair is considered one of the most expensive automotive repairs, the earlier you detect the problem, the less money you will pay.
Furthermore, the location where you get the job done can also affect how much you will pay for replacing the head gasket. Thus, its important to get quotes from several locations before getting the work done.
It is important to note, though, that you don’t want to always look for the cheapest location. This is because head gasket problems are very complicated and require advanced mechanical skills. That been said, it might be worth paying an extra amount of money to ensure the job is done correctly and prevent introducing additional problems.
Lastly, you can save lots of money on your head gasket’s replacement by expanding its lifespan as much as possible. There is certainly regular maintenance helping you from dealing with a blown head gasket.
These recommended regular maintenances are usually stated clearly in your vehicle’s owner’s manual. For example, your vehicle’s owner's manual would tell you when to flush the coolant, what is the right coolant for your engine, what type of products to use to protect your engine, etc.
How long does the head gasket last?
In general, the head gasket is very durable, and it is supposed to live as long as the lifespan of the vehicles. Overall, your vehicle’s head gasket should live up to 200,000 miles.
However, depending on different factors, the head gasket might blow up, requiring installing a new part.
The source to get accurate information about the head gasket’s lifespan is the vehicle’s owner’s manual. If you don’t have a copy of your vehicle’s manual, you can always find a copy online or request a hard copy from your mechanic.
Your vehicle’s head gasket is located between the engine and the cylinders to prevent fluid leaks to the combustion chambers and prevent reducing the sufficient pressure in the cylinders.
Over time of use, the head gasket can get damaged due to extreme temperature ranges from a very cold engine to a very hot combustion chamber.
Unfortunately, replacing the head gasket is one of the most expensive automotive repairs that drivers would need to prevent as much as possible.
While it is a little challenging to detect issues with the head gasket, it is always important to keep an eye for signs of a bad head gasket. These signs include engine overheating, weird smoke from the tail top due to coolant and oil burning, and milkshake-like substance under the oil filler cap.
If you experienced any of these signs, you must get the head gasket replaced as soon as possible.