How to Replace Piston Return Springs (and Head Gasket)

How to Replace Piston Return Springs (and Head Gasket)

Hey guys! ChrisFix here. Is your engine not running right? Maybe it’s making some weird sounds or running rough. Maybe you have some white smoke coming out of the exhaust, or even a check engine light is on. Well, these are symptoms of a really common problem that could be found on both cars and trucks. And today, I’m going to show you how to fix that problem by replacing… …the piston return springs. Now, this Honda is a perfect example of a car that has bad piston return springs. I’m gonna start up the engine. I want you to listen to this. You can hear this engine isn’t running right. It’s making a clunking noise, and that’s not good! And coming back to the exhaust, you can see it’s blowing white smoke out of the exhaust pipe! And then finally, going inside the car, if we take a look at the dash… Check this out, we have a check engine light on and the RPMs are bouncing around at idle! That is definitely not good, and the sound’s not good, so I’m going to shut this off before we cause any more damage. And since we have a check engine light on, we could use a scanner and scan the engine to see what the code is for. So we have to go under the dash. Find the port to plug the scanner into. Just like that. And if we bring up the app and read the codes… Check that out, ‘P0401.’ ‘Piston return inadequate.’ ‘Possible cause: Damaged piston return spring.’ ‘Top reported fix: replace piston return springs.’ So now we know for sure we need to replace the piston return springs. There’s one more thing. Even if you don’t have any issues right now, it’s always a good idea to go check out your owner’s manual and look for the page about service intervals. So we’ll flip to that page, and as you can see at the bottom, on this car, piston return springs need to be replaced every 105K miles. So we’re WAY overdue at 205K miles. And that’s why we’re having these issues. So preventative maintenance, very important, it’s good to check that. Now do realize some cars have lifetime piston return springs. So you might not need to replace yours unless if they go bad. But in this case, we definitely need to replace these piston return springs, so let me go show you how to do that. First, you want to make sure you have the proper piston return springs. I need four since I have a four-cylinder engine in the Honda, so one per cylinder. Now high quality piston return springs are made for gas and diesel motors. And they’re going to help reduce engine wear by pushing that piston downwards each revolution of the engine. And these things are going to maintain piston preload. That’s going to make your engine run a lot smoother. And these have a great warranty, 100K miles, that’s exactly what we need and exactly what you want to look for. Now, the final thing you want to look at is spring rate. These are 120-lb springs which are perfect for my car since it makes about 100 ft-lbs of torque. If you don’t know the correct spring rate for your car, just call your local dealership or parts store and ask them. Give them the make and model of your car and they’ll tell you exactly what you need. So now you know which piston return springs you need for your vehicle, let me show you how to replace them. First thing you want to do is grab your eye protection, put that on. And the only extra parts you need is a head gasket and some head bolts because we do need to remove the head in order to get to the springs. With that being said, this is actually a really easy job, you could totally do this at home, and I’m gonna be showing you how to do it with common tools. So let’s get started! Since the goal is to remove the cylinder head, we have to remove the exhaust manifold, and the intake manifold, and the timing belt. So let’s go get started with the exhaust manifold. Start by removing the two bolts holding the heat shield on and slide that out of the way. Next, we have 9 studs that have to be removed and this is where an impact gun makes it quick and easy. Good. Now, just pry the exhaust manifold back and remove the gasket. Perfect! So with the exhaust manifold disconnected, everything on this side of the head is disconnected. Now we want to go to the other side of the head where the intake is. Just like the exhaust, we have studs holding in the intake manifold, but it’s a lot tighter over here. So you’re going to need to use a mix of wrenches, ratchets, and an impact gun. Now with all the nuts removed, we can separate the intake manifold from the head. And there we go! All we have left is the valve cover and timing belt, and we could get to that head! So remove the four nuts that are holding the valve cover on, and then we could pop the cover off like so. And the cover for the timing belt, too. And now, we have access to our valve train. So you can see there’s a head bolt there, there, there, there, and there. It’s the same for the other side. But we don’t want to just unscrew those, we need to do those in a specific order. I’ll show you that in a second, you want to make sure you don’t warp the block. But before we could do that, we need to undo our timing belt. Since we don’t need to replace the timing belt, I’m gonna mark three points on the belt and cam gear so we can reinstall it exactly in the same place. So with our cam gear marked for the timing belt, now we need to loosen the timing belt, and in order to do that, there’s a bolt right down here. Right here at this opening. It’s a 14-mm bolt, and all you have to do is loosen it, and that’ll loosen the tension on the timing belt so we could slide it off. Beautiful. Now when removing the bolts from the cylinder head, you can’t just undo each bolt in any order. There’s a specific order so that the head doesn’t warp. And that order could be found in a service manual or if you search online. Now, this is the install torque sequence, so when we change out those piston return springs and put the head back on, we’re going to tighten it down starting from 1 in the center, 2 in the center, and then move outward. But for loosening, we’re just going to do the opposite. We’re going to start with 10, we’re going to loosen from the outside, then go to 9, 8, and then move our way