If your cylinder heads are going out, you may be able to have them resurfaced instead of replacing them.
That can save you hundreds or even thousands of dollars on the parts – although not every mechanic will offer the service.
However, resurfacing a cylinder head is a relatively simple process of machining the parts – which is normally cost-effective, so long as the machine shop is set up to do the work.
As a result, you can expect the average cost of resurfacing cylinder heads to hover around $50-$125 each. In rare cases, it can go higher. However, the cost of removing and replacing the cylinder heads will still cost $300-$2,000. In addition, pressure testing can cost an additional $150 or more per cylinder head.
The table below shows a quick price comparison of cylinder head resurfacing cost estimates from reputable suppliers:
|Supplier||Cost of Labor (per head)||Pressure Testing|
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How Much Does Cylinder Head Repair Cost?*
The cost of resurfacing a cylinder head can vary greatly depending on the vehicle, the complexity of the head, and the condition of the head. However, you can expect ballpark flat rates for actual resurfacing.
In addition, you’ll have to pay your mechanic to remove the cylinder heads and put them back, which can cost significantly more than the resurfacing job.
Of course, if you know the heads have to be resurfaced, you’ve probably already taken them out.
|Vehicle||Cylinder Head Resurfacing||Mechanic Labor Cost|
|Hummer H3||$100 -$450||$995-$2,234|
|Jeep Grand Cherokee||$60-$225||$385-$1,428|
|Toyota Camry||$50 $200||$299-$1,445|
*Prices are estimates and were correct at the time of writing (January 2023). Cost estimates may have changed since, our figures should be used as a starting point for your own research.
Cylinder Head Repair Pricing Factors
It’s impossible to get an accurate quote for resurfacing cylinder heads without taking them to the machinist. Here, the actual cost will depend on factors like the machinist’s tools, the condition of the parts, their complexity, and any hidden damage.
Let’s take a look at some cost factors that could apply.
The Machine Shop
If you take your cylinder head to a machine shop that specializes in resurfacing work, you can likely have the work done for $40-$200. That will be true of any machining equipment that your mechanic owns or any machine shop they partner with.
However, if you go to a random shop, they will have to set their equipment up for the job which could be several hours of work – or several hundred dollars.
For this reason, it’s always better to go to a shop that specializes in cylinder head machining.
In some cases, your mechanic will offer you a flat rate to remove, clean, resurface, and replace the cylinder heads. This may be cheaper than paying for each step separately.
That’s especially true if you also need new valves or need other work done to the engine at the same time. For example, if you’re paying for a full engine rebuild, it will likely cost less per cylinder than if you pay for just the cylinder head resurfacing.
Complexity of the Cylinder Head
The simpler your cylinder head, the cheaper resurfacing will be. This means that more valves usually directly equates to more cost.
In addition, if you have rust, that will add to the complexity of the job, because it may require that the resurfacing cut be deeper.
Cost of Labor
Most cylinder head resurfacing costs are purely cost of labor. In this case, you’ll normally have to pay two rates.
The first is your mechanic or technician. This averages between $50 and $200 per hour, although mechanic’s rates can go higher or lower depending on your region and whether you’re going to a dealer or not.
Then, you have to consider the machinist rates. Some mechanics will train to use machining tools so they can resurface flywheels and cylinder heads themselves.
Others will partner with a local machine shop to have the work done there. In this case, you’ll likely pay between $30 and $75 per hour depending on the shop.
Extra Parts Needed
The total cost of resurfacing your cylinder head may depend on the condition of the valves and valve seals. For example, if you need valve seals or valve guides or if the valves should be replaced.
However, the machine shop won’t do this work. Instead, it will be up to your mechanic, which means you’ll pay the mechanic’s rates.
Extra Work Needed
If your cylinder heads are cracked, you’ll have to repair them. That won’t fall under resurfacing.
In addition, you’ll likely pay a separate cost to pressure test cylinder heads after resurfacing them – even if the cost includes refinishing. This means you may pay considerably more for the cylinder head refinishing than “just” the cost of machining.
5 Signs The Cylinder Head Needs Resurfacing
In most cases, you’ll know your cylinder heads need resurfacing when you take them apart to look at them.
If your cylinder head is cracked, you can have it repaired. That normally means drilling and adding pins.
You’ll then want to resurface the top and add a sealant. From there, you can pressure test to ensure the repair holds up.
Pocks or pits on the surface of the cylinder head can result in leaks. Normally, this happens after the metal corrodes, if there are rust issues, or if you have dents.
Resurfacing the cylinder heads will remove the marks and any chance of leakage.
It’s unlikely that your cylinder heads will rust.
However, if they do, resurfacing them will resolve the issue – providing the rust doesn’t go too deep.
4. No Even Surface
If your cylinder head is no longer perfectly flat, you can have it resurfaced to fix that issue.
This will prevent leaks, even if the cylinder head is very old.
