How to replace the head gasket in a Chevy Cavalier

Written by john rose
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How to replace the head gasket in a Chevy Cavalier
It takes a lot of work to change the head gasket. (Thinkstock Images/Comstock/Getty Images)

The most common cause of head gasket failure on the Chevy Cavalier is the engine overheating. The engine can get hot without issue, but if you continue to run the engine when it is too hot it creates other problems internally. When the engine overheats, the cylinder head and the block start to expand. As they do, they destroy the gasket between the head and engine block. This is one of the reasons that it is so important to fix issues such as a bad thermostat as soon as possible. It is possible to replace the head gasket yourself, but it is time intensive, which is why the repair is so expensive.

Skill level:
Moderate

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Things you need

  • Torque wrench
  • Drain pan
  • Socket set
  • Spanner
  • Marker
  • Masking tape

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Instructions

  1. 1

    Disconnect the negative cable from the battery using a spanner to loosen the nut on the terminal. Relieve the pressure from the fuel system by opening the fuel filler cap. Place the drain pan under the radiator and open the valve with a spanner to drain the engine coolant to the pan.

  2. 2

    Relieve the tension from the drive belt by turning the idler pulley counter-clockwise using a spanner. Pull the belt from the engine. Remove the securing bolts from the air cleaner assembly using a spanner and remove it from the engine. Place the car jack under the engine and raise it just enough to support the engine.

  3. 3

    Remove the engine mount using a socket and ratchet to remove the bolts. Remove the intake manifold by loosening the bolts with a socket and ratchet. Remove the exhaust manifold by loosening the bolts with the socket and ratchet. Unplug the wiring harness from the engine coolant temperature sensor.

  4. 4

    Remove the power steering pump using aspanner. Disconnect the inlet pipe from the radiator using a spanner. Label each spark plug wire with the marker and labelling tape noting the proper location of each. Grasp the wire boot firmly and pull each one from the spark plug. Remove the valve cover using the socket and ratchet to remove the nuts.

  5. 5

    Label the proper location of each rocker arm using the marker and labelling tape. Remove the bolt from each rocker arm using a socket and ratchet and pull them from the engine. Remove each rod from the engine. Label each one that you remove with the marker and masking tape, noting the proper location of each.

  6. 6

    Remove the valve lifters from the cylinder head. Label each one with the marker and labelling tape noting the proper location of each. Remove the alternator and the bracket using a socket and ratchet to remove the bolts. Remove the power steering pump and position it out of the way. Remove the ignition coil assembly using a spanner.

  7. 7

    Remove the bolts from the cylinder head using the socket and ratchet. Note the locations of the short and long bolts. You will not use the same bolts again, but the short bolts must go back in the same holes when you reassemble the engine. Lift the cylinder head from the engine block. Remove the head gasket and discard it.

  8. 8

    Take the cylinder head to the machine shop to have it resurfaced. While the head may look perfectly flat to the human eye, there is the possibility that it is warped so you should resurface it when you are replacing the head gasket. Place the new head gasket on the engine block. Gently lay the cylinder head on the block above the head gasket.

  9. 9

    Lubricate the new cylinder head bolts with fresh oil and put them into the proper locations on the cylinder head. Tighten the bolts in an X-pattern with the torque wrench. Torque all long bolts to 62 joules (46 foot pounds) and the short bolts to 58 joules (43 foot pounds).

  10. 10

    Install the lifters according to their proper locations. Install the push rods according to their proper locations. Install the rocker arms. Torque the bolts to 30 joules (22 foot pounds) using the torque wrench. Install the valve cover and gasket using the socket and ratchet to tighten the nuts. Install the spark plug wires onto their proper plugs.

  11. 11

    Install the ignition coil assembly and tighten the bolts with a wrench. Connect the radiator inlet pipe and tighten the bolts with the wrench. Install the power steering pump and tighten the bolts to 30 joules (22 foot pounds) using the torque wrench. Plug the wiring harness into the ECT sensor. Install the exhaust manifold and tighten the bolts to 13 joules (118 inch pounds) with the torque wrench.

  12. 12

    Install the alternator bracket and the alternator. Torque the bolts to 50 joules (37 foot pounds) with the torque wrench. Install the intake manifold and tighten the bolts to 23 joules (17 foot pounds) with the torque wrench. Install the motor mount and tighten the bolts to 75 joules (55 foot pounds) using the torque wrench. Install the air cleaner unit and snap on the cover.

  13. 13

    Properly route the serpentine belt according to the diagram under the engine bonnet. Add tension to the belt by turning the idler pulley with the spanner. Connect the battery cable and tighten the terminal nut with a spanner. Refill the radiator and reservoir with fresh engine coolant.

  14. 14

    Remove the automobile jack from under the engine and use it to lift the front end of the car. Place a drain pan under the oil pan. Remove the oil pan plug and drain the old engine oil. Remove the oil filter and put a new one in place on the Cavalier. Refill the engine block with fresh oil. Start the Cavalier and check for leaking.

Tips and warnings

  • You must change the oil when the project is complete, and you must add fresh engine coolant because with a blown head gasket, they will be contaminated.

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