Head Gasket Information, Problems, and Solutions
Maybe you’ve heard of the component of your vehicle known as the head gasket. Maybe you haven’t. Either way, it’s important to note a few things. Head Gaskets are vital parts. Head Gaskets are expensive. This post offers both detailed explanation and quick information, so hopefully we’ll be able to help you out. Choose from the following sections to jump to your interest or simply scroll down to read it all!
The head gasket of a vehicle acts as an extremely critical seal between its engine block and its cylinder heads. Typically, and ideally, a cars head gasket will be composed of steel or copper. There are some gaskets made out of composite, like graphite or asbestos, but these head gaskets aren’t as effective. In addition, manufacturers have been trying to get away from using asbestos because of health issues related to the product.
There are several factors that make the head gasket such an important internal combustion engine component. First, the head gasket is responsible for making sure the pressure created by the spark plug ignition of gas fumes stays inside the combustion chamber. The combustion chamber houses the pistons, so maximum pressure is required to make sure the pistons remain firing properly. The head gasket also acts as a passageway for motor oil and coolant, and keeps the chambers separated so there is no mixing of the two liquids. Each liquid serves a completely different purpose, so it is very important the two liquids stay separated.
Causes of Problems
The main cause for a blown or damaged head gasket is extreme engine temperature. High engine temperatures are often caused by a coolant leak or just not having enough coolant in the radiator. It is important to note that different head gaskets will falter at different stages and temperatures. Aluminum has a tendency to expand more quickly than other metals when it is heated, so an aluminum cylinder head is less desirable than other choices. When a metal has a high thermal expansion rate it means that as temperature changes so does the volume of the matter involved. Aluminum, having a relatively high thermal expansion rate, causes rapid expansion of the head gasket and weakens the integrity of the material, therefore making for a sub-optimal head gasket choice.
Dangers of Leaving Untreated
Once the head gasket blows or becomes damaged, your car will officially become a time bomb of serious mechanical destruction. The longer your vehicle is operated with a blown head gasket, the more damage is likely to occur to the engine. Once the head gasket blows there will be an immediate loss of pressure in the engine. As mentioned above, the head gasket acts as a seal, maintaining pressure in the piston chamber. Once the head gasket blows, pressure is allowed to escape. Since the pressure in the combustion chamber is what keeps the pistons firing with force, the driver should notice an immediate loss of power and begin to notice other performance issues such as decreased fuel efficiency.
When the head gasket blows, the oil and coolant passageways will start to leak, allowing both liquids to enter places where they do not belong and causing more extensive damage. Coolant can enter the combustion chambers and mix with motor oil, causing dilution of the motor oil while at the same time robbing coolant from the cooling system, ultimately causing the engine to overheat. Coolant is not a lubricant, so the more coolant that mixes with the motor oil, the less lubricated are the moving parts of a car and the more quickly disaster is realized.
Symptoms of a blown head gasket:
There are a handful of symptoms a car with a blown head gasket will have. Some are more obvious than others.
The first, and possibly most notable, warning sign is an abnormally high engine temperature. If the thermostat on the dashboard is reading unusually high or the warning light comes on due to extremely high engine temperatures, this can indicate a couple different things. Abnormally high engine temperatures are a cause and a symptom of a blown head gasket. As stated above, high temperatures can damage a head gasket, but also once a head gasket has been damaged the engine temperature will immediately begin to rise. This takes us to our second symptom.
Symptom number two is low coolant levels. A faulty or damaged head gasket will leak coolant, so the coolant level indicator will be very low. It is important to check for pools of coolant that form when your vehicle is parked and to regularly check the coolant levels. Low coolant levels, as expected, will result in elevated engine temperature.
The third sign of a damaged head gasket is another obvious one. This symptom involves your vehicle not running smoothly. The engine will stutter, jolt, and / or stall. This will be especially likely to occur if the motor is cold. Older vehicles may have a tendency to exhibit similar behavior just because the engines are more weathered and don’t run as efficiently if they are not warmed up, so try to check for the other symptoms listed here as supporting evidence.
The fourth symptom is discolored oil. This discoloration is a result of coolant mixing with motor oil in the engine. The result will be a lighter than normal, almost milk-chocolate-like color, since the engine oil is dark and coolant is light in color.
The final major symptom to watch out for is a light-colored smoke coming out of the exhaust pipe. Almost gray or white in color, this can mean that the damaged head gasket has allowed coolant to leak into the combustion chamber and which is now burning.
Extensive damage caused by a blown head gasket can be the most detrimental form of engine problems. If a faulty head gasket is not detected early, a required repair of the engine block, the cylinder head, or a complete engine replacement could be required. As described in the last example, coolant can leak into the combustion chamber and can cause abnormal smoke emissions. This issue alone, for example, could likely result in having to replace the catalytic converter. If you feel you are experiencing some of these symptoms, we urge you not to wait. We can help you get connected with an honest, reputable mechanic right away. The average repair for a head gasket can range from 1200-2500 dollars, but it’s a lot cheaper than having to replace an entire engine. So get on it!