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Valve cover gasket tips! (especially for DIY)

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Old 12-19-13, 09:31 AM   #1
peterls
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Default Valve cover gasket tips with pictures! (especially for DIY)

Most of what you read here is not available anywhere else that I know of and I scoured the earth to find out how to do this job.

I did a lot of work on my 1990 LS400 and got interrupted by various problems... so when it came to replacing valve cover gaskets I had to enlist help of a mechanic.

After that help, my car started smoking like it was on fire. Oil everywhere, about half a quart per day, my driveway dirty from oil spots like its a repair shop...

Finally, I took it upon myself to do the job right. Here are some tips, which I learned in the process:

1. First of all, I bought a Beck Arnley Valve gasket package which includes two VC gaskets, 16 grommets and 8 spark plugs tube seals, for $36 at Rock Auto. Now they list two packages: one side only for $23.79 or both sides for $36.79. By mistake I bought two of those (for total of four gaskets), which proved to be a good thing... because I had to do it all over again!

When I showed my idiot mechanic what he did on one side (he damaged the gasket when he was opening the package, but he still wanted to blame the manufacturer:

- F...in' Beck/Arnley, look where it's made, I bet you it's Mexico.... Let's see... 'Made in Japan'...

The first image below is how the alleged mechanic puts back the air pipe.

So, that's the tip #1: if you buy the package from BeckArnley from Rockauto, at least these days, it is most likely going to be "made in Japan" which is as close as you can get to OEM. It may even be same manufacturer as OEM for all we know.

2. When removing everything that needs to come off on the passenger side (driver's side is child's game in comparison), unfortunately no write-up or tutorial, not even the one on lexls, gives any hints about things that will be time wasters and real pain and how to deal with them:
- Since most bolts will be 10mm, get a cordless driver with a 10mm socket and do them quickly that way. It will be at least 10x faster.
- My driver is not strong for some of those so I start them all with a socket and then finished them with the cordless driver. Luckily, my driver has adjustable torque so I used it to put them back in too. This was the best $19 I ever spent! Bought it on special at Harbor freight and it included a good rechargeable LED light. Normally it is around $50. I expect they will run the same special again for X-mass or boxing day. It is also variable speed, very sensitive, so almost like a hand tool.
- One of the worst time wasters was pipes and hoses which on my 23 year old car got all baked in. I had to really get creative to loosen some of them, and usually this trick did it: use pliers carefully around those baked in ends to twist them around a bit. Then use needle nose pliers (get also those bent ones, they will really come in handy for those small clamps around hoses!) and I used groove joint pliers sometimes for leverage against which I would push smaller needle nose pliers and use those small pliers to push against the end of the hose. Eventually, it will give in and move. Do NOT pull on any hoses when disconnecting, they will very likely just pop and break (two of mine did, lesson learned). Basically, unless someone already loosened those recently for you, they will be stuck on there like with a superglue.
- One surprising problem: removing the throttle body gasket. It is just a thick paper gasket, but corners were literally stuck on like with superglue. I mean, it is like they become one with aluminum - they would not budge. I had to use a smooth sharp steak knife carefully and gently to scrape those corners off, layer by layer, micron by micron... took about an hour just to do that little thing (note: I worked years ago cutting small things with knives, so I am quite handy in that respect - your hands may not be as steady!). Obviously, knife is steel, and throttle body is aluminum, so you can imagine how easy it would be to ruin that smooth surface... Soaking the paper with anything did not help at all in my case btw. Good news: new gasket is only $4-5 bucks at any dealer.
- One more thing, in the last picture below, you can see the blue little plug on the coolant hose - only "Papermate" will fit perfectly if it comes from those narrow blue pens like this one:

http://www.costco.com/Paper-Mate-Sti....11515087.html

If you don't plug that little thing well, it may drip inside your engine without you even noticing... so better be safe than sorry.

3. I put each individual bolt right back into its hole so that I did not have to wonder what goes where when I was assembling it all back together. With that said, I did use two of those magnetic dishes, they are on special at harbor freight for $0.99 and magnet is really strong on them.

4. From time to time, get up from under the hood, go against the wall, put your right or left elbow behind your back, just where your waist line is, and try to slowly straighten your back. I have a bad back, so this was essential, but even with healthy back, this job is really tough on your spine and back muscles. If you have a swimming pool, that's the best thing for your back. As you work bent over, you don't notice that everything that is holding your spine aligned is slowly slipping out. Then you may discover that as you quickly straighten out and experience the "ouch" moment. In that case, your back will never be the same. This type of injury cannot even be seen on an MRI scan, because there is a spider web network of ligaments, muscles and tendons in there... and they all stretch imperceptibly as you work. If it goes out enough, discs are next, and those never heal, unless you rest for some seven years... So, don't do that - straighten out S L O W L Y!!! You may even loose your erection or have other sexual issues later (if nothing scared you so far, this surely will, and I am not joking). I can't stress this enough. Back problems are #1 cause of missed days at work, so you were warned.

