What Causes a Blown Head Gasket?

Maybe you see some white smoke coming out of the tailpipe while you drive, or maybe your car feels a bit sluggish or under powered. You bring your car to a repair shop and the service advisor says you have a blown head gasket. Most people know the head gasket is an important component in their vehicle’s engine, but not as many understand exactly what it does and what causes it to fail. Read on to learn more about the function of the head gasket, and why it’s such a serious issue when it blows.

What does the head gasket do?

Your engine is divided into two parts. The bottom end, which contains the crankshaft, pistons, connecting rods, and oil pump. These components live in the engine block, and their movement provides power and torque to the transmission and eventually, the wheels.

bottom end four cylinder engine
The bottom end of an engine.

The cylinder head is the “top half” of the engine. The head contains the valves, camshaft(s), spark plugs, as well as the ports allowing fresh air into the engine and exhaust out of it. The valves and spark plugs work to create the combustion needed to drive your car.

aluminum cylinder head four cylinder
An aluminum cylinder head.

The head gasket is the barrier that sits between the bottom end of the motor and the cylinder head. Its job is to seal the combustion happening in each cylinder and maintain compression. Additionally, the head gasket prevents oil and coolant from mixing. It serves as a barrier between the coolant channels that run through the engine block, and the oil contained in the rotating assembly.

complete engine
A complete engine with both the bottom and the cylinder head. The head gasket seals the two together.

What causes a head gasket to fail?

In general, head gaskets are pretty robust and, in most cases, last well over 100,000 miles. That being said, some conditions can cause premature head gasket failure.

Overheating

Engine overheating is one of the most common causes of a blown head gasket. When the engine gets too hot, the gasket is exposed to temperatures outside of what it is meant to handle. Extreme heat can cause failure. Overheating can also cause warping or cracking in the cylinder head or engine block, preventing the head gasket from sealing correctly.

Pre-ignition and detonation

Both pre-ignition and detonation can cause premature head gasket failure. Both of these conditions result in high heat and pressure in the cylinder, putting extreme stress on the gasket, not to mention the pistons and valves. Remember that pre-ignition occurs before the spark plug fires, and detonation occurs after.

Abrupt temperature changes

The head gasket expands and contracts to depend on the temperature of the engine. If you start your engine cold and immediately put your foot down, the shock of the abrupt temperature change can cause a head gasket failure. Allowing your car to get up to proper operating temperature before aggressive acceleration will help prevent head gasket failure.

vehicle temperature gauge

High mileage and age

Gaskets wear out. A car that has significant mileage on it without ever having a head gasket replacement may run into issues. Age can cause the materials in the gasket to break down and not seal as well as they used to. Manufacturers prescribe a head gasket replacement once a car hits a certain mileage point. If you are over that mileage, you are at higher risk of head gasket failure.

Incorrect installation

If the head gasket was replaced incorrectly, it’s unlikely to hold a seal for long if it ever does at all. If you had a head gasket replaced but run into issues quickly after the service, there may have been an issue with the install.

used head gasket
An old, used head gasket.

Signs of a blown head gasket

Depending on the severity, the symptoms of a failed head gasket can vary.

Coolant and oil leaks

Oil and coolant leaks are common issues on many vehicles. Just because you see a leak doesn’t mean you have a blown head gasket. If you see the majority of the oil or coolant seeping out from the engine block though, it could be an indication that the head gasket is no longer maintaining a seal.

Misfiring

A blown head gasket no longer keeps coolant passages sealed off from the cylinders. This results in coolant entering the cylinder chamber, skewing the air/fuel ratio, and causing a misfire

White exhaust smoke and water vapor

White smoke or water vapor exiting the tailpipe is another indicator of a head gasket leak. Coolant that enters the cylinder and burns will appear white on its way out of the vehicle’s exhaust. Water vapor may also be present.

Overheating (again)

While overheating can cause a blown head gasket, it can also be a symptom.

White/milky oil

If you notice your oil has a milky color, it’s a good indicator that coolant has entered areas of the engine it’s not supposed to be. The most common cause of this is a failed head gasket. If you suspect a failed or failing head gasket, take a look at your dipstick or underneath the oil cap for signs of contamination. The oil that has mixed with coolant is not as effective at lubricating the moving parts in your engine.

