How to Avoid Cylinder Head Lift by Preventing Engine Detonation

If your vehicle has an overheated engine and visible coolant loss, these could be signs of cylinder head lift. This lift is a result of high cylinder pressure, which pushes the head away from the deck surface of your engine. When gasses and fuel enter this gap, serious overheating and head gasket problems can occur.

One of the most common causes of cylinder head lift is engine detonation. Detonation is caused by high pressure and intense heat, which can ignite the air-fuel mixture in the combustion chamber spontaneously. Detonation is sometimes known as 'spark knock' or 'combustion knock'. This reaction increases cylinder pressure dramatically, which can in turn cause the head to lift. You can usually tell when detonation occurs because it causes a metallic knock or ping sound.

If you're having problems with engine detonation, here are 2 ways to reduce the problem before serious cylinder head damage occurs. 

Clean Out Carbon Deposits 

It's not uncommon for carbon deposits to gather on pistons and in the combustion chamber. This buildup can prevent heat transferring efficiently from the chamber to the cylinder head, and it can increase the engine compression. This can eventually lead to detonation and later cylinder head lift. Carbon deposits can be cleaned by removing the muffler and the cylinder head, then using a scraper, steel wool, and cleaning solvent to remove the buildup. The cylinder head and other components then need to be reassembled exactly as they were taken apart. It's important to leave this work to a professional if you're unfamiliar with dismantling and cleaning engines; cleaning carbon deposits can be dangerous, and novices could damage their vehicle in the process.

Use Higher Octane Fuel

Do you put your vehicle to work? Vehicles which are subject to heavy loads (such as towing vehicles) can often require a higher octane fuel to run efficiently. The same goes for sports cars and other luxury, high-powered vehicles. Usually, if a car requires grade 89 fuel or higher, it will be recommended in your owner's manual, but that doesn't mean that regular octane cars won't benefit from premium fuel in certain cases. If you've been hearing the characteristic ping of detonation, you can try switching to grade 89 fuel to see if the problem is rectified.

If you think your cylinder head has already lifted and you're unsure how to proceed, or if you need help preventing detonation, contact an auto service professional at your earliest convenience.