This is my first Instructable... Please comment below if it needs further editing. Videos can be seen by opening the video URL in your media viewer.

Here's my experience with replacing a new head gasket on my '91 Civic. But first, some background:

This is a great car! It ain't pretty but it gets almost 40mpg on a good day. About a year ago, it failed to pass several emissions tests. My mechanic told me that the pistons needed new rings. Because the engine would be in pieces, and because of the expense and effort invested already, I agreed to have the water pump, timing belt, and head gasket replaced. Afterwards, the car passed emissions with flying colors and ran very well until recently.

Several weeks ago, the engine began to overheat erratically. After googling the problem, I personally replaced, in ascending order of expense, the radiator cap, the thermostat, and eventually, the radiator, which was very old. Because the problem was intermittent, it seemed that each part replacement solved the problem. I hoped it wasn't the water pump because I knew that would be a huge pain to replace.

In the end, some white smoke and serious engine vibrations told me that it was not the water pump but some cylinder/coolant related problem. I was afraid that it was a cracked cylinder which would have meant replacing the engine block, which didn't seem worth the expense on a 16 year old car with 174,000 miles on it. So, I went into the engine bay prepared for the worst. What follows is my experience and illustrates why your trusted mechanic can't always be trusted....

Step 1: You are probably NOT a mechanic....

.....nor am I, but, judging by the cavemen that have worked on my cars in the past, I figured that this shouldn't be beyond me. I've repaired/replaced most things in a car that don't require specialized and expensive tools. Be forewarned, however, if you're not relatively strong and at least a little mechanically inclined, get someone who is and have them help you.

To get started you might want the Haynes repair manual, and a couple of impact-wrench quality sockets; I broke a Craftsman socket trying to remove the header pipe from the exhaust manifold. Having a digital camera might also be useful for recording your progress as well as problems you might encounter. You MUST have the following:

About 16hrs total total time: In addition to putting the valve assembly back on the head, putting the timing belt back on MAY require that you remove belts, pulleys, and an engine mounts, just as if you would replace the water pump. In fact, if it's old, plan on replacing that water pump. Also plan on changing the oil a couple of times as well as flushing the radiator. Sorry, but it's a big job, which is why a $30 part requires about $1,000 worth of labor. Don't bother taking shortcuts; I tried to lever the timing belt back on to the valve pulley to avoid the proper way and ended up ripping it. Plan on spending the time to do it correctly....Sorry! But you might as well learn from my boneheaded efforts.

Several Jackstands: You will need these to elevate the car and get deep underneath.

A torque wrench up to 70ft-lbs.: Don't even THINK of tightening the crankcase bolts without one!

A breaker bar: Some of your exhaust system bolts were likely tightened by Lucifer himself. A breaker bar will help release his grip.

3/8" and 1/4" drive socket sets: Also with various extenders, adapters, and universal joints.

Band-Aids: If you don't know why, you'll see soon enough.

Call the local parts supply places for expertise. The counter help might include gals/guys who are going to mechanic school or have rebuilt engines just like this one. Their help may be invaluable.

