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Old 09-08-2011, 05:08 PM   #1
AaronGTR
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head gaskets: round two

So a few of you know already but most do not... after my major engine rebuild a few months back, I was still having some minor issues. Strange noises from the exhaust, occasional weird engine behavior and/or random smoke coming out the exhaust, and what appeared to be oil slowly dripping down the front of the block that looked like it was coming from the head gasket (I know, weird right?).

So after 1000 break in miles on the engine, my coolant tank was half empty and I had burned through 1 quart of oil. I decided something was definitely wrong and started doing research and asking questions. Long story short, the MLS gaskets I was using hadn't sealed properly. I got them several years ago through a group buy with the 60v6.com store (this was before WOT tech and before the Cometic MLS gaskets where available). No special instructions where included with them other than that a finish of 50RA or finer was required and that they be installed dry. Ben could not be reached for further information, and my engine shop that did the machine work assured me that the heads where flat and smooth enough to use MLS gaskets with no issue. Obviously both let me down. I was later told by Ben that no factory heads are flat or smooth enough for those gaskets and that they must be milled. Of course that info wasn't included with the gaskets nor is it on his store page anywhere.

Upon further investigation I found some claims that even milling them may not produce a smooth enough finish, because of the limitations of the surface quality that can be produced with milling machines available at most shops. Some recommended using copper gasket spray to fill in imperfections and create a proper seal... even with new gaskets,and even though this is NOT recommended by Cometic. Of the various forum results I got with a google search, about 50% installed MLS gaskets dry, and 50% used copper spray. Of the 50% who didn't use spray, about half of those later had leaks, so about 1/4 total of what I found. Of the 50% who used spray, I didn't see any posts about having problems later...

In other words, if you are thinking of using MLS gaskets, I personally would recommend having the heads AND the block milled, and using copper gasket spray when you install them. Otherwise you are risking having to do a tear down later like I did. On to the carnage...
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Old 09-08-2011, 05:23 PM   #2
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I ended up spending three entire days over labor day weekend out in the garage tearing down the top end, cleaning things up, and putting it all back together. Also needed another $100 in top end gaskets. Replaced the valve cover and LIM gaskets with another set of premium Felpro's even though the old ones only had 1k miles on them. Best not to take chances. Rather than go with OEM head gaskets again I decided to use Felpro for those as well. They have a cheaper "perma-dry" line, and a more expensive "severe-duty" line, so I decided to give the SD's a try.


First thing I found when I took the front header off was oil on the gasket for the #2 port. Seems that is where it was leaking from down the block. There was heavy carbon build up in the #2 primary and wet oil still in that and the head port.





After getting the head off this is what the port looked like. It was the only one with a clean streak in it and wet oil. All the rest just had heavy carbon build up (way heavier than normal for 1k miles). The path from the valve stem immediately made me think possible problem with the valve guide or seal.



And here are the undersides of the heads, and one of the gaskets.







You can see the carbon build up on the combustion chambers, and there is oil all over them too. Half the viton rubber coating on the gaskets came off on the block and heads, but when I pulled the heads off neither gasket was stuck to the head or the block. The heads popped right up with no effort at all, and there was oil all over both sides of the gaskets, which dripped off the surface onto the combustion chambers when I pulled them and flipped them over. The rubber coating in between the layers of the gaskets was also coming off and the layers where coming apart instead of staying stuck together.
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Old 09-08-2011, 05:39 PM   #3
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Here are a few pics of the block and pistons. Heavy carbon build up on the pistons, and a ring around the top of the bore where the rings stop. I never saw a carbon ring around the top like that any other time I took my heads off, so that's a definite indicator that oil was getting into the combustion chambers. Another weird thing is the ring disappears on some cylinders in between cylinder pairs, and sometimes higher or lower closer to the coolant ports. I think this is a pretty good sign that they were leaking coolant as well at those points, as I've heard burning coolant and "clean off" carbon like that. I don't know if the expanding and contracting of the heads when the engine was cold or was heating up made any changes to the leaking of coolant or oil. Sometimes I would get smoke on cold starts and sometimes while sitting at idle when fully warm, so there's not real way to tell.





Here is the valve side of the #2 exhaust port after I took the valve out.



And the big winner... broken valve spring shim!



You can see the cap part is all gone and it left a ragged edge and also wore down the outside of the valve guide. I didn't see any bits of metal around or in the oil pan, but I did two oil and filter changes during the break in and the last one was two weeks ago, so if there was anything it got drained out with the oil or caught in the filter.

