Which Fasteners Work Better: Head Studs or Factory Bolts?

It’s the question on the minds of many diesel truck owners. Should I use my truck’s OEM head bolts or install a set of head studs?

If you’re like most diesel pickup truck owners, you look for ways to increase your truck’s performance any way you can. Whether you use custom tunning, fueling upgrades, larger turbo, lifted with oversized tires, or pushing towing capacity to the limits, you run the risk of the factory-installed head bolts giving out under the increased pressure causing a blown head gasket.

When that happens, you’re out of luck. Probably, you’re looking at a complete head gasket replacement.

You know what that means. It’s not just replacing the damaged parts. It’s the 24-plus hours of an expert diesel technician’s labor that cause the costs to start adding up, usually in the thousands. And, if you’ve driven it with a damaged head gasket, you likely have done even more damage to other engine parts.

How Do Head Gaskets Work?

In water-cooled engines, three substances move between the cylinder head and engine block: coolant, oil, and combustion gases. Head gaskets seal off combustion gases within your engine’s cylinders, keeping oil and coolant out. Even the tiniest leak can cause your engine to run poorly or overheat.

Your diesel truck likely has a multi-layer steel head gasket, as do most of today’s engines. With two to five layers of tough, pressure-resistant steel sandwiched with elastomer, they serve as a flexible yet sturdy barrier to keep your engine functioning smoothly. Manufacturers usually use a rubbery coating on areas of contact to ensure complete adherence.

At the factory, manufacturers use head bolts to fasten the cylinder head to the engine block, tightening it to just the required torque spec so that the seal is neither too tight nor loose. However, pickup truck owners who push their vehicles to the limit often find that these bolts break down, causing the head gasket to “blow,” leaking fluids and compromising the engine itself.

When Do I Need a Head Gasket Replacement?

Since head gaskets seal two essential parts of your diesel engine together – the cylinder head and the block – it’s critical that no leaks happen. The high temperatures that a combustion engine produces plus the torque and pressure that the cylinder generates create forces that can tear that seal apart.

Engine knocking, too, can increase cylinder pressure well above normal. If you don’t correct its cause, it can also compromise the seal when the pressure causes the cylinder head to come away from the engine block. Usually, using a better grade of fuel or an engine tune-up can correct this problem before significant harm occurs.

Excessive power demand is probably the most common cause of blown head gaskets in diesel pickup trucks. The more horsepower your engine produces, the higher the temperature and pressure. If the temperature or pressure exceeds a critical level, the head gasket blows. Coolant will leak into your engine’s combustion chamber, the cylinder loses pressure, and your engine becomes virtually useless.

If your engine shows signs that it might be headed for head gasket failure, it’s a wise move to replace it immediately – and install head studs to replace the factory-installed bolts. The more you drive your truck, the greater your risk of even more serious – and costly – engine damage. Head studs can help you avoid these kinds of problems in the future.

Symptoms of head gasket failure include:

Pressure in the coolant hose increases.
The coolant reservoir overflows.
The engine overheats or blows coolant.
The crankcase smokes.
White smoke comes out of the tailpipe.
The engine misfires or runs rough.
Oil gets into your coolant.
Your oil has a cloudy substance in it.
The degas bottle blows out coolant.
Less serious problems can cause some of these symptoms, but it pays to get your truck checked out immediately if you see any of them. A neglected blown head gasket can cause extensive damage if you continue to ignore it.

When you take your truck to the shop, the diesel tech will use one of two methods to diagnose your problem. To check for a blown head gasket, they might use a pressure gauge to do a compression test or check for hydrocarbon compounds in your coolant fluid.

There is a way to prevent most blown head gasket incidents from happening. head studs provide more clamping force than factory head bolts, protecting your precious vehicle from costly and time-consuming repairs.

Whether you’ve just brought home a brand-new diesel pickup, or you need to replace the head gasket on your favorite ride, it pays to install head studs before you drive it again.

Why Head Studs? It’s All in the Details

Diesel engines generate an incredible amount of cylinder pressure. OEM head bolts are torque-to-yield fasteners, which means that you install them at a specific torque. Then, you rotate the bolt 90 degrees, placing it at an “optimum stretch point,” which maximizes the fastener’s clamping force.

Other factors that place stress on your head gasket include:

Turbocharged diesel engines generate temperatures that exceed 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit and pressures as high as 2,700 psi.
Oil and coolant flow through the head gasket’s seal, putting additional demands on its sealing ability.
Head gaskets have to withstand other forces that scuff the cylinder head and engine block deck surfaces, such as cylinder head shifting, engine vibrations, and cylinder head flexing due to combustion pressures.
The aluminum in the cylinder heads and the cast iron in the engine block expand at differing rates, aluminum at about twice the rate as cast iron. These differing rates cause shearing forces, which your head gasket (and your head fasteners) must resist.
Furthermore, when you boost power with fuel injection, turbocharging, or other aftermarket add-ons, you also increase the cylinder pressure, often causing your head gasket to blow. Head studs take stretch out of the equation, resisting pressure with a high-strength metal alloy fastened by a finely threaded nut, making the torque more precise and, thus, more resistant to pressure.

