What About Head Gaskets?

heads will roll

Have you ever changed your head gasket? Have you ever even seen your head gasket? And how do you know if you even have a head gasket? While often overlooked, these are crucial questions which you should be asking yourself now (if you haven’t already).

Let’s start with the basics. How do you know if you have a head gasket? Well, if you have a head, you have a head gasket. Head gaskets are normally located just beneath the head, a little above the neck. As most people know, gaskets are used for sealing; thus, a head gasket prevents your head from leaking. If your head starts leaking, bad things happen.

But what would cause a head gasket to fail? Head gaskets are very delicate, but can be subjected to extreme temperature variations, as when, for example, you get very hot-headed and a sudden gentle breeze comes along to cool you down, or, when you’re feeling quite cool and then suddenly “lose your cool” (due to a lack of coolant, of course) and start to overheat. (Whatever the cause, if you’ve lost your cool you should stop where you are. Some people like to use the “Stop, Look, Listen” methodology, although no one is quite sure what they are looking and listening for.) In any event, extreme temperature changes cause not only your head to expand (or contract, as the case may be), but your head gasket as well. And that can make your head gasket warp or crack, so that it no longer seals properly. (In some cases, your head itself can crack, which is a very, very bad thing.)

How do you recognize a faulty head gasket? Common signs of head gasket failure are a lurching in your movement, unexplained choking, and lack of exhilaration/acceleration.

If your head gasket has failed, it must be changed immediately. Here is a simple, 8-step procedure:

  1. Stop, look, and listen.
  2. Open or remove your hood, if you are wearing one.
  3. Find the bolts that hold your head on. Remove them.
  4. If your head is screwed on correctly, the bolts should come out easily.
    1. If you head is not screwed on correctly, or if you’re a little rusty from old age, you may need to use some penetrating oil.
    2. If you still have difficulty, resort to Brute Force Method #1.
    3. If that doesn’t work, resort to Brute Force Method #2.
    4. If that doesn’t work, you may need professional help. Your head is probably seriously screwed up (or on).
  5. Once you have removed your head, examine the head gasket. This can be tricky, as you may have to hold your head in both hands in order to point your eyes in the direction of the gasket. Look for cracks or discolouration. If your head gasket looks like it’s in good condition, perhaps there was no problem at all and you made a serious mistake in removing your head: once you’ve removed the head, you have to replace the gasket.
  6. Remove the gasket and find a new one. Head gaskets can be found under other people’s hoods, as well as at certain specialty shops which usually also sell ‘headlights’.
  7. Put the new head gasket in place. It’s also a good idea to have your head machined.1 This can be a painful process, even more painful than having your teeth drilled.
  8. Finally, get your head screwed on right again.

Having read this enlightening story, you now know pretty much all you need to know about your head gasket.

  1. While not required, it may help to know machine language.

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