 Can I fix a blown head gasket myself?

Probably not. Replacing a head gasket is an extremely in-depth repair that requires the removal of the cylinder head. For the average person, the complexity of this service is time-consuming and leaves a lot of room for error. Unless you are an ex-technician or a very experienced do-it-yourselfer with the proper space and tools, your best bet is to tow your car to a garage.

Can I drive with a blown head gasket?

No, you should not drive if you believe your head gasket has failed. You could cause significant damage that could quickly turn a head gasket replacement into an engine replacement.

Head gasket replacement at Becker Service Center

The team at Becker Service Center has the skills and knowledge to replace your blown head gasket. We will ensure the repair is done right the first time, restoring the seal between the block and cylinder head, and protecting your engine. Give us a call or schedule an appointment at our Naperville repair shop today!

Why is the AC in My Car Not Blowing Cold?

You get in your car in the middle of the summer, turn it on and leave your house. The air conditioning has been on for a few minutes, but it is still not blowing cold. You roll your windows down, but by the time you get to your destination, you are covered in sweat. Dealing with this every time you drive during the summer gets old quickly. But why is your AC suddenly not blowing cold? Automotive air conditioning systems are complex and have many components that can fail. We are going to go over the most common causes of an automotive air conditioning failure.

Why is my AC not working in my car?

auto air conditioning system graphic

The air conditioning in your car is a closed system and must remain sealed to function properly. A breach in the system or failure of a component will reduce the effectiveness of the air conditioning, resulting in warm air coming through the vents. Below are the four most common causes of poorly functioning vehicle air conditioning.

   1. Leaking or low AC refrigerant

Over time the closed and pressurized AC system in your vehicle may start to leak. With less refrigerant, the system’s ability to cool the air entering the cabin decreases. In theory, without a leak, the refrigerant level in the air conditioning system would not change. If you notice warm or hot air coming through the vents in your car, recharging the AC can help it blow cold again. Many repair shops can recharge your AC system. It can be tempting to buy a recharge kit from a local auto parts store, but without the proper training or tools attempting to recharge your AC yourself can cause further damage to the system. 

   2. Bad air conditioning compressor

a/c compressor in car

The AC compressor pressurizes the refrigerant into a gas. Your air conditioning system is powered by the compressor. If the compressor fails, the refrigerant will be unable to cycle through the system, meaning the air entering the cabin will not be cold. A sudden change in air temperature coming through the vents could indicate a failed or failing AC compressor. 

3. Blocked or broken condenser

The A/C condenser allows the gas created by the compressor to change forms into a high-pressure liquid. Additionally, it helps remove heat from the refrigerant before it heads through the compressor again. The condenser is located at the front of the car, meaning it can become damaged or blocked by debris while driving. In addition to causing warm air to come through the vents, a damaged AC condenser can cause overheating, emitting a burning smell when the AC is on. 

   4. Broken air conditioning fans

air conditioning fan

The air conditioning fans assist the condenser in changing the state of the refrigerant from a gas to a liquid. If the fans are not working, the refrigerant will not be as efficient at cooling the air coming into the cabin. It is relatively easy to check the AC fans on most cars. Pop the hood when the vehicle is running and look at the front of the car, near the radiator. If the fans are not moving while the AC is on and the air coming through the vents is warm, they may be broken. 

What should I do when my car AC is blowing warm air?

The best thing to do if you notice your ac is not working like it should is to bring your car to a qualified shop. The complexity of most vehicle air conditioning systems makes it difficult for the average person to figure out what is exactly wrong. Take note of when you noticed the issue start, any odd smells or noises, and any recent accidents or other factors that could potentially impact your air conditioning. When you bring your car in, pass on this information to your service advisor. 

Get your car’s AC repaired

If you are having issues with your air conditioning, call or schedule an appointment at Becker Service Center! The team of skilled ASE-certified technicians at our Naperville repair shop will get to the bottom of your air conditioning issue quickly, keeping you cool this summer. 

5 Signs of an Exhaust Leak

As your engine runs, the exhaust gases and noise from combustion are routed through an exhaust system. The exhaust system safely routes toxic gas to the rear of the vehicle, away from the passengers and driver. It also muffles the noise of your engine operating and helps control emissions through the use of catalytic converters. The exhaust system is an essential component of your vehicle.

