Unless it’s leaking, making a sound, or probably has a visible dent in it, you probably don’t care about what’s inside your car. At least, the average driver doesn’t. It’s normal (and needed) that you know about the most essential parts of keeping your car together and running it.
While a rather unknown component, the valve cover gasket has an important role in maintaining a vehicle. Chances are, the first time you will know about the gasket when your car is malfunctioning and you go to get it checked.
So, what does this underappreciated part do for your vehicle? How much do you have to pay as valve cover gasket replacement cost when it’s time for a change?
- Valve Cover Gasket
- Signs of a Leaking
- Expected Lifetime
- Reasons Behind Leaks
- How Safe is It
- Hiring Experts to Replace
- Leak Detection
- Keep in Mind
- Bottom Line
What is a Valve Cover Gasket and What Does It Do?
An internal combustion engine includes a cylinder block that has some valves on top. Over those, there is a cylinder head that helps with the whole combustion process. Due to the passages existing in the cylinder head, the fuel and air can flow into the cylinders.
Above the heads, there is a plastic or metal cover called the valve cover. The gasket lies between the valve cover and the cylinder head. It acts as a surface sealant here. At the same time, the gasket keeps the oil inside the engine, keeping it circulating and lubricating the various necessary components.
Molded rubbers are generally used to make valve cover gaskets. This material makes them stay fit securely over the valve cover. But, if you’re looking for something durable, then rubber isn’t the one you should go for.
So, it’s no surprise that rubber begins to produce cracks with time. After the cover has dealt with its fair share of wear and tear, it will start leaking oil out of the engine. Ultimately, the lubrication in those components is limited.
Types of Valve Cover Gaskets
Based on the kind of car you have (model and make), the vehicle should be using either of the two types of valve cover gaskets.
Liquid Valve Cover Gaskets
Liquid valve cover gaskets function somewhat like rubber cement; they are squeezed on and they seal the entire area. These provide secure and solid seals provided they are applied properly according to given instructions. Make sure the surface is clean before applying this. There should be a thick coating for it to work.
Rubber gaskets aren’t much for the eyes since they are the typical old-school gaskets. Depending on the make and model of the vehicle you’re using it on, it’s nothing more than a thin rectangular sheet of rubber with a few holes punched along the area. It’s good to have a look in your owner’s manual if you’re not entirely sure about the type of gasket that’s fit for your car.
Signs of a Leaking Valve Cover Gasket
The valve cover gasket is protected from the top and bottom but it’s still rather fragile and delicate. Needless to say, it is prone to damage. With prolonged exposure to heat, debris, and dirt, the gasket can get brittle and crack. This causes the component to lose its integrity, slowly starting to leak.
If your car has a leaking valve cover gasket, know that its performance is going to reduce drastically. There are several signals to let you know that your valve cover gasket is failing. Should you notice any of these, it’s time you bring that car to a mechanic for a quick fix.
So, what exactly are the symptoms we are talking about?
A Burning Oil Smell
A pinched or cracked valve cover gasket will cause the compressed oil to escape from underneath. If this happens when the car’s engine is running, the additional oil will seep into the exhaust pipes, the cylinder head as well as the fuel intake. Now, all of these parts are hot and will definitely burn the oil. Thus, a burning oil smell is created. It should be fairly easy to recognize.
Low Levels of Oil in the Engine
Remember, once oil starts leaking from the valve cover gasket, it will also escape from the oil pan. As a result, the check engine light may start flashing on your dashboard. Low engine levels negatively affect the lubrication needed in the internal organs of the engine.
Apart from the excessive heat buildup in the motor, there is a chance of severe engine damage. It’s time to bring your car to a local mechanic if the check engine light illuminates.
Dirty and Leaky Valve Cover
Many auto techs will have a look at the valve cover while performing inspections for an oil change. The reason behind this is that if there is any leak in the valve cover gasket, it has to be recognized immediately. The biggest “red flag” in this is a dirt-filled valve cover head.
The oil collects dirt and debris under the hood – every driver knows that. What you may not remember is that over time, debris is collected to form what mechanics call “a caked situation.” It gets stacked on top of the valve cover. So, if you notice that the valve is dirty under the hood, there is a good chance that the cover gasket has gone bad and needs a replacement.
Occasionally, when oil gets out of the valve cover gasket, it will find ways to drip down into the spark plug gallery. Ultimately, it reaches the spark plug tubes. Reduction in engine performance plus misfiring will likely start happening soon. The oil seepage can produce a fire under the hood. That should be enough motivation for you to keep an eye out for these symptoms.
All these problems can stem from broken, cracked, or pinched valve cover gasket. These issues can also develop due to an incorrectly applied cover.
