Some of the common symptoms of a cracked cylinder head are white smoke from the tailpipe, very low coolant level, check engine light illuminating, engine overheating, and misfiring.
The cylinder head is one of the most critical components in your engine block. It is responsible for sealing the cylinders and prevents fluids from getting mixed, which can cause damages to the engine.
As a driver, you need to be aware that a cracked wonder had is a big deal and requires significant high repair costs. The earlier you detect it, the better for you and the fewer repair costs.
This article provides you with a detailed list of potential symptoms of a cracked cylinder head. Once you notice any of these symptoms, you must consult your professional mechanic and have the vehicle inspected and repaired.
Keep in mind that there are situations where a cracked cylinder head might prevent you from driving your vehicle to avoid introducing catastrophic results to the engine.
What is the head gasket, and what does it do?
The cylinder head or the head gasket is one of the most crucial components in your vehicle's engine. It is responsible for several tasks. Without this head gasket, your vehicle's engine will not operate properly. In some scenarios, you won't even be able to drive the car.
The head gasket has several roles, including housing all small components like valves, Springs, intakes, lifters, etc.
The head gasket also is responsible for allowing air, fuel, and coolant to pass through certain lines. The head gasket does not allow any mixing between the three fluids, and therefore, your engine will be operating properly with the amount needed from each fluid at the right time.
Finally, the head gaskets have another super critical role: sealing the cylinders and preventing any extreme heat and hot liquids and gases from getting out of the cylinder to the engine block, which could damage its completely.
The worst thing you want to hear from your mechanic is what's called a blown head gasket spirit. A blown head gasket is a huge mess, and it can completely damage the engine if not taken care of immediately. Unfortunately, some head gasket damages are not repairable, requiring replacing the entire engine.
What are the common symptoms of a cracked cylinder head?
Although damages in the head gasket are never good news, the good news is that your vehicle will show some symptoms indicating the problem when the cylinder head gets cracked.
Immediately after noticing any of the symptoms we will mention below; you must take your vehicle to the nearest repair shop and get the problem resolved as soon as possible.
Clear white smoke coming from the exhaust system
While sometimes it's normal to see white smoke coming from the tailpipe, especially if you're starting your vehicle on cold, continuous white smoke coming from the exhaust system is an indication of an issue with the cylinder head.
The white smoke usually happens when the coolant gets burnt as it made its way to the cylinder. There is no way for the coolant to get to the cylinder unless there are some cracks in the sealing of the cylinder head.
Keep in mind that white smoke coming from the tailpipe does not necessarily mean an issue with the cylinder head; it also can be linked to other problems in your vehicle.
Therefore, if you see any white smoke coming from the exhaust system, you must immediately take your vehicle to a professional mechanic and resolve the problem. Remember, a small amount of white smoke is not a big deal, but a lot of white smoke coming from the tailpipe is an issue.
Reduction in the coolant level
As a driver who takes good care of his vehicle, we expect that you perform regular checkups to your vehicle’s coolant. If you notice that the coolant level is dropping significantly, the coolant is leaking somewhere.
A coolant leak can happen anywhere around the vehicle, but when the coolant gets to the cylinder or leaks inside the cylinder, the problem is related to head gaskets.
To differentiate whether the coolant leak is happening in the cylinder or other locations, you can't check for signs of coolant puddles under your vehicle and see which part it's located under. If you notice that the coolant is dark and has a burning smell, it's most likely got to the cylinder but, if the coolant dropped on the hot engine block, it might also get burned so, your mechanic will be the best person to confirm that coolant leak is happening at the cylinder head.
Significant increase in the engine's temperature
As the coolant level drops, your vehicle will not have enough fluid to drop the engine's temperature when it gets very high. The engine overheating will be another important sign to look for if there is an issue with the cylinder head.
Again, engine overheating can happen due to many problems, and some of these problems might be linked to the cooling system itself, not the engine block.
Therefore, you might need to consult a mechanic or use an OBD 2 scanner if you can read something from the vehicle’s internal computer.
Otherwise, your best course of action at this point is to take your vehicle to the nearest repair shop. Keep in mind that a significant increase in the engine signature can damage the engine immediately and over a short time. Thus, before deciding to drive the vehicle or not as it overheats, you must give your mechanic a call and let him know about the situation. In most scenarios, very severe engine overheating requires towing your vehicle to the nearest repair shop not driving it.
