How to Prevent a Blown Head Gasket

How to Prevent a Blown Head Gasket

We often receive questions from customers on how they can prevent certain automotive issues. Here’s one we were recently asked:

“I bought a new minivan and it started smoking from the tailpipe because the head gasket went out. What can I do to prevent this from happening again?”

This is a great question! Here’s a look at what the head gasket does, signs of it failing, and what you can do to prevent this expensive repair. 

What is the Head Gasket?

The engine is divided into two parts: the engine block (which houses the pistons and cylinders) and the cylinder head (which houses valves, spark plugs, and other components). 

The head gasket, located between the cylinder head and the engine block, is designed to seal off the internal combustion process and prevent the fuel, oil, and coolant from mixing or leaking.  When it’s working properly, the head gasket ensures your engine has the compression it needs to maintain power.

Since they must be able to withstand a lot of stress, head gaskets are made of high-performance materials that help withstand the heat produced by the engine. Most head gaskets last around 200,000 miles, but they can blow on a new vehicle if there’s an issue with the engine. 

Causes of a Blown Head Gasket and How to Prevent It

Engines operate under extreme heat; when the heat becomes excessive, it can cause your engine to overheat. The excess heat causes the cylinder head and engine block to expand too much, which weakens the head gasket and prevents it from sealing properly. 

Depending on the material, some head gaskets can withstand less heat than others. For example, aluminum expands faster when it’s heated. Another cause of blown head gaskets is detonation. This damages the armors or piston rings, allowing the cylinder pressure to leak past the armors.

Once the gasket blows it allows pressure to escape, which significantly reduces engine power. Oil and coolant may also begin to enter areas of the engine where they’re not supposed to be. If the coolant enters the combustion chamber, it will mix with and dilute the oil. This affects the engine’s lubrication and decreases the efficacy of the cooling system—putting your engine at greater risk of overheating. 

The best way to prevent head gasket failure is to keep your coolant at the proper level using the mixture recommended by your manufacturer. If you have a coolant leak, don’t wait to have the issue repaired—get it taken care of as soon as possible. It’s also a good idea to keep an eye on your engine temperature gauge as you drive. If you notice your car is running hot, schedule an appointment as soon as possible. 

What Are the Symptoms of a Blown Head Gasket?

If you have a blown head gasket, you may notice a few or all of the following symptoms:

  • Overheating
  • White, blue, or gray smoke coming from the exhaust
  • Loss of engine power
  • Discolored oil that looks similar to chocolate milk
  • Coolant leaking from the exhaust
  • Low coolant levels without any visible leaks
  • Bubbling coming from the radiator or an overflowing radiator
  • Engine spitting or sputtering
  • Rough idling 

Why is a Head Gasket So Costly to Repair?

If you’ve ever had to replace the head gasket on your car, you know it can cause sticker shock. There are numerous other gaskets in your vehicle that aren’t so pricey to replace—so what makes a head gasket special?

The biggest issue with a blown head gasket is the labor involved to fix it. The gasket itself isn’t very expensive, but the entire engine needs to be pulled out of the vehicle to replace the part. In addition, diagnostics may discover additional engine damage caused by the faulty gasket that needs to be repaired—which can increase the overall cost. 

For example, engine blocks can crack if the coolant wasn’t keeping the temperatures in a manageable range; if this happens, the oil will need to be drained and refilled, the spark plugs will need to be replaced, and the pistons checked. When the engine suffers damage like that, it’s quite a process to repair it. 

Blown Head Gasket? Schedule an Appointment at EuroCar Service

Preventive maintenance is the key when it comes to avoiding a blown head gasket. Make sure to keep your coolant full, schedule radiator service according to your manufacturer’s recommendations, and have oil changes performed regularly. 

Monitoring your coolant and oil levels at home can also help you spot issues, like leaks, that can cause a blown head gasket. If you notice your car seems to be going through fluids more rapidly than normal, don’t wait to get it checked out. 

At EuroCar Service, we want to help extend the life of your vehicle and prevent expensive repairs. Whether you’ve noticed symptoms of a blown head gasket or need routine maintenance, our ASE-certified technicians will have your car back to you and on the road in no time. We see all European makes, including BMWAudiLand RoverMercedesMini-CooperSaabJaguarVolkswagenVolvoSmart Car, and Fiat. Call us today at (206) 527-8828 or request an appointment online.