How do you replace a head gasket?

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2015-07-15 20:54:47

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Replacing a Head Gasket

Should you do it yourself

Replacing a head gasket is not a DIY job, unless the person has plenty of experience, knowledge, and the proper tools. The fact that a person would even ask, "How to replace a head gasket", would indicate to some that they should not trying to do that repair.

To replace a head gasket you must remove the intake manifold, exhaust manifold, valve train, and then the head. This is very involved and requires disconnecting lots of sensors and the ignition system. The head must then be checked to see if it is warped, or cracked, and repaired if necessary. You must then know how to put all this back together and torque all the bolts in the proper sequence. This takes training and skill which the average shade tree mechanic does not have.

There is a difference between say a over head cam (OHC) engine and a internal cam engine. And then if it is a V6 or V8 then both head gaskets must be replaced even if only one blew. And last but not least, you have to find out if there is other engine damage and what caused it to blow the gasket in the first place. Definitely not for an amateur.

The best answer to this question: Take it to a professional.

The second-best answer: Get a repair manual and follow directions. A repair manual does not provide the training necessary to do this repair correctly, and not near enough information, but it can provide more info than can be written out in an answer like this.

Below is the best answer we can provide in this format.

* Make sure you have a torque wrench and the correct torque specs for your vehicle


Exhaust flange nuts and bolts

Head Gasket (preferably OEM)

Ten head bolts

Two valve cover end seals

Tube of RTV silicone


1. Disconnect the battery negative terminal

2. Drain the cooling system

3. Raise the front of the vehicle and support it with jack stands .

4. Remove the two 13mm exhaust bolts holding the exhaust pipe to the exhaust manifold, lower the vehicle

5. Remove the air cleaner assembly

6. Remove the upper radiator hose

7. Loosen the 13mm nut holding the dipstick tube bracket to the thermostat housing and remove the coil (if it is attached to the thermostat housing) and unplug the coolant temperature sensor

8. Remove the spark plug wires from the plugs, remove the distributor water shield and the distributor cap (this step is so you don't damage the distributor cap).

9. Remove the two uppermost 15mm-head bolts from the top of the a/c , alternator bracket where it attaches to the head and unplug the single wire temperature sending unit

10. Remove the upper half of the timing belt cover

11. Remove the valve cover

12. Disconnect the wiring harness connector that is just to the right of the throttle body

13. Disconnect the throttle cables from the throttle body and remove the two 10mm head bolts holding the bracket

14. Disconnect the vacuum lines from the throttle body

15. Disconnect the fuel lines - NOTE : The fuel lines may be under pressure , use extreme care when removing them

16. Disconnect the throttle position sensor connector and the EGR valve connector (if equipped)

17. Carefully lift up the throttle body wiring harness , the fuel lines , and the vacuum lines together and use a bungee cord to hold them out of the way

18. Remove the ground strap that is attached to the intake manifold from the fire wall

19. Remove the 15mm-head bolt holding the battery ground cable to the engine

20. Disconnect the vacuum hose from the power brake booster and the heater hose from the intake manifold left side

21. Use two plastic tie straps to secure the timing belt to the camshaft pulley and remove the pulley . Hold upward tension on the pulley and secure it with a bungee cord to the right hood hinge - NOTE: be sure to hold the upward tension with the bungee cord so the timing belt doesn't jump a tooth on the lower pulleys

22. Remove the head bolts and lift the head off the engine block . (I suggest having an assistant help to lift off the head) With the head removed , carefully check the head casting for signs of cracks. Also use a straight edge to check the head casting for warpage (maximum allowable warpage is .00

23. Clean all the head gasket mating surfaces and wipe clean with a little brake cleaner on a rag. Use a round plastic bristled brush to clean out the head bolt holes in the engine block and blow them out with compressed air.


1. After the gasket surfaces are prepared, set the new head gasket in place and CAREFULLY place the head into position, take extreme care not to place the head on the head gasket until it is in the proper position.

2. With the head in place, install the head bolts. You will need to tighten the head bolts in a circular pattern starting from the center and working your way out. I recommend hand tightening all the bolts before beginning the torque sequence. Head bolt torque: For older style 10mm head bolts : 35 - 45 - 45 - and a 1/4 turn; For newer style 11mm head bolts : 45 - 65 - 65 - and a 1/4 turn

3. Use the two rubber valve cover end seals and a bead of RTV silicone to reseal the valve cover.

4. Do Not let the silicone skin-over before setting the valve cover into place and tightening the bolts, also be sure that both mating surfaces of the valve cover are clean and oil free .

5. After the head is reassembled you will need to reset the base timing to specs. You will also want to double check the timing belt position . Use a variable timing light and set the timing mark on zero degrees . Save the setting on the timing light and shine it through the inspection hole in the top of the upper timing belt cover . If the belt timing is correct , you will see the oblong hole in the camshaft sprocket centered in the inspection hole .

Other s

Here is what other Wiki s contributers have answered:

  • Water is a by product of combustion, therefore water dripping from the exhaust should be an indication that your engine is operating efficiently, especially if there is no sign of water in your oil. There are other signals that would indicate a blown head gasket, such as loss of compression/loss of power, unexplained coolant loss, and clouds of white smoke from your exhaust, especially noticeable upon acceleration. Overpressurizing of the cooling system can also result in overheating.
  • A lot more information is needed. For example, what kind of car is it, etc. This is a major service and should be done by an experienced technician.
  • The short answer: Remove the head, check the head for warp-age and cracks, and install a new gasket.
  • This depends on the type of engine that you have. You will need a well stocked tool box which must include a torque wrench. Import car engines will require a good selection of metric tools. You will need to drain and recycle the engine oil and coolant. It is best to rotate the engine so that the piston in number one cylinder is at top dead center of the compression stroke. At this point, take careful note of the position of the distributor rotor and make match marks as necessary so that it can be realingned when it is reassembled into the engine. Older American made V8 engines will usually require the removal of the intake manifold, exhaust manifolds,ignition distributor and associated wiring harnesses. If you are replacing the head gasket on an engine with dual overhead cams, the situiation is complicated by having to remove timing chain covers, cams and timing chains. These parts must be replaced exactly as they were removed. Manifold and cylinder head bolts should be removed in the reverse of the installation and torque sequence to avoid warping and possible cracking. This is especially important when dealing with aluminum parts. The cylinder head bolts must be tightened and torqued in a specified sequence and Foot/pound specification as per the engine manufaturer. The best advice would be to obtain a maintenance manual for the vehicle you intend to service. Most aftermarket parts dealers either stock or can order this for you. In the manual you will usually find step by step instructions that are for the specific engine/vehicle that you are servicing.
  • Before attempting a gasket replacement you should consider what else might be done. Since it requires removing the exhaust header, intake and cylinder head from your car, you might want to see what other work needs to be done at the same time. The first thing is do a check up on your car: 1. Check spark plugs to see what they tell you about the condition of the engine. 2. Do a compression check. Then determine why it failed and what you need to rebuild. If you take the cylinder head off then you might want to replace it with a rebuilt one. Or at least get a valve job done. If you decide to do this yourself ensure you either rent all the tools or purchase them. For the first timers I would recommend a rebuilt head they will run between $150-$300 with a core exchange. Or you can bring it to a local shop and expect to pay around $150-$250 for labor and parts to have your rebuilt.
  • Purchase a repair manual for you car. The information you need will be there. This is a major repair requiring skill to do it right. You will also need a good torque wrench, and common mechanic tools.
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