Why Your Engine Gaskets Could Be More Important Than You Think
An internal combustion engine is a very precisely engineered piece of equipment. It's a testament to its design that all kinds of mayhem can be going on inside and out of sight to induce propulsion, with very little evidence on the exterior. Various parts are, however, vulnerable to mistreatment or failure and you need to keep an eye on them. In particular, you need to know when to take action to change gaskets. What are they and why are they so important?
What Are They?
A number of different gaskets are placed in between removable parts of the engine. Principally, there are three. One goes on the bottom in between the sump (that holds the oil) and the bottom of the engine block. The second goes on the top and separates the cylinder head from the valve rocker cover. Probably the most important though is the "head gasket" which separates the main part of the engine and the cylinder head.
What Do They Do?
Cylinder head gaskets are usually made of copper, replacing original versions that were made from asbestos and graphite. They are made to deal with extremes of temperature, expansion and contraction as they provide a tight seal between the various parts of the engine. The primary goal of the cylinder head gasket is to ensure that there is no leakage of liquids or gases.
What to Watch Out for
If your cylinder head gasket was to fail, the consequences could be catastrophic, although you're likely to get some warning and some evidence of failure before this happens. The engine is likely to lose a lot of performance due to compromised compression in one or more of its cylinders. It's still going to run, but it's going to be very rough and sound terrible. You may find that it starts to emit a lot of smoke mixed with steam out of the exhaust pipe, as water starts to mix with oil.
You may be lucky that the first sign you get is a small leak, where the engine constantly runs hot. If you can't see the leakage (i.e. from a radiator hose) then this should be your conclusion. You should turn the engine off until you are able to get it looked at.
Ultimately, an engine that severely overheats will fail due to cracks in the block, which can be terminal. In this case, you might have to fork out for a complete new engine.
Like many other components on your car, the gaskets are only meant to last for a certain amount of time. If you've got to carry out any work on the engine at all, it makes sense to replace them as a complete set. However, always watch the temperature gauge and listen for any early signs if you suspect any problems moving forward.