Blog : Running an MG Rover..? You’ve gotta get Streetwise!

Carole Nash Classic Insurance Specialists

Neil Rapsey owns this rather tidy Rover Streetwise 1.4. I’ve been babysitting it for a couple of weeks and wasn’t expecting to have to get the spanners out. A good job a problem was spotted in time, though…

The best laid plans of mice and men, eh? They never pan out as expected. Friends of ours were travelling to Canada for a fortnight flying from Gatwick so, rather than blow their money on an expensive travel tavern with a cardboard breakfast, I invited them to stay the night here, have a takeaway, leave the car on the drive and run them to the airport that’s just up the road – sounds like a plan doesn’t it? Well, we’ve done it before and it worked, so why not again?

We dispatched good friends and site fans Neil and Tracy to Gatwick’s South Terminal while their 2004 Rover Streetwise slept quietly on our drive – what could possibly go wrong? Seemingly, very little until I had to move the cars around in order to give mine a wash. Firing up the Streetwise for the first time in ten days should have been uneventful, I did and it wasn’t – damn and blast. It fired up okay but on three cylinders Thankfully, that’s not as bad as it sounds…

Noting an ever so slight drop in the coolant bottle, I also spotted a drip or two of the red stuff (OAT antifreeze) round the back of the engine block – the dreaded inlet manifold or gasket. Thanks to the wonders of MSN Messenger, I chatted with Neil from the other side of the world letting him know what was wrong and offered to render the car back to full operational standards. A few quid later and a short while spent spannering, meant that we’ve averted what could have potentially been a disaster.

Familiarity breeds content…

Despite the bolts being an acquired art to get at, I’ve done that many over the years I reckon I could almost do them blindfolded – come to think of it, I actually have done them aided only by a lead lamp in the past. Anyway, the seven 13mm nuts are removed without any of them falling on the floor (a first for me) and the problem was there to see right away – a faulty gasket. Phew… at least it wasn’t the brass ferrules of the actual manifold that had failed – it starts getting rather expensive had that been the case.

The failed inlet manifold gasket. Relatively easy to change and the best quality parts are less than a tenner. Why this hadn’t been changed at the same time as the head gasket remains a mystery. Answers on a postcard please…

I already knew that a previous jockey of the Streetwise had in fact gone through the pain of having the head gasket replaced. After mentioning the problem on social media, the previous owner piped up that they had known the inlet manifold gasket had been ignored at the time of the HGF. For those in the know this is madness – this issue can be almost just as common as cylinder head gasket failures. An extra 20 minutes work is all it takes… and the damn thing even comes included in the head gasket set.

Anyway, rant over… The gasket had split right on the edge of the water jacket and number four cylinder and, in next to no time, it was replaced with a quality item and the coolant topped up. Not exactly the most dramatic of jobs undertaken in recent months but, left unnoticed, it could have led to the engine hydraulically locking itself and/or giving many of the symptoms a blown cylinder head gasket. Even today some less informed garages still misdiagnose a failed inlet manifold gasket for a blown head.

Don’t fall for a conman’s trick

In fact, many moons ago, I stood at the counter in a Unipart factors listening to one mobile mechanic boasting to another about how much money he could earn by telling the hapless customer the head gasket had gone to lunch, when all it was the inlet. If you believe in Karma, as I do, I’m sure he’s had his comeuppance – if not in this life, then the next. However, it’s also worth reminding any budding DIY have-a-go hero about good practice when it comes to K-Series engines.

New Victor Reinz gasket fitted after a quick check to make sure the stud ferrules were all nice and tight. Just remember to nip the bolts up to a firm hand tightness working from the centre outwards and the job’s a good ‘un. Remember, always replace this at the same time as the head gasket – an extra 20 minutes spent will potentially save a lot of tears and a ride home with the AA

Though it is quite possible to undertake a later K-Series head gasket replacement without disturbing the inlet manifold studs, to do this is utter madness. If the car has the resin-type inlet manifold then they can fail almost as often as the head gasket and, if the car has been seriously overheated in the past, you can pretty much bet the manifold will be warped. For the sake of an extra 20 minutes work, change the inlet manifold gasket at the same time, it,s worth it. Oh, and be wary of cheap Internet-sourced parts, too.

If I’ve told you once…

A good example was someone who asked me to do the head on their Rover 45 a couple of years back. Despite my pleas and begging against it the parts were sourced via the web by the owner. The chap was victorious in telling me how all his parts were some £50 less than what I had quoted – I knew it was going to end in tears. I reluctantly agreed to do the job but made it quite clear that, if it all went wrong, it was at their risk. All parties were in agreement so the car was duly stripped down and repaired.

The dreaded ‘phone call came some two months later – the car had developed more of an appetite for water than the London Fire Brigade. Once again, my boot was full of kit and I was off up the road to Surrey to put things right and luckily a branch of ECP (not normally my chosen factor of choice) had what I needed. You’ve guessed it by now, it was the inlet manifold gasket, made from such cheap material that it had virtually turned into a jelly-like substance.

I’ve said it time and time again, but buying cheap parts is the most expensive way of doing a job. It’s no wonder these cars and other MGR stuff get such a bad name – and a lot of the time it’s the owners’ fault, too. Look at some our previous project cars like the 414 HHR and the Rover 75 and the point is proven: do it right first time using reputable quality parts and they become dependable daily smokers which rarely give similar trouble again unless abused or neglected.

Mike Humble

Upon leaving school, Mike was destined to work on the Railway but cars were his first love. An apprenticeship in a large family Ford dealer was his first forray into the dark and seedy world of the motor trade.

