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At any given time, a vehicle has a wide variety of fluids and gases circulating through its systems. Should any of these substances accidentally mix or escape, it could prove problematic or even dangerous. Luckily, your vehicle keeps these substances under wrap with the help of hundreds of gaskets. While gaskets can last for a long time, eventually, they deteriorate, which can lead to expensive repairs.

Here are a few things you should know about gaskets and how to help prevent one from failing:

What do Gaskets do?

Gaskets form an impenetrable bond between two or more surfaces, so fluids, gases, and other liquids can’t mix or escape. They are designed to withstand contact with a variety of chemicals, tolerate extreme temperatures, and mold themselves to any imperfections in the surface(s) being sealed. They are engineered to the exact specifications of a vehicle so they can provide a perfect seal.

What are Gaskets Made Out of?

Gaskets are typically flat and can be made from a variety of materials. The most common material is multi-layered steel (MLS), which consists of two to five layers of thin steel. Copper is another common material, as it capable of delivering long-lasting performance. Rubber is also a popular choice, it is flexible and molds well to any surface imperfections.

What are Common Gasket Types?

The most common type of gasket is the head gasket, which helps to fill the gap(s) between the cylinder head and the engine block. An intake manifold gasket helps regulate the temperature inside of the chamber, while also preventing air from escaping during combustion. Exhaust manifold gaskets largely do the same thing, however, they are installed between the cylinder head and the exhaust manifold. The main bearing gasket is designed to keep oil in the oil pan while the crankshaft is moving. A camshaft gasket, or cam seal, prevents oil from leaking out and blocks dust and dirt from getting into the engine.

What are Signs of Gasket Failure?

High levels of compression can create a hole in the gasket, which could lead to failure. When this happens, you may notice foaming, bubbling, and gargling within the radiator, rapid pressure buildup in the cooling system, white smoke coming from the tailpipe, oil in the coolant, and low cylinder pressure.

Another common sign of gasket failure stems from the engine of a vehicle overheating, which is typically the result of increased wear due to motor oil being mixed with antifreeze. Hydrolock can occur if a large amount of coolant leaks into the cylinders, which causes the exhaust to issue steam and damage the catalytic converter. A sign of head gasket failure on water-cooled engines is the presence of a substance that resembles mayonnaise in the oil. This can often be seen on the dipstick or oil filter cap.

How to Prevent Gasket Failure?

Gaskets can and will go bad, or “blow,” and the most common reasons for gasket failure are engine overheating, deficient gasket design, detonation damage, and improper torque. While these factors all lead to failure, there are things that can be done to prevent failure and prolong the life of a gasket. An easy way to extend the life of a gasket is to change vehicle coolant and oil at recommended levels. Additionally, using manufacturer-recommended coolant, maintaining proper torque on head bolts, and watching for early signs of gasket failure can help to prolong the life of a gasket and avoid costly repairs.
Gaskets play an essential role in keeping fluids and gases where they need to be in your vehicle. Should one get damaged, even in a tiny way, it could lead to much bigger problems. If you’re up to task to do some gasket repair work yourself, Pep Boys has everything you need to get the job done right. Or, if you’re looking for more practiced hands, schedule an appointment at your local store and let our ASE-certified technicians get you back on the road.