How Does a Head Gasket Get Damaged?


Don't Blow a (Head) Gasket

  • We have all heard this term in relation to our own reaction to something that may upset us. The same is true for any engine. If something upsets the engine mechanically, it may blow a head gasket. The head gasket is the most vulnerable part of any engine as this part seals the most combustible elements of any engine.

The Seal of The Head Gasket

  • The head gasket seals the inside gases that are created during the explosive cycle of the engine. When the spark plug ignites the gas and air mixture, an explosion occurs that drives the piston down and translates to motion in the vehicle. If the seal is broken the gases escape between the piston and head. This will cause a loss of power in the engine. The head of the engine is that part which controls the valves. These valves move in a certain order to allow the incoming fuel mixture and the outgoing exhaust.

Heat is the Engine's Worst Enemy

  • When an engine becomes too hot, things begin to move in a way that creates havoc to the metal parts. Not keeping the oil level at the correct amount creates friction, which translates to heat. A low level of oil cannot perform the function of taking heat away from the engine. Many vehicles have oil coolers built into the radiator for this purpose. Improper coolant level is one of the main causes for excessive heat in an engine. If the coolant cannot carry away the heat it must go somewhere, generally into the metal.

When Things Get Hot They Warp

  • Head gaskets get damaged when things get hot and an excessive amount of pressure begins to build. This pressure generally will escape at the most vulnerable place, the head gasket. Another side effect of heat in an engine is that the mating surface of the head gasket may warp. In most cases this is the head and the worst case is the engine. Driving while the coolant temperature is above the normal level will cause the head to warp. As the head moves it can tear the head gasket and cause even more damage to the metal surfaces.

Two Things to Keep in Mind

  • Always keep the oil in your vehicle at the proper level and changed on a regular basis. Also keep the coolant level correct with fresh coolant. If you blow a coolant hose or the engine temperature light comes on, pull over. It may just save you from blowing a head gasket.

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