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How Much Does a Head Gasket Cost?

How Much Does a Head Gasket Cost?
Austin Kilham

Austin Kilham

Updated June 8, 2022
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A head gasket is the seal between the head cylinder and the engine block. When it fails due to improper installation, deterioration over time, or overheating, it can cause oil or coolant leaks, which can lead to other issues. Replacing a failing head gasket quickly can help head off these problems. However, blown head gasket cost can be steep: Replacing one can be upwards of $2,000.  Here’s a closer look at what a head gasket is, signs for spotting a failing one, head gasket repair cost, and how to pay for repairs. 

What Is a Head Gasket?

The head gasket is a critical component of a combustion engine. It provides a seal between the engine head cylinder and the engine block, the two major components of your engine. It prevents oil and coolant from mixing together and from leaking into the cylinders or outside the engine.It also seals the combustion chamber so gasses can’t escape and the car can drive forward.  

Types of Head Gaskets

There are four different types of head gaskets:

Multi-Layer Steel Gaskets

Multi-layer steel gaskets are the most common type. Some are engineered with two or three layers of steel, while others may have up to five layers held together with an adhesive. They can withstand greater pressures than other types of head gaskets.  

Copper

Copper head gaskets are made from solid copper, which offers strength and a strong seal against leakage. They are typically more difficult to install. 

Composite

Composite head gaskets are made of graphite. They are relatively rare today, and were mainly used in cars manufactured in the 1980s or before. 

Elastomeric 

Elastomeric head gaskets are built with a steel core that is coated in elastomeric beads, a rubber-like polymer, which helps protect the engine from leaks. 

Blown Head Gasket Symptoms

The head gasket is under extreme pressure and intense heat. A blown gasket can cause damage to other parts of the engine, so it’s important to identify it quickly. Here are some of the signs to watch out for. 

Leaking Coolant

When the head gasket fails, it allows coolant to escape. Drops of coolant on the ground under your car or on your engine could signal that you have a leak.  

White Smoke Coming From the Tailpipe

White smoke usually signals that coolant is leaking into the combustion chamber and burning. 

Bubbles in the Radiator and Coolant Reservoir

Your car’s cooling system should not have air in it, though a failing head gasket can allow air into the system. Bubbles are a near surefire sign that there is a failure. 

Milky Oil

When your head gasket fails it can allow coolant and oil to mix, leading to a milky white coloration in your oil or a frothy texture.

Engine Overheating

Leaking coolant can cause your engine to overheat, which can leave you stranded on the side of the road or cause damage to other engine components. 

Fouled Spark Plugs

If the head gasket is leaking, it can cause your spark plugs to be covered with substances such as oil or carbon. These fouled spark plugs can cause your engine to misfire, which can make for a rougher ride.  

Alternatives to Head Gasket Replacement

Once a head gasket is blown, there aren’t a lot of options aside from replacing it. You may be tempted to continue adding coolant to the engine, but this may cause long-term damage to your motor. Also, if you forget to top off your coolant, your engine could overheat, which could leave you stranded or cause further damage to your engine. 

Head Gasket Sealer

If you don’t have the money to fix a blown head gasket right away, you may be able to use a head gasket sealer in the short term. Head gasket sealers work on small leaks by filling any gaps between the cylinder head and engine block. They’re designed to be poured into the radiator or into the engine with your oil, and may provide a temporary fix, especially if damage to the head gasket is slight. 

Can I Drive With a Head Gasket Problem?

If you’ve blown the head gasket on your car, you’ll want to avoid driving it unless it’s absolutely necessary. Otherwise, you may risk damaging other components of your engine. 

How Often Do Head Gaskets Need to Be Replaced?

Head gaskets are designed to last for up to 200,000 miles. For most people, that covers the life of their vehicle. If you’re lucky, you’ll never have to replace your head gasket. And if you do, you likely won’t have to make the fix again. 

Is It Worth Fixing a Head Gasket?

If your vehicle was in good working condition before you blew your head gasket, it is likely worth fixing the issue. If you’re on the fence, get a quote for the repair and figure out the resale value of your car, once the issue is fixed. Some experts suggest that the repair is worth making if the resale value is three times the cost of the repair.  If your car is worth less than the cost of the repair, the fix may not be worth it. 

Head Gasket Replacement Cost

How much does it cost to replace a head gasket? Well, the cost of a head gasket itself is not very expensive. You can expect to pay about $100 for the part. Unfortunately, replacing the head gasket is labor intensive, which could up the price of the repair to around $2,000 or more, depending on your mechanic’s hourly rate and how long the repair takes. Though steep, the cost of a swift repair is less than the cost of engine replacement 

Head Gasket Repair Cost

How much does it cost to fix a head gasket? If you don’t need to replace the head gasket right away and you only need a sealer, then the cost of the repair could be as low as $20. 

Ways to Pay for Head Gasket Replacement

In an ideal world, you would have an emergency fund or other savings that you could tap when you’re in need of major auto repairs, whether the cost of head gasket replacement, transmission cost, or engine replacement cost.  As a good rule of thumb, save three to six months’ worth of living expenses in an emergency fund. If you don’t have the cash on hand, you have a couple other options. You could use a credit card. However, credit cards carry extremely high interest rates. The average commercial bank credit card interest rate is nearly 15%, according to the St. Louis Federal Reserve (FRED). As a result, if you don’t pay off your balance each month, you could find yourself in ever-increasing debt. You may also consider a personal loan. How do personal loans work? They’re typically offered through a bank, credit union, or online lender. These typically carry much lower interest rates than credit cards. The average interest rate on a 24-month personal loan is about 9%, according to FREDThe interest rate you’re offered will depend, in part, on your financial situation, including your credit history and score. Though with the best credit typically receive the lowest interest rate. Though you can still get a personal loan with fair credit, and there are even personal loans for bad creditIf you’re exploring personal loans, you could go through the personal loan preapproval process. 

The Takeaway

Be on the lookout for signs that you’re having trouble with your head gasket. Spot the signs early enough and you may be able to fix the problem temporarily with a head gasket sealer. Eventually, you’ll likely have to make the fix, however, and it can be costly. Tapping savings is the ideal way to pay for this. Some people turn to a credit card, though the interest will likely be high. If you’re looking for ways to fund the repair, a personal loan is one option with relatively low interest rates. Compare personal loan rates through Lantern by SoFi. 
Photo credit: iStock/Makidotvn
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About the Author

Austin Kilham

Austin Kilham

Austin Kilham is a writer and journalist based in Los Angeles. He focuses on personal finance, retirement, business, and health care with an eye toward helping others understand complex topics.
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