5. Take frequent breaks especially if everything is so baked in that it takes like an hour per item to remove. If you loose patience, you will do something stupid like my "mechanic" did.

5.5 Don't forget to put some paper towels inside the MAF to prevent damage, but make sure they stick out to remind you to remove them later.

6. Unless it was done not long ago, your throttle body will need to be cleaned. Unfortunately I did not take the "before" picture, but there was about 1/16th of black, baked on sooth inside. Don't scrape it off with a screwdriver, you will scratch the throttle body which will make that surface a magnet for carbon (btw, I ran tons of various "best" cleaners prior to this through my engine, and they did zilch for this); the best way is to dissolve it using Barryman's B12 carburator and fuel injection cleaner (it smells awful, like those strong glues that kids in third world countries use to get high - so work outside):
http://www.autozone.com/autozone/acc...er=525253_0_0_
I also used a strong bristle plastic brush I bought as a set at 99 cent store in LA, but copper brush works well too. Corners are hardest. This part of the job took about an hour and a half. My throttle body and butterfly plate are shiny new now!
Oh, forgot to say that inside the throttle body there are three microscopic holes with three 90deg nipples on the other side. I made sure these were cleaned by pouring some B12 inside and seeing it run out on the other. They were plugged solid by carbon before cleaning.

Second image below is throttle body cleaned (notice that paper gasket corners are still there - they easily survived the cleaning and were still stubbornly stuck there):

7. Inside the intake - carbon-deposits-horror... I cleaned a little, and was debating with myself if I want to proceed and take that off too, as mounted it is impossible to clean. Decided to do it when starter goes (or maybe it won't, I hope).

8. The metal little bracket that holds the wire loom that is mounted on the firewall was designed by a psychopath, I kid you not. I mean they could have chosen any more advanced way to do this - slide it on something, put bolts in better place, or whatever, but they haven't.
This is where the back warning comes in handy. To save you some frustration: I found that there are two ways to access these little bolts (10mm): from behind the wires (good luck there you'll need a jointed thingy and an extension but socket keeps slipping off), or from underneath the wires, which is how I got them removed. I used those groove joint pliers as leverage by placing them on the VC pointing towards the firewall, slid them under the wires and pushed on it as I was working on those two bolts like this (yellow arrow points to one of the two screws there) - the third image below shows how I did this part.

This kept the wires out of way. Note: that way there is enough space to put in a small 1/4in ratchet with 10mm socket from the side. To make it all worse, in my case the bolt would be loose, then get stuck, than loose again... it must've been ever so slightly damaged so just as I had to switch from ratchet to fingers, I had to put in the ratchet for like 1/8th of a turn, and then switch to fingers again. I swear I hate nothing like those two buggers. When the time came to put them back, I tighten the heck out of the first one (higher one) and lost the other one, and left it at that. This took about 1.5 hour to get out, and about 1/2hr to put in one bolt. The reason is that there is barely enough space there for anything, so you can choose any one of these: seeing what is going on (enough space for seeing with one eye only); one finger; one small ratchet or letting some light in to see (I worked with direct sunlight behind me and could barely see anything in there). Your choice.

9. VERY IMPORTANT: when I took driver's side valve cover off, I had the "pleasure" of seeing the true cause of my leak: idiot mechanic did not secure it in place, and it fell out when he put the cover back on. The gasket bent and was partially INSIDE valve cover - the fourth picture.

That's where my money was leaking. The oil made it all the way back to the rear axle. This needs to be steam cleaned by pros, otherwise rubber pieces are going to get weakened. Another $80 bucks or so.
Oh, and guess what else I found? I found one old grommet INSIDE the valve cover, sitting just below the cam. I bet it was dropped in there by the idiot... so remove your grommets as you remove the bolts, pay attention, they may be stuck to the VC.
Also, I managed to drop one bolt - the one lower middle part of VC. That area is hard to get to , and I don't have an answer as to how to prevent that from happening... perhaps have someone hold that extension magnet on it from the side as you are unscrewing it? Otherwise, it seems to drop inside that heat shield from the exhaust manifold just below and you are screwed, forgive the pun. I got a new one from that Toyota shop - it seems to happens even to pros, they had a full drawer of those.

