Replacing Your Car's Valve Cover Gasket




Introduction: Replacing Your Car's Valve Cover Gasket

About: Engineer making renewable energy products for African entrepreneurs.

Most cars use a design with overhead cams and a valve cover for service. Over time, the gasket that seals the valve cover to the head wears and eventually fails. Typically you will see leaking oil - but sometimes the leak occurs in the spark plug wells.

This is a '93 Saturn SW2 - maintained not so well.


Cracked Windshield
Purge Solenoid Damaged (stuck closed)
I suspect the valve guides are worn... I have good compression, but she eats oil (not enough to smoke though)
Automatic with classic reverse hesitation (common for this tranny)
Rear Passenger window not working - stuck slightly open
Traction control (with an overide button in the cab :P)
Oil service interval -- wayyy too long (which forced me to replace the timing chain and guides)
Odometer stopped years ago at 68K miles

My parents owned this car - and I kept her running. Normally, the T-chain lasts forever. Unless you let the oil level get low, in which the guides literally explode. It was driven without an upper guide (and only partial side guide) for several thousand miles - which nearly ate a hole in the valve cover.

I do commend the design... Even with everything going wrong... she just refused to die. All of that oil in there, and she kept on running. Even with the T-chain rattling away inside (slowly eating the VC) - she kept on running. I was sad to see her go, but the replacement was an '06 Altima Special Edition... BTW, the 2.5l Nissan engines for the '06 models are being recalled (all 87,000 of them) for replacement (poor piston ring selection).

Step 1: Materials

Valve Cover Gasket Kit ($13 at autozone, big box with two tubes of RTV and 11 neoprene bolt seals)
--- alternatively, you can buy the preformed gasket for about $30 - if you have the black polycarbonate valve cover, you MUST use this preformed gasket... it saves some time/work in the end though.
Torx Bit - can't remember the size
Socket Set (I think you only need a 10mm)
Philips Screwdriver
Flat Heat Screwdriver
Razor Knife
Brake Parts Cleaner
Rags, turkey bastor -- to clean up oil
Gasket Scrapper

Hot Water

If your spark plug wells were flooded like mine you may want to replace:
Spark Plugs
Spark Plug Wires

Step 2: Remove the Intake

You'll need your screwdriver to loosen up any clamps.

You really only need to remove the section that bolts up to the TB -- this just makes working faster.

If you do remove, stuff a rag or paper towel in the exposed throttle body opening -- just in case a lizzard or other critter decides s/he wants to set up a new home....

Step 3: Remove Solenoid

I think its an EGR solenoid - regardless, its bolted on to the side of the valve cover. If you can unplug it - be my guest. I couldn't, so I used a socket and unbolted it.

Step 4: Remove Spark Plug Wires Etc.

Pull the wires. Also disconnect the PCV canister and breather hose.

Step 5: Remove Valve Cover Bolts and Remove the Valve Cover

Using the Torx bit, remove the valve cover bolts and their gasket washer ring thingies. I think they are all the same size, so no worries about keeping them in order.

The hard part... Using a rubber mallet, tap the sides of the valve cover... you can also use your hands.... Keep wiggling back and forth until the VC pops off. -- the old gasket material is acting like a glue - so you may want to get a thing razor blade in between the seem and cut some old RTV loose.

Pull the valve cover straight up and this is what you should see... Well, hopefully a little cleaner - but you get the idea.

Step 6: Optional - Suck Out Any Oil

If your gasket failed like mine, you're gonna need to pull some excess oil out of the plug wells. A plastic turkey baster comes in handy here :P I used a pipette - it is what I had.

If there's only a little oil, you can just pull the plugs and let it drain into the cylinder -- it will burn off when you start up. I did this with the little bit of oil I could not recover.

Step 7: Clean the Mating Surfaces

Using the gasket scrapper, remove any and ALL of the old gasket material.

Using a #1 (or maybe #2) flat head screwdriver will help get the old material out of the grooves in the valve cover.

Now, if you can... go inside and put it in your kitchen sink... run lots of hot soapy water and scrub off any gunk that might be in there... Then scrub the outside so it will look better :P If you can't no worries ;)

Then follow up with brake parts cleaner and a rag to clean off any oil. If there is ANY oil, the RTV will not stick and this will cause a leak.

Step 8: Apply the RTV Gasket Material

Follow the directions on the tube of RTV. Evenly apply a bead of RTV sealant on the valve cover. I added a little extra to the #1 and #2 spark plug well. I did this because an oil jet fires on the #1 (and a little bit of #2) spark plug well area. This is what caused it to leak as it did.

Also apply a little bit of RTV sealant on the right side of the head (passenger side). This is as per the service manual... It needs a little bit more in order to seal properly.

Step 9: Put the Valve Cover Back On

This is important. Place the valve cover back on the head exactly where you want it without hitting anything. If you smear the wet RTV, you're going to have to clean it off and reapply.

Once the valve cover is back on, begin putting the bolts back on with their new rubber gasket sleeves. Start with the three center bolts (middle one first). Then work your way outward. I believe the torque spec is 6-8 in-lbs (yeah, thats INCH). The bolts are designed to break should you overtorque them.

You know you did a good job if the RTV oozes out a tiny bit.

Step 10: Final Steps

Now you're pretty much done.