The thing that ticks me off is I've run those springs and shims for years and probably more than 12,000 miles with no problems. Now I pay $350 to a shop for head service, had them do a valve job and put in 3500 valves, machine the spring seats down .1", and reassemble them with new valve seals.... and 1,000 miles later they take a crap! Also I don't have a dial gauge so I can't measure it, but it seems like that valve had more play in side to side movement than the others. I think the valve guide is toast and will have to be replaced. Again, the shop said they inspected all that and that everything on the heads was good. I haven't contacted them yet, but I'm going to take that head in to them and ask them what the hell is up. They are supposed to be a reputable professional shop!
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Old 09-08-2011, 05:59 PM   #4
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One last note to add... when I did the engine rebuild I replaced the oil pump because the pressure had always seemed a little low, and the gears where worn below specs. I've had an oil pressure gauge for a long time though, and even when the engine was fairly new and I hadn't changed cams yet, the oil pressure never was very high. Always around 18-20psi at warm idle, and NEVER got over 50 psi.

I replaced the pump with a new Melling pump. Box and stamping where the numbers for the OEM replacement, not the high volume unit, so it should be right. I assumed the pressure would be similar to stock then, and I wanted just a tad more so I shimmed the spring 1/8" with washers. Not much... I figured it would be just right. Guess I should have left it alone though. Seems the pressure bypass spring Melling uses is stiffer than the OEM one. It seemed that way to me when I inspected them both, but it's a small spring and I had no way to measure it to be sure.

After shimming it though the pressure was higher than I wanted, especially when the oil was cold. Cold idle was 60psi or more and up to around 85psi+ under acceleration. Warm was 25psi at idle but still would get over 75psi under throttle.

So during this tear down I also removed the shims. I couldn't completely drop the oil pan without dropping the passenger side of the sub-frame, which I didn't want to do, but by disconnecting the rear trans mount and jacking up the trans case on that side with a block of wood I was able to tilt the engine up until the crank pulley hit the A/C line. If I pulled the crank pulley off I could have gone further, but didn't want to do that either since it's a PITA! It was just enough that I could take all the oil pan bolts out and drop it down and tilt it enough that I could get to the oil pump cover bolts with a 1/4" drive socket, swivel adapter, and extension. That was all I needed since I only needed to get the cover off and not the whole pump.

So after taking out the shims, the oil pressure is at a much more acceptable level, and still better than the stock pump ever did. Cold pressure at idle is only around 50-55psi, and fully warm is still at 25psi right where I want it. Under throttle is hasn't seemed to ever go over 75psi so far. Haven't done any WOT runs of course, but it shouldn't matter since once the pressure bypass opens it shouldn't go any higher.
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Old 09-08-2011, 11:19 PM   #5
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i gotta say after seeing the pix of those head gaskets... mine didnt look anything close to that and they were 183,973mi old. so the fact that yours at 1k miles looked THAT bad tells me that those gaskets were either crap or the machine shop did a horrible job on the heads, or a combo of both. thats completely unacceptable and i hope like hell they accept the blame for it since they ASSURED you nothing was wrong. hopefully they'll fix their problem free of charge and good thing you tore it down when you did. hate to think of what may have happened if you waited any longer.
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Old 09-08-2011, 11:22 PM   #6
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also, i went with the Felpro's myself and so far.. so good. granite iv only driven it twenty something miles but still iv inspected it everyday (because it seems like this car is a curse of bad luck) and havent seen anything out of the ordinary. but make sure you bolt the coolant line on the driver side of the engine on because i got tired when almost finishing my engine and started missing things and forgot to bolt that back to the block and blew the line out on my way home from work last night and almost blew up the car.. whoops! haha.

goodluck man hope to hear good news soon
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Old 09-09-2011, 03:00 PM   #7
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^well, those are a totally different type of head gasket than what you have on your car so they are going to look very different. But the key is how much carbon build up was on everything after only 1,000 miles. Definitely a sign something was wrong.

I'm going to call the shop next week and see if I can bring the heads back to them to look at again and see if they can explain to me why the gaskets didn't seal and why a valve guide failed after only 1k miles.



I found a few exhaust leak issues with my TOG headers while I was doing all this too. Really, there have always been some issues with them that I've known about. The paper gaskets that came with them sucked and leaked big time, plus they weren't re-usable, so I've been using modified stock metal gaskets for years now.

The D-shape hole in them doesn't perfectly match the round header primary though, and there is just enough play in the header bolt holes in the gaskets for them to move around a little, and possibly shift the raised part of the gasket over enough to not seal well with the primary and leak. What I did this time was use some high temp copper RTV sealer and stick the gaskets down on the header flange first and let them dry just enough to stay put before I bolted them up. The gasket should seal to the head fine since the shape matches, so hopefully the RTV between the gasket and header flange should keep them sealed.