If your cylinder head is leaking or steaming, it’s a good sign that it needs repairs. Often, all you’ll need is resurfacing.
However, if there are cracks or dents, you’ll want to repair those as well.
How Do You Resurface A Cylinder Head? (9 Steps)
Resurfacing a cylinder head requires specialty tooling including a CNC milling device. Therefore, this is not a job you can do yourself unless you work in the industry.
However, you can opt to take the cylinder head off your vehicle to bring it to the shop yourself.
Things you’ll need:
- Ratchet set
- Wrench set
- Camshaft puller
- Screwdriver set
- White paint or timing gun
In addition, you’ll want replacement gaskets, a torque wrench, new coolant, new engine oil, and brake cleaner for when you go to put everything back.
Removing The Cylinder Head
Removing the cylinder head can vary depending on whether you have an overhead cam or an overhead valve engine. In addition, if you have a dual overhead cam engine, it will get more complicated.
However, as all dual overhead cam engines also have two cylinder blocks and therefore two cylinder heads, the process remains roughly the same.
- Park your car on a flat and level surface, turn the engine off, remove the key from the ignition, and then disconnect the battery from the negative terminal.
- Drain the engine oil into a pan. Drain the coolant into a pan. If you’re reusing either, cover them with plastic wrap or a bag to prevent contamination in the meantime.
- Use a wire brush and clean the top of the engine then wipe it down
- Disconnect the intake and exhaust manifolds by unbolting them from the cylinder head and rotating them out of the way. In some engines, you’ll have to fully remove them.
- Check for other parts along the way. The engine cover, valves, and electronics like the battery, fan, and alternator are common parts that have to be removed.
- Disassemble the valve assembly
- If you have rocker arms, remove the valve cover and unbolt them. Make sure you label them so they can go back correctly. If you have a camshaft through the cylinder head, you’ll have to remove the timing cover and remove the timing chain. Normally, this requires using a ratchet to loosen the tension on the timing sprocket so you can slide the chain or belt off. Here, it’s a good idea to use white paint to mark the timing so you can put everything back exactly as it was.
- Undo the head bolts and place them into labeled plastic bags to ensure you remember the right order to put them back. Check your manual to ensure you have reusable head bolts before putting them back in.
- Remove the cylinder head. You may have to tap it with a mallet to remove it.
From there, you can take your cylinder head to the shop to have it resurfaced. Here, it’s important to ensure that you cover the engine and any parts while you wait.
If your machine shop isn’t planning to machine your parts the same day, it could take several days for them to have time for you.
If you still have questions about having your cylinder head resurfaced, this FAQ will help.
What is cylinder head resurfacing?
Resurfacing is the process of shaving or cutting a thin layer of metal off the top of the cylinder head. This removes any imperfections in the metal and restores it to be perfectly flat.
Normally, the idea is to ensure that the cylinder head can create a perfect seal with the gasket, preventing leaks.
Is it better to resurface or replace your cylinder heads?
In most cases, it’s much cheaper to resurface cylinder heads than to replace them. However, the decision should depend on how damaged the cylinder heads are.
If you have to cut them down too far, it’s better to replace them. However, you can always take them to the shop to get a recommendation from a professional.
Can you drive with damaged cylinder heads?
You cannot drive with damaged cylinder heads. Your vehicle could overheat. In addition, your vehicle could lose power if steam or fluid escapes from around the cylinder head.
If you also keep driving with a damaged cylinder head, it could ruin your engine.
Is resurfacing a cylinder head a good idea?
Resurfacing cylinder heads can be significantly cheaper than replacing them. Therefore, if you have the option, it’s usually the recommended one.
In addition, if you already have your cylinder heads off the engine, taking the time to have them resurfaced could save you a repair down the road. However, whether or not it’s a good idea will always depend on the condition of the head.
For example, if it’s in perfect condition, there’s no reason to have it resurfaced. On the other hand, if you already have slight imperfections or spots that look problematic, resurfacing could be a great option.
In addition, you may want to have your cylinder heads pressure tested. However, that won’t always be necessary.
For example, if you fix a crack, you’ll always want a pressure test. On the other hand, if you’re doing preventive maintenance before an issue is actually bad, you could probably skip pressure testing.
How long does resurfacing a cylinder head take?
In most cases, it will take about 2 hours to machine a cylinder head to resurface it. However, that’s the actual time on the machine.
You may have to wait much longer to calibrate the machine, to have a professional available to do the work, or for the machine to not be in use.
So, depending on the waitlist, you might have to wait up to two weeks.
Resurfacing a cylinder head can be a cost-effective alternative to replacing it. However, costs can vary significantly from shop to shop. In addition, the cost of resurfacing a cylinder head does not include the cost of removing the cylinder head – which is likely to be between $400 and $1600 for most vehicles. However, you can often resurface cylinder heads for $50-$220 each. If you choose to pressure test, that will cost more as well.
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