The Truth about Vanagon Heads and Head Gasket Replacement

Of course the Head Gasket is the bugger boo of Vanagon ownership. Much has been made of how unreliable the Vanagon is because of the head gaskets have a tendency to leak over time. However with regular maintenance you can extend the life span of your head gaskets to 100k miles or more.

The first tip I will give you is to regularly change your coolant or at least add a coolant renewal to the coolant system every two years. You can buy a coolant renewal fluid from NAPA. Over time the corrosion inhibitors break down. Refreshing your coolant every couple of years is really needed in every vehicle that is on the road. However it is more critical with an all aluminum engine like the water boxer.


If you see a puddle of coolant under the van or see hanging drops on the bottom of the engine you should do an inspection of the head gaskets right away. Remove the push rod tube covers on either side and look at the bottom of the heads. Again if you are having a leak you will see some drops hanging or some crust that is colored the same as the coolant.  If you are having just a very minor leak (like a seep) you can try to seal this seep with some stop leak sealer. Bar's Leak sells a good stop leak sealer that can temporarily seal small seeps. Usually this type of patch will last for several months to a year. However to properly fix this problem you will need to replace the gaskets at some point.


When you decide that it is time to do the head gasket replacement, getting the proper parts is one of the most critical part of the job. We sell only the best engine gasket kits made by Erling and Victor Reinz. These kits come with all of the gaskets you need and also both sealants you are going to need.


Another thing that I have found is that many times the heads also need to be replaced. I know much is made of cleaning up the pitting in the sealing surfaces with and repairing these with JB Weld. However if you have cracks between the valves this cannot be repaired with JB Weld. Whenever I find a head with a crack between the valves, I replace it with a new one. The cracks may test OK with a pressure test, however after the heads are reinstalled they will quickly get wider and can cause premature head failure. Rebuilt heads are generally no good in my opinion because they take bad heads that are cracked and severely pitted, and they weld all of the problem areas so that they look good and then sell the heads. The welded areas between the valves have even more stress than they ever did because of the welding. So they crack very soon after they are installed.

We sell brand new heads made by AMC that come with new valves and springs installed. These are great heads and I have installed more sets than I can count. I have never had any problems with any of them or the valves that they come with. They have re-engineered the heads with an updated alloy that better resists the infamous pitting problem, and they have thickened certain areas that were prone to cracking. All in all a superior product that is better than the original. 


I know some sites tout their heads as superior and charge extra money for “better” valves.  However I have never had any problems with the valves that come stock with the AMC heads and I have been installing them in customer’s vans and my own personal vans for over 11 years now.  In my opinion, why pay extra money to fix a problem that doesn’t exist.  I feel perfectly confident selling and installing the AMC heads as I have had such great reliability out of them over the years.  No product is perfect and I am sure there have been defective ones, however I can say that I have never seen one and that is a good enough track record for me. 


Copyright Van-Again 2009