Blown Head Gasket Symptoms

Blowing your gasket. We’ve all heard the phrase in our daily lives. Someone cuts in front of you at the grocery store, the person next to you in the coffee shop is having a phone call on speaker, the driver in the left lane going below the speed limit and not passing anyone, in all cases the practical voice in your head tells you “don’t blow a gasket, it’s fine”. It’s a common phrase, but do you know what it means to literally blow your gasket? Today we’ll explore blown head gasket symptoms and what causes a blown head gasket. To begin, understanding a little bit about the function of a head gasket will help facilitate learning about the blown head gasket symptoms.

What is a Head Gasket?

The head gasket is a seal that fits between the cylinder heads and the engine block. The job of the head gasket is to help contain or seal the combustion process of your vehicle to maintain compression and regulate exhaust gases. It also helps facilitate the passage of oil, fuel, and coolant to their respective destinations. Modern gaskets are made of composite materials, steel, or copper for high-performance vehicles. Being a critical part of any car or truck, replacements are typically not expensive. The repair cost has more to do with labor time to remove the cylinder head than the part itself.

What Causes a Blown Head Gasket?

When someone cuts you off in traffic or eats your leftovers in the fridge, you may get angry or hot. When the head gasket is working hard next to the engine, it also can get really hot. In both cases, try not to blow your gasket by getting too hot. Extreme heat is the main blown head gasket cause. What a blown gasket really means is that the seal created by the head gasket has developed a leak. So we’re really talking about head gasket leak symptoms. The gasket is not only containing the combustion process, a very hot process, it is also transferring coolant. The two extreme temperatures can wear down the seal over time. Because of where the head gasket is located, a visual inspection is almost impossible. So if you want to know how to tell is a head gasket is blown or not, you will need to look elsewhere.

Signs of a Blown Head Gasket

  • Coolant leaking externally below the exhaust manifold. This is an obvious and easy diagnosis of a blown head gasket because it is unique to a head gasket leak. A failure to the outer seal allows for water and coolant to escape and leak to the engine.
  • White smoke from the tailpipe. This time, the leak is happening internally, allowing for water and coolant to leak into the combustion chamber. When heated, a gas or exhaust is created and expelled from the exhaust pipe. You probably should not be regularly smelling your tail exhaust, but if you notice the exhaust smells sweeter than usual, it is a sign your head gasket is blown.
  • Low or dropping coolant levels. Most fluids in your vehicle remain at a constant level under normal operating conditions. Coolant is an example of a fluid that holds the same level throughout its life. If your coolant level is down, that means there is a leak somewhere. If you are noticing a leak elsewhere or white exhaust, it could mean there is a small leak in the system that over time will cause more issues.
  • Overheating engine. Things can escalate quickly with a blown head gasket. Engine overheating causes a head gasket seal to break in the first place. Now, the overheating is compounded by an inefficient cooling process. Your check engine light should appear before catastrophic damage.
  • White or milky oil. Checking your oil is not just for your oil’s sake. With an internal leak, coolant will drip into the combustion chamber, past the piston rings, and into your oil. Over time, this combination of oil with the leaking coolant will turn the oil milky or white. Regularly checking your oil helps protect your car in so many ways. If you’re new to checking your oil, make sure to check out this guide on how to check engine oil.

Preventing a Blown Head Gasket

The easiest way to prevent a blown gasket is by paying attention to your engine temperature and fluids. Regular oil checks will provide health indicators of your head gasket and overall performance of your vehicle. While you’re under the hood, check your radiator and coolant overflow tanks as well. And don’t forget to pay attention to your coolant level. Look for any splits or fraying or radiator hoses and replace them at any sign of compromised performance.

Head Gasket Leak Symptoms

When you see any of the blown head gasket symptoms described above, it’s important to see a technician for head gasket service as soon as possible. A blown head gasket will not heal itself and the longer you put off service, the more damage you do to your vehicle. If you are in South Jordan, Utah or the greater Salt Lake City Valley, come by the shop, call, or schedule service online to set up an evaluation. Our experienced technicians are trained to be thorough, honest, and highly skilled at inspections, repairs, and installations.

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