The Anatomy of Healthy Cars: A Service and Repair Blog

Auto service tips | General tips on replacing your cylinder head

by Brittany Marshall

A cylinder head is a part of the cylinder where the piston exerts pressure to compress the gases for combustion. You can detect problems with your car cylinder by the odour it produces. A strong sweet odour means that the coolant is leaking into the cylinder. Grey smoke also points towards a cylinder problem. If you're thinking of replacing it, then here are a number of tips to make the process seamless. Remember to consult your manufacturer's instructions, because not all engines are equal.

Know your vehicle model

Purchase the cylinder head of the exact model of your vehicle. That way, you'll have a seamless experience. When you start taking your engine apart, don't mix up the new and old parts. It should be possible to match all the parts of the cylinder head down to the last bolt. Any mismatch is a sign that you didn't get the right head. Vehicles are different, and the gasket and cylinder head designs have milled surfaces that are to connect perfectly to other parts of the vehicle. This won't be the case if you don't purchase the right head.

Caution when bleeding the coolant

When draining the coolant, follow your manufacturer's guidelines. Avoid draining the coolant before your engine cools completely. Draining the coolant too soon may lead to warping of the cylinder head or engine block.  

Clean the cylinder head

After getting things apart, ensure that you clean the new cylinder head and gasket thoroughly before placing it back on. Foreign material on cylinder head would lead to an improper seal and may even pave the way for leakages.

Avoid using wire brushes or metallic scrapers as they may indent the cylinder head aluminium. The indent may eventually cause leakages on the head gasket or scratch the combustion chambers.

Use a cleaning solvent to soften the material deposits and then get rid of them using a plastic or wooden scraper. A wet cloth could also help.

Inspect the cylinder head and gasket

Before making your replacement and calling it a day, first inspect the old parts. Disassemble the head in stages so that you can inspect the individual parts for warping or wear. This may also inform you of the underlying issues that may also affect the new head. A warped or cracked cylinder head, for instance, may be caused by an overheating engine that expands the cylinder head and engine block. You'll have to fix your overheating engine, because simply replacing the cylinder head doesn't solve the problem.