Gas bubbles in the cooling system
Remember that a bad head gasket has a two-way problem. It doesn't only cause damages to the cylinder, but also it affects the other systems around it. One of these systems is the cooling itself. While the coolant will make its way to the cylinder, combustion gases can also make their way to the cooling system.
As gases build up in the cooling system, you will notice many air bubbles around the coolant, increasing the cooling system pressure. The cooling system must operate under a certain pressure level, and if this level increased, it wouldn't do the job right, and you will see an effect on your vehicle's overall performance.
Check engine light illuminating
The nice thing about vehicles is that whenever there is something wrong happening internally, the vehicle will complain by showing an error code. That's why automotive experts recommend never to ignore any code displayed on the dashboard.
Check engine lights can illuminate an issue with the cylinder but not necessarily the cylinder itself. When the court level, for example, drops, the check engine light illuminates. Also, with the engine's temperature significantly, the temperature light eliminates.
All these errors must be taken seriously, and you have to consult a mechanic immediately once you notice any of them.
Coolant and oil will mix
Since everything got messed up around the cylinder head, there will be no control on which fluid flows into which lines. Therefore, you'll notice that coolant on oil will mix, resulting in many issues not only in the engine but also in the surrounding systems.
How much does it cost to fix a cracked cylinder head?
Fixing a cracked cylinder requires a different cost depending on the severity of the problem and your vehicle's type. In most scenarios, replacing a bad cylinder head costs up to $500. However, the price can go as low as $200 only.
Keep in mind that replacing the cylinder head is labor-intensive, and it requires a certain level of mechanical skillsets for the job to be done right. Therefore, it is never recommended to shop for only the lowest offer without paying attention to whether the mechanics have the required experience or not.
Many expensive modern vehicles prefer to go to the dealership to have the problem resolved rather than saving thousands of dollars by going to a small repair shop. They argue that introducing unexpected damages can cost them thousands of dollars by deciding to go to a small repair shop.
The one thing to keep in mind is to check your insurance policy. They are some extended warranties that might cover any cracks in the cylinder head. Many owners might skip this step and never check.
Can you drive a car with a cracked cylinder head?
Depending on the severity of the crack, you might be able to drive the vehicle for a couple of miles, if not thousands of miles. However, like any small issue in your vehicle, a cracked cylinder head gets worse over time, and it's not going to be fixed by itself.
A cracked cylinder head might prevent you from driving the car requiring immediate mechanical attention in difficult situations. For example, if you realize a significant drop in the coolant level and the engine overheats over time, you shouldn't wait, and it is never a good idea to continue driving this car.
If the primary reason preventing you from fixing a cracked cylinder head is time, think about how much time and effort you put in when the engine gets damaged completely.
On the other hand, if repair costs are the biggest issue, replacing the engine is a big deal, and it won't cost you only hundreds of dollars and thousands of dollars if the problem is repairable.
Can a cracked head be repaired?
Fixing the cracked head is a common option if the problem is not complicated. There are situations where a fixed crack had resolved the problem much better than installing a new cylinder head.
The only one you need to keep in mind is the skill sets of the person doing the job. If they don't know what they're doing, they might introduce major damages to the engine you never want to deal with.
Again, if you decided to repair Miss Linder's repair, you might need to expect some damages shortly. However, installing a brand-new cylinder head guarantees avoiding damage is at least for some time. Thus, think about the money you're paying for labor costs along with the necessary efforts to inspect and determine how to fix the cracked cylinder head.
Sometimes investing a little bit in purchasing a brand-new part can save you a lot of headache down the road, even if it will cost you a couple of $100 extra.
Your cylinder head is one of the very important components of your vehicle. It prevents fluids from reaching the cylinder and protects the entire engine block by preventing any hot steams and gases from damaging the engine.
Overtime reviews, the cylinder head can get cracked as it's exposed to extreme temperatures. You can keep an eye and ear for certain symptoms that might tell you the cylinder head is reaching the end of its lifetime.
If you notice any of these symptoms, you need to have your vehicle inspected and fixed by a professional mechanic as soon as possible.
If you realize that repair costs are piling up and you can't afford them, it is the right time to sell this car and use the payment towards a better vehicle.
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