Blowing a gasket – for the 45th time!

Words and Pictures: Mike Humble

A few months ago, a very good friend of mine bought a REALLY cheap 2002 Rover 25 Impression S from a private seller in North London following an inspection by yours truly. After a well deserved service, which included a timing belt, water pump and rear silencer, the car was, until recently, pretty much running as sweetly as you would expect. However, even though my aforementioned friend has as much knowledge about engines as I have about timber and MDF (his occupation), he had recently spotted a tiny water leak from behind the alternator.

My fears were to be confirmed and the car was showing the early signs of a blown head gasket. Thankfully, the gasket had blown outside of the fire rings and not mixed with the oil nor were the cylinders swallowing copious amounts of coolant as is so very often the case. My experience with these engines told me this is a classic sign of head shuffle – this is where the head moves around akin to an orbital sander and wipes away the silicone beading seals for the water ways thus causing the cooling problems.

The car was left with me and, after the stripdown, it became very obvious that someone else had “been at it” and, dare I say it, s/he seems to have been a complete buffoon. The gasket had been replaced with the same type as original but, for some obscure reason, someone had seen fit to also use copious amounts of Hylomar and what looked like a bottle of K-Seal. The fire rings of cylinders 1 & 2 were nigh on crushed to death whereas cylinders 3 & 4 were fine – a sure fire sign of incorrect torque procedures. Fortunately, though, the engine internals looked as good as new.

A sludge free K Series - a rare sight

Another plus was that the job was was one of those where everything came apart and went back together again with no bother or fuss whatsoever. Having done so many of these over the years, I knew exactly which tools to use as to avoid “humping” my enormous toolbox from the shed onto the drive – even the ususally elusive K Series timing tool fell straight to hand!

K Series timing tool - essential!

I would also like to mention how smitten and impressed I am with Victor Reinz gaskets – not everyone has heard of them but these German MLS type gaskets are of a very high quality. I have used this brand 4 times in the past and not one has come back to bite my bottom. Never EVER fit a new gasket without new bolts either – it’s sheer lunacy if you don’t. To give you some idea of the attention to detail of these gaskets, the packaging is very robust and even the tightening procedure of the order of head bolts and the exact torque figures are printed inside.

High quality Reinz gasket awaits cylinder head

Over the years, I have kept note of the cars on which I have replaced the head gasket. The total is now 45 of which 14 have been 1800cc Rover 75s and 10 have been MGFs. As mentioned earlier, this particular car had been treated with K-Seal. Some claim this product works but, just like Wynn’s Oil Treatment and other “miracles” in bottles, there is NO substitute or reversal of wear and tear. If your engine shows signs of dying, fix it don’t bodge it – in the short term you may succeed but, further down the line, there will be problems.

I suggest that anyone dealing with head gasket issues should always follow these golden rules:-

Tackle the job only if you are confident of your skill and ability

Use the best quality components

Always replace the inlet manifold gasket, timing belt and head bolts whilst considering the condition of the water pump too.

Never start the stripdown on a hot or warm engine

Always use a timing locking tool

Be scrupulous with cleanliness

Follow all the correct procedures at all times

Using a straight edge and feeler blades, check the head for warpage and the liners for correct protrusion.

Always use O.A.T antifreeze on rebuild and adhere to the 50% mix of anti-freeze and water – use distilled water if possible, a gallon from a supermarket costs less than £3

Check all hoses and pipes along with the radiator for leaks and corrosion – if in doubt, replace!

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


  1. Surely, the last thing you want is mineral water? What you really need is distilled water – the pure stuff for irons and topping up batteries. I thought mineral water was still full of impurities.

  2. I’d have to defend K-Seal… I have used it a couple of times and the Citroen XM 2.0 SEi I put it in 5 years ago now is still fine 40K later (and that was pumping water out of the exhaust) – I only expected it to get me home!!

    It is in my 218VVC’s cooling system at the moment, but not due to HGF, more to stop it. The car already has the MLS gasket, revised bearing ladder, later alloy rad and PRT fitted. However, the K-Seal will stop leaks thereby preventing HGF and, unlike traditional coolant sealers, it does not block waterways (I have used it on an 827 in the past with no ill-effects – that also had HGF but I only wanted the Reg. No.).

    • @Stewart
      K-Seal is very good at sealing minor water leaks from a dodgy heater matrix or pipework. Where it all falls down, though, is a major fault ie: cracked heads and blown fire rings on head gaskets.

      I’ve seen it so many times where certain cars have popped a head gasket and owners have thrown copious amounts of this stuff into the coolant because some bloke in the pub said “it’s dead good.”

      There is, in my opinion (and that is mine alone), no substitute for getting to the root cause and fixing the problem at its source. I too have great admiration for certain additives and products (Wynn’s Valve Lifter Treatment and Forte products, for example) but, in the case of extreme HGF failures, most of the time K seal will only put the job off for a short while.

      Others may dissagree, but wouldn’t it be a boring and simple world if we all thought the same?

  3. Like Mr Kilpatrick, I’ve only ever used distilled water when replacing/topping up cooling systems. I cannot see the benefit of mineral water over tap at all aside from in the South East of the UK where tap water is generally quite hard and likely to fur-up the cooling system.

    • @Richard Kilpatrick
      Oops, I did in fact mean to type distilled water. At the time of typing this up I was enjoying a glass of nice cold water and that’s what possibly made me write mineral instead of distilled.

      A footnote though… The old story of soft water up North and hard water down South is a bit of myth nowadays as various health and safety blah blahs ensure that the calciums and flourides added to domestic water to meet certain “EU” requirements now result in your kettle being much likely to go “conk” due to scale whether you live in York or Yeovil.

  4. Mike Humble :
    There is, in my opinion (and that is mine alone), no substitute for getting to the root cause and fixing the problem at its source. I too have great admiration for certain additives and products (Wynn’s Valve Lifter Treatment and Forte products, for example) but, in the case of extreme HGF failures, most of the time K seal will only put the job off for a short while.

    Others may dissagree, but wouldn’t it be a boring and simple world if we all thought the same?

    It’s not just your opinion 😉 – it is why I never get my cars repaired myself to my standards (lack of skill/experience) and rarely trust garages!

  5. I can only speak from my own experience and that is of the two cars I did use K-Seal on.

    The first one was a 2.0 XM SEi (XU engine?) which, while running, was literally pumping water out of the exhaust – it left a puddle when revved and water was dripping out of the exhaust at idle and the oil was well and truly emulsified! It was also a £75 car. All that stopped with the K-Seal. I got home, fully intending to sort it out with a new HG but, as it was running, I never did and sold it a fair few miles later. I still see the car running around now and I’d know if the HG had ever failed again!!

    The 2.7 Sterling was bought with HG failure. I wanted the LPG system and the Reg. nNo. (K9 NSA) but no way was it driving home as it was (the header tank was visibly inflating!) and paying to have it transported would have cost far too much. Anyway, as it was taxed+MOT’d, I dropped the K-Seal in and drove it home, used it until the MOT ran out, took the LPG off and sold it on for spares (I’d forgotten to transfer the plate).

    In truth, I share your scepticism of such things but, in this case, K-Seal does seem to do what it says on the tin. I really just use it to help prevent HG by dealing with small leaks as the 218 has no low water level indicator.

  6. Thanks for the article, Mike. I’m currently stitching back together the top part of my Rover V8 engine and there’s plenty of advice in your article that applies. Cheers!

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