How to Remove a Head Gasket

  • 4-6 hours
  • Intermediate
  • 75-125
What You'll Need
Pry bar
Service manual

The cylinder head gasket performs an important function. It keeps coolant and oil away from areas where there is combustion. When the cylinder head gasket goes, you’ll find your engine running hot and white smoke coming from the exhaust. When that happens, you’ll need to replace the head gasket. The first step is to remove the old head gasket. This is a big job but you can manage it without extensive auto repair knowledge.

Step 1 - Drain the Coolant

Before you start removing pieces from your engine, you need to drain the coolant. Wait until your engine is completely cold; then open the drain on the radiator and place a bucket underneath to catch the coolant. Let it drain completely.

Step 2 - Remove the Distributor

Look at the intake manifold of your engine and you’ll see the distributor. Check underneath it and you’ll find the bolt that holds it in place. Loosen this and pull up on the distributor to remove it.

Step 3 - Remove the Manifolds

Now use your wrench to loosen the bolts on the intake manifold. You’ll need to use the pry bar to remove the manifold from the engine. Go gently, as you’ll be replacing it later. On the side of the cylinder head, you’ll see the exhaust manifold with several bolts holding it in. You’ll need to use your wrench to loosen and remove these bolts before you remove the manifold.

Step 4 - Access and Remove the Cylinder Head

Take off the valve cover. With your wrench, remove the bolts and lift it off. You will now see the rocker arms. At this point, loosen and remove the nut from each of the rocker arms. Working one by one, lift out each of the rocker arms and push rods.

When you’ve removed them, you’ll be ready to remove the cylinder head. There’s a specific way to do this. Start with the bolts on the outside; loosen them a little and then work inward. When they have all been loosened a little, go back to the beginning and completely loosen them before you remove all the bolts.

You’re ready to take off the cylinder head. It should lift off quite easily, but if it doesn’t, you’ll need to pry it off. If prying is necessary, be very careful because you don’t want to damage the cylinder head. Go little by little all around to work it loose and remove it.

Step 5 - Remove the Head Gasket

With the cylinder head off, you can now reach the head gasket to remove it. Normally the head gasket will simply lift off. It’s held in place by some protrusions; the holes on the gasket fit over these.

There will probably be some of the gasket material left on the block and head. You’ll need to use a scraper to remove this and clean them thoroughly before you put on a new head gasket. Discard the old gasket because you can’t reuse it. Make sure you fit a new gasket the right way round.