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Let’s treat this like a two-part question. First: What is a valve cover? A valve cover is a metal or plastic component that covers your car’s valve train and sits on top of the cylinder heads. It serves the purpose of keeping dirt, dust, and debris from entering the cylinder heads, and also the extremely vital purpose of keeping motor oil from leaking into the engine when it should not. Second: What’s a gasket? A gasket is a common car term, so make a note. It’s really just a seal. So, in this case, the valve cover gasket is a seal on the valve cover. It’s what creates a seamless connection between the valve cover and the cylinder head. But the gaskets - which are usually made of rubber - can wear out over time as with many car parts. The gasket can get worn thin, or crack, and it will fail to form a perfect seal. And when that happens, it’s time for a replacement.
Cars have a lot of fluids. There’s oil, coolant, and brake fluid, just to name a few. So, if you see a leak, you won’t be able to tell what is immediately wrong. But, you should be able to tell that something is wrong. That something could be the valve cover gasket. The valve cover seals in the motor oil, which means that when the gasket breaks, the oil will start leaking out. When that happens, it may end up under your car, where you should be able to notice it.
If a broken valve cover gasket leads to oil leaks, what do you think that might mean for your oil level? It's good to get in the habit of checking your fluid levels. It only takes a few minutes, and it can help you catch issues before they become bigger, more expensive issues. If you notice that your car is getting low on oil, it could be due to a leak. And that leak could be from the valve cover gasket.
While the oil that leaks out from a broken valve cover gasket often falls straight to the ground, it can also end up going into the wrong parts of the engine. It’s fairly common for motor oil to leak onto your car’s spark plugs if the seal in the valve cover isn’t functioning properly. When that happens, your engine is likely to start misfiring. You’ll notice it in the form of poor performance when you’re accelerating, and also a gunshot-like noise.
We all know that leaks are bad, and so are mysterious burning smells. If your car smells funny, something is most likely wrong. Unless it's coming from your bag of gym clothes. When oil leaks through a broken valve cover gasket, it often drips onto the engine, where it burns. So, if your nose picks up a weird burning scent, you might have a valve cover gasket issue.
If your car has a valve cover gasket that isn’t doing it’s job, it’s still safe to drive, as long as you still have a decent level of oil. Now, that doesn’t mean the repair isn’t urgent. Oil dripping onto the engine can cause damage, and the smell and performance of the car won’t be great, so you should get it replaced sooner than later.
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