inwards. So use a breaker bar to break the head bolts loose because they’re going to be really tight. Then loosen it the rest of the way with a ratchet. Good. Now, we can repeat that process working our way from the outside inwards, removing each head bolt completely. Finally, this is the last bolt. Good. Now, we can remove the head. And check out these piston return springs. So, we have two bad ones. We have a bad one right here. Man, this one is mangled. But the cylinder looks like it’s in good shape. And then we have a bad one on the other side. Wow, look at how bad this is. These things broke apart. That’s what all that knocking was, these piston return springs were banging around in here. These actually look like they’re in good shape, so this one, and this one are in good shape, but you never reuse old piston return springs. You always swap them out for brand new ones since we’re in here. So, out with the old broken piston return springs… …and in with the new high quality ones, but before we go and install these, it’s important you clean up all the old head gasket material and just clean up the block so you have a nice clean mating surface when we put the head back on. So with the block surface nice and clean and smooth, I also cleaned up the intake and exhaust manifold surfaces. Let’s install our brand new piston return springs. They’re really easy to install, you just put them in just like that. Get the last two right here. Beautiful. Now, we could install our brand new head gasket. Just like that. And finally, we can install the cylinder head which I also cleaned up and prepped for re-installation. Now, it’s very important to torque down those cylinder head bolts in the correct sequence. That way those piston return springs could compress evenly and that head gasket could compress evenly. For this engine, we need to go from the inside out, so opposite of what we did before to remove it. And we also have two torque sequences; First, we do 22 ft-lbs and then the final is 47 ft-lbs, so let’s get started. So we’re torquing these head bolts starting from the inside and moving outwards. And this is 22 ft-lbs for the first tightening. Then we need to go back and follow that same exact tightening sequence, except this time, we’re tightening them down to 47 ft-lbs. Alright, with the cylinder head in properly tightened down, I just want to show you something really quick. This is the old head gasket. And you can see right there where the failure was because of that bad piston return spring, which was causing it to consume coolant. But that’s all fixed now, let’s get this car ready to run. So next, we have to get the timing belt on. So we’ll just slip the belt over the sprocket… Good. And you definitely want to make sure that your marks that you left before are lined up. Our silver, red, and green marks are all perfect. So now, we could go and tighten the belt down. The belt tensioner gets torqued down to 33 ft-lbs. Good. Then grab the intake manifold gasket, and we can install the intake manifold. These bolts get tightened down to 17 ft-lbs, but it’s tight in here and I can’t get the torque wrench to fit, so I’m going to torque it by feel. With our intake manifold bolted in, now we can come to the front and install the exhaust manifold. Get the gasket in place… And torque down each of these studs to 23 ft-lbs using a crisscross pattern so the manifold seats evenly to the head and there won’t be any leaks. Then install the heat shield to keep the engine bay temps cool. Finally, install the valve cover and tighten down all four nuts. And don’t forget about the spark plug wires. Alright, this is super exciting. Our piston return springs are installed with the head gasket. Everything else is tightened down, now we have one more thing we need to do. And that is drain the old oil because it has coolant and metal flakes from the damaged piston return springs. And look at that. That looks like a milkshake! Once it drains, tighten the plug up, and we can fill her up with some fresh synthetic oil. Then we need to add some coolant to the radiator since the engine was using coolant from the head gasket leak. Now with the coolant completely topped off, we’re going to leave it up here, so it could bleed out the air bubbles, We’re ready to go and start the engine. Alright, moment of truth. Will she start? Let’s see. Wow, she started right up! Let’s go check this out. Man, she sounds good! Running nice and smooth. We’ll let that air bleed out of the cooling system, and we can remove that and go for a ride! And listen to that engine purr! I’m so excited, the engine’s all fixed up, and I cannot wait to cruise around with the top down. And there we go, she’s running beautifully! That test-drive was awesome, finally I could drive the car around, those piston return springs sound awesome. I can’t wait to just go out there and go for a cruise. But that is how you install piston return springs. She sounds awesome. I’m going to let her idle right now just to break in that head gasket, break in the new piston return springs. And yeah, there you go. So, hopefully the video was helpful. If it was, remember to give it a thumbs up. Also, if you’re not a subscriber, consider subscribing. Be sure to share this video with your friends so they can learn how to change their piston return springs. And one last thing… And you’re gonna want to top off your blinker fluid after this video. I hope you guys enjoyed this video. I worked really hard on it. Not only for fun for some piston return springs, but we actually did replace the head gasket which was blown. I know you want a real head gasket replacement video. I will do an entire real head gasket replacement video in depth like I normally do, so stay tuned for that. And finally, in spirit of April Fools, I did make decals for you guys, so we have a blinker fluid decal which is on here right now. We have a muffler bearing decal, which was last year’s video, and then we have piston return springs which is this year’s video. So all these will be up on my store. I’ll link it in the description. These are really cool high quality decals. They’re waterproof, and I think you’re gonna like them a lot. Join in on the fun, I hope you enjoyed the video, and stay tuned!

