To cylinder head or not to cylinder head that is the question -
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post #1 of 20 (permalink) Old 09-03-16, 09:37 PM Thread Starter
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Join Date: Aug 2015
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To cylinder head or not to cylinder head that is the question

Part 1

Cylinder head problems strike fear into the hearts of the amateur mechanic and the uninitiated alike as it is a job that is fraught with worry and confidence issues if you have never done a head replacement, or in my case the last time I’d replaced a cylinder head was in the 1980s’-90’s and that was on a 1973 Volkswagen Beetle and a 1984 Mini so not much difference there. Then you have the other issues of skill level and costs and whether you wish to tackle the job yourself or farm it out to a local garage or a main dealer, there’s a lot to decide before you make your final decision.

Before we get down to brass tacks you have to make sure that you diagnose that the cylinder head or gasket is at fault, this in itself is harder than you think and can be like looking for a needle in a haystack, you’ll find that there is not a set method of diagnosis as the symptoms are so varied and you may only have two or three of the many symptoms that are associated with a blown head gasket or a damaged head not to mention the red herrings or misdiagnosis.

Normally the first signs are when something either goes wrong or stops working the way it should, sometimes it’s not what you may have instantly thought a massive episode or something catastrophic like overheating and clouds of smoke as your car turns into a steam train billowing smoke across the countryside or a big bang and engine seizure!

Sometimes it’s very subtle changes or a gradual failure over a period of time or it happens over a few hours or if your very unlucky it’s a catastrophic failure so as you are starting to see it can be very confusing as to where or what the problem is or where the fault lies. But usually it starts with something that makes you stop your car/truck as there is something not working as it should. So here is what happened to me and on the face of it doesn't appear to be a big problem but how wrong could I have been?

Last edited by lookskyward1; 10-03-16 at 09:07 AM.
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post #2 of 20 (permalink) Old 09-03-16, 09:38 PM Thread Starter
I'm now in 4th gear with power to spare!
Join Date: Aug 2015
Location: Stranraer
Posts: 139
Part 2

One night around 7pm before Xmas I was travelling back from Newcastle upon Tyne (North East England) to home in Stranraer (South West Scotland) a journey of 164 miles and about three and a half to four hours driving and as normal it was pouring with rain and very cold. The first thing I knew was I was feeling cold and the heater was not blowing hot but cold air so I pulled over and had a look to see if there was anything obviously wrong. The big tail tell would have been the temperature gauge but at no time did it lift above the halfway mark and has never overheated so my mind didn’t even consider there was a problem with the cooling system but I had a look anyway.

So there I was armed with my mobile phone light getting wet and bonnet up, all the pipes seemed hot nothing hanging off or hissing and at a glance everything looked as it should so getting wet and fed up I shut the bonnet and went looking for the fuses as everything on the truck is electronically controlled I assumed it must be a fuse or a faulty solenoid valve controlling the heating but couldn't find any fuse blown. I decided to button it all back up and make my way home as it can’t be anything serious as it’s only the heater not blowing hot air MISTAKE NUMBER ONE!

By the time I got home I was cold hungry and tired so the truck would have to wait till the morning, next day I had another look as I was sure it was electronic but as before I couldn't find anything obvious and while I was poking around the engine pipework I found a small leak on the bottom radiator hose so then I checked the expansion tank and it was empty (major clue number one). I checked the radiator and the level was low (major clue number two), I fitted a replacement hose clip to the rad pipe and sealed it up and started to top off the radiator and was shocked when the five litres of coolant was swallowed up by both the radiator and expansion tank. I bled the cooling system and got the heating back. All once again looked good and put it down to a leaking pipe and as it never overheated the alarm bells never rang.
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Last edited by lookskyward1; 10-03-16 at 09:09 AM.
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post #3 of 20 (permalink) Old 09-03-16, 09:38 PM Thread Starter
I'm now in 4th gear with power to spare!
Join Date: Aug 2015
Location: Stranraer
Posts: 139
Part 3

Over the next few days the level in the expansion tank dropped but she was running ok so I topped it off and kept it local to the house just to keep an eye on it. Overnight the level was still dropping about half an inch and there were no external leaks to see as I’d checked every pipe I could see and the water pump for leaks. So I bit the bullet and booked it into a local reputable main dealer that sells Mitsubishi, Ford etc. as I’d had good dealings with them before with my other work trucks, they were tasked with performing a pressure test on the coolant system to check for leaks and a compression test. After a few hours I got a call to say they were having trouble getting it to start and it was hydro locking and smoking white smoke and they wanted authorisation to remove and check the EGR pipework and pressure test it for leaks as they had heard that they could leak internally, I agreed as they had the truck and it seemed daft not to let them after all what’s the worst that could happen?

