Head Gasket Question

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Head Gasket Question

Postby Canuklehead » 10 Mar 2006, 20:50

Hey Everybody,

I'm new here... just registered and thought I'd use my first post for something I need big-time help with.

(prepare for Backstory)
A while ago I bought an '86 Chevette that was driven by the previous owner occasionally around town... never on any "long hauls". Well, I used it to commute to and from work for about five months, 70+ KM each day. This December, she died. I took her in to the Mechanic who did work on the heater and took her for a ride. While he was out, the Head Gasket cracked and he said it wouldn't be worth it to fix.

Here's my question to you. (first, I'm not really a car guy... but I'm trying to get to know a few things so I can fool around in the summer... why not, eh?) What should I be looking for in a cracked Head Gasket? Not that I don't trust the guy, but I'd like to see the problem for myself.

Also, is it worth getting repaired at a mechanic, or is it better to go the route of a new engine. I'm not really sure what sort of work I can get done on it and I'm not really sure what would be worth it. Ideally I'd like to be able to do it myself, but it's likely too big a job for just me.

Sorry, hope that helps. Thanks for any help you can give me. If you need any more info, just ask away. I'd really like to get back in this car... it's been my favorite to drive so far. Thanks again.
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Postby Neilyman » 10 Mar 2006, 23:49

Hi There, Welcome to the forum.

Don`t know anything about US Chevettes....but....I can`t see a head gasket as being `not worth fixing`.

Try sending the member called Chevette Girl a PM, I`m sure she will know. :)

She`s #39 in the member list, link at top of page ;)
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Postby Shellysowner » 10 Mar 2006, 23:55

Hi and welcome to the forum. I don't want to sound rude but are you sure you mean the head gasket? The head gasket is basically a seal between the cylinder head and the engine block and if one fails it would usually be referred to as 'blown' by a mechanic. Its a fairly cheap part - I don't know what car spares prices are like in Canada but I'd hazard a guess that a new head gasket would set you back around $25 Canadian. The major cost in replacing it would be the labour as it requires the cylinder head to be removed from the engine. A component that is more likely to be 'craked' is the cylinder head itself which is the large chunk of metal that forms the top of the enigne. It contains all the valve gear etc. and I wouldn't expect that GM still supply these new - however you should be able to pick one up from a scrap car fairly cheaply. The labour charge for having the head replaced should be roughly the same as having the head gasket replaced (you'd need a new head gasket anyway) as it's essentially the same job - except that all the engine ancilliaries have to be completely stripped off the old head and bolted to the new one. In this case the only new parts apart from the head would be what is known as a 'head set' - basically all the gaskets that come into contact with the cylinder head including the head gasket. These are probably around $40 Canadian but you may have to get one in either case as head gaskets are often not sold seperately and are only supplied in a 'head set'. Either way I wouldn't recommend the new engine option as that would surely work out more expensive. If you want absolute specifics about the job and prices the I'd recommend sending a private message to 'Chevette Girl' who is our resident Canadian Chevette expert.
Last edited by Shellysowner on 10 Mar 2006, 23:57, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby Shellysowner » 10 Mar 2006, 23:56

Neilyman wrote:Try sending the member called Chevette Girl a PM, I`m sure she will know. :)


Damn - beat me :P
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Postby Doive » 11 Mar 2006, 02:34

Welcome to the forum mate. Look upon this car as an opportunity - if you have the space, keep it and have a bash at fixing the problem yourself, you can't make it any more broke than it already is! I'd get yourself a good workshop manual and some tools, then get the head off the car and have it leak tested - this is where they pressurise the waterways and check for cracks etc, that will tell you if the head has gone or not. Then either replace the head, or stick the old one back on with a new head gasket, rebolt everything else on, start her up, stand back and admire.
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Postby Herbie_Flowers » 11 Mar 2006, 20:37

Doive wrote:stick the old one back on with a new head gasket, rebolt everything else on, start her up, stand back and admire.

and wait for the head gasket to go again as you haven't bothered to get the head skimmed :roll:
welcome to the forum mate, how many Km's has your car covered as it might be worth exchanging your head for a recon one and buying a head set.
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Postby Doive » 12 Mar 2006, 01:14

Depends Nick, typically with a cast head it won't need skimmed unless it has seriously boiled. With an alloy head they need skimmed pretty much as a matter of course when the HG fails. I'm only going by that. If it has distorted, then it will obviously need skimmed, if unsure then get it done anyway.
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Postby Herbie_Flowers » 12 Mar 2006, 01:21

Doive wrote:Depends Nick, typically with a cast head it won't need skimmed unless it has seriously boiled.

well yeah you'd have thought that but i know from experience, my original Chevettes' head gasket blew and i tried just replacing the head gasket and it blew again, that simply replacing the gasket is not enough. for the cost of a skim and having to replace another head gasket if it blew again just get it done.
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Postby Canuklehead » 12 Mar 2006, 02:01

Thanks for the welcome, everyone.

Sorry for not clarifying... The mechanic did say that it "blew". I asked exactly what was up with it and he said that it was cracked and while driving blew (if I remember correctly).

Glad to hear the price isn't too high for a new one... I might get one new, or stop by a scrap yard. Don't know how successful the latter will be, I live in a small area and it might be tough to find.

As for labour, I wouldn't bet it's something I'd be able to do on my own. I know someone that may be able to help, so I'll ask his advice too, but it's certainly good to hear that the car's not out of the game just yet. I love driving that little car.

And I'll send that PM too... Hopefully she can help. Thanks!
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Postby Neilyman » 12 Mar 2006, 09:01

Well, for what it`s worth, I replaced my blown head gasket without skimming the head.
It`s been perfect ever since!....It blew `tween cylinders 1 & 2 though.
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Postby Shellysowner » 12 Mar 2006, 14:43

Canuklehead wrote:Glad to hear the price isn't too high for a new one... I might get one new, or stop by a scrap yard. Don't know how successful the latter will be, I live in a small area and it might be tough to find.


You don't want to be buying a second hand head gasket - they have to be new. The man at the scrapyard will only give you a funny look if that's what you ask for anyway. :lol:
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Postby Canuklehead » 12 Mar 2006, 15:44

Shellysowner wrote:You don't want to be buying a second hand head gasket - they have to be new. The man at the scrapyard will only give you a funny look if that's what you ask for anyway. :lol:


Heh, good to know. Thanks :)
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Postby Harry Flatters » 12 Mar 2006, 21:31

I've done more headgaskets - on my own and customer vehicles - than I care to think of, and I can't think that I've ever had to have a head skimmed, or had a repeat failure.

Check the head visually and with a good straight edge & feelers - if it's within tolerance for straightness and the surface finish is still good it'll be fine.
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Postby Herbie_Flowers » 12 Mar 2006, 21:55

i've skimmed more heads than i care to remember due to head gasket failure and they never came back
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Postby Chevette Girl » 19 Mar 2006, 18:46

Heh, sorry I wasn't able to be more help earlier...

For a new gasket set, try Canadian Tire or Part Source, I've had pretty good luck with both of those places ordering things in for me and and my ancient little car, and as a bonus, if you can find them, the parts are usually cheap. $20-$50 is the range I'd expect for a head gasket, all the gaskets/sets I've bought (pretty much every one except that one now :) ) have been under $40.

Another wise investment is the good old Haynes manual (Canadian Tire should be able to get you one), and if you check Ebay, you can usually find a GM shop manual for under $40 (I paid $20 US for mine).

For a replacement head, if you've got another vehicle, I can suggest a couple of scrapyards in Ottawa that still have Chevettes around, give 417 Auto Parts a call, also try Union Auto Parts (I think they have a toll free number and if they don't have an acceptable junker they'll order you the part, eventually).

If you've got a buddy who knows about cars, hopefully he'll have all the tools you'll need, you might want to go over the car and the list of steps with him to make sure you're not going to get stuck in the middle of it because you don't have the right sized thingamabob...

