What does it mean to blow a head gasket

A blown head gasket can be a very serious problem for your car, and it is going to cost you money to have it fixed, or you’re going to have to do the job yourself so that you can save on labor cost. Before repairing it, you need to know about the head gaskets, the blown head gasket symptoms and how to fix this issue.

Head gasket

A head gasket is a gasket that sits between the engine block and cylinder head(s) in an internal combustion engine.

Its purpose is:

  • To seal the cylinders to ensure maximum compression and avoid leakage of coolant or engine oil into the cylinders;

  • It is the most critical sealing application in any engine, and, as part of the combustion chamber, it shares the same strength requirements as other combustion chamber components.

Most modern gaskets are made of composite materials or steel, with copper used in high-performance applications. Despite the critical importance of this part, new head gasket sets are surprisingly affordable. Most of the cost of a head gasket replacement is due to the extensive labor involved in removing the cylinder head.

Blown head gasket symptoms:

  • Coolant leaking from below the exhaust manifold. This is the most common problem and easy to diagnose. The head gasket has failed along with an outer portion, and a water passage is leaking to the outside of the engine.

  • White smoke from the exhaust pipe. Most head gasket leaks are internal to the engine allowing coolant to flow into the combustion chamber on every intake stroke. When this happens, the coolant burns/evaporates with the combustion process and appears as white smoke coming from the tailpipe.

  • Loss of coolant with no visible leaks. Sometimes the gasket barely leaks fluid into the combustion chamber, so it is hard to notice the burning fluid even for the experienced car driver. The first symptom would be low coolant, with no sign of a leak. That’s why you should check the fluid level more often.

  • Overheating engine. Due to the lack of coolant, either leaked or burned away, your engine usually will overheat after longer drives. It will indicate immediately on your dashboard as a check engine light.

  • Bubbles in the radiator or overflow tank. The bubbles are exhaust gases that force their way into the cooling system during the combustion process. It can be a severe problem as the bubbles can build into an air pocket and not allow coolant to pass.

  • White, milky oil. This is a head gasket leak between the oil passage and the water passage. Over time oil and water will mix and cause the oil to turn a milky white.

  • Low power or poor running engine. The gasket has failed to the point that the combustion chamber is compromised. The engine can't maintain proper fuel burning cycle due to lack of compression, so the result is a rough idle and dramatically decreased power.

How to prevent head gasket failure

Whenever you check the oil level in your car, always check the radiator and coolant overflow tanks as well to prevent head gasket failure. If missing coolant, add more and monitor if there is any fluid loss. Check the radiator hoses for splits or frays, and replace at the first sign of damage.

Check for the fluid leak under your vehicle and any unusual smoke. A blown head gasket symptoms can be different according to your vehicle’s engine. Anyway, over time the gasket may fail, that’s why as soon as you notice one of these failure symptoms, replace the damaged head gasket with a new one to prevent serious engine problems!


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