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.
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!
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.
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!