If your head gasket is going out, you’re likely experiencing degrading vehicle performance, oil leaks, and engine overheating.
If the issue persists, it could cause worse damage to the cylinders and the engine block.
Therefore, it’s crucial to react and fix a head gasket problem as quickly as possible.
The average cost of repairing a head gasket is $1500-$2,000. However, as almost $1,000 of this tends to be labor, you can normally save a great deal by choosing to do the work yourself. At the same time, replacing a head gasket is a complicated job and you may need the professional help.
The table below shows a quick price comparison of head gasket repair cost estimates from reputable suppliers:
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How Much Does Head Gasket Repair Cost?*
The largest cost factor in repairing or replacing a head gasket is the cost of labor. That’s because you’re looking at a minimum of 8 hours of labor to replace the head gasket.
Often, your mechanic will spend 12 hours or more on the job, including cleaning and machining the engine head.
With the average national mechanic’s rate hovering just under $100 per hour, that adds up to a considerable bill.
However, other factors are also important. The type of gasket, the make and model of your vehicle, and location will also impact costs.
The following price estimates cover multiple popular vehicles:
|Vehicle||Head Gasket Cost||Labor Cost|
|Dodge Ram 1500||$65-$326||$562-$1,578|
*Note: Prices are estimates and were correct at the time of writing (June 2022). Cost estimates may have changed since, our figures should be used as a starting point for your own research.
Head Gasket Repair Price Factors
Head gasket repair costs heavily depend on factors like labor, the make and model of the vehicle, and what kind of parts you buy.
In addition, if you go to a shop, you might have to consider machining and machine shop rates as well.
Cost of Parts
Head gaskets range in price from about $8 to well over $400. The difference is usually in brand, in material, and in the rating of the part. Here, head gaskets come in multiple different materials.
The cheapest ones are made of fiberglass or Teflon. On the other hand, high-end head gaskets are almost always made of steel, because it’s durable and very unlikely to leak.
Copper is also extremely good for head gaskets and may be a better fit for your engine than steel.
For example, if you have an older engine with a damaged block, copper will provide a better seal because the softer metal will conform to the block better.
Eventually, this will greatly impact the cost of parts. In addition, you’ll have to consider the brand.
If you choose an OEM (original equipment manufacturer) part, you’ll probably pay around $200-$400 for a head gasket.
On the other hand, if you choose an aftermarket (made to fit) part, you’ll likely drop that cost down to $50-$100.
And, if you choose a “universal” part, or one that’s simply made to fit as many vehicles as possible, you’ll likely pay less than $50.
Therefore, the costs of the part can change immensely based on what you choose.
Cost of Labor
The cost of labor is an extremely important part of pricing a head gasket replacement.
Here, you’ll have to consider several costs:
- Hourly rate: Typically, $90-$120, nationally mechanics charge $15-$210
- Shop fee: 5-20% of total costs
- Garage fee: Cost of parking your vehicle on the lot or in the garage while the repairs are done ($15-$100 per day)
- Machining fee: Cost of any machining needed to re-fit or resurface the gasket ($50-$300)
In most cases, replacing a gasket will take 8-12 hours, with an average of 9.
So, if your mechanic charges $94.99, you have a 20% shop fee, you’re leaving the vehicle for 3 days, and you’re expecting to need a few hours of machining to refit the parts, your bill might look like this:
$854.91 (labor) + $170 (machine shop) + $75 (lot fee) + shop fee $219.80 (20%) = $1318.80
If your head gasket comes off cleanly, the cylinders are in good shape, and you can easily reassemble everything, you’re usually looking at 8-9 hours of work.
However, there are often complicating factors that might add to the cost.
For example, if you have to resurface the cylinder head, you’ll have to factor in costs to disassemble it as well as the machining costs.
Most mechanics also recommend taking time to change other parts at the same time, as oil filters, coolant, and other systems might need the gasket taken off to replace them.
Therefore, doing everything at once can save you significantly, especially if those parts are near the end of lifespan anyway.
For this reason, some mechanics recommend calculating in about 15 hours of your mechanic’s time to replace a gasket + additional work.
6 Signs & Symptoms of a Blown Head Gasket
In most cases, head gasket issues will mimic signs of an oil leak.
That can make it difficult to tell if you have a gasket issue or another oil leak.
However, if you check spark plugs and they have oil on them, it’s almost always because of a leaking head gasket.
The following 6 symptoms of a blown head gasket are also good tells.
1. White and Frothy Oil
A broken head gasket can allow your engine oil to mix with engine coolant. The result is often a milky or white oil that froths where it leaks or even in the oil reservoir.
In any case where your oil is frothing, it’s a sign that something has been contaminated.
Of course, if you have no other negative symptoms, this might be because something contaminated the oil reservoir.
However, if you have other symptoms or your oil decontaminates after a system flush, the head gasket is a very likely culprit.
2. Leaking Coolant
If you’re leaking coolant and it’s not obviously a line or it’s obviously coming out from around the cylinders, it’s very likely to be a head gasket issue.
Of course, you could be leaking coolant for nearly any reason.
However, the head gasket is a likely issue. In addition, you’ll often see your engine overheating or coolant running low before you notice actual leaks.
While the issue could still be “just” a coolant leak, it’s important to review other symptoms, where the leak is, etc.
3. Reduced Engine Performance
A blown gasket will reduce compression in the engine, meaning that it performs less efficiently. You’ll probably notice increased fuel usage and decreased performance.
If the problem gets very bad, you’ll probably also start to notice a rough idle when standing still and engine knock when driving.
If it gets worse, you could even start stalling while driving. This problem happens because reduced compression causes parts to move around more than they should. They can literally knock against each other, permanently damaging your cylinders.
