No visible superpowers. No flashy name, cape or secret identity. Not even a tragic backstory or inspiring origin tale to speak of.
Yet, the head gasket is a hero nonetheless.
We’re here to shed some light on the head gasket’s role. There’s nothing nefarious about it. In fact, it’s the complete opposite.
Read on to find out everything you need to know about the unsung superhero in your engine bay.
What is the head gasket?
It’s the most important part of your engine.
Now, that’s no exaggeration either because the head gasket sits right between the cylinder head and the engine block – the two main parts which make up an engine.
If that doesn’t seem very impressive, just consider the size of the gasket itself. It’s a thin sheet of either stainless steel, graphite or a modern chemical composite, just a few inches thick.
And that holds everything together and keeps your engine running.
Now, that IS impressive.
What role does it play in keeping the engine safe?
Think Spiderman holding the ferry together in ‘Homecoming’ or Mr Incredible stopping the metro train in ‘The Incredibles’.
Not with us? Well, let’s explain it another way.
The head gasket stops oil, water, coolant, fuel and exhaust gasses from mixing in your engine bay because it would be a cocktail of chaos otherwise. Its main job is to seal the oil ways, waterways and, on top of all that, the main cylinder to maintain compression in the engine bay.
If all that wasn’t enough stress for our poor hero, it’s also subjected to huge amounts of pressure which it has to resist.
Basically, your head gasket is juggling six different tasks while being crushed from above. It’s the equivalent of asking a circus performer to balance on a unicycle and juggle balls and fire sticks, all while balancing an elephant on their shoulders.
Every hero has their Kryptonite – and the head gasket is no different
Unfortunately, the stress can sometimes get too much for our hero. And when it blows, all hell can break loose!
Just as all the villains come out to play when a superhero is laid low, so do a wide range of engine problems when your head gasket is out of action.
As with anything, you can increase your head gasket’s chances of failure by neglecting basic car maintenance. A clogged radiator, coolant leakage or air filter contamination can all defeat the plucky champion – issues which can be easily avoided!
Unfortunately, your engine can’t function without the head gasket. It loses its best defender when it blows and then overheating is inevitable.
Overheating which leads to villainous repair bills.
Your vigilance can help avoid major issues. Here are some symptoms of head gasket failure so you can help get it back on track the next time something goes wrong.
Here’s what to look out for when your head gasket needs your help
Your engine starts sluggishly
Your engine might take a few attempts to start or sound slightly underpowered and ill if your head gasket is struggling or has blown. If there aren’t any mitigating weather circumstances when your car doesn’t start straight away, this could be the problem.
There’s white sludge on your dipstick
Your oil should be a light brown colour when you check the dipstick. Any other colour is bad news – especially if it’s white. This could mean fluids have mixed when they shouldn’t have and that can only mean that your head gasket is faulty.
You see oil stains in your coolant tank
Contaminated coolant doesn’t bode well for you. Oil stains in your coolant means that at least one of your engine seals are broken and your fluids are inappropriately mixing – a sure sign that your head gasket has buckled under the strain.
There’s an excessive amount of white smoke from your exhaust
Some white smoke is normal, especially in older cars on a cold day. However, if there’s still a lot of smoke once your engine has warmed up, it can’t be ignored. A less efficient engine is bad news for you and the environment, so give your head gasket the power-up it needs.
A loss of coolant, power or performance
If your car’s limping, chances are your head gasket is limping too. It can’t regulate combustion properly if it’s not super-strong and at the top of its game, so think about booking your car into a garage as soon as possible.
An external leak
All that pressure has got to go somewhere. More often than not, that means it gets forced outwards. Any sort of fluid link points towards a faulty seal and a more serious head gasket issue.
Bubbles in your radiator
With the head gasket off the scene, exhaust gases can sneak their way into the radiator and wreck havoc with your coolant. These bubbles make your coolant look like it’s boiling even when it’s stone-cold. These bubbles can also stop your coolant from getting where it needs to be – potentially ruining your engine by causing it to overheat.
Fouled or broken spark plugs
A faulty head gasket can overwork other components as well. Spark plugs ignite the mixture of fuel and air which gets pumped into the combustion chamber, but if this mixture doesn’t make it that far, yours could blow themselves out. And that can lead to far more problems than necessary…
This extensive list of warning signs is fortunate, purely because of how expensive a head gasket repair is. Ignoring the problem will only cause the cost to spiral as other components might become damaged.
The cost of a faulty head gasket? Not as cheap as you might think…
Brace yourself because this might hurt more than a hay maker from Superman. Ready?
The average cost for a head gasket repair is just under £600, with prices stretching up to a whopping £900!
Remember, that’s just for the head gasket alone. Ouch!
The only saving grace for you – and your overworked trooper – is that you can find your best garage at the best price for you through BookMyGarage!
Just as every superhero has a super-cool sidekick beside them (Batman & Robin, Iron Man & War Machine, e.t.c.), your head gasket has an army of qualified mechanics at its back. They’ll patch it up, dust it down and send it back out to keep your engine safe. Just search our directory of over 9,000 garages nationwide to find the best one for you.
Can you think of any other car parts which you’d call a superhero? Why not drop us a comment and let us know?
Mandy is an ex-mechanic, with 22 years’ experience in the motor industry. As an in-house motoring expert, Mandy is the go-to woman for any relevant questions that our customers have; both garages and drivers. From specific problems with your car to general maintenance, Mandy is a reliable source of information and advice. Her passion for motoring is a huge factor to her success and the huge wealth of knowledge that she has. She now uses her remarkable grasp of the industry to write regular content for our readers to help drivers understand their car better, avoid being ripped off by garages and save money on their motoring requirements.