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My Car Has a Blown Head Gasket – What Should I Do?

You can do three things if your car or truck has blown a head gasket… 1) pay someone to fix it or save your money and do it yourself, 2) sell the car “for cheap” or give it away – assuming you have a clear title, or 3) scrap it for parts. You should realize that the engine is the heart of your car. If it “blows,” your car is DEAD! I don’t care how good it looks or what you have on – IT’S DEAD. Like most pre-owned cars, the cost of repairing a blown head gasket or cracked block usually exceeds “book value” and renders your vehicle worthless.

Do-It-Yourself Head Gasket Repair

Here’s a website that walks you through the entire cylinder head removal and installation procedure on a small 1.9L Ford Escort 4-Cylinder OHV Engine. View YouTube HD Video Part 1 of 2 Engine… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fIoTU9N01E8 See Part 2 of 2 (lower left margin).

You should purchase a repair manual (specific for your vehicle) before attempting repairs. Determine if you have the necessary tools. Make provisions for broken or damaged studs – especially around the exhaust manifolds. Work safely and use eye protection, jack stands, and use proper capturing and disposal procedures for hazardous waste such as coolant, used motor oil, and refrigerant. Make sure you have adequate lighting and get a partner to help you.

Overheating is the #1 cause of blown head gaskets. Excessive combustion temperatures melt the thin metal in the head gasket and deteriorate the gasket material. This leads to seepage of water in the cylinders causing steaming at the tailpipe while the car is running. Water mixing with the oil is another serious problem. Other symptoms include low compression - which causes power loss and “misfiring.” You may even see air bubbles in the coolant reservoir caused by engine compression seeping into the cooling system.

Once you blow a head gasket, it a race against time because water began to form rust on the cylinders. Much like what happens to your brake disc when water is left on the smooth facing. Rusting can form in a matter of hours if water is not removed quickly from the engine. The worst thing you can do is park the car and let it sit for weeks or months. As moisture builds, the rust thickens until the pistons become seized leading to permanent “engine damage.”

To determine the severity of your blown head gasket: 1) open the radiator cap and fill the radiator with coolant - remember to add coolant only when the engine is cold, 2) reinstall the cap and start the engine - let it idle for 7 to 10 minutes while watching the temperature gauge, 3) if the gauge rises to the middle position and hold steady for and additional 5 minutes – this is a good indication that water is not flooding your cylinders, and the car can still be driven short distances, however 4) if the gauge goes to “hot” very quickly – stop the engine. This indicates a severe breakage of the head gasket across the coolant passage. Running the engine beyond this point may cause cracking of the cylinder head.

Why Do Engines Overheat?

Engines generally overheat for two reasons: 1) restricted water flow such as a stuck closed thermostat, clogged radiator, broken water pump belt or defective fan, and 2) low coolant level caused by a leaky radiator, leaky hose or hose clamp, gasket leak; defective radiator cap; or improper coolant level in the reservoir.

Radiator Coolant Leak

Notice if green-colored coolant is leaking from your vehicle, this indicates a coolant leak and it must be repaired immediately. If a small puddle of coolant is under your car and is left unattended, this is the “beginning of the end” and will lead to a blown head gasket. A car leaking coolant is like a crying baby, it needs attention and should not be ignored!

Proper cooling system maintenance is the best protection against blown head gasket…

 

Keep your cooling system clean. Flush it every two years. Change hoses and belts at specified intervals. Pressure test your radiator cap – about half of all radiator pressure caps are defective. Do not over-tighten hose clamps or belts. Replace leaky water pumps and radiators immediately. If the temperature gauge shows “HOT” – stop the engine and get help! All these simple tips can save you $1,000 in repair costs.

Can you sell a car with a blown head gasket?

“BMW for Sale – Blown Head Gasket!”

Certainly, but you must disclose this during the sale of your car or put it in the advertisement. Some desperate sellers try to disguise their problem by adding the “AS-IS” clause to their sale. They try temporary or quick fixes to the problem by adding “block seal” or “head gasket repair solution” to the cooling system. Afterwards, they try to sell their vehicle at a price slightly below “book value” hoping to scheme buyers. Generally, the problem reappears after a few days or weeks leading to catastrophic engine failure. This is not ethical and will destroy your reputation in the community.

 

Most cars with blown head gaskets are sold at a loss. You can find hundreds of cars on Craigslist with blown head gasket selling for $500 - $700 or more depending on the make and model. Most sellers want these cars moved from their backyard or garage. Due to “skyrocketing parts and labor costs,” this is usually the best solution for your gasket problem.

 

How Much Does It Cost to Repair a Blown Head Gasket


"Repair Costs for Blown Head Gaskets May Leave You Upside Down on Your Car Payments!"

It all depends on how long you drove the vehicle when it was running hot. If your engine is steaming at the tailpipe and the car is still drivable – you may be able to get by with - resurfacing the head, having the head checked for cracks, and reinstalling a new gasket for about $700.00 parts and labor. Of course, this is the weekend mechanic's special!

In the event your engine was subjected to prolonged overheating – you may need to replace the head(s). If this is the case, your labor cost with parts may be from $1,800.00 - $2,500 depending on the vehicle being services. Try to find ASE certified automotive technicians. As a customer, remember you have a right to see the crack before committing to buying new heads. If no crack is found, check the gasket seals around intake manifolds.

Some fuel-injected engines use thick manifold gaskets that may distort under extreme heat and cause water to leak into the cylinders. This can create a situation called hydrolock – where the engine will temporarily seize when the cylinders become filled with coolant. This is usually an easy fix and may only require a new set of gaskets. The labor costs under these circumstances are generally the same as for “blown head gaskets,” because the heads and possibly the engine will need to be removed for cleaning and inspections.

 

Common Installation Errors to Avoid When Replacing Head Gaskets

Always use the latest bolt tightening sequence and torque to specified tension. Make sure that all old gasket material on the head and block are properly removed. Do not chisel the old gasket material. Try to avoid indentions or low spots in the mating surface. Ensure that the head surface is smooth and flat. Avoid reusing stretched head bolts from overheated engines – used new head bolts. Clean and lubricate head bolts prior to installation. Do not use any type of sealer on head gaskets unless specified by the manufacturer.

Have fun repairing your blown head gasket!

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