Tip from a pro, that I heard the other day: at a specialized Lexus/Toyota shop (all Toyota certified guys), they use "weather strip glue" in spray can and spray the inside groove with it, and then put in the gasket, to prevent what happened in my case (obviously, cover the inside of the VC first to prevent glue getting in there!). However, I was a cheapskate and just gently hammered in the gasket as in some areas it is thicker and will hold like that if pushed in well enough. Pushing with fingers will probably not be enough. Prior to doing that, I cleaned out the entire VC with B12. Then I cleaned the groove - first with a screwdriver (carefully again) for those rubber pieces left behind, than with same B12 and a brush, and finally with a spray of break cleaner which made it spick-and-span. Then I put in the gasket.

9.5 IMPORTANT! forgot about spark plug tube seals: those can be a pain in the rear to remove. I didn't have to time to devise my way, so I took it to a shop and learned how to do it there: get a 32mm socket (it is used on most Toyota axles so you may need it anyway), put it carefully on the seal, and then slam it with a hammer. You will be doing this from inside the VC obviously, as seals go in from outside. This will make it obvious also that you first have to bend the little tongue that is kinda holding the seals in place, and then bend them back in place so they are flat and straight. To put new ones in (which should be greased first), place that 32mm socket carefully on a seal and hit it gently with a rubber mallet, carefully to make them flush with the VC on inside. Inspect them by turning the VC over back and forth as you do this. Even the mechanic I took it to managed to push one through and it fell out on the other side.

10. Do get Toyota FIPG and put a pea size drop in about 12 places on the valve body itself, not the cover (first make sure that flat part is perfectly clean!). Put two drops on each side of the cam (those corners are impossible to seal otherwise), two in corners where the pressure by gasket/bolts is lowest, and I put some on small grooves on each end of two semi-circular plugs. Make sure you don't get any inside the engine.

Last picture shows where I put FIPG (two circles that are just below where the cam sits, are where those semi-circular plugs are - if you carefully go with your finger over that area, you will feel that it is not exactly as flush as NASA would like it to be, so I put some there, but very little, just enough to compensate for those few microns of difference):

11. From this point, you have to work quickly putting the valve cover back on, as you have only about 10 min - the FIPG starts curing almost immediately. If you are not careful, you could easily grab the gasket accidentally on something, like those tubes, and not even notice that gasket fell out in the farthest corner. You were warned. (you can give it one last inspection once cover is on the spark plug tubes, by going with your fingers around the edge of the VC and feeling that gasket is still in place).

12. Tighten the bolts to specified torque (about 4.5 lbs/foot) using a torque wrench (hard to find small ones), or by 1/4in hand ratchet with a very long extension if you have that "touch"; but once tightened, these things settle in and torque may be lost. So you tighten, and then keep going around the VC (in random order!) checking them and re-tightening them if needed. The most important point is to have the torque evenly applied. Visually, you can inspect this by looking at grommets: since rubber side goes against the VC, that rubber will expand just ever so slightly like by a hair, I'd say not even 1/64th - but they should all expand the same except those in corners may expand a tad more as VC is curved there. That expansion of grommets rubber should be really hard to notice, and should be equal. BTW, don't re-use old grommets!

13. From here on, except for the little metal bracket for wires, the rest should be easy. Just make sure you got all the throttle actuators right and don't forget to tighten that cruise control bolt like I did, and you are set to put the rest back together. Be careful to not miss any of the hoses and be careful when putting the rubber air intake on the throttle body - my idiot mechanic managed to screw that up as well, and it was bent at one point (it also takes considerable force, so you have to inspect it all around as you push it back in). From this point on, you are looking at mere minutes to complete the rest, especially if you are using cordless driver.

14. No more stains in the driveway, and in my case, no more smoking mosquitoes in the neighborhood every time I pass by!

Good luck!

ps. Few additional details:
a) it took me three days of about 4 hrs of work each to complete the above. I am an amateur DIYer, but there is no way this can be done in an hour or two on an old car like mine, especially if you want to clean things properly. If I were doing it myself again, even knowing exactly how to do things, if I had to clean everything and be careful with things, it would still take one full day at least, min. 8hrs. I do not believe for a second for most of the hugo-ego guys on forums say about this or similar jobs. If they claim "oh, no big deal, I did it in an hour", it is their ego talking, not truth. Most of these guys seem to get in the game of "whose d..k is bigger", when they are pretending to give car repair advice. Or, its like your wife telling you: "oh no worries honey, it is no big deal, everyone does it, and its perfectly OK." Well the truth is: it is a big deal, not everyone does it, and it is not OK (replacing the valve cover gasket).
b) The Toyota mechanic told me that if done perfectly well, this should hold for about 150k miles and possibly longer! So a cheap mechanic can in the worst case cost you like me - re-doing everything, or in best case, your new gasket will hold for, say, 30k miles instead of five times that.
c) I wrote this as an addendum to Lexls.com tutorial about replacing valve cover gaskets. I wish he was a bit more detailed in some areas, hence this write-up.
d) if you need new spark plugs, wires and distributor/rotor, now is the time to do it. I already did mine, which saved some time.
Attached Thumbnails
Valve cover gasket tips! (especially for DIY)-airpiperubber_lowres.jpg   Valve cover gasket tips! (especially for DIY)-throttlebodyclean_lowres.jpg   Valve cover gasket tips! (especially for DIY)-impossiblescrewlowres.jpg   Valve cover gasket tips! (especially for DIY)-badgasket2lowres.jpg   Valve cover gasket tips! (especially for DIY)-where2putfipg.jpg  


