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Tale of Two Head Gaskets - Disassembly

It has begun! All of my tool hoarding, all of my “oh I can probably do that”, and all of my “that leak doesn’t look too bad”-ing has led to this moment. We pulled the heads on the Disco.


One of the new things we tried on this job was actually trying to have enough space and be organized. The tool cart was cleaned, a table was set out, and we had all sort of labels and baggies at our disposal.

The plan was anything that came off would be tagged with what it was and, if deemed necessary, what step it came from. Bolts were put in ziplock bags and labeled. Things that needed to be replaced were tagged with a red “REPLACE” tag.


We also stapled the entire sequence of events as per the workshop manual on the wall and tried to check items off as we went through.


Is the system perfect? No. Did it work better than having a pile of bolts that “you’ll totally remember where they came from”? Yes.

Sequence of Events

Saturday - Coolant Flush and Prep

Saturday was prep day, wherein we did a coolant flush to remove the Dexcool. It was hilariously bad. The block drains were difficult to find and the hoses were practically fused to the thermostat.


That said, we eventually got the cooling system to run clean, ready to be changed over to G05 after the head job.


We also got to confirm that yes, the “225F” operating temps I’ve been seeing on the UltraGauge are complete BS. At “210F” indicated the thermostat still wasn’t open and my IR thermometer was reading about 175F. Good thing I was planning on replacing the coolant temp sensor while I was in there.

Sunday - Digging In

Sunday was devoted to getting as much done as possible, more or less. The only wrench in the works, if you’ll pardon the expression, is I’d invited people from my wrenching tutorial to come help/ observe. Turns out they were very helpful, though I doubt they learned much.


In 5 hours of wrenching we got down to the heads themselves, which is honestly much further than I expected. A shocking amount of the engine had to be removed, including the alternator, AC compressor, power steering pump, serpentine belt, a bunch of brackets, a bunch of pulleys, intake ducting, throttle body, intake plenum, intake, injectors, exhaust manifolds, and a bunch of the cooling system.


So far the biggest mistake made was not cleaning the engine first. 2000+ miles of offroading with various leaks meant every surface of the engine was covered in a 1/4" of dirt, grime, and goop. This, of course, took liberties with its newfound freedom in clogging up tools and generally getting places it wasn’t meant to be.


Eventually we were thwarted by not having the right tools. The 16mm head bolts had some motherfucking torque on them! Much more than our poor 1/2" to 3/8" adapter could handle. Time for more tools! (Tool purchase summary at the end)


Monday - Getting head

Yesterday we figured it’d take about an hour to pop the heads off and then get to the water pump. This was not the case.


Even with the new 1/2" drive sockets, the head bolts didn’t want to budge. I guess that is a good thing? Regardless, after much swearing and the use of a 10' cheater bar (no, that was not a typo) we got the first one off.

My cheater bar is bigger than your cheater bar

Proof of concept over, we made a quick trip to Home Depot courtesy of Project Dumpster Fire for a reasonably sized cheater bar and some other bits. After that, the rest came in pretty quickly succession and three hours later all the head bolts were off. Hurray!

While my helper worked on cracking of the head bolts, I worked on the water pump, which was hilariously loose but looked to be in good shape overall.


With a little more fuss, I got the driver’s side head off and on the bench for inspection. The passenger side got hung up on some unexpected bracketing, so that will have to wait until Tuesday (it was 10PM at this point).


The head gasket looked to be in OK shape, as did the heads, and honestly the pistons too. This is worrying. I was really expecting to see a smoking gun here and I didn’t.



Tuesday - What remains

Tuesday was mostly a parts cannon day. After calling around to the two highly recommend machine shops I learned that I could save either time or money, but not both. The local specialist would need $80 to test the heads, $125 to skim them, and $125 plus parts to work on the valves and they are about 1.5 weeks out on work right now. Another shop wanted $100, $125, and $225 for the same, plus 4-5 days. eBay says finished heads from a reputable shop run $400 all in and can be here on Monday.


eBay wins.


After doing some research I learned that I didn’t necessarily need to have the heads machined at all, just checked. Oh well, hindsight is bullshit.

I also picked up a new ground strap for the head. Weirdly I wasn’t able to find this part at any of the specialists, so I went ahead and ordered an Alfa one instead. That meant ordering a bunch of other Alfa stuff to justify the shipping cost, but oh well.


I also caved and purchased a full set of coolant hoses as mine were worse than expected.

Then it was just getting the passenger side head off, which wasn’t a huge feat once I realized I had to disconnect the alternator bracket.


At this point we are as disassembled as we are going to be, so next up is to clean everything and begin re-assembly.

Oh shit...

After getting the heads off, I figured it was time to look at reassembly and at my gasket assortment. This... led to a problem.


(A) The Atlantic British head gasket kit I purchased for an enormous sum didn’t have any sort of BOM with it. It is a literal sack of gaskets, orings, and random seals. Some are obvious, others are not.

(B) The head bolts are not as shown on the website. The reason I bought the AB kit was it showed well engineered stretch bolts that actually had small area of the shaft that was thinner than the rest of the bolt, making me think they were of higher quality than your average stretch bolt. The fact that they cost $4 per bolt reinforced that fact.

What the website shows

Nope. Just the same bolts everyone else ships, but twice the price.

What they actually ship...

Tomorrow I get on the phone with them and arrange a return. Hopefully I won’t have to use words like “misrepresentation” and “false advertising” but I have that loaded up those arguments, just in case.

[UPDATE] Called AB this morning (yeah, sorry, I wrote this post last night) and they (so far) were totally cool with it. TBD if they’ll charge a restocking fee, but we’ll fight that battle later.


I then called Lucky8 and they were also pretty awesome. They let me upgrade their standard head gasket kit with better head gaskets and delete the stretch bolts in favor or ARP studs. So for $20 more and the cost of return shipping, I have a superior setup en route.


Lists of things

Unexpected tool purchases

  1. 1/4" drive 12-point socket set (Valve Cover Gaskets)
  2. 1/2" drive metric impact sockets (Head Bolts)
  3. 1" x 2' black pipe cheater bar (Head Bolts)
  4. 1/2" drive socket extension set (Head Bolts)
  5. 1/2" drive metric impact deep sockets (Head Bolts)

Unexpected parts purchases

  1. Idler pulleys - $70
  2. Exhaust manifold bolt and spacer- $15
  3. High temp Split loom - $60
  4. Blue Loctite - $5?
  5. Coolant hoses* - $160
  6. Head ground strap - $8
  7. A bunch of Alfa parts to justify shipping head ground strap >_<
  8. Re-manufactured heads - $400 (About $150 more than expected)

*Yes I know I should have anticipated that one. The top hose was in really good shape, but alas everything else was garbage.

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