About the only reason you'd need to change the valve cover gasket as a stand-alone job would be if the gasket was leaking oil. However, any job that requires removing the valve cover also requires changing this gasket. This includes everything from removing the cover to paint or powder-coat it, to changing cams, servicing valve lifters, servicing the timing chain that connects the two camshafts, and so on.
The first challenge of this job is to move everything out of the way that you need to in order to lift the valve cover. The second is to prevent anything from falling into the exposed valve train area while you've got the cover removed, particularly as you work to clean off the gasket mating surface, removing any remaining bits of the old gasket.
One note; in a modern overhead-cam engine like this one, this cover is really a cam cover, not a valve cover. Because everyone still calls these things valve covers, however, that's the term I'm sticking with here.
Before starting in on the valve cover, you will need to remove the plastic engine cover, as well as the upper timing belt cover. The engine cover has 3 screws that you loosen 1/4 turn and then you can lift the cover up and away. The timing belt cover has two metal clips holding it in place - you can see this in more detail in the timing belt project. You also need to remove the spark plug coils, again covered in more detail in the spark plugs project. You don't have to remove the spark plugs themselves - those are secured to the cylinder head. After you do all of this, your engine should look like this.
The wiring that runs to the coils needs to be moved out of the way, as does this ground connection. The wiring is secured by black plastic clips, which can either be opened to release the wiring or pulled straight upward to remove them from the valve cover as shown.
There are nine 10mm nuts holding the valve cover in place atop the cylinder head. Seven of these can be removed with a 10mm socket and ratchet, but two of them are mounted on long studs that prevent the use of a standard socket. For these you will need a deep socket or a wrench. The first one is on the front passenger side.
The second is on the passenger side at the rear. To get the wrench on the nut I had to remove the two 8mm bolts holding the nearby heat shield in place (you can see the shield and one of the bolt holes behind my hand in this photo) and bend the shield out of the way.
Once you have the nuts loose, you can use a thin putty knife or something similar to break the seal between the valve cover and the cylinder head. Be careful not to scratch or gouge the mating surface, as this will surely cause a leak later on.
Open sesame! I probably should have cleaned the dust off of the injector wiring above the intake manifold to prevent contamination of the valve train. In any case, at this point you need to be careful not to allow any debris to fall into the engine.
Carefully clean off the mating surface of the cylinder head where the new gasket will go. Make sure any remaining bits of the old gasket are removed. You can do this with a rag, a mild Scotchbrite pad, or a gasket scraper for particularly stubborn pieces. Again, make very sure none of these bits of old gasket get into the engine. Clean up around the spark plug wells also.
Put the gasket for the spark plug wells in place first. The tab goes toward the front of the engine - it would be difficult to install this incorrectly. The top and bottom of the gasket should be the same.
Before you install the new perimeter gasket, put a small amount of gasket sealant at the points where the arches in the gasket meet the flat portions. There are four of these spots, two on the front of the engine and two on the back. Use the sealant sparingly and remove any that squeezes out when you press the gasket in place, particularly on the inside.
Time to reinstall the valve cover. It will go on more easily if you keep it parallel to the cylinder head as you lower it into place. You'll note that the valve cover is a bit cleaner than before; it's a good time to clean it up when it's off the car.
Rather than disconnect this tube in order to get it out of the way to allow the valve cover to be removed, I used some locking pliers to bend this tab. Bend the tab back in order to replace the Allen-head bolt that holds the tab to the valve head.
Put the spark plug wiring back into place and secure the ground wires again. Use a new zip tie to replace the one you clipped to free the wiring at the back of the valve cover. Finish up by reinstalling the coils and connecting the wiring.
Comments: I have a 2003 1.8T that I need to do this with. I noticed that in the models included only went to a 2002. What is the difference between the two years and would I be able to follow these steps in replacing my gasket?
September 4, 2013
Followup from the Pelican Staff: It is similar, you could use this article as a rough guide. If you are unsure and need specific guidance, grab a repair manual. Give our parts specialists a call at 1-888-280-7799. - Nick at Pelican Parts
Check out some other sample projects from the book: