blown head gasket

What Does It Mean When My Vehicle’s Blown a Head Gasket?


The average head gasket has a life expectancy of 200,000 miles, but they can blow on a new vehicle if there’s an engine issue. Once you receive the diagnostics of a “blown head gasket,” you might think the automobile isn’t worth repairing.

Cloverdale Auto Service gets a lot of calls from frantic customers about their car overheating, and the head gasket is one of the first things we consider. It’s an expensive repair. However, going through the diagnostic process is important, as some things can mimic this but be much simpler to repair. A compression test will usually be the key indicator as well as some visual signs.

Understanding the Function of the Head Gasket?

Your engine is an intricate machine, and two vital components are the block and cylinder heads. The gasket is a small seal that fits between the two, and it has a dual-fold purpose.

It’s located in the combustion chamber area, and it helps the engine maintain the combustion process so that it can run effectively. Your engine gets upwards of 105 degrees inside, while running at full capacity. Many fluids flow from the head to the block, which helps to lubricate, cool, and keep things running efficiently.

Your fuel, oil, and the coolant must stay in their chambers. If any of these substances mix, it will cause engine failure. Since everything is in very close quarters, seals are essential.

Why Does This Repair Cost So Much?

The gasket is made of high-performance materials to manage the temperatures and withstand the heat. Today, you can find them made of steel, copper, or composite materials.

One big question that everyone asks is why is it so expensive when a simple gasket blows? There are numerous gaskets on your automobile, and they are not costly to buy. How is this one so much different from others?

The problem with a blown head gasket is the labor involved in fixing it. Sure, the gasket itself isn’t overly expensive, but you must have the entire engine pulled to replace this damaged part. Additionally, our car diagnostic team may find other damage due to this faulty gasket.

Your engine block may crack under the intense heat, as the coolant can’t keep temperatures in the manageable range. The oil needs to be drained and refilled, spark plugs changed, pistons checked, and it’s a vast process to fix all the damage.

Symptoms of a Blown Head Gasket

Your car may still run if you have a gasket leaking, but there will be some obvious signs. Here are some red flags that indicate your head gasket has failed.

1. Exhaust Leak

First, you might see coolant leaking from your exhaust. This means that your head gasket has failed on the outer portion, allowing water to leak beyond the engine.

2. White Smoke

The water can come inside your vehicle rather than flowing to the outside. If you see white smoke from the exhaust pipe, it’s telling you that coolant is passing into the combustion chamber’s hot area.

The steam sent out the tailpipe is glycol that’s been burned. It’s not uncommon for the engine to run relatively normally with this occurring, but when the coolant is gone, it will overheat.

3. Missing Coolant

Coolant has a sweet smell, and it’s hard to miss a leak. You may be losing coolant from your vehicle, but you have no idea where it’s going. If your gasket is just starting to fail, the fluid can make its way into the combustion chamber and burn off before hitting the ground.

So, you won’t see any coolant lying on the ground. Your sense of smell here is what’s key to identifying a problem. Checking your fluids often can indicate a problem before sitting along one of the NC highways.

4. Overheating

Your car will overheat when the coolant has leaked out or burnt away. Always pay attention to your thermostat gauge on the dash, and never drive a vehicle in the red zone, as you can do permanent damage.

5. Bubbles in the Radiator

If the gasket has failed, air can make its way into the cooling system, creating bubbles in your radiator or overflow. This is a severe issue as this air can develop pockets that prohibit the coolant from getting to the engine.

6. Milky, White Oil

You should be checking your oil frequently. If you ever see oil that’s not brown or black but more of a white, milky color, it’s cause for alarm. The coolant is mixing with your oil and causing it to be compromised. This mix indicates a leak that’s affecting the water/oil passages.

7. Poor Running Engine

The number one sign of a blown head gasket is when your engine is spitting and sputtering and won’t run right. It’s a sign that the gasket has wholly failed. The machine is struggling to keep the fuel burning cycle going because there’s not enough compression coming from the combustion chamber. It will have little to no power and idle very rough.

Final Thoughts on Blown Head Gaskets

If your car starts running hot at any time, pull it over and don’t drive. You may be able to prevent your head gasket from blowing, but preventative maintenance is the key. Also, make sure you keep your coolant full and check your oil levels frequently. If you see that you’re using more coolant than usual, it needs to be investigated.

At Cloverdale Auto Service, we know how important your vehicle is to your family. Our goal is to get your automobile fixed and back on the roads. Call us at the first sign of trouble so you’re not stranded on the Winston-Salem roadways in the scorching heat.

Cloverdale Auto Service