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Head Gasket, Blown, Is this serious?

My mechanic says my engine has a blown head gasket. Is this serious?

Answer:

It is because (1) it will be expensive to replace, (2) it is probably the result of some other underlying problem, and (3) additional repairs may be required in addition to replacing the head gasket itself.

The head gasket seals the cylinder head to the block. When it blows, it may allow coolant to leak into the engine's cylinders and/or allow compression to be lost between adjacent cylinders or to the outside.

WHY HEAD GASKETS FAIL

Head gaskets typically fail at the weakest point, which is the thinnest area between adjacent cylinders. The gasket cracks or burns through, allowing compression to leak between the cylinders. This causes a drastic drop in power that is hard to ignore. The engine may still run, but very poorly.

If the gasket leaks coolant, it may cause the engine to overheat. Coolant in the crankcase or cylinder is also not a good thing to have because it dilutes the oil and accelerates wear. If enough coolant leaks into a cylinder, it may even "hydrolock" the engine preventing it from turning over when you attempt to start it.

Conditions such as engine overheating and abnormal combustion (detonation and/or preignition) can also cause a head gasket to fail.

Improper installation may be another factor. If the person who installed the gasket did not torque the head bolts in the proper sequence or to the specified value, it can cause the gasket to leak and fail. Also, if the head and block were not clean, flat and finished properly (too rough a surface finish) when the gasket was originally installed, it could contribute to a leakage problem.

GASKET REPLACEMENT

To replace a blown head gasket, the cylinder head must be removed from the engine.

Once the head is off, the mating surfaces of both the head and block should be inspected for flatness as well as any damage that might have contributed to the gasket's failure or might prevent a new gasket from sealing properly. If the head is warped, it will not seal the new gasket properly and sooner or later it will again fail. Resurfacing and/or straightening the head may be necessary. An inspection of the head may also reveal cracks or other damage that will have to be repaired before it can go back on your engine.

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