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4 Signs of a Blown Head Gasket

Sealing gasket in hand

A blown head gasket ranks among the most devastating of all car problems. Unfortunately, however, many car owners struggle to identify the signs that they may be dealing with a blown head gasket. If you would like to improve your knowledge of automotive troubleshooting, read on. This article will outline four clues that you may need to have your head gasket replaced.

1. Leaking Coolant

The head gasket acts to form a seal between your engine block and your cylinder head. This ensures that coolant remains safely within the passages that lead between these two engine components. A head gasket that has become warped or developed a crack may fail to keep coolant where it belongs.

The presence of leaking coolant on or around your engine indicates that something may be wrong with your head gasket. Try to narrow down the precise location of the leak. If it seems to be coming from the seam located between your cylinder head and your engine block, this strengthens the possibility that your head gasket is at play.

2. Misfiring Cylinders

A misfiring cylinder will greatly compromise the performance of your vehicle. Essentially, this problem means that combustion is not occurring in one or more of your cylinders. As a result, your car will seem to limp along with only a fraction of its usual power. You may also notice your engine vibrating. These vibrations will often cause your steering wheel to shake.

Misfiring may stem from several different causes. Two of the most common - malfunctioning spark plugs and a poor air-to-fuel ratio - have nothing to do with the head gasket. Yet the third - loss of compression - often stems from cracks in the head gasket. Such cracks allow air to leak out of the cylinder, essentially rendering combustion impossible.

A cracked head gasket tends to affect more than one cylinder at a time because the cracked areas can often be found at the juncture of two adjacent cylinders. A single crack, in other words, will often knock out two of your cylinders in a single fell swoop.

3. White Exhaust

If your car has begun to produce whitish exhaust smoke, it may be a sign that you're dealing with a bad head gasket. Such white smoke tends to be most pronounced when starting your car, although it may occur at any time. You may also notice that the exhaust has a sweet, almost nauseating scent to it.

White exhaust is almost always a sign of a coolant leak. In this case, however, the coolant isn't leaking out of the engine - it's leaking into it. A cracked head gasket allows the coolant to get into one or more cylinders, where it combusts along with a mixture of fuel and air, thus giving rise to the whitish exhaust.

4. Air Bubbles

As noted above, a head gasket acts to form a tight seal between the engine block and cylinder head. This seal keeps substances such as oil and coolant from escaping. It also ensures that your cylinders remain under full compression. In addition, the head gasket keeps substances like air and water vapor from penetrating your engine.

A cracked or warped head gasket will allow unacceptable amounts of air to sneak into your engine. This can throw off the important balance between fuel and air in your cylinders. It also allows that air to get into your coolant system. You can spot a cracked gasket in the form of air bubbles escaping from your radiator.

A mechanic will test for this by removing your radiator cap and then revving your car's engine several times. At this point, any air leaking in through a bad head gasket will manifest as bubbles rising up in the radiator.

For more information about what it takes to diagnose and repair a blown head gasket, please call the automotive professionals at Broadway Motors Inc.