Last edited by peterls; 12-20-13 at 07:54 PM.
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Old 04-08-14, 11:54 PM   #2
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Nice write up. Need to reference this when time comes to do mine. But what is FIPG?
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Old 04-09-14, 12:21 AM   #3
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FIPG = Form In Place Gasket

some folks call this Permatex

I am not a big fan of it in most situations, but small amounts can be prudent on something like this.

Many LS400 parts were initially assembled with FIPG by robots at the factory in Tahara, but since you are not a robot and cannot apply it perfectly and sometimes not on parts that are as clean and oil-free as new parts in a factory, the best choice in the field is typically a Fel-Pro gasket (or a Japanese Beck-Arnley, as is this case would be good too)

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Old 04-09-14, 12:36 AM   #4
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Impressive write-up.Thank you.
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Old 04-09-14, 02:22 AM   #5
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Thanks for sharing and uploading the pics as attachments.

From the moderator standpoint, hot links to pics are because accounts change and the pictures vanish with them. I can't count the number of old DIY tutorials that now have empty spaces where pictures once were. Those pics are helpful.
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Old 04-09-14, 05:04 AM   #6
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Dealer quotes the work at 1.4 hours for the left, and 2.5 for the right lol I dont think it can happen that quick.
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Old 04-09-14, 06:24 AM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by cgawelko View Post
Dealer quotes the work at 1.4 hours for the left, and 2.5 for the right lol I dont think it can happen that quick.
As a former Lexus master tech, I can assure you that once you do these all day long, year after year, you tend to get crazy fast at it!

there also tends to be specialized tools and crafty shortcuts out there that you would say "whoa! - I never knew that trick!"

so I would actually consider 3.9 hours to do both sides very generous and leisurely!

the average Lexus dealership has a shop rate of $130/hour, which means this job costs $507 - bring it on over, I will get right on it for that

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Old 04-09-14, 06:30 AM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by LScowboyLS View Post
As a former Lexus master tech, I can assure you that once you do these all day long, year after year, you tend to get crazy fast at it!

there also tends to be specialized tools and crafty shortcuts out there that you would say "whoa! - I never knew that trick!"

so I would actually consider 3.9 hours to do both sides very generous and leisurely!
wanna do mine then?? lol
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Old 04-09-14, 07:45 AM   #9
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Great write up and thank you for the information. Appreciate the time and effort you put into taking pics and submitting to the site. This will prove very helpful.
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Old 04-09-14, 09:32 AM   #10
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Hey I am glad my writeup is helpful! You don't want to be paying an idiot like I did only to have to do the job all over again yourself. A good mechanic can probably do it in a fraction of time, however, those two screws below the wire loom and especially the incredibly stubborn paper gasket on throttle body is where most of my time went.

One more tip: the tape that goes around the wire loom was so brittle and dry in my case, that any movement made it just crumble to pieces which then wanted to fall right into the engine... (which was open). So I just put tons of FIPG all over it - it glued it all together and prevented it from crumbling any more. I'd hate to see something like that in my engine.

BTW, I did driver's side in some 30 minutes, maybe less. That one is really a piece of cake - nothing in the way, no throttle body, no crazy wire loom screws, nothing. Take it off, put it back on. But passenger side was a totally different story. The only way it can be done fast is if:
- You don't clean your throttle body (and you should!)
- Someone already loosened all the clamps and hoses for you recently so they are not brittle and stuck
- Your throttle body gasket is also loose (good luck with that!)
- You have your angels helping you with two screws holding the wire loom. I only put one back, and conveniently lost the other one. It has been holding just fine ever since.

Last edited by peterls; 04-09-14 at 10:18 AM.
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Old 04-13-14, 03:35 PM   #11
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I will be doing the driver side gaskets in a week or two. Can I use regular rtv in place of fipg? Got some left over from timing belt job on my z
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Old 04-13-14, 04:18 PM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by KA8 View Post
I will be doing the driver side gaskets in a week or two. Can I use regular rtv in place of fipg? Got some left over from timing belt job on my z
I would not recommend that. The original FIPG is not that expensive (around $10-15 bucks IIRC?) and you will be amazed when it cures it is exactly like rubber. No difference. Compared to other products they all pale (I tried that red stuff whatever it is called, and it is more brittle and not as rubbery as FIPG).
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