If you have ever done any type of plumbing home repairs, you are probably familiar with gaskets. While a gasket may be a small part to your overall plumbing fixtures, it plays an important role in creating a seal and preventing catastrophic leaks between critical parts. Similarly, your vehicle’s engine is a complex set of critical parts that also require the use of gaskets. There are a variety of gaskets in your engine but one of your more critical gaskets is called the head gasket.

What is the head gasket?

Your vehicle’s head gasket is a type of mechanical seal that is compressed between the engine block and the cylinder head.  The head gasket is responsible for sealing in the internal combustion process of your engine and also keeping coolant and oil from mixing together as these fluids travel from the engine block to the cylinder head.

What can go wrong with the head gasket?

Because the head gasket is exposed to a broad array of conditions and temperatures, it has the tendency for wear and tear.  Extreme temperatures over an extended period of time could potentially wear down the gasket, resulting in fluid leaks.  A head gasket is a relatively inexpensive part but because of where it sits in the engine block, repair or replacement is very costly.  The bottom-line is you don’t want to get to the point where your head gasket fails.

If your vehicle’s engine overheats, this can also contribute to a gasket failure.  Remember, the head gasket lies between the engine block and the cylinder head.  If your engine is overheating, the cylinder head will expand from the heat and increase pressure on the gasket.  The volume of pressure results in a compromise to the seal and a mixing of the coolant and oil.  This situation is commonly called a “blown gasket.”>

What are the symptoms of a head gasket problem?

For the most part, the visible symptoms of gasket failure are related to the leaking fluids.  Here’s a list of the more common symptoms that may indicate a problem with your vehicle’s head gasket:

  • The engine is consistently overheating or it is necessary to frequently add engine coolant
  • Evidence of coolant leaks below the exhaust manifold
  • Evidence of bubbles in the coolant fluid overflow tank
  • The exhaust pipe may emit white smoke
  • Engine oil has a whitish or milky appearance

How can you avoid head gasket problems?

Since the most common reason for a blown gasket is an overheated engine, it is important to maintain your vehicle’s coolant system as a preventative measure.

Coolant system maintenance may include:

 Periodic Coolant flush and replacement (recommended every two years)
 Periodic belt and hose inspections for wear and tear, cracking, and other problems.

We can never control every situation – but proactive maintenance of your vehicle’s coolant system can save you a lot of money and hassle in the long run!  If you are currently experiencing any of the symptoms described above, or concerned that your vehicle might have a head gasket issue, schedule an appointment or stop by Campus Repair in Ft. Collins, Colorado today.