Replacing your head bolts proactively can protect your engine from the serious issues that arise from head gasket failure. Doing so can help you avoid not only the cost of a head replacement but also the extra costs to repair any engine damage the failure caused.

Other Factors That Warrant an Upgrade to Head Studs

Some engines, such as the six-liter Powerstroke, have developed a reputation for head gasket failure. However, it’s more the modifications or jobs that owners ask their diesel trucks to do that make getting head studs a no-brainer.

If you tow a trailer with your truck, especially in hilly territory or hot weather, you put extra demands on your engine – and your head gasket. Whether you haul livestock or merchandise, you certainly don’t want to blow your head gasket out in the middle of nowhere. Installing head studs can help you avert that kind of catastrophe and give you peace of mind.

If you plan to race your truck or engage in other automotive sports, upgrading to studs is a near-must. The kinds of demands that competitive sports make on your engine components can generate pressures and temperatures that will make OEM bolts buckle. Top-quality head studs will keep you in the running.

Performance upgrades, too, such as turbochargers and fuel injectors, can provide you with more power or better fuel economy. Installing head studs can extend the useful life of your engine, making your investment pay off in the long run. And, when you’re ready to sell it or trade it in for a newer model, the head studs will likely help you get more money or a higher trade-in allowance for your truck.

Head Studs Installation Tips

Installing head studs isn’t a job for a beginner – or even an intermediate-level DIYer. It’s an intricate, lengthy procedure that requires precision in every detail. Plan to spend about 24 hours or more, making it a project best suited to a long weekend. Even professional diesel techs spend hours upon hours to complete an installation.

Since these installations are so difficult, we recommend that owners without the training, expertise, and equipment to install them properly find a qualified diesel mechanic who can.

While it is possible to install head studs without removing the engine’s cylinder head, it’s a tricky procedure best handled by professional diesel mechanics. Don’t attempt it if there’s any question at all about the integrity of your head gasket or heads.

The cylinder heads often are warped, while valve seats frequently have cracks. If you don’t inspect the valve seats, valves, heads, pistons, and head gaskets, you’ll likely have to do it all over again if you miss a small defect on any of these components.

Getting the torque right is also easier when you start from scratch, rather than replacing the bolts with head studs one at a time. In fact, as one prominent diesel shop owner put it, “At my shop, every technician has a …torque wrench that never touches anything but head studs.”

For those reasons, we recommend that you remove the head to make sure that everything is in order. It’s simply not worth the risk to neglect that step.

Make sure that all the threads in the engine block are clean. Use a thread chaser and clean them all the way to the bottom of the hole. Clean the holes with a carburetor or brake cleaner to ensure that you have removed all grime and debris. Then use thread sealer, Loctite, or high-temperature silicone sealant to eliminate the possibility of air pockets that cause leaks.

When Choosing Head Studs, Make Strength and Precision Your Guide

With their 240,000 psi capacity, our TrackTech head studs are the toughest diesel parts on the market today. Our research and development team searched all over the world to find an alloy that would stand up under whatever workload you demand of your truck.

The utmost precision goes into our manufacturing process. Not only do we have the highest standards, but we also put those standards to the test with every batch we manufacture.

We use a double-testing process to ensure that our head studs will protect your engine while empowering you to get the most out of your diesel pickup truck.

First, we use a UTM tensile testing machine that puts the studs under intense pressure to ensure that their breaking point is well above any possible pressure they will endure within your engine. Next, we enlist the help of expert race drivers who push these studs to their limits, ensuring that they will hold up under real-life situations.

Not only are our head studs the strongest in the business, but we also offer them at a lower price point than our competitors. For our customers who’ve had the bad fortune to have blown a head gasket, we provide kits with everything they need to do a complete head gasket replacement – and do it right.

With more than 15 years of in-house ASE Master level experience we know,  what it takes to get the most out of your diesel pickup truck. Our fasteners are heavy-duty and built to take all the abuse your daily routine dishes out.

Never compromise your truck’s power to avoid blowing your head gasket when there are head studs that can handle years of hard wear. With a broad range of diesel parts, including the popular Chevy Duramax Silverado, Ford Powerstroke, Dodge Cummins Laramie, and more, you’ll be sure to find the right fasteners and complementary parts for your truck.

In addition to our selection of head studs, we also offer a line of racetrack-tested fasteners and other parts for gasoline-powered pickup trucks. Don’t settle for second-best. Discover what TrackTech head studs can do for your truck today!

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