Using your socket, replace that solenoid and any hoses you took off. Replace the intake, breather hose and PCV line. Then let your car sit for 24 hours to allow the RTV to cure. Starting early may break seal and ruin the gasket.

In about 300 miles (or say the following weekend). Change your oil and filter. This is precautionary in case excess RTV came loose or other debris found there way inside.

I don't have a picture for this... so here's a picture of my car's mcstrut setup, rotor, caliper and halfshaft etc.

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    6 years ago

    great job. There are replacement gaskets and spark plug tube seals instead of using liquid gasket.


    7 years ago on Introduction

    It helps me,I dare to say ,you need it.\


    Regardless of purpose for this instructable, this is an excellent primer for anyone new to engine internals. Well done, for other vehicles people should be aware that not all sections can use RTV silicone. Take a Pontiac firefly, Chevy sprint, Geo metro, Suzuki swift, etc... that has the G3 motor, it has a oil seal off the cam shaft that is bisected by the valve cover. No RTV silicone can go here, but whats more important is the prep. In the groove for this seal you have to be UBER careful not to gouge the aluminum while scraping out old gasket material, or it will forever leak. just a thought for others applying this instructable to there type of car.


    13 years ago on Introduction

    This was very helpful. A first time evolution for me. I think I was successful in replacing my valve cover gasket on my 96 saturn SL2, but when I tightened up the bolts the one at the very center of the valve cover seems to be stripped in the hole. My local NAPA guy says its a relatively easy fix, and I can probably drive it for awhile like this with no problem. I guess time will tell. What do you folks think? I just found this site and it is GREAT. Thanks again!


    15 years ago on Introduction

    Dude, get a Honda. They are cheap used and are very reliable. My family has a 92 Honda Accord, NO OIL LEAKS.


    Reply 13 years ago on Introduction

    My 89' Toyota Corolla Wagon 304,000miles, no leaks, everything works, great car.


    Reply 15 years ago on Introduction

    Statistically, they're also the most commonly broken into auto ;) My current car is a 2000 VW Jetta -- and I'm very happy. Cheaper than comparable Hondas (I really don't care about future resale value anyway). And no check engine light as everyone warned me about :D


    Reply 14 years ago on Introduction

    the 2006 vw transporter rules,but the new crafter volt is school buses are mostly crafter volt,ford and iveco

    I replaced the EGR actuator, IAC, and something else in there, DOHC saturns are pretty fast little cars, better than any honda.


    Don't worry, contrary to what people are saying a car won't die as easy as you'd think, examples from cars my family have had are ridiculous... Vw passat 1.9D - exhaust fell of but messed up the turbo pressures, the turbo blew up (apparently the engine could hack the overkill boost but the bearings went and whammy) 20 miles from home and at a top speed of 25 it got home and lived after new turbo and exhaust Mitsubushi colt 1.8 I think - Unleaded engine heads running on four star... Couldn't keep oil in it, it just shot it out the exhaust but ran great (cylinder rings or such just a bad seal) did 150k with us and ws sold to a guy who slapped and evo turbo on and it hacked that for a while. Volvo 740 2.3 or 2.4 - everything was wrong but it could go like the wind (two tonnes of wind that is) despite no real air filter system, due to the fact that the exhaust manifold srpung a leak and burnt a fair amount of the innards no serious damage oddly as fuel lines were out of the way, it had been on fire a few times and I hit the house with it when i was a kid but it soldiered on until 260k but we parkeed her up during a few lean months and the taxman took her Puegot 306 1.9Dturbo again fast for what it was but wrecked more than once, my mum slid into a ditch to avoid an oncoming tractor and cows... a pole got jammed about a foot deep into the bonnet and she drove home alternator and battery were moody and every now and again the ecu chip had moods which ranged for blasting half a tank of fuel into each cylinder to just choking the car at any given time. I ahve many more stories but my point was that whne it comes right down to it a car can live through almost anything normal life can throw at but timing belts etc can kill it, the perishables like them are dangerous to it but oil can be forgotten (try not to though) and small repairs can wait as long as you're prepared to get your hands dirty being and off the cuff mechanic (best line ever had to be 'okay ma im going to figure out a work around till we get some duct tape, BTW any cable ties'...) well written and to the point and solved your problem...


    15 years ago on Step 10

    Wow that was great, thanks for the great pics too they really help. I have the same exact engine so this was perfect!!


    15 years ago on Introduction

    okay, serously dude. if you were to re-do this, i would highly, highly recomend not to use a metal scraper, because that may, and most likely will, cause damage by scraping off bits of metal, meaning your gasket, pre-formed or not, will not seal right, and secondly, if your car was leaking that badly, the problem should have been dealt with before it got this far, this is pretty bad. on my truck, which is a 283 small block V8, I had to replace all the gaskets, and basically re-build the engine and i found that using an old credit card or similar, like a plastic scraper, will work better. it will remove most of the build up and old gasket, and it wont damage the block or the valve cover. i also use an air compressor and tools with that such as a grinder, small grinder, very small, but i use that and it's so that you keep your entire area flat, instead of multiple surfaces, your gaskets need to function right, using metal scrapers will damage it, most likely


    16 years ago on Step 10

    This is great! Waaaaaaay better than my Hayne's Manual. Thanks!!!