Car Doctor Q&A: Removing Baked-On Headgaskets

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On a car that probably hasn’t had its engine disassembled since ’63, gasket material can get baked on and insanely hard to remove. Car Doctor John Paul to the rescue with a few suggestions.

Q. I’m rebuilding the engine in my 1963 Ford Thunderbird and I’m having a real hard time with getting the gaskets off. The gaskets feel like they are baked to the engine. I have tried a heat gun and a stiff putty knife and the gaskets aren’t moving. I have seen videos of people using something that looks like a little sander/grinder with a disc mounted to it to grind away the gasket. What do you think of using my four inch angle grinder with an abrasive disc?

A. I wouldn’t recommend using an abrasive disc, unless you have a lot of practice. Too often I have seen people get a little carried away and take away metal along with the gasket. I have had better luck with using the round end of a ball peen hammer and just tapping the gasket. This usually is enough to loosen the gasket without damaging the metal. I have also had decent luck using an oscillating multi- tool with a scraper blade. The vibrating motion of the tool tends to do a good job loosening the gasket without damaging the metal surface (although you still need to be careful). Once the gasket is removed then you can clean up the mating surface by hand with an abrasive pad.

John Paul is public affairs manager for AAA Southern New England. A certified mechanic, Paul tests dozens of new cars each year and also hosts a radio show on AM 950 and 550.