Hey, Fort Mental, I have set out to do this job Monday night after work. I am a 1st year mechanic for a fleet of pickups & vans for a University in DC. I have a 1991 Honda Civic with a 1.5Ltr. engine. The head has been going for some time, and it is FINALLY time to get it right. The engine has over 240k on it, and few of those miles came easy (or with great care - lol). The difference, though, is that if I am going to the trouble of taking the head off of the car, I will also be doing the water pump and timing belt at the same time (as they also have not been tended to in many many years). Know I KNOW that my existing head is bad... cylinder #2 has lost all compression, and I'm sure it's not the piston or rings (wet compression check). Therefore, I purchased an old head from a junk yard on Thursday for $100 bucks. I then spent Friday afternoon taking it apart and cleaning & inspecting it thoroughly! Finding no issues, I then replaced the front cam shaft seal, and it's ready to go (see attached image). The complete gasket set, new water pump & new timing belt cost me $200, and the junk head cost me $100, bringing the job total to $300 (assuming everything else goes right!!!) I'll try to take some pics and make notes of anything that I may come across that you may not have covered. In the mean time, THANKS for the detailed write-up!
You're very welcome dgaletar!<br><br>Let us know how the head re-build goes; it looks pretty intense!
OK, I'll try those images again....
It's a good thing that these civics are usually so easy to work on. I had a head gasket go out on mine a little while back, and I fixed it with this great <a href="http://www.seal-a-head.com" rel="nofollow">head gasket repair sealer</a> that I found online. It worked great.
This is amazing. I honestly don't own a Honda Civic, nor will in the imminent future most likely, but I'm just amazed that you did all of this on your own and then were willing to post it for everyone to see. Best, clearest <a href="http://www.seal-a-head.com" rel="nofollow">blown head gasket repair</a> tutorial I've ever seen. Good job, sir, I tip my hat to you. :)
Thanks for all the advice. I need <a href="http://www.seal-a-head.com" rel="nofollow">head gasket repair</a> but not sure if I should try to do it myself. I'll have my dad take a look at this and see what he thinks, thanks for the advice.
I have this same problem and I am needing to fix that and do some other <a href="http://www.petersonrepairsimi.com" rel="nofollow">Honda auto repair in Simi Valley CA</a>. Thanks for the great tips and instructions.
Whew! This instructable really is a life saver! I have been in need of some <a href="http://www.seal-a-head.com" rel="nofollow">head gasket repair</a> for a while and it was starting to get bad so I am super happy that I was able to find this and it will be helpful for me! Can you tell me if this is the same for all kinds of cars or just for this one?
The instructions on this instructable were very helpful, however, it would have been nice to have a few more pictures or a video. I am definitely no mechanic and this whole <a href="http://www.seal-a-head.com" rel="nofollow">head gasket repair</a> is proving to be harder than I thought it would be. Also, how often should I be replacing the timing belt? I have heard so many different answers from mechanic shops so I was hoping to get an experienced, non bias answer.
Hey, I just wanted to let you know that I replaced my head gasket with your 'ible, and it went perfectly. I have a '93 Civic CX Hatchback, and the changes were minute. Thanks for a great writeup!
Many here seem fairly knowledgeable. That's good. On many engines critical fasteners like head bolts or rod and main bearing bolts on lower end assemblies are: &quot;Torque to yield.&quot; That means they are designed to stretch a little when torqued to final specs. Most of these type of fasteners cannot be reused, so if you are repairing or building for severe duty(performance/ or longevity) these Must be replaced. ARP fasteners makes bolts for just about every engine on the road. Call your parts store and have them look them up.
<em>&quot;Most of these type of fasteners cannot be reused, so if you are repairing or building for severe duty(performance/ or longevity) these Must be replaced.&quot;</em><br> <br> -This is true; even repair manuals will tell you as much. In fact, I just recently ran into this issue when I recently removed a head and found a seriously corroded bolt. When trying to buy a replacement, I could only buy a full set as head bolts are (apparently) never sold individually.
Antifreeze came in from the cylinder head. When you removed the cylinder head, the residual coolant deposited in the cylinders. This is very normal. Alternately, after removing the exhaust manifold you can drain the block and head of coolant by removing the rather large plug in the block behind the exhaust manifold, but I would not risk damaging it due to its age!! <br> <br>Civic's, like yours, sometimes crack cylinder heads, but usually its just the head gasket. An easy identifier is when the car is overheating, and ESPECIALLY white smoke, then its the head gasket. When the head CRACKS, the first indication will be oil mixing in the cooling system, I.E. evidence in the radiator
<em>&quot;Antifreeze came in from the cylinder head.&quot;</em><br> <br> -Perhaps.... ....and yet it was only this particular piston head that was scrubbed clean, as noted above:<br> <br> <strong><em>&quot;1) Look at the tops of the pistons. In my case, one cylinder was obviously cleaner than the others. This is apparently caused by antifreeze getting into the cylinder and cleaning the surfaces off. Even the top of the piston was scrubbed clean. &quot;</em></strong>
