Engine Head Replacement Considerations

February 21, 2012

Engine head replacement can be pricey, especially with brand new engine heads. Learn how to replace engine heads, and where to get rebuilt engine heads.

Rebuilt Engine

If you find that you need to replace the engine heads on your vehicle, you will learn that new engine heads can be expensive. You will usually have a choice between brand new heads and those that have been rebuilt. So, here is a comparison of the two.

Rebuilt Engine Heads
A rebuilt engine head has been completely disassembled and rebuilt using new components to replace the faulty parts inside. Rebuilt heads are usually considerably lower in price than new engine heads. However, although some companies do an excellent job of rebuilding engine heads, this is not always the case. Sometimes, rebuilders take shortcuts and don't replace parts that should be replaced or replace faulty components with used parts. So, before purchasing rebuilt engine heads, you should always do some research into the repair shop and find out about the quality of their work. Also, if you're considering rebuilt heads, make sure that you get an itemized list of new components that were used in the rebuild.

Brand New Engine Heads
With brand-new engine heads, you'll never experience any compatibility issues or subpar replacement components being used. Because brand-new engine heads are manufactured to meet or exceed the original manufacturer's specifications, you can almost always count on a quality part replacement for your damaged vehicle.

The only drawback with new engine heads is the fact that they're so expensive. Sometimes, it's hard to justify spending so much money on new engine heads for an older vehicle—when rebuilt heads will probably last longer than the vehicle itself. So, if you're considering installing new engine heads in your vehicle, you should consider whether the age and value of your vehicle merits the purchase of new parts.

Where to Get Rebuilt Engine Heads

There are many places to find and purchase rebuilt engine heads.

Buy Online
There are several excellent online retailers that sell rebuilt engine heads. Visit websites like RebuiltCylinderHeads.com and National Cylinder Head Exchange to find rebuilt cylinder heads for almost every make and model available. Both of these companies have good reputations for supplying clean and well done rebuilt heads. If you don't see the engine heads for your make and model listed on the website, simply send them an e-mail to find out about availability and price. Both of these websites ship to locations all over the country.

Try Local Auto Parts Stores
Many times, local auto parts stores provide rebuilt engine heads as well. Although most local auto shops don't stock rebuilt heads, they can quickly order them and usually have them available for pickup within a few days. Using a local auto parts store will also allow you to find out about which rebuilt companies or re-manufacturers provide the best product. This also provides you an easy point of contact if something goes wrong with the part.

Don't Forget the Junkyard
Don't forget about junkyards in your area. You may be able to find engine heads at a local junkyard that are in still in excellent condition and need nothing more than a good cleaning. If you're able to find a good set of engine heads, you'll probably be able to save a lot of money this way.

How to Replace Your Engine Heads

Here is a how to guide on how to replace the engine heads in your vehicle.

Tools and Materials

  • A wrench set
  • A ratchet, ratchet extension and socket set
  • Standard and Phillips screwdrivers
  • A breaker bar
  • Shop rags
  • A pry bar
  • A new head gasket
  • Aluminum paint, if necessary
  • New engine oil
  • New antifreeze
  • A torque wrench
  • A new exhaust manifold gasket
  • A new intake manifold gasket
  • A plastic pan

Engine Head Replacement, Step by Step

  • Drain the engine oil. Remove the drain plug from your engine oil pan and drain all of the oil into the plastic pan
  • Drain the coolant. Unscrew the drain petcock of your radiator and drain all of the coolant out of the cooling system
  • Remove accessories. Remove any accessories around the engine cylinder head that might be in the way. For example, you may need to remove the power steering pump, air filter system or even the throttle body
  • Remove the intake manifold. Using a ratchet or wrench, remove the intake manifold from the engine cylinder head
  • Remove the exhaust manifold. Remove the exhaust manifold from the engine heads
  • Remove the valve covers. Using the ratchet and socket set, remove the valve covers from the engine head
  • Remove the timing belt or chain. Next, you'll need to remove the timing belt or timing chain using the appropriate tools
  • Remove the rocker arm shaft and mounting bolts. If your car's engine head is equipped with a rocker arm shaft, you'll need to remove it. If you car engine has two heads, remove the other rocker arm shaft as well. Then, loosen the head to block mounting bolts. The bolts will probably be very tight, so you'll need to use a breaker bar in addition to your ratchet extension and socket
  • Remove the cylinder head. Remove the engine head by lifting it off of the block. You may need to use a shop rag and a pry bar to gently dislodge the head from the block. Be sure not to damage the mating surface of the cylinder head
  • Remove head gasket. Use a flathead screwdriver to gently pry away the head gasket from the engine block
  • Install the new head gasket. When installing the gasket, make sure the front mark on the gasket is facing toward the front of the engine block
  • Install the new cylinder head. Place the new engine head on the engine block and make sure that it is seated securely. Also, make sure that the dowel tips between the mating surface and the box are aligned evenly
  • Install the mounting bolts. Apply a thin layer of engine oil on the threads of the head to block mounting bolts. Then, make sure to follow the recommendation of your vehicle manufacturer for the sequence of tightening the bolts
  • Install the rocker arm shaft. If your car has a rocker arm shaft, install it along with the rest of the valve train components. Install them with your wrench or ratchet set and make sure to torque the bolts to manufacturer specifications
  • Install the timing belt or chain. Reinstall the timing belt or chain
  • Install valve covers. Using your ratchet set, reinstall the valve covers
  • Reattach the exhaust manifold. Next, reattach the exhaust manifold and be sure to use a new gasket. Torque the mounting bolts to your manufacturer specifications
  • Reattach the intake manifold. Reinstall the intake manifold and new gasket
  • Reinstall any accessories. Reattach any accessories that you removed other in order to access the engine head
  • Refill the coolant. Refill your radiator with a 50/50 mixture of antifreeze coolant and water
  • Refill the engine oil. Refill your engine with new engine oil of the type recommended by your car manufacturer
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