1986 shop manual directions for removing the cylinder head (with my comments if I've done that myself at any point):
1)disconnect negative battery cable (easy)
2) remove upper fan shroud (easy)
3) remove accessory drive belts (easy, loosen the swing arm-thingy on the alternator, fan belt falls off)
4) Remove engine fan (not too bad, kinda cramped if I recall)
5) Remove timing belt upper cover retaining screws and nuts, remove cover (bit of a pain in the ar$e, especially if you try to remove it without taking off the fan first :) )
6) Loosen idler pulley and remove timing belt from camshaft and drive sprocket (easy once the cover's off)
7) Align the cam and crank timing marks (get help if you don't know what you're looking at, you don't want to blow something else if you try to start it up when it's wrong)
*/Chevette Girl comment: having a mechanic dissassemble it this far, replace the timing belt and water pump, then put it all back together is about $300, about $200 of which is labour, so I figure this much would be about an hour to an hour nad a half to take apart, and about the same to put back together) /*
8 ) Remove air cleaner and silencer assembly (easy)
9) Drain cooling system (easy, jusst a drain plug at bottom of rad, but potentially messy, you'll want some absorbant stuff to clean up with especially if there are critters or children about), remove upper radiator hose at thermostat and heater hose at intake manifold (not bad if the hoses aren't stuck, if they are, you may well end up needing to replace them if you mangle them too badly while removing, luckily, another pretty inexpensive set of parts)
10) If equipped with AC, remove AC compressor.
11) Remove accelerator cable support bracket (if it's the bit I'm thinking of right on top of the engine, very easy)
12) Remove spark plug wires from cam covers (they just pop off, you might want to label things as you go)
13) Disconnect electrical connections and vacuum hoses (I'd definitely want to label both sides of any things I disconnect that aren't intuitively obvious, if you've got a digital camera, use it too)
14) Raise vehicle and disconnect exhaust pipe at manifold flange (pain in ar$e - the bolts will likely be fused, and you'l definitely want a long set of sockets, it's hard to get a wrench in there and standard depth sockets are too shallow)
15) Remove heater pipe at oil pan (not sure offhand, don't feel like crawling under the car to look right now)
16) Lower vehicle
17) Remove heater hose pipe from exhaust manifold (dead simple, it's the short bit of metallic dryer hose that will probably try to fall off when you take off the air cleaner)
18 ) Disconnect heater hose from heater core (I'd have done this back at step 9 when draining cooling and disconnecting rad hose, try not to mangle the heater core pipes, it's about $75 for a new core)
19) Remove heater core (not sure if they want you to just disconnect it or if they want it right out, if right out, you have to take that whole black assembly with the fan and damper and heater core out, it's not hard except for a few of the screws at the bottom, which are a pain to get to and I usually leave them out when I put it back together)
20) Disconnect AIR hose at AIR management check valve (dunno, ya got me)
21) Disconnect ground wire at core support (not sure what they mean here either)
22) Disconnect positive battery cable at battery (I'd have done this right after step 1)
23) Remove alternator and lay aside (I'd have done this at step 3 when removing the fan belt - it's pretty intuitive, disconnect the cables first, take out the bolt along the slider arm, then take off the big bolt that goes through the top)
24) Remove bolt holding dipstick bracket to exhaust manifold (never done this, but again, the bolts might be fused)
25) Disconnect fuel line at carb (easy)
26) Disconnect secondary voltage line from coil (I think this is the middle line from the distributor cap, the one that doesn't go to the spark plugs)
27) Remove coil bracket fasteners and lay coil aside (never changed the coil myself, I think it's the bit at the non-distributor end of the aforementioned middle wire)
28 ) Remove cam covers (not sure why you need ot, maybe it's how to access the head bolts? In any case, disconnect the PCV valve (on the driver's side cover) and remove the wiring harness and any other brackets, then it's just two bolts on each side, easy, you might want to get a set of new gaskets while you're in there anyway, I think it was $20 for the last set I got, the hard part is scraping off the old gasket & sealant, I used paper towels stuffed into the head to keep the crap out of the engine and my thumbnail to remove most of the gasket, although I'm sure there's another tool somewhere that will scrape the stuff off without scratching the surface, I also used steel wool but I'm not sure how good an idea that is, not sure if that's why they're leaking again or if I did them up too tight and all the sealant oozed out)
29) Remove rocker arms, guides and valve lash adjusters, lay them out in a rack so they can be reinstalled in the same location as before (again, not sure why you need to do this, but I've only helped with removing an engine head once, off a Datsun in Auto shop in high school, 15 years ago)
30) Remove camshaft carrier to cylinder head attaching bolts and remove camshaft carrier. It may be necessary to use a sharp wedge to separate the carrier from the head. DO NOT DAMAGE THE MATING SURFACES.
31) Remove cylinder head and manifold assembly (didn't know the manifolds were attached on a Chevette, but if they mean separately, the exhaust manifold is going to be a lot of work as the bolts are usually fused from exhaust heat)

I'm not entirely sure that all steps are necessary if you're just changing the head gasket or if you're replacing the head with one that's got most of the bits attached, anyone please feel free to comment if you've done this before, as I'm interested.

Reassembly: Not gonna type it all out now, but here's the executive summary: there's an order in which the head bolts are to be tightened, the gasket indicates "this side up", use Loctite or equivalent on mating surfaces, use a torque wrench to tighten the head bolts properly, reinstall stuff from step 29 in the same place it was removed from, then step 28, then 27 (again with the torque wrench), then carry on reversing what was done in the same order you took it off, at step 9, fill the coolant system, leave the rad cap off, continue reassembling everything, making sure your timing marks from step 7 are aligned, keep putting things back on in the reverse order in which you took them off, and when everything's back together, start the car with the rad cap off, adjust timing, adjust carb, then when it's at operating temperature, stop it and add more coolant if required, put on the rad cap and hopefully everything's beautiful again.
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Postby Canuklehead » 22 Mar 2006, 13:18

whoa, thanks! I have a few people that work on cars... one that was actually looking for a Chevette to canabalize and work on his others with! I won't be giving mine up to him, but I think I might be able to get some help with the project at least, anyway.

But thanks for the insight into the job... that's a huge help! Gives me an idea of how big the it really will be.

Hopefully, once the weather warms, we'll be able to get it done. I'll keep you posted! :)
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Postby Chevette Girl » 24 Mar 2006, 01:03

Hey, Canuklehead, PM me if the friend of yours looking to cannibalize a Chevette is interested in a 1987 4-door standard with most parts intact... it's southeast of Ottawa in a barn... if he can come take it away, he can have it as long as he doesn't mind it missing a few bits... (specifically the clutch pedal and shifter knob, maybe one or two other bits but probably not)
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