A mind-blowing experience
Your car hasn’t been running right lately. You take it to your trusted mechanic and he says those words that no one wants to hear: “You have a blown head gasket.”
Your mind starts reeling as the dollar signs begin to pile up. You know it’s a labor-intensive and expensive repair but you wonder what exactly a head gasket is, what causes a head gasket to become blown and what the signs of a blown head gasket are. Read on for the answers to all your head gasket questions.
What is a head gasket?
Your car’s engine is divided into two parts, the engine or cylinder block where the pistons and cylinders reside and the cylinder head where the valves, spark plugs and camshaft are located. Cushioned between these two massive engine parts is the head gasket.
One of the most critical gaskets in your engine, the head gasket is designed to seal the cylinders to ensure maximum compression and prevent coolant or engine oil from leaking into the cylinders. The head gasket withstands the stresses of the two surfaces expanding, shrinking, warping and rubbing while sealing in coolant running through ports and engine oil bathing cylinder walls.
What causes a blown head gasket?
Your car’s engine operates in extreme conditions with intense heat. If this heat becomes more than normal, your engine can overheat causing a blown head gasket. The extra heat results in the cylinder head and engine block expanding too much which results in a failure in the head gasket.
What are the signs and symptoms of a blown head gasket?
Because the cylinder head gasket seals coolant passages, a blown head gasket will allow coolant to enter the cylinders. Coolant in the cylinders will cause:
White smoke coming from the tailpipe
Water leaking from the tailpipe
Bubbling in the radiator and coolant reservoir
Milky white coloration in the oil
Since the cylinder head gasket also seals in the coolant and oil, you may see streaks of oil and coolant streaming down from the seal.
You may also notice a loss of engine power due to lower cylinder compression.
If you experience any of these symptoms, shut the engine down and do not attempt to release the pressure. Have your vehicle looked at by your mechanic and always use replacement gaskets that meet or exceed the original manufacturer’s specifications.
How can I prevent a blown head gasket?
The best way to prevent head gasket failure in your car is to keep the engine coolant at the proper level with the correct mixture according to the manufacturer’s recommendation. Also, make it a habit to keep an eye on your temperature gauge; if you notice it running hot, have it immediately checked out by your mechanic.
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