Can you really fix a head leak with liquid head gasket sealer?
Here’s the bad news: Most of the time head gasket sealers don’t work. Even it if does, it’s never a permanent fix. Whether it works on your engine depends on how the head gasket failed. If your head gasket leak appeared after your engine overheated, give it up, head gasket sealer is not going to work. However, if your car didn’t overheat AND the leak is between the combustion chamber and the cooling system, where you have white smoke coming from the tail pipe, you might have a chance for a temporary fix. Read on to find out how this stuff works and when it works.
What causes a head gasket leak?
Head gaskets can fail between the between the combustion chamber and the cooling jacket, between the cooling jacket and the oil passages or between a cooling or oil passage the exterior of the engine.
Leaking head gasket symptoms:
Head gasket failure between the cylinder and the cooling jacket
• Engine overheats quickly because very hot air/fuel/exhaust gasses are being pushed into the cooling system. Those hot gasses quickly overheat the coolant that’s why the engine overheats so quickly
• Coolant overflows out of the coolant reservoir. See above. Plus, all that extra gas/exhaust pushes the coolant out of the engine.
• Upper and lower radiator hoses become very hard when engine is running or detach from the engine completely. The gas/exhaust gasses raise pressure in the cooling system.
• White smoke comes from the tailpipe because coolant leaks into the combustion chamber, is burned and exists the exhaust as steam.
• Coolant reservoir empty because the coolant is being burned
Head gasket failure between the cooling jacket and oil passage
• Coolant in the oil that turns the oil into a chocolate milkshake color, OR you find oil in the coolant.
Head gasket failure between the cooling jacket and oil passage and the exterior
• An oil or coolant leak from the head gasket to the exterior will usually cause oil stains on your garage floor or driveway.
• Oil and coolant levels will be low even after your refil
• Coolant reservoir will be low or empty.
What causes the gasket to leak in the first place?
Sometimes it’s just a poor gasket design. But most often it’s because of owner neglect by not changing coolant according the manufacturer’s schedule. Coolant contains anti-corrosive additives and when they’re exhausted, corrosion build up and degrades the metal surfaces in the cylinder head and head gasket. When a head gasket fails due to coolant neglect, it usually shows up as coolant and oil mixing together to form a chocolate milk-like substance in the radiator.
How does head gasket sealer work?
Plugging head gasket sealers
A plugging type head gasket sealer contains wood pulp, pepper, ginger root, etc and works by filling the gap while the system is under pressure; like sticking a finger in the dike.
The plugging products are pretty much obsolete. They don’t work well in modern aluminum engines. They work sometimes to stop a cooling system leak in a radiator or heater core where the pressure is less than 15-psi. But they don’t work very well for head gasket leaks because the pressure can easily run up to 200-psi. Worse yet, they can plug the very small passages in your radiator or heater core.
Nano liquid glass style head gasket sealers
Bars Leaks HG1 or CRC’s KW FiberLock sealer are just two of the newer nano-technology sealers.
These work with a 1-2 punch. First, they contain a plugging sealant that forms a “finger in the dike” patch. Next, the temperature sensitive chemicals attach to the plug material and melt out of suspension to form a longer lasting. Most sealers of this type use sodium silicate, or liquid glass. The “glass” in Sodium silicate activates from high heat, the kind found around the steel ring at the top of the cylinder. The nano particles form a patch along the hottest areas of the head gasket and continue to build until the breach is sealed.
Sodium silicate sealers don’t work inside a radiator or heater core because there’s not enough heat to melt the glass out of suspension. This chemistry doesn’t work for head gasket leaks between a coolant and oil passage.
Which engines aren’t good candidates for head gasket sealer?
If you’ve overheated your engine and warped the head, you’re kidding yourself if you think either of these types of head gasket sealers will fix the problem. When a cylinder head warps, you wind up with a gap that expands and contracts during the normal heating and cooling cycles. No sealer is going to work in those cases.
Now let’s talk about the real candidates for head gasket sealer
1) First, your engine must hold coolant for at least 20 minutes without overheating. If it can’t do that, forget about head gasket sealer.
2) If the cylinder head isn’t warped due to overheating, but the head gasket has deteriorated due to poor design, pre-ignition or corrosion (not overheating) then you can give it a shot. In these cases, sealers often have an 80% success rate.
Do the more expensive head gasket sealers work better?
No. The all work with the same two technologies. The expensive ones use hype and guarantees to lure you in. If you like being scammed, played for a sucker or just plain victimized, go ahead and spend $100 and buy the expensive sealers.
Read the directions before buying a sealer
Here’s the thing about head gasket sealers; most of the sealers aren’t compatible with coolant. So you have to drain the entire (and I do mean the entire) cooling system and refill the engine and radiator with plain water before adding the sealer.
That means you have to flush the radiator, heater core, and block (pulling the threaded block plugs). Then you pour in the stuff with water and run the engine for the specified time. Then you have to drain the system again and leave it open to the air for 24-hours. Only after you’ve done that can you fill with coolant.
These sealers rarely work. They’re a lot of work for such a lousy payback. Worse yet, the leak must be small enough to allow you to run the engine long enough without leaking for the sealer to work. That’s a feat unto itself because once the engine reaches operating temperature and builds pressure it usually start leaking.
Gasket sealers can damage your radiator and heater core
Everyone online forum will tell you they plug up the radiator and heater core. Well—they can if you don’t follow the directions. Because these sealers contain a plugging agent, never add more than the label recommends. If you add too much, the plugging agents settle out of the liquid and clog the small fin tubes in the heater core and radiator. This is a case where more is NOT better.
© 2012 Rick Muscoplat
Posted on by Rick Muscoplat