Moving on to Rover and then PSV / HGV, he has circumnavigated most departments of dealerships including parts, service and latterly - the showroom. Mike has owned all sorts of rubbish from Lada to Leyland and also holds both Heavy Goods & Public Service Vehicle licences, he buys & sells buses and coaches during the week. Mike runs his own automotive web site and writes for a number of motoring or commercial vehicle themed publications

10 Comments

  1. My wife had one of these in Sonic Blue with the revised interior lifted from the facelifted 25. Despite the daft name, it was a lovely looking car and quite spacious inside. Not without its problems though. It met an untimely end after having an argument with the crash barrier on the A1.

    As a model it seems well-loved. howmanyleft.co.uk says that there are about half of them still on the road despite being more than a decade old. Numbers are beginning to drop off rapidly though, and I suspect the K-series lump has something to do with it.

  2. Karma …. hope so.

    Many moons ago, I read someone on a Rover enthusiasts’ on-line site where he said he had renewed the Cylinder Head Gaskets on over one hundred Rovers which did not need doing. Coolant losses due to other reasons, not simply the knee-jerk “They all do that” mindset. Back then, I was not sure I could believe his claim. I now know better and almost certainly he was telling the truth.

    Such is that knee-jerk mindset both within “The trade” and car consumer circles, over the past dozen years, I have bought several Rovers and MGs from frustrated owners of these cars who had been professionally advised their cars suffered the “They all do that ” scenario. In the past year, that includes two MG-ZT-Ts bought at a price to allow for CHG replacement which I was prepared to do. Neither had the so called “failure”, coolant losses and subsequent over heating due to other reasons following my investigations. One thing is most certain, had those owners who decided to get rid rather than repair ( silly high quotes given to them ) driven their over heating cars on rather than stop when it was obvious something was wrong, the first engine component to be damaged ( not failed ) would be the poor Cylinder Head gasket.

    That makes at least eight so called “failures” which were not over those years.

    Such is the widespread “They all do that” mindset where rovers are concerned, those so called CHG “failure” cars included three of the near bullet proof T-Series in the Rover 620ti and an MG Montego with the near bullet proof O-Series engine. Those T and O Series cars simply had worn out water pumps. That’s where the coolant was being lost. Not difficult fixes, particular;y on the O-series and all resulted in their former bullet proof selves once fixed with replacement pumps.

    In my limited amateur experience with K-series cars, about twenty now, including my own MG ZS 120+ bought new in 2003, a prime suspect for causing so called HGFs in these cars is a worn Water Pump. Had I not fortuitously spotted the leaking pump, the car is mainly driven by my wife, it could well have added to that “They all do that” total. Fourteen years and still no sign of “that”. If it does, I will fix it. Working on a K-series engine is a doddle and easy repair provided the user spots the problems in good time and stops using the car before more serious damage, not failure, occurs from an excess of heat.

    • Whereby we hear what you are saying John, I’ve been lucky / unlucky enough (delete as applicable) to have many years of dealings with these at manufacturer level and say that quite a few of them did simply fail owing to what is a poor design from the drawing board. This went through the roof once the block design was altered which in turn allowed the bottom end to become much more prone to “torque axis” or “beaming” which in layman’s terms means flexing under high engine loadings.

      Vehicles with the higher torque ratings and heaver kerb weights suffered notably more IE: Rover 75 / MG ZT 1.8 & Freelander 1800

      Once the slightest amount of head shuffle took place, it was game over. In the most extreme case… a work colleague ran a 200 1.4 as a demonstrator that actually popped its head at well under 3000 miles – the cause was found to be failure of one of the resin dowels that were used to locate the head / block joint in alignment.

      The later modified gaskets of a multi layer design when fitted with the LM25 grade bottom bearing ladder and steel block dowels eliminates failure owing to block flexing almost completely as SAIC found once K became N series under their incumbency.

      That said, peripheral component problems such as the rad, water pump, thermostat and inlet manifold will go on to the ultimate failure – HGF. But then again the same applies with any make of engine once they have aged or become neglected.

  3. My sister bought a ten year old 214 in 2006. The previous owner advised her that he’d replaced the head gasket with a much stronger one from a Land Rover the previous year. No trouble in the two years she had the car and she managed to get a reasonable trade in against a Citroen Xsara.

  4. i care little for others opinions on the Streetwise, i still to this day, find it a great looking car, time has worked its magic and it has remained a good looker, over a decade since it was launched.

  5. Although most of the Streetwise’s I’ve seen have been other colours, I agree Sonic Blue was a nice colour – looked good on later Rover 45’s too.

    Mike’s right about buying cheap parts and cutting corners… false economy. it’s always better to pay a bit more knowing the job will last longer and less likely to let you down! I bet Neil was delighted to have left his car in Mike’s safe hands.

  6. There’s always a method to leaving my car at Mike’s for 2 weeks in the hope that any issues will be resolved by the time I come back off Holidays :). In all seriousness If mike had not spotted this then my 200 mile drive home could have been a lot more stressful, Why this gasket was not changed during the head gasket replacement baffles me as its is about a 20 min job while the head is off, just goes to show it’s not worth taking short cuts or disaster could strike.

  7. Can we have a proper feature on the Streetwise (either this particular car or the model in general) in the future please? Interesting little car, a trendsetter for the whole jacked-up hatchback sector. Without the Streetwise, there might have been no Juke or Mokka.

  8. What other similar small cars were there at the time? The Polo Dune comes to mind, and was rarer, if anything. The larger ones, like Audi Allroads, were more successful. I think I read that the Volvo XC70 is more popular than the V70 in America, and the Octavia Scout seems popular with paramedics.

    Is the Streetwise a more comfortable ride than the 25? Either way, I’d consider one, especially with a Prima, although I’d probably swap the Streetwise boot trim with a Rover one, if they’re compatible

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