The head gasket plays a crucial role in your vehicle. Sitting between the engine block and the engine head, this material is key to maintaining pressure within your engine.
With a head gasket failure, your engine is prone to all sorts of problems — from fixable to catastrophic damage. So, a head gasket repair should sit at the top of your auto repair list.
In this article, we’ll answer all your head gasket repair questions, including what a head gasket is, symptoms of a damaged head gasket, and what causes it. We’ll also discuss head gasket repair options and how much the repair costs.
This Article Contains:
- What Is a Head Gasket?
- 8 Symptoms of a Bad Head Gasket
- What Causes a Blown Head Gasket?
- 4 Head Gasket Repair Options
- How Much Does a Head Gasket Repair Cost?
Let’s get started.
What Is a Head Gasket?
A head gasket is a reinforced material that seals the connection between the engine block and the cylinder head.
The head gasket seals the combustion gases within the cylinder. It keeps the coolant in the coolant passage, preventing it from flowing into the combustion chamber.
A head gasket leak could cause engine overheating and poor engine performance, eventually shutting down your car.
Let’s see what the signs of a blown head gasket are.
8 Symptoms Of a Bad Head Gasket
Now when we say blown head gasket, it doesn’t really mean a blowup. Instead, the head gasket is just unable to seal the cylinder head to the engine block.
Here are the eight common symptoms that can help you confirm if your head gasket is blown:
1. Engine Oil or Coolant Leak
You may notice a coolant or oil leak on or around your engine head, engine block, and other cooling system components. This could indicate that your head gasket is no longer properly sealing.
2. Engine Overheating
If your head gasket blows, even slightly, the engine won’t be able to cool itself down to acceptable driving levels.
Overheating can cause serious engine damage. So turn your vehicle off until you can find the source of the issue. Removing the radiator cap and checking the engine coolant when your car is overheating can also harm your vehicle.
3. Engine Misfiring
For an engine to work correctly, air, spark, and fuel must consistently work together with precision. The spark plug ignites the exact amount of air and fuel mix at a specific time to start your car.
A blown head gasket could affect more than one of these factors. And if any of these factors are slightly off, you could get pre-ignition or an engine misfire.
4. Warped Engine Block Or Cylinder Head
A warped engine block or cylinder head can interrupt the flat surface required to create a seal in the head gasket. A broken head bolt can also damage this surface.
Without a flat surface, you may have a head gasket failure.
If the head gasket is broken between two cylinders on the same engine head, you might also experience a cylinder misfire.
5. White Smoke
If your cylinder head gasket is damaged, the coolant in the coolant passage may work its way into the engine. During such events, you would see white smoke or water vapor from your exhaust pipe or exhaust manifold.
Meanwhile, if you see blue smoke, it means the oil has leaked into the exhaust manifold or other components.
6. Milky Engine Oil
Tan or milky colors in your engine oil are indicators that you may have a blown gasket. In such cases, the underside of your car’s oil reservoir cap will likely be splattered with the milky oil.
This happens when a blown gasket causes the engine coolant to come in contact with the engine oil and contaminate it.
7. Wet Spark Plug
A failed head gasket can cause the coolant, oil, or gas to get into the cylinders. This could flood your spark plug.
8. Bubbling Inside Radiator
If you notice bubbling inside the coolant reservoir or radiator, it indicates air in your system. The air is usually caused by combustion gases exiting the coolant system. And this could be a result of a blown head gasket.
Note: Bubbling in the reservoir can also mean a bad radiator cap.
If you notice any of these symptoms, you can further confirm head gasket leaks with a coolant pressure tester kit or a head gasket leak tester.
Next, let’s check out why a head gasket blows up.
What Causes a Blown Head Gasket?
In most cases, a head gasket failure is the result of one of these issues:
- Increased engine overheating
- Cracked engine block or cylinder head
- Natural wear and tear with age
- Improper installation
- Manufacturing defect (the Subaru head gasket repair crisis in the 1990s is the perfect example)
So how do we fix a blown head gasket?
Let’s find out.
4 Head Gasket Repair Options
Here are four head gasket repairs you can consider for a damaged head gasket:
1. Try A Head Gasket Sealer
Wondering if a head gasket sealer will fix your head gasket leak?
We have some bad news:
A head gasket sealer may not solve your head gasket problem. On the rare occasions where a gasket sealant does, it’s never a permanent fix.
Additionally, whether the head gasket sealer works successfully will entirely depend on how your head gasket has failed. For example, if head gasket leaks appear after your engine overheats, the head gasket sealer won’t work.
However, if your car doesn’t overheat and there’s a leak between the combustion chamber and the cooling system, the gasket sealer may work and stop the coolant leak.
2. Pay for a Head Gasket Replacement
Repairing a blown head gasket is an expensive, labor-intensive job that involves a certified professional.
During a head gasket replacement, a mechanic will:
- Perform tests to confirm if the head gasket is blown
- Pull apart the engine components to access the head gasket
- Fix the gasket failure while tending to the cooling system errors and engine damage
3. Get a New Engine
If you don’t mind giving up your vehicle’s original engine, you can choose engine replacement over engine repair. Plus, finding a candidate for an engine swap might be easier and is cheaper than a head gasket replacement.
However, you’ll need to get a professional to swap it out.
4. Get a New Ride
Consider letting go of your old car if it has no sentimental value and isn’t worth repairing.
Note: The one option we don’t recommend is attempting to repair the head gasket yourself. An engine repair of this nature is an expert-level job that requires proper tools and tons of experience!
Naturally, you may wonder how much a professional repair will cost. Read on to find out.
How Much Does a Head Gasket Repair Cost?
Assuming there’s nothing wrong with your engine and the gasket deteriorated, it costs between $1,624 and $1,979 for a head gasket replacement.
The associated labor costs are estimated between $909 and $1147, while the parts themselves vary in the range of $715 and $832.
Factor in possible engine problems, like a loose radiator cap, that caused the head gasket to blow, and the head gasket replacement cost could quickly climb to $3,000 or more.
From an oil leak to a bad radiator, anything can cause a blown head gasket, which can be difficult to fix by yourself.
And that’s why you should contact a professional mechanic when seeking auto repair for a blown head gasket — like AutoNation Mobile Service!
AutoNation Mobile Service, a mobile repair service, offers upfront pricing, high-quality replacement parts, convenient online booking, and a 12-Month, 12,000-Mile warranty on all repairs — available seven days a week.
So if your head gasket decides to create issues, contact us, and our experts will drop by to fix it for you in no time.