All car engines have one or more head gaskets that help seal the gap between the engine block and engine head. Within the engine block are the cylinder bores where the compression and ignition of fuel gases take place, so keeping a tight seal between these cylinders is important to maintaining full engine power. Any problems with the head gasket can allow gases to seep from one cylinder to another or allow coolant and oil to begin to mix and burn within the cylinders. As an important part of any car, the head gasket can be an expensive repair and requires immediate attention should it fail.
There are multiple types of materials that may be used in the production of head gaskets. The most common design includes three layers of steel compressed together with a layer of Viton rubber on the outside that allows it to adhere to the engine block. As the engine warms, the steel layers expand slightly to improve the seal as the cylinder pressure builds due to the continued use of the engine. It’s important that the seal is tight since any loss in compression in the cylinders will result in power loss for the vehicle as well as the potential for an intermingling of other fluids within the cylinders besides fuel.
The head gasket keeps the coolant (water and antifreeze solution) as well as the engine oil and cylinder gases separate during operation. If a head gasket fails, it is considered “blown” and contamination of the cylinders or coolant reservoir will begin. Some of the obvious signs of head gasket failure are white or blue smoke emanating from the tailpipe. White smoke indicates that coolant is seeping into the cylinders and is being burned along with the fuel. Blue smoke indicates oil is being burned in the cylinder. Sometimes a combination of these may occur, so it’s important to remember that any coloration of the exhaust gases can be an indicator of problems with the head gasket.
If the blown head gasket is not replaced, engine damage will begin to occur as well as a decrease in fuel efficiency and overall operation of the vehicle. Replacement of the head gasket can be expensive, primarily because removal of the head is necessary in order to access it. Unfortunately, with all of the extra electronics and other parts of the engine sitting on top of the head of the engine, the process can be lengthy and is the reason the cost of replacement can be so great.