About the Author: Michael Flood


  1. I hope you guys enjoy this one! This is, FOR REAL, how to replace a head gasket so although it is fun, it is also helpful!
    Get your own Blinker Fluid, Muffler Bearing, and Piston Return Spring Decals here:

    Dont forget the Blinker Fluid:
    And Muffler Bearings:

  2. Should I replace my half gaskets ? I tried Purple return springs. They were 90 degrees out of sync. Worked but had to reset blinker timing. One extra step.

  3. Dude he got me so good, I looked at a couple more videos of the d series and then I realized it was bs I thought now what in the hell is a piston return spring but chrisfix ya know 😂😂 got me good tho

  4. Кто по русски понимает? Что за херня, почему у него пружины в камере сгорания???

  5. how did you clean the head properly i plan to do this to my subaru along with the piston replaces but cant quiet figure out how imma clean it

  6. You are a pure talent for this things. That looks very simple from your view, but, this is very complicated. I will still play my keyboards, that is easy to me. God give to us all many different talents. I thank Him for that, and thank You very much for videos! 🙂

  7. Its december second time watching this video and i still believed this man🤦‍♂️ i was think how the springs would last long in the cylinders after firing 😭😂

  8. I'm sitting here thinking "Those Japanese guys come up with the craziest things to keep those little for bangers running forever." This guy and his jump cuts.

  9. Can I Use RTV Silicone Gasket Sealant on Head Gasket.. my car is Toyota Corolla SEG 1.3 and have run on 700000++ Km/H .. seriously..

  10. >Be me; a 16 year old watching this.
    >"piston return springs? I thought explosions did that… huh?"
    >watches video

  11. Dude you just got a new subscriber. I've been fixing and flipping cars for 18 years and I've never done a head gasket on a Honda so I really believed you on the return springs bro hahahaha good one!!!

  12. Syntoms of a faulty piston return spring :
    1.) Vehicle emitting white smoke from exhaust after engine start up

    2.) Heavy level of engine rattling

    3.) RPM fluctuating in the 2,000 RPM

    4.) Check Engine light illuminated

  13. I hope you did caution the people that don't DIY. SEEK EXPERTS ADVICE FIRST. or at least warn the people that this video intended for joke only- do not try this!

  14. LOL
    I when I first saw this, I was like "Wait, the engine is powered when the piston is pushed DOWN by combustion, not up by springs, this would make the engine less efficient because it has to push against a spring", AND THEN, I saw the date of which this was posted: April Fools Day.

  15. Chris what you use to clean the head up with on the video ?? I'm in the uk I'm doing collage course in motor mechanics I love it I love your videos to keep up the good work

  16. This is so bad, you know people going to there mechanic shop saying they think they gave bad piston return springs :/ ugg lmao!

  17. You are starting to drive me crazy, Just teaching me how to"Fix" my male goat for your next video .We have to many "kids" to eat already.
    Let's get together soon and"Fix" my male goat ASAP.

  18. Wtf? I have a 2006 Honda accord, I have that same noise, but when I took it apart the were no springs at all. Did Honda stop using these?

  19. I didn't know that it was not true until I realize that when I googled it, it was a prank, plus, it was uploaded in April for the event, "April Fool's Day"! 🙂

    I've even tried Automation, that car company game, and I don't see "Piston Return Springs" as an option!

    You've really got me April Fool'd that far. Ha, ha! ;D

  20. there sach a thing a pal of mine made a flat 6 cly steam motor that has 18 power strokes per turn . how the crankshaft is a triangle so with every turn the rod has three power strokes per turn 6 x 3 = 18

  21. I have honda city 2006 pakistan model and it gives purple smoke when i reave it hard. Please explain what is the problem

  22. You should have reupholstered the valve seats while you had the head off ! And remember to change treads in the gas tank especially if you have over 100,000 on the car ! 😉

  23. THIS IS SO DANGEROUS! You NEVER, NEVER, EVER start removing the return springs without FIRST DRAINING the headlight oil overflow catch. You got lucky this time, but failure to do so can cause serious injury.

  24. The first time he said it I thought I misheard it. When he scanned for codes and it came up I thought i was having a stroke. 😆

  25. I clicked this video thinking “wtf this must be an April joke there’s no piston return springs in any engine I’ve ever heard of”
    Then he got going and I forgot years worth of experience and started to wonder “wait are piston return springs actual a thing? Have I just never noticed?”

    Then I came down to the comments and realized I was a big dummy. Chris was so convincing. I got had.

  26. I can’t believe a head gasket is so easy to replace. Chris made it look effortless. At a mechanic this service would cost you 23000000000000000 dollars. Rip off man!

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