However, on most vehicles, the exhaust system runs underneath the car and is exposed to harsh driving conditions, road salt, and debris, and extreme temperatures. Rust, damage, and worn-out gaskets can all lead to an exhaust leak, and exhaust leaks can impact your vehicle’s performance, emissions, and even your health.

Here are 5 indicators you have an exhaust leak.

1.)   Loud Operation

If you have an exhaust leak, one of the most noticeable symptoms is noise. If the leak occurs before the muffler or on the muffler itself, you may notice more noise than you are used to. Depending on the cause of the leak, your car may get louder and louder as time goes on.

2.)   Loss of Power 

An engine runs optimally when exhaust flow is uninterrupted. An exhaust leak causes a drop in back pressure, which can lead to a decrease in power and sluggish acceleration. A loss of power can be attributed to many potential issues. If you notice a loss of power in addition to some of the other symptoms on this list, an exhaust leak may be to blame.

3.)   Poor Fuel Economy

The fueling system in your vehicle uses oxygen sensors to determine whether your car is running rich (too much fuel), lean (not enough fuel), or stoichiometric (correct balance of air and fuel). The oxygen sensors are located in the exhaust system. A leak before an oxygen sensor can make it appear as if the car is running lean. As a result, the engine computer will request more fuel to correct the lean condition, reducing fuel economy.

4.)   Exhaust Odor While Driving

If you have an exhaust leak, you may notice the smell of exhaust fumes while you drive. This can be a major safety hazard. Inhaling the noxious fumes can lead to carbon monoxide poisoning. If can smell exhaust fumes while you drive, roll down your windows and get your car to a shop as soon as possible.

5.)   Vibration

As fumes escape from leaks in the exhaust, noticeable vibrations can be felt while your car is on. The vibrations may become more severe when you step on the gas and the rate of airflow through the exhaust system increases.

Let Becker Service Center Fix Your Leaking Exhaust!

Our technicians have the skills and experience to take on any exhaust repair job, big or small. Our ASE certified techs can work on all makes and models. If you notice any exhaust leak symptoms while you drive, give us a call or schedule an appointment online today. We look forward to seeing you!

11 Symptoms Of Transmission Problems Every Driver Should Be Aware Of

The transmission is an integral part of a vehicle’s drivetrain. In a nutshell, transmissions select (or in the case of a manual, allow you to select) the most efficient gear ratio for the speed of your car and the RPM of the engine. Automatic and manual transmissions use gears and clutches to change between gear ratios. With so many moving parts in constant motion, transmission issues are not uncommon.

That being said, unless you know exactly what you are looking for it can be difficult to know for certain if that noise, shake, or smell you notice while driving is the result of transmission problems or another issue. The best way to know for certain if you are having transmission problems is to bring your car to a qualified mechanic, but knowing some of the symptoms of common transmission issues can help you decide whether or not its time to schedule an appointment.

  1. Slipping Transmission: If you step on the gas and the engine revs high but your car barely moves, your transmission might be slipping. A slipping transmission can produce an audible whining noise, and can feel as if the transmission suddenly changed gears at a time it shouldn’t have. If you drive a car with a manual transmission, you may notice clutch slipping when going up a hill in too high of a gear.
  2. Hard Shifting: A rough, clunky shift can be an indication of transmission issues. A rough shift can feel as if the transmission is “dropping” into the next gear, and may be accompanied by an audible clunking sound.
  3. Unfamiliar Sounds: A grinding, humming, whirring, or howling noise while you drive is a solid indicator that your transmission is experiencing problems.
  4. Delayed engagement when shifting: Delayed engagement occurs when you shift out of park and notice a long delay before the transmission “engages” and the car begins to move.
  5. Burning smell: If you notice a burning smell while you drive, your transmission may be overheating. There are many possible causes for a burning smell coming from the engine bay, but if you are noticing a smell in addition to other transmission issues, it could be the culprit.
  6. Transmission not shifting gears: Struggling or outright refusing to change gears can indicate low or incorrect transmission fluid.
  7. Check engine light: A check engine light can come on for countless reasons. If you are noticing other issues with your transmission and the check engine light comes on, it’s time to see a mechanic.
  8. Transmission not engaging: If you shift from park to drive or reverse and nothing happens, your transmission is most likely having issues.
  9. Leaking transmission fluid: A puddle of red or pink fluid beneath your car means your transmission is leaking. Get your car to a mechanic as soon as possible to stop the leak and prevent permanently damaging your transmission.
  10. Clutch drag (manual): On manual transmission vehicles, the clutch is operated by the driver. If you depress the clutch fully but your vehicle continues to move after you have stopped or stalls, an issue is preventing the clutch from fully disengaging.
  11. Shaking: Many different components can cause your vehicle to shake. If you notice shaking in addition to other symptoms of transmission problems, they may be related.

