Oil Leaks – Part I
So now it's cold out and the grass doesn't need mowing and the holidays are behind us and you are almost out of excuses for not working on your Healey. OK, so what can you do that takes just a little of your precious time and just a little bit of skill and just a few simple tools? How about those bothersome oil leaks? Let's start with the simplest and move onto the tougher ones.
Breather hose. This small item is located on the engine side cover close to the oil filter. This hose is curved almost ninety degrees. It should be attached to the tappet cover with a good quality hose clamp and the other end to the breather pipe. Remove the hose, check it for cracks. While you're there, clean the breather pipe with a good solvent. If you have a small bottle brush, run it in and out a few times to dislodge sludge. If your engine isn't breathing here, it's trying to do so somewhere else and putting pressure on the engine gaskets and seals. If the curved hose needs to be replaced, be sure and use a hose that is impervious to oil. A chunk of water hose just won't work for very long. If you buy an aftermarket hose, don't be surprised if your original hose clamps don't fit. The new hose is somewhat thicker in the wall. You should also examine the hose at the top of the breather pipe. Make sure that it too is in great shape.
Next in line would be the side or tappet cover gaskets. You will not gain much if you decide to do the gasket behind the generator because it is only a thin paper gasket. If you have a leak here it is probably due to loose bolts. Before you go to the trouble of replacing this gasket, it would be wise to put a wrench on the bolt heads and give them a tightening twist. Don't forget the ones you can barely reach on the lower portion. All of the bolt heads on the side covers take a ½" wrench. The two rear covers should have a cork gasket on them. They are held in place by a single 5/16" bolt which should have a crushable washer under it.
Before you start on the side covers it is best to remove your spark plug wires and cap. Be sure you number your wires (1-6) before you remove them. Place a small baggie over the distributor so as not to drop any debris into it. Now, remove the bolt from the cover without dropping the washer into ‘never-neverland'. Carefully pry the cover from the block. Using a putty knife helps. Remove all traces of the old gasket from both surfaces using a razor blade scraper, a wire toothbrush or heavy sandpaper. If you have gotten debris inside the engine itself, it is a good idea to get it out. Sometimes a shop vac can be used. Don't worry, you won't suck the valve tappets out with the shop vac. As in anything to do with your drivetrain, cleanliness is an absolute. It starts right here. Clean around the tappet opening carefully but completely. Use a razor blade to be sure that you get off all the old gasket material. Clean the cover completely too. If you need to paint it, now's the time.
Now comes the new gasket. There are two types available – cork and butyl rubber. I have found that the cork ones, if they are thick enough, to actually be better. They are easier to install for one. I use ‘gasket cinch' between the cork and the plate. It's important that the cork is stuck well to the plate before you try to install it. The copper washer can be put back into new condition by simply heating it red hot with your propane torch. Use map gas if you have it. If you need to buy a new washer, be sure it's ‘soft' copper or aluminum. Once ready, you then put a coating of ‘aviation' form-a-gasket onto the block itself just before installing the plate. Also, you need to seal around the bolt head itself. You do this after the bolt is thru the plate and just a few threads into the block. Carefully, put a few drops of high temp silicone between the head of the bolt and the washer. Now, carefully turn the bolts home making sure to center the plate on the block opening. You will know when the bolt is in tight enough as you can see the ‘form-a-gasket' start to squish out between the gasket and the block. Hey, you're done. That wasn't so bad, and only took about an hour. Ready to tackle a tougher job? Stay tuned.