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Head gasket replacement cost

Quotes averaged between $3,400 and $5,500 for our sample vehicles

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Written by Danny Russo
Edited by Vincent Landino

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    BMW
    stack of head gaskets

    Almost every car has a head gasket in its engine, but the cost to replace this crucial component can vary widely, usually because of the amount of labor involved. (More on this later.) We surveyed mechanics from around the country to get accurate, real-world estimates for how much you can expect to pay when a head gasket goes bad, and the results were higher than we were expecting.

    So, if your car isn’t driving right or your mechanic just told you that your head gasket may need replacing, keep reading. We’re going to cover what a head gasket does, the symptoms of a damaged head gasket, what it may cost to replace your head gasket and whether it’s worth the expense.


    Key insights

    • Average costs for replacing a head gasket in our sample vehicles ranged from $3,456 to $5,459.
    • Costs can vary widely due to the amount of labor required to replace a head gasket in different vehicles. 
    • Head gasket sealants may help you postpone an expensive repair bill, but they’re not always proven to work.
    • If your powertrain is under warranty, you may be able to avoid a large repair bill.

    What is a head gasket?

    A head gasket sits between your car’s cylinder head and the engine block. Its main job is to keep a fluid-tight seal between the block and the cylinder head so that coolant flowing through the coolant passages and oil in the engine block don’t leak into the combustion chambers. Without this seal, your engine can’t cool and lubricate itself properly, which may cause even more significant damage down the road.

    Head gaskets are typically made of high-strength steel to withstand the intense heat of an engine, but they can also be made of rubber, silicone, cork, felt, nitrile, fiberglass or Teflon.

    Symptoms of a blown head gasket

    Unlike some engine problems, blown head gaskets usually present themselves in fairly obvious ways. If you encounter any of the following problems, you may have a blown head gasket.

    White smoke coming from your exhaust

    If you see white smoke coming from your tailpipe, it’s time to replace the head gasket. White smoke happens when a damaged gasket allows coolant to slip into the combustion chambers, where it's burned and expelled as white smoke. The color of the smoke matters here because — unlike fuel — coolant burns white, so white smoke is a clear sign of a blown head gasket.

    Milky-looking oil or coolant

    If you check your oil or coolant and see a foamy substance that looks like a chocolate milkshake, you may have a blown head gasket.

    This occurs when oil and coolant mix due to a damaged head gasket letting these fluids combine. Once coolant enters the engine, it gets whipped up by engine components and turns into a foamy mess. Unfortunately, if your car has this issue, it’s most likely a blown head gasket.

    Bubbling in the coolant reservoir

    If you look in your coolant reservoir (usually a plastic tank near the front of the engine bay near the radiator) and see bubbles, you have a blown head gasket. These bubbles come from compressed air in the cylinders that enters the cooling system.

    Mysterious coolant loss without leaks

    If you’re losing coolant from your cooling system but you can’t find the missing coolant on the ground or around your motor, you may have a blown head gasket. Unlike with a leaking hose or a failing water pump, you won’t see escaping coolant when a head gasket fails. This is because the coolant is vaporized and burned off in a combustion chamber or pooled inside.

    Overheating

    There are many reasons why your car may overheat, such as a stuck thermostat or impacted radiator, so overheating isn’t necessarily unique to a blown head gasket. However, if oil and coolant are mixing or your coolant is burning off and you don't notice, your engine may overheat.

    How much does it cost to replace a head gasket?

    We got quotes to replace a head gasket in three sample vehicles (a Honda Civic, a Ford F-150 and a BMW 740i) from five different mechanics around the country. Average replacement costs per vehicle were from roughly $3,400 to $5,500, but we saw individual quotes ranging from $2,886.50 to $6,047.

    Parts costs for each vehicle were relatively stable across our survey, but labor costs showed significant variation. It makes sense that labor costs would vary by vehicle. (Some vehicles make it relatively easy for a mechanic to replace the head gasket, while others require a more extensive process.)

    According to Tom Bonfe of Bonfe's Auto Service and Body Repair in St. Paul, Minnesota, “Head gasket jobs have been increasingly more challenging due to the design of newer engines. Turbocharged models, like the F-150 EcoBoost V-6, are especially challenging from a labor perspective. Foreign brands are also notorious for requiring lots of labor to get the job done right.”

    Head gasket jobs have been increasingly more challenging due to the design of newer engines.”
    — Tom Bonfe of Bonfe's Auto Service and Body Repair

    However, the variation we saw across quotes for each vehicle shows that there’s some possible benefit to calling around for quotes before you get work done on your car. (Shops may have different labor rates or estimates for how long the job will take.)