If you hear engine knocking, it’s crucial to get the issue fixed ASAP, before you have to replace the engine.
4. Oily Spark Plugs
If you have oil or coolant on your spark plugs, it’s almost always an issue with the head gasket.
Here, you can normally remove the cover to check. As a rule, there should never be oil on the spark plugs.
5. White Exhaust Smoke
White exhaust smoke means there’s an oil leak in a place where the oil can enter the combustion chamber. Normally, that means the head gasket. However, it’s not always the case.
However, this symptom is still one to pay attention to because it is most often a head gasket issue.
6. Bubbling (Radiator) Coolant
If your radiator coolant is full of air or bubbling, it means something is wrong. While it could mean you have a vacuum pressure or other similar issue, it often means air is getting into the coolant from a blown head gasket.
You can normally check this and compare it with other symptoms.
How To Repair a Head Gasket in 14 Steps
Replacing the head gasket will take you the better part of a day and possibly two if cleaning and reassembly don’t go as easily as you’d like.
Make sure you have time, a covered roof, and the parts you need before you get started.
In addition, if you decide the cylinder heads need to be refinished, you can take them off and bring them to a machine shop to do the work for you.
Here, you’ll pay the same fee you would with the mechanic – but you can’t normally do the work yourself unless you have the tools.
Finally, by the time a head gasket wears out, your engine is probably fairly worn down.
One of the reasons mechanics take so much time on the job is that they inspect other parts of the engine to ensure everything nearing end-of-life or that is worn out is replaced at the same time.
Things you’ll need:
- Ratchet set (Usually mm but check your vehicle)
- Replacement gasket
- Optional: replacement spark plugs
- Brake cleaner
- Turkey baster or small hand pump
- Disposable gloves
- Large flat screwdriver
- Replacement o rings
- Scraping tool
Before you get started: Park your vehicle on a flat and level surface. Then, turn the engine off.
Take the key out of the ignition. Then, unplug the battery from the negative post and tuck that up out of the way.
Make sure you take the key out before doing so, as most modern vehicles will auto-lock the doors and windows when the power is cut.
- Take the hoses off the valve cover. Here, you’ll normally need a small flat screwdriver to undo clamps. However, you may simply be able to pry them off. If you’re concerned about getting them back in the right place, use masking tape and colored markers to color code them first. In addition, if you have a vehicle that’s about 15 years old or older, you’ll likely have to remove the carburetor first. Here, you can simply remove the pan from the top and then unbolt the center bolt holding the carburetor in place.
- Remove the spark plug wires/coil on plug depending on your engine. These should clip or snap off. Normally, you’ll have a small clamp to depress.
- Use a ratchet to remove the valve cover. Most engines use a 10mm bolt here.
- Use a large screwdriver or a small crowbar to pry the valve covers loose.
- Pull the valve cover off and set it aside. You’ll want to clean it thoroughly later.
- Take the valve cover gasket off. If it’s silicone or rubber, it might have literally melted, in which case you’ll have to clean it off.
- Then, remove the O-rings. These may also have to be scraped off. Double check the seals and make sure they are clean.
- Remove the spark plugs. These should simply screw out. However, you might have to use a tool to screw them out and they may have a hex or Allen wrench center fitting. You should always check your engine.
- Use a small hand pump or turkey baster to empty the oil from the valve casing.
- Use brake cleaner to thoroughly clean the surface of the cylinder. You’ll want to avoid using metal or scrubbing because damaging the cylinder. Instead, use brake cleaner, allow it to set in, and then wipe it off with disposable cloths.
- Fit your new gasket on the cylinder and push everything into the holes so that it’s snug. If it doesn’t fit down, you may have to have the head refinished. Use your best judgement.
- Clean the spark plugs or replace them. The rubber should be clean and not degraded. However, if the only issue is the rubber, you can replace just that.
- Fit everything back into place.
Then, you can test the engine to make sure everything is working.
In most cases, you’ll need replacement engine oil to top it back up. You might also have to refill coolant.
Frequently Asked Questions
Replacing a head gasket is not a simple job, chances are, you still have questions:
Is it worth it to replace a head gasket?
Sometimes it’s worth it to replace the head gasket. However, many mechanics will take head gasket replacement as a time to rebuild the engine.
In most cases, a full engine rebuild will cost you from about $2,500 – or just under double what a head gasket replacement will cost.
If your engine is old, it may be worthwhile to get an expert opinion before doing the work or having it done.
Why is head gasket replacement so expensive?
Most of the cost of replacing a head gasket is the cost of labor. Here, you’re normally looking at 9-15 hours of your mechanic’s time to do the work.
That includes tearing down the engine, cleaning the old gasket and O-rings off, any refinishing that has to be done, inspecting the timing belts, seals, and rings, and otherwise ensuring everything is as it should be, before rebuilding it.
If you’re not an expert, you may spend significantly more time on the job.
Should I fix a blown gasket or replace the engine?
That depends on the state of the engine. For example, if your leaking gasket caused major cylinder damage, it’s probably better to simply replace the engine.
However, this can be difficult to tell by simply looking at the engine unless the cylinders are visibly warped, dented, or cracked.
Can I replace a head gasket myself?
You can replace a head gasket yourself.
However, the job is complicated, takes a significant amount of time, and you do need some experience to determine if the gasket fits well or if you should have it fitted.
Therefore, this is an intermediate to difficult job – not one that’s a best fit for beginners.
Head gaskets are normally designed to last at least 200,000 miles, which is expected to be the lifespan of the vehicle.
If something goes wrong and yours blows out, fixing it will normally cost you $1,500-$2,000+. Most of those costs are in labor, where you can expect your mechanic to spend 8-16 hours on the job.
However, you can lower head gasket repair costs by doing the work yourself – but it is a big job.
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