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Mopar taxis, 1935-2003

The reliable 3.5 V6

1997 Plymouth Pronto
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Replacing the Head Gasket on the Chrysler 2.0 Liter Engine

by Gene ("neonexpres")

Introductions by the editor

The Neon head gasket seems to typically last about 60,000 miles, at least for 1995-97 models. Calling Chrysler will usually yield a new head gasket for $100 at most, assuming you have less than 100,000 miles on your car (call 800 992 1997). The new head gasket design is better, we are told, and not likely to fail quite so quickly. Symptoms: oil in the antifreeze, oil on the engine, antifreeze in the oil. (Note that a leaking valve cover gasket can also spill oil onto the engine, though this is much less common). Dealers are also empowered to do this for free but most will not, because they can charge you much more than they can charge Chrysler.

Chrysler did introduce a revised head gasket, a metal-layered-sandwhich design. It seems far superior.

Gene's Neon had 170,030 miles as of June 2001. Things that broke in that time:

  • ABS Front Wheel Sensor - Warranty.
  • Return Spring in Turn Signal Lever - Out of Warranty.
  • Internal Spring in E-Brake - Out of Warranty.
  • Blown Head Gasket - Out of Warranty.

Gene's instructions

I'm writing this down from memory. I haven't done this for almost a year. Not all these steps have to be done in this order.

Before starting, make sure you have the following:

  • Torque Specs - either Factory Manual or equivalent
  • Set of Proper Tools:
    • Torque Wrench
    • Puller to remove crank damper
    • Good set of metric wrenches, ratchets, and sockets
    • Jackstands
    • Floorjack
    • Block of wood
  • Dealership MLS (metal-layered sandwich) head gasket kit

Optional, but Highly Recommended if car is near 100k miles:

  • Waterpump and gasket
  • Timing belt
  • Timing belt tensioner
  • Thermostat and gasket
  • New set of headbolts

You might need another set of exhaust bolts and gasket.

Before actually proceeding with the work, it might be wise to do the following:

  • Jack the right front side of the car.
  • Support car with jackstands.
  • Remove the right front tire.
  • Remove the inner wheelwell cover.
  • Remove the crankbolt. If too difficult, spray with some penetrationg oil first, then let sit.
  • After removing the crankbolt, spray the area vigorously with penetrating oil.
  • Spray other areas that will need removal, including exhaust manifold bolts.
  • Let car sit overnight, occasionally reapplying penetrating oil

Starting Procedures:

  • Open Hood.
  • Disconnect the battery.
  • Drain coolant.
  • Remove airbox assembly - unbolt from rear of head.
  • Unplug wiring harness and strap it out of the way.
  • Remove the coil pack and wires.
  • Remove ground strap from head.
  • loosen and disconnect EGR valve from head. Actual removal from engine bay unnecessary.
  • Unbolt intake manifold from head.
  • Remove spark plugs from head.
  • Unhook Fuel Injection Assembly from fuel line.
  • Remove Fuel Injection rail/fuel injectors from head. Note: Was informed, not a necessary step
  • Remove alternator belt.
  • Remove valve cover.
  • Unbolt exhaust from exhaust manifold. [Beth Boose wrote: "do not unbolt exhaust from head- after everything else is removed, place a jack (with a block of wood on top) beneath the catalytic converter and slowly jack the cat up, this will pop head free- no need to pry the head up. Then unbolt the exhaust from the cat - it's easier to remove the exhaust bolts with the head off the car.]

I might have left a few things out, but you basically remove everything and kep track of where it all goes. I take pictures. I have a digital camera, but a Polaroid will do.

Now we start getting to the fun part:

Now, since so far, we have done all the procedures to remove a timing belt, it would make sense to use a new belt, so we don't have to do the labor twice when unnecessary. The timing belt's recommended change interval is 105,000 miles. I changed mine at 127,000 miles when I did my head gasket.

On another note, you have to go through these procedures to get to the water pump. Usually, they would charge another 1/2 hour labor to do the change the water pump. A water pump's life expectancy is not much greater than 100,000 miles.

Some say you should remove the cam from the head. If you want to examine the cam lobes and actuators, you can remove the cam. I didn't when I did mine. If you have a DOHC motor, you need to remove the cams to have adequate clearance to reach and remove the headbolts.

The assembly is pretty much the reverse of disassembly. A few notes:

View of front of motor with crank damper:

View of motor front with the front motor mount removed:

View of front of motor without crank damper and rear timing cover:

View of enginebay with the valve cover off:

View of motor from top. if you look where the orange stuff is, this is where the 2.0/2.4L motors tend to pour oil:

View of motor from top with the MLS gasket:

View of head removed from car. Notice the rust stains in the combustion chamber. This is due to the coolant leaking into the piston area:

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Mopar taxis, 1935-2003 The reliable 3.5 V6 1997 Plymouth Pronto