As cars age, some parts are simply bound to fail. Your head gasket is one of them. While it is designed to last for years and many miles, eventually you will need to repair or replace it. Fortunately, there are some things you can do to decrease the chances of a failure. If you do experience a blown head gasket, you might be able to repair it without a total replacement if you follow these tips.
What Causes a Blown Head Gasket?
The head gasket on your vehicle lies between the engine block and cylinder heads. It forms a seal there that allows compression to build in the combustion chamber and also prevents oil and coolant from leaking as they flow through the passages inside the engine. The head gasket is exposed to high heat and constant pressure as the engine operates. This eventually begins to put stress on the gasket and can lead to failure after years of use.
Head gaskets are typically made from one of three different materials. You will find composite gaskets, copper gaskets, and multi-layer steel gaskets. Composite gaskets are rarely used anymore as they are most likely to fail. The most common type in use today is the multi-layer steel gasket. These gaskets are strong and still provide a great seal, although they can still fail too.
Heat and pressure are the two main culprits of a head gasket failure. Excessively high heat can cause the gasket to deteriorate, leading to small cracks and loss of a good seal. High pressure can cause a gasket to blowout. This usually occurs when performance modifications are made that increase the pressure inside the cylinders. If you are adding aftermarket parts such as a supercharger, make sure you are using a head gasket that can handle the additional pressure. Finally, wear and tear will eventually cause a head gasket failure. Those parts do not last forever, and even with normal use, they will go bad at some point.
Symptoms of a Blown Head Gasket
How can you tell if you have a blown head gasket? There are a few symptoms to look for. One of the most common symptoms is a loss of compression. Since the gasket no longer forms a tight seal around the combustion chambers, you will experience a loss of compression in the engine. This typically leads to a decrease in engine performance as well.
Some other signs to look for include overheating, coolant leaks, fouled spark plugs, or white smoke from the tailpipe. White smoke could be a sign of coolant entering the cylinders and burning off. If the smoke has a sweet smell, this can especially signal a bad head gasket. Coolant has a sweet smell as it burns, and burning coolant means that a leak is present somewhere.
Cost of Head Gasket Repair
Head gasket replacement can be quite an expensive repair due to the amount of work associated with the job. The head gasket cost itself is fairly minimal. You can purchase a new head gasket for as little as $50 depending on the vehicle, but it requires many hours of labor because the engine must be taken apart. Replacement of the head gasket by a qualified mechanic can cost $1,500 or more.
If you suspect you have a blown head gasket, stop driving the car immediately! If the damage is not too extensive, you may be able to repair it using a sealant instead of replacing the gasket altogether. Simply add the sealant to your coolant tank, and drive the car like normal. These sealant products circulate through the engine and seal off small cracks in the gasket, thereby eliminating the need for replacement.
If your vehicle is a newer car with plenty of life left, then it is probably worth it to pay for the head gasket repair. However, if you have an old car with many other problems, you probably do not want to sink the money into it. Selling your car might be the best option at that point. Getting cash for a car with a blown head gasket might seem difficult, but there are many car buying services out there who will pay cash for your vehicle regardless of its condition. Consider selling to one of them so that you can use that extra money to buy a new vehicle with fewer problems.