How to Replace a Head Gasket

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Replace a Head Gasket

Replacing a head gasket on your own vehicle is relatively straightforward on most vehicles for experienced DIY enthusiasts.

You will need a good selection of tools and somewhere with sufficient light so you can see what you’re doing, preferably indoors to protect the engine but that isn’t necessary.

Replace a Head Gasket

Here are some of the tools you’ll need:

  • Selection of spanners/combination wrench
  • Selection of sockets and a ½”, ⅜” and ¼” ratchet set, with extensions
  • Torque wrench
  • Pliers
  • Mole / vise grips
  • Scraper for cleaning gasket sealer off components
  • RTV Gasket, for renewing seals
  • Replacement head gasket and cylinder head bolts
  • Compressed air, helpful for cleaning
  • Blowtorch, used for stuck fixings
  • Straight edge for checking cylinder head condition
  • Various screwdrivers
  • Vehicle repair manual


Step One: Optional, but clean engine bay

This step is optional but will make the job a lot easier and reduce the chance of debris falling into your torn down engine. If you have one, a steam cleaner makes an excellent job of this, getting rid of old spilled oil build ups and road dirt.

Use a traffic film remover to get everything super clean. Dry off with compressed air, you don’t want any water dripping into the cylinder bores!


Step Two: Use penetrant spray on fixings and clean off exposed threads

This step will make the job even easier. Soak ever fixing you’ll be working on with penetrant spray, multiple times if you need to. This will free up bolts and nuts that have become corroded in place.

If there are any exposed threads with accumulations of rust on them, clean them off with a wire brush. This prevents the threads from stripping.

Step Three: Drop fluids

Next, drain your coolant and engine oil.

Step Four: Begin Strip Down

Follow the manufacturer’s workshop manual for exact guidance on how to remove the cylinder head. You will need to disconnect wiring plugs and harnesses, hoses, fuel lines, manifolds, air intakes, lifting hooks, filters, basically anything that is in the way of removing the head or bridges the joint between the cylinder head and cylinder block. Once you cleared enough access for the head, follow the specific unbolting instructions given by the manufacturer.

Step Five: Remove old gasket, clean surfaces

Remove the old gasket by peeling it off. Put cloths in the cylinder bores and use the gasket scraper to take away left over pieces of the gasket. You can use an emery block and some wd40 to block the flat surface of the cylinder block.

Inspect the block for any cracks, in particular between the piston bores and oil and coolant passages. Clean up any remaining residues with a solvent cleaner.

Do the same for the cylinder head, be careful not damage or foul the injectors.

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Take your straight edge and check in a number of places that the head or block have not warped.

Step Six: Replace Cylinder Head, Bolt down

Next, position your new gasket and replace the cylinder head. Replace the cylinder head bolts for new ones and carefully follow the multi-stage torque down procedure. It’s always wise to put a dab of paint market on the bolt each time you complete a torque down stage.

Step Seven: Replace removed components, inspecting as you go

Replace all removed components like the harnesses, intake and exhaust manifold, air hoses e.t.c Inspect things like the injectors or spark plugs for mineral like deposits that may form when coolant leaks into the combustion chamber.

Step Eight: Refill Fluids, Test Drive

Once the engine has been rebuilt, refill with coolant and anti-freeze and take it for a test drive. The car should no longer overheat, with the temperature gauge sitting in the middle.

Though quite an involved job, if you follow a decent manual, it’s not too difficult, is very satisfying and will save you a small fortune.

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