When to see a mechanic

If you notice any of these symptoms, it’s time to schedule an appointment with a mechanic. Some of these symptoms can be indicative of other issues not related to your transmission. It’s important to have a professional take a look to prevent more serious and expensive damage from occurring.

Let us help!

The technicians at Becker Service Center have the skills and experience to diagnose and repair your transmission. If you are having issues with your transmission, don’t wait. Give us a call or schedule an appointment at our Naperville repair shop today!

What Does It Mean When The Brake Light Comes On?

Any time a dash warning light comes on in your vehicle is anxiety-inducing. Most drivers worry when they see a check engine light, but the brake warning light is arguably more concerning. Brakes keep you safe on the road, and if they are having issues, you should not delay getting them inspected.

The braking system amplifies the force of your foot on the pedal with a system of lines filled with hydraulic brake fluid. This amplified force clamps down on brake discs or activates a brake drum, converting your car’s kinetic energy to heat, slowing it down.

While it is unlikely that your brakes have completely failed when the light comes on, it’s better to err on the side of caution. The light can come on for reasons ranging from benign to dangerous.

 What causes the brake light to come on?

The brake warning light comes on when there is a fault in the braking system, just like the check engine light comes on when there is an engine malfunction. The light warns the driver of an issue, but further investigation is needed to determine the cause of the problem. Learn the most common causes for an illuminated brake warning light:

The emergency brake is still on

Emergency brakes vary by vehicle, but when a conventional lever or pedal E-brake is not released entirely, the brake warning light can come on. Some modern vehicles will beep if you are driving with the emergency brake engaged. To turn off the light, just fully release the E-brake.

Low brake fluid

The brake fluid reservoir sits on top of the master cylinder. The reservoir has a sensor that triggers the brake warning light when the fluid level falls too low. On most cars, it is found directly in front of the driver’s side of the car. Low brake fluid indicates a leak in the system, which can impact the effectiveness of the brakes.

Sensor failure

A car’s braking system has sensors monitoring fluid level, E -brake position, and in some cases brake pad life. A failed sensor can trigger the brake warning light. A technician will need to look at your vehicle to determine whether the light is caused by a failed sensor or an actual issue with the braking system.

Brake pad life 

This cause is highly vehicle dependent. Some cars have sensors that monitor the wear levels of your brake pads. If the pads wear out, the brake warning light can come on. Replacing your pads will turn off the lights.

ABS issues

Anti-lock braking systems (ABS) often have dedicated warning lights. However, troubles in the ABS can trigger a brake warning light too. To diagnose an ABS issue, a mechanic will need to read the codes from the on-board computer.

My brake light came on when I was driving, what should I do?

If you happen to be driving when the brake warning light first comes on, carefully pull over in a safe area and turn your car off. The first and easiest thing to check is your emergency brake. If the E-brake is fully released, get out of the car and check your brake fluid level. Add brake fluid to the reservoir if it’s low. If the light turns off, continue driving, and get your car to a shop to check for a fluid leak.

If both the e-brake is released and the fluid level is normal, call a tow truck and get your vehicle to a shop as soon as possible. Information from the computer and professional examination is needed to determine the cause of the problem.

Let the brake experts at Becker Service Center help!

Our technicians will quickly get to the bottom of your brake warning light and fix the problem, whether it’s a faulty sensor or a severe fluid leak. If you are having brake issues, give us a call or schedule an appointment today!