When it comes to engine failures, few things can be as catastrophic as a head gasket failure. While a head gasket leak caught early can be easily remedied, if you don't identify it right away, you may be looking at a complete engine failure and potentially the need for replacement. One of the best things you can do for your car's engine is to recognize the signs of a failing head gasket before it destroys the engine. Here are some of the things you should know.
Why Is It Hard to Spot a Leaky Head Gasket?
The head gasket is the gasket that seals the engine block and the cylinder head. It's designed to seal the passages where coolant flows through the engine as well as the combustion chamber. Because of the location of the gasket, it is nearly impossible to visually identify a leak by looking at the gasket itself. You'd have to disassemble nearly the whole engine to get to it. Luckily, a head gasket leak comes with some very specific symptoms, making it easier for you to identify it.
What Are The Signs of a Leaky Head Gasket?
The signs you're likely to see from your head gasket will depend on the severity of the leak. Catching a small leak before it becomes a catastrophic failure can help you preserve your engine. Some of the early indications of a head gasket failure include:
- Steam or Water from the Exhaust Pipe - This usually occurs as a result of coolant seeping past the head gasket. The moisture is the result of the coolant evaporating and burning off.
- Coolant Loss - If the level of the coolant in the reservoir is dropping without any visible coolant leak, that may be an indication that the coolant is seeping past the gasket into the engine.
- Oil Consumption - When a head gasket starts leaking, it can permit engine oil to seep beyond the gasket. As that happens, the oil level in the engine will drop. Left unaddressed, this can lead to serious damage if the engine seizes due to lack of lubrication.
- White, Smoky Exhaust - If your exhaust is white and smoky, that's a sign that the engine is burning oil and coolant.
In addition to these earlier indications, as the leak progresses, there are other warning signs you should watch for. These include:
- Oil in the Coolant Reservoir - If the coolant in the reservoir has an oily sheen or is bubbling in the reservoir, that indicates some oil present in the coolant.
- Coolant in the Oil - When coolant and oil are no longer being separated by the head gasket's seal, coolant can seep into the engine oil. In that case, the oil will look milky.
- Overheating Engine - As the coolant level drops due to the failed head gasket, your engine may begin to run warm or even overheat. This can cause severe damage to the engine block, leading to complete engine failure.
If you suspect that your car's head gasket is leaking, a local mechanic can conduct a compression test to confirm it. Should you miss these signs and find yourself with a seized engine, you can save on your replacement costs by investing in a used engine instead.
For more information, contact Auto & Truck Used Parts or a similar company.