Three days later after several calls to the dealership I decided to pay them a visit as I felt a major bill heading my way and to my amazement found that none of the tests I’d booked had been done and they took all that time to take off the EGR heat exchanger pipe off and put it back on again. So my displeasure was plain to see and was only made worse when the technician who was working on my car said you’d need to do a sniffer test to be sure if it was the head gasket but they didn’t have any diesel tester left also if it was the head the engine would have to come out and they didn’t have the technical info to do this job on my truck as they were not a Nissan dealer. I pulled up their technician and put him right on his incorrect statement and complained and managed to get away with my wallet intact and no bill to pay (a win for the wee man!) so the lesson there is never be afraid to complain and make a scene!

Last edited by lookskyward1; 10-03-16 at 09:15 AM.
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post #4 of 20 (permalink) Old 09-03-16, 09:39 PM Thread Starter
I'm now in 4th gear with power to spare!
Join Date: Aug 2015
Location: Stranraer
Posts: 139
Part 4

I got the truck home and she was blowing white smoke (major clue number three) and ordered up the block tester for diesel engines (the very one they show you on YouTube and comes recommended on the review sites) from Ebay. It arrived a few days later and sure enough she locked up when I tried to start her up (major clue number four) (word of advice if your truck ever hydro clocks never keep trying to start it as you’ll damage something). So out came the glow plugs and I noticed the plug for number 4 cylinder was very clean and wet (major clue number five), when I turned it over she blew out diesel vapour and water droplets at cylinder number four (major clue number six), I replaced the plugs and she fired straight up and I followed the block test instructions. Tested the engine three times but each time the test came back negative for exhaust gasses in the coolant system so now very confused!

I had a quick chat with Keith and Hamlet who made a few suggestions and thought that it all sounded like the head/head gasket and suggested I phoned David at Billcar and asked their advice before I went further. After a chat with David and explained the symptoms (coolant loss, hydro locking, white smoke but cleared after about ten minutes) he suggested I tried bypassing the EGR coolant pipes before I went down the cylinder head route as it’s been known to leak internally on the heat exchanger pipe and back fill the cylinders through the exhaust manifold. So out came the plumbing gear and a bypass was made using 22mm copper pipe and a few elbows job done fingers crossed and wait and see if the level still drops or she hydro locks.

You guessed it after two days without starting her she hydro locked and once I unlocked the engine she was once more smoking like Ivor the engine on a bad day! And with two days to Xmas I decided to wait till the following week to chat to the suppliers regarding the head recon and replacement head gasket.

Last edited by lookskyward1; 10-03-16 at 09:18 AM.
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post #5 of 20 (permalink) Old 09-03-16, 09:40 PM Thread Starter
I'm now in 4th gear with power to spare!
Join Date: Aug 2015
Location: Stranraer
Posts: 139
Part 5

The first port of call was Parks Nissan Ayr and it was just as well I was sitting down, they quoted 2000.00 plus VAT to have the head crack tested, skimmed and the valves re worked and set and a further 864.00 plus VAT for the labour and a two day turn around and 350.00 plus VAT for the engine gasket kit.

Second port of call was a head specialist in Glasgow who was looking for 850.00 including VAT to crack test, skim and do a valve job (getting better).

Third port was Ebay and there are a few options some bare new heads, some recon heads, some new complete heads but I was warned off them by Keith as there were some well-known untrustworthy traders from the area where they were selling from and they may not be the bargain the looked like.

Fourth port of call Milner 4X4 and their bare cylinder head and I really considered getting this and buying the new valves etc. as their prices were very good but I would have to do all the valve work and setting myself and to do that buy the valve compressor and valve setting tool.

Fifth and final port was Billcar, I can say with hand on heart that I now wouldn’t buy a major repair item from anywhere else now as the customer care and service were second to none and the help and advice again was great. I’m not going to get into prices as I’ve bought from Billcar before and they did my timing chain upgrade so I believe I got a really good price from them, and bought everything from them. And you get the peace of mind that you want when you must get it right first time and you need your truck back on the road straight away.

One thing to note is that if you’re going to get the engine gasket kit you will find there are four kits you will need to do the job and Billcar will supply genuine Nissan gaskets. I wouldn’t recommend re using the old gaskets as you could never guarantee they will seal again and you only want to do the job once.

