Replacing a cylinder head gasket is never an easy job, no matter what make or model vehicle you own. It’s a job that consists of tearing apart nearly the entire upper half of your engine. Unfortunately, it’s a job that cannot be put off for very long either. Once your vehicle is diagnosed with a bad head gasket, it’s wise to get it repaired immediately. Running the vehicle with this problem can damage your engine beyond repair. One of the biggest signs of a blown head gasket is large clouds of white smoke pouring out of your exhaust, especially upon acceleration. You may also experience a sweet smell inside the cab, this is the smell of antifreeze being burned within your engine’s cylinders. Most times there will also be a definite loss of power. If you experience any of these symptoms, here are few little facts about what you’re in for both time-wise and financially.
What Are the Symptoms?
As we said before, pay particular attention to any large amounts of white smoke billowing out your exhaust on a regular basis. The best place to notice this is at stoplights. If your vehicle sits for a few moments, coolant has a chance to pool in the exhaust; then, when you get going again the coolant burns inside the hot exhaust and blows plumes of white smoke out the tailpipe. You may also notice a sweet smell in the cabin, especially when the heater is on. Aside from these symptoms, however, the one main thing you should watch for is a loss of power. If your head gasket fails, your engine’s compression will decrease. This loss of compression will result in a loss of power and possibly a miss (rough running) in the engine. On the other hand, there is one huge symptom which can go unnoticed in everyday driving conditions, and it’s a big one – a milky cream substance forming in the engine oil. This is most noticeable on the engine oil dipstick and underside of the oil filler cap when you’re checking your oil. This is from your coolant leaking into your engine oil and mixing (on rare occasions it is also simply condensation forming inside the engine, not a bad head gasket, so don’t panic right away). This is the exact reason why a head gasket repair is necessary so quickly. Coolant is made of ethylene glycol, and it eats engine bearings. If you let coolant leak into your engine oil long enough, you’ll go from replacing a head gasket to replacing an engine. If you notice any of the above symptoms, you’ll need to take your vehicle in to the shop immediately.
Does Engine Size Affect the Price?
In most cases, yes. There are occasions where you may actually pay less to replace a V6 head gasket than you would a 4-cylinder, but generally, the bigger the engine, the bigger the bill when it comes to internal engine repair. It goes without saying that the most expensive of these jobs is going to be the rocket-fast sports cars with the beefed-up engines. In these vehicles there is generally a lot more to remove, and the parts are more expensive, so these vehicles will be at the top end of our price spectrum. Diesels would probably be next, more the large truck diesels than clean-diesel cars, but either is going to be slightly more, thanks to the parts cost.
What’s the Bottom Line?
If you’ve got a standard four-cylinder engine, not made by one of the luxury giants of the auto industry (e.g. - Porsche, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, etc.), than you’re looking in the range of ($) for a head gasket replacement without additional machine shop charges. Most head gasket jobs will cover pressure testing the cylinder head, but not machining it should it need so. If your heads need additional work, it all depends on what the machine shop charges as to how much your bill goes up. Inline-6 engines will also be in this price range, though some could run higher with parts costs, or additional equipment like turbo or superchargers.
However, if you own a V6 automobile, truck, SUV, or crossover, you have two cylinder heads. Your total cost is all going to depend on which cylinder head gasket needs replaced. If it’s the one which is easiest to get to, consider it a silver lining to your dark cloud of auto repair. If it’s the rear cylinder head on a front-wheel-drive sedan, your silver lining is going to be a bit tarnished. No matter which end of the scale you’re at, the V6 head gasket jobs will be in the neighborhood of ($) without additional machine shop charges.
The leaves us with the V8s and above. Really, if you only need to replace one cylinder head gasket, this job isn’t much different than a four-cylinder engine. It’s still a 4-cylinder head that’s being removed, so the price won’t be a whole lot different. There are some additional gaskets needed, and some extra fluid thanks to the larger engine’s size, but it shouldn’t outweigh the price of a regular 4-cylinder head gasket, so expect a range of ($). That is of course, unless you need to do both head gaskets. If that’s the case, you’ve just stepped into the Platinum-member section of the automotive spending club! Congratulations! This is the top end of the head gasket scale, and its range is ($). And remember, this isn’t a minor repair; you could be without a vehicle for a couple of days, so make sure you factor a rental car or other arrangement expenses into your total repair cost.
(Please remember that these repair prices can also fluctuate based on geographic location, as well as vehicle make and model; and that these numbers represent averages, not actual prices offered at any specific repair facilities.)