An internal combustion engine is made up of many individual parts bolted together to create the finished item. The primary parts of the motor are the engine block and the cylinder head, and when these two particular components are joined, a special gasket is placed in between. Why is this part so important, and what can happen if it begins to fail?
Protecting the Engine
The engine block is machined to incorporate the piston assembly, where each piston moves up and down within a sleeve, to turn the crankshaft below. The cylinder head, meanwhile, contains several combustion chambers, where valves open and close to allow fuel, air and gas to come in and out. As you can imagine, there's a tremendous amount of pressure and heat within this environment, and it's important to ensure that the block and the head are firmly attached.
The head gasket is very carefully engineered to help maintain a seal here, and it is machined so that it can also help separate a variety of internal chambers. These chambers carry oil to lubricate the moving parts or water to cool everything down.
Over time, the head gasket may begin to deteriorate. This process may accelerate if the engine is running too hot on a regular basis (due to low coolant levels) and if this begins to happen, you will notice some tell-tale signs.
To begin with, you may have to add coolant to the system on a very regular basis, even though there are no signs of a major leak. You may notice white smoke emanating from the exhaust, and this means that coolant is now mixing with oil due to a failure of the head gasket.
If you open the oil filler cap and can see an off-white sludge, then this once again means that oil is mixing with the coolant and the problem is quite severe.
Don't underestimate the risk here. If those two liquids are mixing together, it will compromise efficiency, cause damage to moving parts and lead to severe overheating. If you don't take any action, complete engine failure is possible, linked to a very expensive repair bill.
Replace and Check
In this case, the gasket will need to be replaced, and the engineer will also need to look at the condition of the block and cylinder head. Sometimes, these may be warped due to the high temperature and will have to be re-machined.
Take the vehicle in to a technician as soon as you can, so that they can begin to affect repairs. Reach out to a local engine repair service for more information.