Your points are helpful...I just wanted to add some comments relating to this (Note they are cut and pasted from another instructable comment I made of someone's work) so please keep that in mind when looking at the grammar and context. <br>in regards to determining a gasket issue, or another problem..&quot;how to&quot; is based on whether or not a $20.00 dollar compression tester indicates a difference greater than 20%. I will give him that. Evidently someone told him, or he read it somewhere. I prefer a cylinder leak-down test. (Requires an air compressor and the leak-down tester, Summit racing or Jeggs.) This would indicate if it was valves or seats or piston rings or even a blown head gasket that was making the engine run badly. Schools in Buhdieboy!: When performing a leak-down test...If you hear air escaping into intake port with the cylinder at TDC intake valve and/or seat is to blame. same goes with exhaust valve. If air is heard escaping into block it indicates blow-by past the rings. Head Gasket leak could allow air into block or into cooling system. look for bubbles in the radiator coolant (Please look at the 'tech' info as it relates to checking various leak issues.) Thanks.
The breaker bars annoy me. I just uses a pipe fitting over a socket wrench. The best option for frozen bolts and nuts is OXY-Acetylene welding torch. Heat it up and it will expand. If it still doesn't come off then heat it red hot then use your bar and if that still doesn't work then oxy cut it off and weld a new thread,.
Aluminum head on Honda heated to cherry red to loosen bolts is completely unnecessary. It amazes me how people can advocate advice like that knowing full well that someone might try this in desperation. This could end up costing someone a trip to the salvage yard to find a replacement cylinder head or manifold for such carnage.
My car doesn't have pistons! Or a large series of batteries.<br />
This is not a distributor, this is a waste spark coil
I did this job a couple months ago with the help of this tutorial. My experience: I used the Honda replacement MLS (multi-layer steel) gasket. I didn't use the recommended replacement bolts. (they were about $95.) I did use the newer three stage torqueing procedure. I didn't need to remove the radiator. (very glad) It took about 6 hours, I guess. Thanks!
I tried removing the head gasket on an 87 model but the impossible angles to get at those damn bolts made me quit. kinda sad about it still.
this is a dpfi model, no carb on it, thats the intake plenum :P
thats the o2 sensor on that model :P
Am going to give it a try. Will let you know in a week or so how I did! Best info I have found, good clear instructions. Wish me luck!
Good Luck to you! Make sure that you have a good torque wrench specific to the range that you need. You can use them for free from places like Auto-Zone, with a sizable deposit. Also keep in mind that your bolts are OLD! And where they are subject to high heat....like the exhaust manifold, they may have softened a bit. I broke one of these manifold bolts inside the head during re-assembly when I used a swivel adapter on the socket. I might have exceeded the rated torque a little but just enough to bust it.... so, be careful. Since my head gasket replacement the engine has worked flawlessly!
I recently purchased a 1990 Honda Civic hatchback with a blown headgasket and will be using this tutorial to help me through. I appreciate the posting and will follow up with comments on how it goes. I was just wondering if on page one you could provide a parts list of the bolts/gaskets/seals you replaced and recommend replacing while taking the head off, if any?
First thing I would do, if I were you, is look at the last the emissions report for this car. This should tell you if the car has been burning oil. A good mechanic or at the very least, Google, should be able to tell you if your pistons need new rings or if there's some other piston/cylinder related problem. You don't want to have to go through all of the work of replacing a head gasket, only to find that the car won't pass an emissions test and needs new rings or re-bored cylinders. Assuming you don't need rings, great, look at the parts list associated with replacing the timing belt and replace them all. Generic brands will work fine....besides, Honda may not even make such parts any longer. Also look at the parts list for a head gasket replacement; you'll find this information in the service manual. I believe that all that was required was the gasket itself. I mistakenly bought gasket sealer/surface treatment, but I didn't even use it because the gasket instructions recommended against using sealers or any other treatments. I urge you to get a manual if you don't already have one. E-bay might have original Honda service manuals for your year for very little cost. Good luck with your project! Please post anything useful that should be added to this site.
Interestingly enough, Canada does not have any emissions regulations so I don't have any previous history of the vehicle. It's pretty much a shot in the dark but the previous owner had a mechanic shop look at the vehicle and came to the conclusion that it needed a new head gasket. He didn't want to go through the trouble so I took on the project. I started working on the car today and have the intake manifold left to remove. I should be able to take a look at the block tomorrow and will take some pictures. I will also check out eBay and see if I can find a manual as I know they are a great help!
your cylinders still have the cross hatching in them so ur good.
Wow, great job there! I can't believe that one-year was enough for a gasket to fail like that! If only you could reclaim your lost hours on that from the mechanic who mis-installed at the first place. Good job, anyway. I miss digging my '85 civic. I gave it away to Googwill before I left the States for good. Cheers, K.

About This Instructable


23 favorites

Bio: Trying to keep the things I own from owning me.
More by Le Corbeau: 2003 Honda Civic Head Gasket and Timing Belt Replacement Head Gasket Replacement on '91 Honda Civic
Add instructable to: