Blog : No Sh** Sherlock…

Barry Jones


Well, the bashers are out there again… According to a new survey by Warranty Direct, MGs and Rovers are more likely to suffer from head gasket failure than any other make or model. I’m fairly sure we all knew that, though the debate no doubt will continue to rage as to whether this is an inherent design fault, or down to poor maintenance.

As someone who has owned over 10 K-Series powered MG/Rover/Land Rover models and has never fallen victim to head gasket failure (seriously, and my quota includes an early MGF…), I can see how one feeds the other, but my feet are mostly in the poor maintenance camp.

I wouldn’t even be giving this research the light of day were it not for the fact that HGF is described as ‘the glitch most feared’ by used car buyers, with costs of up to £700 to repair. Providing the head hasn’t warped, surely there are scarier failures out there than head gasket failure? But yet again, the K-Series’ one weak point is held up as a board for others to bash, conveniently forgetting its power output, impressive torque, lively performance and eminent tunability.

My daily is a Discovery 3. I’m much more frightened of its electrical systems failing, or of the tiny coolant pipe under the air con compressor going again, which cost me £12 in parts and £1,400 in labour to repair…

Keith Adams


  1. I had four K-Series cars, one which i will admit to being not very well looked after, but NOT one, ever let me down, well, thats a lie, i ran out of fuel one day in my 111i, but that was my fault and not the cars.

    Currently i am running a ’90 827Si, and have had no issues with that either, and am considering a Rover 75 V8, so I am happy to buy Rover products, whether it be a K-series, Honda lump or Ford, i just drive them, enjoy them and deal with issues as they appear, not that they have.

    • Sounds like a good approach – enjoy them and deal with issues if and when they do appear. I can certainly recommend a Rover 75 V8, having driven one back in January 2005 – it is one of the very few cars my lottery win dream garage would immediately find space for without hesitation.

      I always find the quoted figures about head gasket failure interesting, particularly as I was recently given the opportunity to buy a very low mileage Rover 200 BRM and was naturally concerned that it would need the head gasket replacing in the near future, despite its low mileage of 40,000 miles and that it had been well cared for by its previous owner. As a friend of mine quite rightly pointed out, you always hear about the confirmed failures on websites, forums and in the wider motoring press, but not about those examples that have not actually suffered from head gasket failure. Therefore the percentage of actual failures is likely to be skewed in comparison to the actual true figure.

  2. K series engines are also notably economical, and warm up rapidly in the mornings. Probability of a repeat failure is radically reduced if one fits the improved Land Rover HG (forget the technical term).
    Meanwhile, if one drives a Honda engine, beware of distributor (£400 over 14 years ago) and cold start module (£110 some 17 years ago) failures..

    • My old Honda the only fault with the VTEC engine was a Siemens (German reliability?…) main relay.

      The solder cracked.

      Fix – resoldered the connections.

      Cost? About 10 minutes, a bit of solder and a few amps of electricity.

  3. Oddly, I’ve never owned a K-series motor although driven plenty. I do, however, know that many HGFs are due to owmers not using the correct coolant and / or not keeping an eye on the coolant level.

    Let’s be honest, unless you have warped the head, it’s not a major issue.

    I personally won’t touch a Disco 3 TDI as the thought of having to remove the bodywork to get at the turbo is scary.

  4. I’d say it’s down to poor maintenance (or no maintenance at all, given the sheds I’ve seen around here). There’s not a lot of slack in the K=series cooling systems and a failure to keep the level up can soon lead to problems. Over-enthusiastic tuning and chipping can also push temperatures beyond safe levels and the dreaded locating pegs suffer in the heat. Back in the 90’s I drove two Rover 200 series hatchbacks (a 216 and a 218iS) and they were excellent. The 218 was very lively and had a good dollop of torque which would embarrass many other similar hatches.

  5. However, I’m sure MG Rovers are not the only cars that will be badly maintained. The survey has noted that they are likely candidates for HGF. I’m sure that same survey will have also noted specific issues with Fords, Vauxhalls and others. Just accept it.

  6. I see loads of cars that I look after on “a foreigner basis” not kerbside autos but serviced correctly but never on time and it pisses me off a bit, as a service sticker is always put on the ‘screen or doorpost and they just cant be arsed.

    One car, A5 fwd petrol was serviced and I noted a driveshaft leak which I warned was of utmost urgency, nevertheless I was ignored and the diff failed and bearings are unobtainable from anywhere,£700 gearbox later(second hand) and the penny dropped.

    The K series once fitted with a MLS and as long as the pistons are decent they offer very little trouble, check your levels.

    Another gem “my uses no oil” oh but they do, consider oil consumption and fuel dilution-its axiomatic.

  7. Mechanically snapped cambelts must be up there for ‘interference’ engines but it’s increasingly electrical/electronics that’ll cost the most to fix.

    A friend had a problem with the ABS on his 10 year old Z4 and had to pay £2200 for the modulator alone.

    With complex electronics it often isn’t just a simple ‘plug and play’ fix, there is usually some update/reconfiguration of software to get the new part to work.

    As an aside, the mark-up on this modulator is jaw dropping – being in the order of 20 times. OEMs usually work in the range of 6 to 10 times….

  8. The K series was a great engine until they botched it into larger capacities in 1995 for HHR and the bubble 200.

    It was a typical BL disaster. What was a brilliant, strong and reliable engine with awards and a brilliant reputation in the press and industry ruined and ultimately was another nail in the coffin.

    In expanding the capacities, they removed the deck and made it fully wet liner. They also messed around with many of the production processes to make it more cheaply.

    The post 1995 engines suffer from severe thermal cycling. There are a few reasons but the two main ones are the bottom half of the engine liners are cooled by oil, the top half cooled by water. The oil and water are at different temperatures and the head and cylinder block and liners are all expanding and contract at very different rates.

    They left the cooling system as is. They didn’t fit an indirect thermostat so the problem is made worse. When driving along at 3000RPM, the block is full of hot water which is being cycled around the closed system, when the thermostat opens, cold water which has been sitting in the bottom of the radiator is sucked in rather quickly and replaces the hot water. This causes the head and block to expand and contract at different rates.

    They tried the steel dowels which helped, the multi layer gasket also helps, but at the end of the day, I am afraid this is a poor design.

    As for people who say this is a maintenance issue, wake up. My company ran 10 wedge 214’s to over 100,000 miles. Not one of them had a single HGF. They replaced them with 414 and 416 HHR’s and every single one of them had HGF. Some at extremely low mileages.

    I agree that the cost of having the job done is pretty low but they didn’t fit a low coolant warning or a warning light for when the thing is overheating, hence many people ruining engines.

  9. Once the head gasket is replaced, particularly with a stronger Land Rover one, these engines can then go on for the rest of the life of the car with few problems. I think fitting a stronger one, or catching the problem early, is the solution as the K series is otherwise a good engine.

  10. The other irritating factor about the K-Series HG ‘weakness’ is that it’s this sort of crap that is revisited any time folk suggest JLR reviving the Rover brand. I have owned 7 K-engine cars and only one head gasket has gone, the first one when I was guilty of not checking coolant level.

    It is nearly 10 years since MGR failed, and some folk still can’t let it go.

    • I guess it was the same reason Fiat didn’t use Lancia for the RHD Ypsilons & Deltas, thanks to the Beta’s reputation for rusting out too fast.

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