A head gasket in an internal combustion engine seals the cylinder head to prevent coolant or oil from leaking into the cylinder. If you notice blue or white smoke coming from your engine or exhaust, there's a good chance you have a blown head gasket. A failed gasket can lead to many serious problems with your vehicle, and any signs of such should be diagnosed and repaired immediately.
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What Are Head Gaskets Made Of?
Most modern engines are produced with multiple-layers-steel (MLS) gaskets. They consist of three layers of steel and are coated with a strong rubber that adheres to the cylinder head. Other types of head gaskets include solid copper and composite, which are made from graphite or asbestos.
What Causes a Blown Head Gasket?
The most common problem with a head gasket occurs when the compression in the cylinder causes a leak to form in the gasket, which leads to a blown gasket. This problem is enhanced by the use of aluminium, as opposed to a stronger metal such as iron, to make cylinder heads. Aluminium expands at a higher rate than other metals, thus placing more pressure on the head gasket.
How Can You Detect a Blown Gasket?
In addition to the smoke mentioned above, oil mixed with coolant or excessive coolant loss for no apparent reason are strong signs of a blown head gasket. Carbon monoxide or hydrocarbon gases may also be present in the expansion tank. A pressure gauge can check the compression pressure. A leak-down test can check for signs of combustion gases in the cooling system.
What Are the Effects of a Blown Head Gasket?
Many problems can occur when a head gasket fails. Power reduction resulting from compression loss can occur, as well as increased engine wear and overheating caused by leaking motor oil or coolant. A person may be able to drive a vehicle with a blown head gasket for a certain amount of time, but eventually the engine will overheat, and continued use will lead to permanent damage.
How Do You Replace a Head Gasket?
Replacing a head gasket is difficult and requires extensive knowledge and experience with engines. Several components must be removed before a head gasket can be replaced, such as the intake manifold, exhaust manifold, valve train and then finally the head. This is just the beginning, as many sensors and the ignition system must also be disconnected. Considering the degree of difficulty in replacing a head gasket, it's a job best left to a professional mechanic.
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