Expected Lifetime of a Valve Cover Gasket
It’s hard to say for sure how long a valve cover gasket will be of service. They don’t move around that much so they won’t be subjected to as much wear as some other parts of the car.
We mentioned before how the rubber of these cover gaskets begins to break down. You don’t want to wait long enough for the entire thing to degrade.
How Long Till the Valve Cover Gasket Needs the Replacement?
We can’t really pinpoint a time like that. However, generally speaking, you shouldn’t have to pay for valve cover gasket replacement cost once throughout the car’s lifetime – two at the very max.
If you don’t want to spend extra cash on it at all, there are some things you can do to avoid it. For instance, you can learn more about why valve cover gaskets break down and what you can do to fix those.
Reasons behind Leaks
There are a handful of things that could trigger a crack or pinch in the car’s valve cover gasket. In most cases, it’s the environment the car is driven around and parked in for the majority of its life that plays the biggest role in its depreciation. Demanding climates (too hot or too cold) can cause the valve cover gasket to shrink, crack, or even rot with time.
There are some bolts that secure the valve cover in place. Those can come loose if debris and dirt settle on the body of the gasket for too long. This can cause a premature demise of your valve cover gasket.
Unfortunately, you cannot steer completely clear of the degradation of your car’s valve cover gasket. However, you can note it based on your living conditions and consider a replacement if you have subjected it to extreme conditions far too often.
How Safe is It to Drive with a Valve Cover Gasket Issue?
It’s safe to drive with a leaking valve cover gasket as long as the leakage isn’t too much. Make sure nothing is leaking onto the hot engine parts like the exhaust manifold. Until that happens, it’s okay to drive your car in that condition.
Notice if your car leaks onto the ground after it’s been parked. It’s not a small leak and has to be repaired quickly if there is oil dripping to the floor. ANy sort of leak at all means that the oil level is dropping while your foot is on the gas pedal. If you’re sure that there is a leak, make sure to monitor the oil level more frequently than in general since you don’t want to damage the engine by running on low oil.
What Will Happen if I Continue to Drive with a Leaking Valve Cover Gasket?
It greatly depends on how bad the leakage is. Some high-mileage cars do tend to “sweat” near the valve cover area. A car with an engine that is not losing oil, not leaking on the parking spot nor producing a burnt oil smell doesn’t have a big problem. On the contrary, if the leak is noticeable, the engine is losing oil which might also decay the asphalt on the driveway.
If you get a faint smell of burning oil coming from under the hood when you’re driving, that means that oil vapors are wafting in the breathable air. That is another bad sign. There have also been cases when the leakage from the valve cover gasket caused major damages to the drive belt.
Who Should I Get to Replace My Valve Cover Gasket?
It’s best you leave tasks like this to the professionals. After all, the health of your car as well as the safety of you and many other pedestrians are dependent on it. You shouldn’t trust any other mechanic to get the job done perfectly as this is one of the more complicated elements inside the car.
Get an ASE-certified mechanic. This might hike the valve cover gasket replacement cost a little, but it’s well worth it – trust us.
How Do Mechanics Detect a Leak?
To begin, a mechanic will make sure that your car indeed has a bad valve cover gasket. They will have to install a new one immediately after diagnosis to stop the car from leaking oil.
If the engine is showing signs of an oil leak but the source isn’t clear, the mechanic would suggest you clean the affected area and re-examine it after a few days to observe where the leak originates from. Oil leaks in a valve cover gasket may or may not be clearly visible.
Steps a Mechanic Follows to Replace a Valve Cover Gasket
- Remove the cover of the Engine: Some engines feature plastic covers over the whole top. It has to be removed to access the cover gaskets.
- Remove Components: Let’s talk about 4 cylinder engines first. Here, the valve cover is typically readily accessible after the emission control tubing and electrical components have been removed, plus the occasional accelerator linkages that may be blocking the way.
In the case of 6 to 8 cylinder engines, they might need to remove the air intake plenum (based on which valve cover gasket is leaking).
- Take Off Valve Cover: Once the mechanic gains access to the valve cover(s), the bolts on top are removed before the cover can be pulled off. They will check the valve cover sealing surface with a straight edge to ensure the cover is reusable.
- Install New Gasket: Alongside the new valve cover gasket, new rubber grommets are installed under the leftover bolt heads. Any existing spark plug tube seals are also replaced. In a few applications, a coating of oil-resistant RTV has to be applied to certain parts of the sealing surface plus the new gasket.
All other parts are now restored to their primary position. Make sure you do a leakage test. Finally, run the engine and do a visual check for leaks.