Last edited by lookskyward1; 10-03-16 at 09:21 AM.
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post #6 of 20 (permalink) Old 09-03-16, 09:43 PM Thread Starter
I'm now in 4th gear with power to spare!
Join Date: Aug 2015
Location: Stranraer
Posts: 139
Part 6

A word or two about the engine gasket kits required

1. Complete engine gasket kit
2. Turbo gasket kit
3. Turbo coolant gasket as this is sold separate by Nissan (go figure?)
4. Liquid gasket

Now this is where you have a few more decisions to make, do you do it yourself or get it done by someone else. If you’re giving it to someone else to do the work you’re better to supply the consumables yourself, then you won’t get stitched up on parts. Do you get your own head refurbished or buy a new head, this depends on the costs from your local service providers and whether you trust them to do the head correctly or not. If it’s not then buy a complete head and again I’d highly recommend Billcar as you can guarantee its done right! But at the end of the day the decision is yours and it depends on how much you wish to spend. So with that in mind hand the job to someone you trust and then pick up your truck when it’s finished job done!

If you wish to save a large sum of money you may choose to do it yourself, as scary as it sounds it’s a straight forward job if you have the tools and you’re mechanically minded and you have the Nissan workshop manual. As long as you follow the instructions you can’t go wrong! And that’s what I thought but don’t let that put you off as it’s not as bad as it sounds. As long as you do everything in order and lay everything out as you take it off and refer to the manual to remove the complicated items like the fuel system items, induction parts, turbo and the head itself. Then you follow the instruction for re assembly it’s achievable.

There is plenty of info and a few people on the site who’ve done the job before and if you ask for help, we’ll all chip in offering info based on our own experiences and the moral support when needed and as Halet and I will tell you at some point you will doubt yourself or you’re abilities. And this site can help you get the job done and steady your nerve as you work your way through the job at hand and onwards to the completion of the work. All being well your first turn of the key will bring immense satisfaction and relief in equal portions.

Last edited by lookskyward1; 10-03-16 at 09:25 AM.
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post #7 of 20 (permalink) Old 09-03-16, 09:59 PM Thread Starter
I'm now in 4th gear with power to spare!
Join Date: Aug 2015
Location: Stranraer
Posts: 139
Part 7, List of tools used/required

One of the things I wanted to make sure was that I had all the tools needed to do the job, I didn't want to start it and find out that I needed a special tool number 04387526 that makes it all work and you can't do the job without it. Happily, apart from the torque wrench and angle gauge there are no special tools required

1. Oil filter tool
2. Large flat screw driver
3. Medium flat screwdriver
4. Vice/mole grips
5. Flat nosed pliars
6. Pointed nose pliars
7. drive ratchet, 3’’ extension bar, 7mm and 8mm sockets
8. 3/8 drive ratchet, 6’’ extension bar, 10mm, 12mm and 14mm sockets
9. drive ratchet, 6’’ and 12’’ extension bars, 10mm, 12mm, 14mm, 17mm, 19mm and 22mm sockets
10. drive universal jointed extension bar
11. drive torque wrench
12. Torque wrench angle gauge or protractor
13. 5mm, 6mm, 10mm drive allan socket
14. Combination spanners 7,8,10,12,14,17,19
15. Short/dumpy combination spanners 10,13,14,17
16. Mechanics gasket scraper
17. Packet of Stanley blades
18. 2 Scotch Brite or Bertex pads (do not use sand paper or emery paper)
19. Wire brush
20. Torch or strip light
21. Loads of rags or a few rolls of blue paper
22. A selection of drills Ideal for blanking off the fuel lines (use the end you put in the chuck not the fluted part of the drill)

Last edited by lookskyward1; 10-03-16 at 09:37 AM.
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post #8 of 20 (permalink) Old 09-03-16, 10:12 PM Thread Starter
I'm now in 4th gear with power to spare!
Join Date: Aug 2015
Location: Stranraer
Posts: 139
Well that's all I've got at the moment I'm still working on the rest of the post which will turn into a kind of how to post, well how i did it and I if I can do i with a fractured radius on my left arm anyone could give it a go as long as you take your time and do your research first and do everything in order. I know it's a long post but it's not a subject you can cover in a few paragraphs and there will be a lot more to come. I've tried to upload some pics but only one has worked out so I'll put them on my Phot bucket and get Keith or Hamlet to drop in the photo's at the relevant points.

so stay tuned folks for the coming installments

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Last edited by lookskyward1; 10-03-16 at 09:01 AM.
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post #9 of 20 (permalink) Old 10-03-16, 09:42 AM
Fully run in and going strong!
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There's a lot of effort gone into this, looking forward to the next instalments.

Well done Gavin.

2007 Euro4, D40 Outlaw in black.

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post #10 of 20 (permalink) Old 10-03-16, 10:25 AM
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When Billcar did mine a couple of the exhaust manifold studs broke. It might be prudent to get one or two in advance so you don't end up stuck halfway through reassembly.
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