Head Gasket, Valve Gasket: What’s the Difference?

Believe it or not, cars need a lot of liquid in order to function. Whether it is oil, coolant, or gas, your car needs help keeping all of that liquid from leaking out; this is where gaskets come into play.

We all know that engines are made up of many, many different parts. These parts are all bolted, clamped, and snapped together to keep from shifting or moving. However, no matter how tightly fastened an engine part is, it could still leak if there were no gaskets.

Common question(s) we see online that deal with gaskets.

“What is the difference between the head gasket and the valve cover gasket?”

“Do you really need a valve gasket?”

“How do I know if I have a bad head gasket?”

The Difference.

Gaskets are something that can commonly cause engine problems but be hard to explain the importance of them. You can see from the engine below where the gaskets are located. The head gasket is located between the engine block and the head. The valve gasket is located above the head to keep oil leaking out of the valve cover.


Their Purpose?

As mentioned before, the purpose of the gaskets are to prevent leaking. Head Gaskets are also a way to keep your coolant and oil separate from each other. The image below shows the bottom of the head. You can see a small snake-like path where coolant flows to keep your engine cool. The larger holes that we point out allow oil to flow up and down the head to keep your engine lubricated.


If the head gasket were to quit working (i.e. blown head gasket), then oil and coolant would start mixing together.

The Symptoms.

Without actually taking apart the engine, what are the other ways that you can tell if your gaskets are bad.

Engine Grime

A good way to notice any leaks is by actually looking at your engine. If you see any grimy dark areas (see image below) around where the gaskets are located, it may be a sign that you need to replace them.



Your engine overheating is a common sign for many engine problems, including a leaky gasket. If your temperature gauge continues to rise the longer it stays on, consider taking it to a mechanic to diagnose the problem. A good mechanic will be able to tell if you are having gaskets problems or if it is something else causing your engine to overheat.

White smoke

Many times when the coolant mixes with oil it can create white smoke that blows out of the exhaust. We see a lot of people in online forums say that the white smoke also smells like coolant. If you don’t know what that smells like, that’s ok. Regardless of what the white smoke smells like, it would be a good idea to have your car checked out by a mechanic to determine the cause.

If you have any questions or concerns about your vehicle, feel free to give us a call.

Spotlightautoservice.com specializes in European auto repairs and maintenance. We strive to keep our service cost 40% less than dealerships. Schedule an appointment for your Audi, BMW, Land Rover, Mercedes, Mini Cooper, or Volkswagen with us.

Written by Spotlight Automotive