How Much Does a Valve Cover Gasket Replacement Cost?
Thankfully, despite its importance, the valve cover gasket isn’t the most expensive component in the car to maintain. The valve cover gasket replacement cost normally ranges between $240 to $320. While the new valve cover gasket shouldn’t be more than $100, it’s the associated labor costs that can exceed the $200 margin.
That being said, $200 isn’t a small amount. We understand why many would choose to hold off on repairing this but we really don’t recommend it at all. It’s better to invest some dollars in repairing a part than encountering some serious issue while driving.
Should You Replace the Valve Cover Gasket As Part of a Tune-Up?
It’s not essential to change the valve cover gasket during a tune-up unless it’s leaking. If both that valve cover gasket and spark plugs have to be replaced soon, it would be sensible to combine the two services since a huge chunk of the labor overlaps.
Can You DIY Valve Cover Gasket Replacement?
If your car has a simple 4 cylinder engine, DIY-ing shouldn’t be that hard with the right tools and some basic skills. On a scale of 1 to 10 with 1 being “easy” and 10 standing for “leave it to the pros,” it’s a 3. You have to order a valve cover gasket as a kit from online stores, dealers, or get it from your local parts store.
A special sealant may also be required. Mechanics rely on this special liquid to seal tight corners and spots of the valve cover gasket.
Steps to Replacing Valve Cover Gasket
If you’re brave enough, you can surely try replacing the valve cover gasket by yourself. Why we mention the word “brave” is because one wrong move and you could do worse damages to the car, rendering it impossible to drive without hundreds of dollars worth of repairs.
Here’s how to replace a 4 cylinder engine’s valve cover gasket. This should help you skip past valve cover gasket replacement costs.
- Rubber mallet
- Plastic putty knife
- Torque wrench
- Ratchet/Socket set
- Valve cover gasket kit
- Brake cleaner
- Vulcanizing (RTV) sealant
Steps to Follow
1. Discard the Leaky Valve Gasket Cover
If there is a decorative plastic cover glued on the top of your engine, peel it off. Remove the bolts before tapping around the valve cover using a soft-faced mallet. That should break it loose. NEVER use metal tools for prying – they can permanent leaks by gouging the aluminum cylinder head.
Next, take out any cables, hoses, or electrical connectors linked to the valve cover. Label them too (this is crucial). Then, take out the spark plugs. Use a rag tapped around a screwdriver to soak up any excess oil pooling inside the spark plug tubes. Remove as much gunk as you can before proceeding. Also, change spark plug tubes if necessary.
Once the new plugs have been installed, remove the hold-down bolts securing the valve cover, monitoring the location and length of each. Now, break the cover loose and hoist it up the engine.
2. Change the Old Gasket
Remove the old gasket and give the valve cover a good cleansing with a clean rag dipped in brake cleaner. Next, remove any debris on the gasket mating surfaces. The plastic putty knife can be put to use here to remove remnants of old RTV.
Once clean and dry, spread new RTV over the same locations before installing the new gasket. By design, valve cover gaskets seal “dry.” Refrain from applying the sealant to the gasket’s face.
Reinstall all the hoses, electrical connectors, cables, and ignition components and fire it up.
3. Adding Silicone Sealant
Your car still leaking oil after you changed the valve cover gasket? Frustrating, right? Don’t worry! If the job was done properly, it’s not your fault but the sealants.
After installing the new valve cover gasket, you have to smear silicone sealant on top of the timing cover joint. A thick enough layer and your car should be leak-proof for a long time.
Things to Keep in Mind About Valve Cover Gasket Replacement
- Typically, the mechanical parts of a car will live longer than the gaskets sealing the engine. But, many of these gaskets, like the valve cover gaskets, are much easier to replace.
- Never use “stop-leak” kind of products to lubricate the engine. These materials aren’t approved by the original equipment manufacturers. Not to mention how they can create many extra problems that weren’t there in the first place.
- A car that’s old enough will have leaks on other parts of the engine too, not just the valve cover. So, you should ask the mechanic to do a complete leak check. In the long run, it’s cost-effective to fix multiple leaks in a single visit to the mechanics.
- Sometimes, the Positive Crankcase Ventilation or PCV valve is introduced to a rubber grommet situated in a valve cover. Older rubber grommets are potential leak sources. These parts should be checked and you should consider replacing them while you still have access to the valve.
The valve cover gasket might be a simple, straightforward piece of technology for the car, but it’s an integral part of the overall functioning. You should shoulder any possible valve cover gasket replacement costs if that means extending the lifetime of your vehicle. Don’t let a minor problem develop into a big one by waiting on it.