Internal combustion engines are the means of power generation in most automobiles. They can also be found in watercraft and aircraft, many varieties of which depend on combustion engines in order to operate.
In an internal combustion engine, the engine block is the equipment that houses pistons, the movement of which is facilitated by the ignition of fuel and the subsequent force generated because of that ignition. That ignition forces pistons down into their cylinders. The pistons are connected to a crankshaft by hinged rods, and as the pistons are forced down, they cause the crankshaft to rotate.
Eventually, this motion is translated though a few other mechanisms to generate the motion necessary for a vehicle’s movement. In order for the ignition of fuel to generate enough force to move the pistons, the ignition must take place in a sealed space.
Engine block cylinders and the pistons within them create part of an enclosure, and the cylinder head, when affixed above the engine block, creates the other (the cylinder head is also the place where the spark plug is mounted, which facilitates fuel ignition). In order for the transfer of energy to be efficient, the space between the engine block and cylinder head must be sealed. Head gaskets create this seal.
All head gaskets feature a frame and several round openings that are wide enough to fit around engine block cylinders. Head gasket configuration depends on engine block configuration. For example, engine blocks with six cylinders in a straight row require a head gasket with six cylinder openings in a row. In the case of split engine blocks, two head gaskets will be required, one for each row of cylinders.
In both cases, the gasket must perfectly fit the contours of the cylinders, the engine block and the cylinder head to ensure the engine’s efficiency and safety. Head gaskets are essential components because they prevent fuel, heat, and exhaust from escaping the combustion chamber and threatening other engine components. They also prevent inefficiencies in the combustion process, but most engineers and consumers think of efficiency as secondary to safety in an explosive reaction.
If head gaskets fail, heat from the reaction can degrade other engine parts. Coolant and oil can enter the combustion chamber and mix with fuel. If these or other problems persist after a gasket fails, it can cause catastrophic engine failure. For this reason, a gasket manufacturer will make their gaskets of strong materials coated with heat resistant chemicals like Teflon.