    VehicleAverage parts costAverage labor costAverage total cost
    2017 Honda Civic$766.10 (22.16% of total cost)$2,690.80 (77.84% of total cost)$3,456.90
    2017 Ford F-150$1,248.80 (27.47%)$3,296.80 (72.53%)$4,545.60
    2019 BMW 740i$757.67 (13.88%)$4,701.43 (86.12%)$5,459.10

    Most of the cost of replacing a head gasket comes from the amount of labor it takes to remove the head from the engine block and put everything back together. A head gasket itself is fairly inexpensive, but since you have to take the engine apart to get to it, the cost of a replacement is usually measured in thousands of dollars. This is also why repairing a head gasket generally isn’t a viable option.

    Alternatives

    Although we caution people to avoid remedies that seem too good to be true, there is some evidence that indicates head gasket sealers may help remedy a blown head gasket for a short period of time.

    These products work using special chemicals that are activated by the heat present in the cooling system of a vehicle. Once introduced into the cooling system (usually via the radiator), a head gasket sealer works its way into the tiny gaps in a busted head gasket and seals it up.

    Every brand of head gasket sealer uses different formulations, but in general they're all safe to use multiple times if needed. Stick to well-known and well-researched brands, like K-Seal or BlueDevil, for the best results.

    What if you have a warranty?

    A possible silver lining to a blown head gasket is that most car warranties cover the cost of a head gasket replacement. So, if your original manufacturer’s warranty is still active or you purchased an extended warranty, you might not be on the hook for the repair bill. (Extended warranties can be pricey, but major repairs like this are often enough to offset the cost.)

    Most car warranties cover the cost of a head gasket replacement.”

    Powertrain coverage should pay for the cost of replacing a blown head gasket as long as you meet the terms of your warranty. Be aware that your warranty provider may look for reasons not to cover the replacement, like if you’ve modified your engine for performance or not kept up with regularly scheduled maintenance.

    Michelle, a ConsumerAffairs reviewer from California, had to jump through hoops to provide proof of maintenance after a blown head gasket: “I got my car diagnosed and the repair shop indicated that I had a blown head gasket. The warranty company was asking for proof of Ford oil change records. We perform routine oil changes ourselves on all of our vehicles and we explained that to the repair shop. … Now I'm waiting on a response and obviously still don't have my car almost a week later. I'm giving a 2-star in hopes that they will actually do the repair and not just steal from me.”

    Is it worth fixing a blown head gasket?

    Deciding whether to proceed with an expensive repair can be a daunting decision. To make up your mind, try balancing the cost of a head gasket replacement against the function you’ll get out of your vehicle once it’s running again. If your vehicle is in otherwise good condition and has plenty of life left in it, replacing a head gasket should be worth it in the long run.

    On the other hand, if your vehicle is old or not in good condition, fixing the head gasket may be more trouble than it’s worth. Keep in mind that vehicles with blown head gaskets may also overheat, causing additional damage to the engine that could cost you even more to fix.

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      FAQ

      What is a blown head gasket?

      People describe a head gasket as “blown” when the seal between the head and the block of the engine fails. A head gasket is designed to seal off the channels between the head and the block where oil and coolant flow. Once the gasket is damaged (or “blown”), coolant and oil can mix and cause various issues.

      What causes a blown head gasket?

      There are several things that can cause a blown head gasket, but the most common reason for a head gasket blowing is overheating. Overheating an engine can warp the head or block and cause the gasket to fail.

      Alternatively, some engines, like Toyota’s early 3VZEs and some Subaru 2.5L flat-fours, are more prone to head gasket issues due to poor designs or materials.

      Can you drive with a blown head gasket?

      You can potentially drive with a blown head gasket, but you may suffer further engine damage and risk overheating due to coolant loss.

      Can you fix a blown head gasket without replacing it?

      It depends on what you mean. You may be able to temporarily create a seal around a blown head gasket with a sealant product, but actually repairing your head gasket isn’t normally considered a worthwhile option. Given the amount of work necessary to reach your head gasket and the relatively low cost of a new gasket, replacement is a better bet.

      Do extended car warranties cover head gaskets?

      Extended car warranties usually cover head gaskets as long as the vehicle is not heavily modified or poorly maintained. Check your warranty plan contract for coverage details.

      Bottom line

      Dealing with a blown head gasket can be expensive, so it’s important to explore all your options to ensure you make the right decision. Call different repair shops for estimates, check your warranty coverage, consider using a head gasket sealant and decide whether a replacement is even worth it before you commit to it.

      If you need help paying for repairs, a personal loan could help you get back on the road quickly, and consider an extended warranty to help you avoid expensive repair bills in the future.

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