There was also a leak on the flange between the rear header and down pipe. I've seen that leak before and fixed it before with RTV as well. I think it's probably because its a two bolt flange instead of three bolt, and maybe the flange isn't real flat. I just RTV'd both sides of the gasket again this time, and problem solved.

The worst problem is really the cross over pipe. I've never liked the three piece design of these with the two donut gaskets and flanges on either end of the cross over. And on my particular set of headers, when I have the front and rear headers lined up and bolted to the heads, I can't get the cross over to line up quite right. When one side is bolted up properly, the other end is off to the side just about 1/8" or more and a little too far away as well. I have to shift the other end sideways a bit so I can get the bolts in the other flange, then tighten everything to dray them together. NOT the best for the header or for getting a good seal, and it makes them very difficult to install as well. Makes it so I try not to take the headers off if I can ever help it.

What I wish I had done before I had them re-coated last time was to cut the flanges off and put v-band flanges on instead and make a new cross over to mate them up perfectly. I could have done that before when I had another car to drive. Now I can't do it. Even if I bolted the current donut gaskets up in the correct position though and cut the middle of the pipe and added in a short piece to correct the length/angle, that would make it easier. And I wouldn't have to re-coat the front or rear header. I would just have to at least paint the cross over with header paint, and maybe put some heat wrap around it. Not ideal but better than nothing.
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Old 09-09-2011, 07:30 PM   #8
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Oh yeah, I forgot to mention.... I think the SLP exhaust is finally calling it quits too after 10 years or so. I noticed a spot in the S curve section where it goes under the gas tank with a black looking drip stain on it, and some black on the metal heat shield above it. Looks like a pin hole has probably formed in the top of the pipe somewhere and is letting water vapor escape when the exhaust is first warming up, which of course has carbon in it and is dripping down the outside.

It's supposed to be stainless steel piping, but of course it's not totally rust proof. I've always thought that it seemed to be lower quality stainless though because it's always had a light layer of rust on the outside. Just not heavy rust like a normal exhaust would get. The stainless piping I bought to make my downpipe with though is still shiny. Seems to be better metal. I'm sure the packing inside the muffler is probably gone bad too. Guess one of these days I'm going to just have to have a new custom cat-back made and totally replace the SLP.
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Old 09-09-2011, 08:48 PM   #9
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is it just me or does it seem like these older cars are just one problem after another.. after another.. after another? my buddy and i always say if it aint one thing its ten. and it seems like so many times its true . its disappointing to hear the the SLP is going i always thought they were up there in good quality. although i guess you cant complain too much to get 10yrs out of it. if the muffler wasnt going bad i would suggest just replacing that section of pipe, but since the muffler is starting to go i guess you dont have much reason to not replace the entire thing.

those headers you say are TOG.. now im not really familiar with alot of the abbreviations but what does that stand for ? and it seems like all aftermarket parts need some sort of modification to work properly. its not often you get something thats not OEM replacement that fits perfect first try, or at least I dont. also, why in hell would they give you paper gaskets? thats a bit of a head scratcher.. iv noticed the D cutout on the stock manifolds tho however i never payed much attention to the heads when i had them out are they too cutout as a D? if so why would they make headers in an O cutout? custom head installs?

and your sig says your DD is a 97 GPGT do you not have that anymore? i personally really like those cars, along with the GA i think that Pontiac really had something going for them. if i didnt already have 2 cars i myself might look into getting a GP and goofing around with it a little bit and make my GA my project car.

looks like you got your work cutout for you tho, hope it all works out for ya in the end. and RTV can be a mans best friend for some of those leaks thats for certain!
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Old 09-09-2011, 08:50 PM   #10
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ok after looking at the pics again i see they arent a perfect O but i know that they are more shaped to an O than the factory manifolds are. still kind of strange if you ask me
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Old 09-09-2011, 09:10 PM   #11
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I was never really happy with how much smaller the TOG header primaries were than the exhaust ports.
Here's a factory gasket on the TOG header primary:


And this is the same gasket on a S&S header primary:


See the difference?
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Old 09-09-2011, 09:21 PM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by KillNThrill24 View Post
those headers you say are TOG.. now im not really familiar with alot of the abbreviations but what does that stand for ? and it seems like all aftermarket parts need some sort of modification to work properly. its not often you get something thats not OEM replacement that fits perfect first try, or at least I dont. also, why in hell would they give you paper gaskets? thats a bit of a head scratcher.. iv noticed the D cutout on the stock manifolds tho however i never payed much attention to the heads when i had them out are they too cutout as a D? if so why would they make headers in an O cutout? custom head installs?
TOG stands for The Other Guys Exhaust Products. They went under several years ago.
They made headers for the 3400 after enjoying some success with the 3800 market. Not sure why they didn't go the extra mile to shape the primary tubes to match our exhaust ports (which ARE D-shaped).....except that maybe it was just too much work to make them right. Their gaskets sucked big time, and so did the crossover fitment. What a dumb design.
And the flexpipe they sold was junk; I blew mine to bits maybe a year after installing my first set.
I had 2 sets of TOG headers, and now have S&S headers. You can't expect mild steel to last forever (even if it is ceramic-coated).
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Old 09-09-2011, 09:29 PM   #13
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cant imagine why they went under... if your good at something stay with it dont try to expand your horizons into a new territory without having the knowledge to make a good product... or motivation or whatever. one would think you would want to make your header opening at least match the opening on the block... but hey what do i know im only a cook

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Old 09-09-2011, 10:17 PM   #14
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So Aaron, do you think you have any chance of getting the work done at the shop?

Or are they taking the "can't warranty moving parts" line of BS to try to get out of shoddy work?
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no sht it's spreading like a disease..and you guys aren't even picking decent cars to turn into garage queens..
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Old 09-09-2011, 10:26 PM   #15
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Quote:
Or are they taking the "can't warranty moving parts" line of BS to try to get out of shoddy work?
seems like most places are like that anymore...
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Old 09-09-2011, 10:32 PM   #16
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yes, complete bullsh!t. people just want their cash, and don't give a damn about who they're working for, who is keeping them in business, rather than the doing it right, then standing behind the work.
stoopid lazy bastages!
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no sht it's spreading like a disease..and you guys aren't even picking decent cars to turn into garage queens..
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Old 09-09-2011, 10:38 PM   #17
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couldnt have said it better myself!
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Old 09-10-2011, 08:38 AM   #18
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Quote:
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...I've noticed the D cutout on the stock manifolds tho however i never payed much attention to the heads when i had them out are they too cutout as a D? if so why would they make headers in an O cutout? custom head installs?

and your sig says your DD is a 97 GPGT do you not have that anymore? i personally really like those cars, along with the GA i think that Pontiac really had something going for them. if i didnt already have 2 cars i myself might look into getting a GP and goofing around with it a little bit and make my GA my project car.
My car's old but it's only got around 64k miles on it. It was a second car and garage kept for a long time. Only reason for all the problems is because of the modifications and the lack of quality in aftermarket parts. There really aren't any GOOD aftermarket vendors for this car like there are for more popular platforms. They lack the budget and expertise to engineer really high quality parts. But they charge the same amount. Anyway, it usually is up to you to end up making things work. I've gone through a LOT of trial and error with this car.

As for the headers, you could form the primaries into a D shape to match the heads... that's what I would do if I was making custom headers... but most companies don't want to go to the work. The primary tubes are round, so they just leave them that way.

Also I forgot to change my sig. I don't have that grand prix anymore, sold it back in July. It was a total POS! I hate those cars after having one for 6+ years. The design is SO much worse than the GA. I wouldn't buy another one. Difficult to work on, way too much chassis flex, old fashioned design, out dated engine, and I spent way more money fixing things on it that broke than I should have before I sold it.

Quote:
Originally Posted by bricooper78 View Post
So Aaron, do you think you have any chance of getting the work done at the shop?

Or are they taking the "can't warranty moving parts" line of BS to try to get out of shoddy work?
No idea, I haven't contacted them yet. I'll find out next week.
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Old 09-10-2011, 11:08 AM   #19
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Damn Aaron....just isn't your year with the GA!
Hope everything works out for ya.
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Old 09-11-2011, 08:15 AM   #20
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XtremeGaGt00 Gettin' there
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hey aaron, when i had my turbo g.a. i had the headstuds like you also, but i ran stock gm headgaskets and had no problems, even a couple trips up to 15 pounds boost...just a lil input, stockers arent as bad as everyone thinks.
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00 GaGt turbo/camm'd SOLD!13.68 @100.34.. 2.0 60' w/ slipping trans...stock cam/stock 103xxx bottom end
99 GTP demodded! 12.8 @107.19.. 1.7 60' on 555r's
99 Trans Am6.0 lq4,studded,t76 turbo, turbo cam, 3.5in exhaust,#80's,dual walbros,ford 9in rear, adj, tq arm, adj, control arms,160 stat,ls6 intake,555r's 11.8 @122.<<--nitrous only times
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