Our Cars: The Rover 75 and its Kiss of Death!

Words and Photographs: Mike Humble

The seemingly psychic Rover 75 overheard favorable comments being bestowed upon it and threw a tantrum.

My next door neighbour Joan is a lovely lady – even though she has just celebrated her 90th birthday and has been widowed for many years, she’s as lively as a cricket and sharper than a master Cutler’s blade. Her younger brother Peter (86) travels up from Devon regularly to visit, often travelling in one of his tidy cars – usually a Jaguar  XKR – and we often spend a moment or two sharing a driveway chat.

He knows the K-Series engine well having spent many years as a Sales Director for an engineering company which produced diamond cutting, honing and boring tools. One of his former customers was GKN who formerly supplied cylinder liners for Rover, so he has a grip on the K-Series engine as well as being a true gentleman of the finest order.

However, lately, I have come to the conclusion that Peter is a kiss of death when it comes to motor cars, but I mean that in the nicest of ways of course. Firstly, I loaned him the use of an air compressor once to inflate a tyre on his Subaru – which refused point blank to work again after he brought it back. I wasn’t bothered about this in the slightest, owing to the fact I had owned it for a good while and paid no more than 10 bob for it when new. But Peter’s power to jinx me again happened only just the other day following another one of our catch-ups on the front lawn. Literally a few days after I had fitted the 18in wheels and tyres onto my 75, Peter came up for his sisters’ birthday and was remarking how well my car looked in comparison to when I had first bought it last autumn.

The Rover 75 decided to try my patience after 10,000 trouble free Bangernomic miles.

The bonnet was up and I was adding some washer fluid when Peter wombled over for a butchers under the project 75 hood. He was astonished at how clean and oil leak free the engine was and then asked if I could turn the key for a listen, again he repeated his praises and we eventually parted company as my dinner was in danger of being fed to Stella the workshop cat.

Next day I ventured out for a quick run to the supermarket and I travelled no further than a mile or so when the 75 developed a nasty occasional misfire. Returning home to safety of my driveway and tool chest, the misfire turned into a full-blown horror with the engine running on three cylinders and the yellow lamp of death (ECU) winking, thus confirming something was seriously wrong indeed.

To those not in the know, should your yellow engine check light come on constantly, you may still use the car but are strongly advised to have the car diagnostically checked on either ‘Testbook’ or ‘T4’ as soon as possible. In the case of a pulsing yellow light, you have a critical fault on the ignition or fuelling system which requires immediate diagnosis and correction before further damage is allowed to happen – i.e.: terminal damage to the catalytic converter for example. Anyway, I digress, the car was brought home and I set about scanning the car for logged fault codes in the ECU to which codes 0313 and 0301 were present – misfire low fuel and no1 cylinder misfire. The spanners were out and the shirt sleeves rolled up – let the mayhem commence to quote Bond villain, Elliot Carver.

What started out as a simple diagnose and fettle job, turned into anguish, swearing and downright frustration at both myself and a previous garage. Now the MEMS 3 engine management system is a pretty good package, but interrogation via a hand-held code reader will only tell you where the fault lies – not what it is, so a little bit of old school trial and error comes into play. Whipping off the engine cover I noticed a little pool of fresh looking oil around the camshaft sensor which bolts onto the alloy valve cover, but closer inspection revealed the retaining bolt was loose. Simples I thought and so placed an 8mm socket on the head to nip it up but, as is so often the case, things rarely turn out to be quick and simple.

The bolt just ran on its thread and, after removing it, I noticed that the bolt had been liberally coated with thread lock in an attempt to keep it rigid. Some paperwork confirmed a garage in Guildford had replaced said cam sensor about a year ago but they had obviously over tightened the bolt which really only needs a little nip from an 8mm spanner to secure. The thread in the valve cover was well and truly stripped so a rummage in the garage located an old valve cover which was fitted tout sweet. There was still the issue of the massive misfire to cure so a spare plug was fitted to no: 1 cylinder and fingers were crossed on start up.

Thank heavens, the car fired up and ran spot on. I lit a victory snout and fitted the engine cover – a victory short lived.

A coil pack and plug later and all was well but a previously bodged cam sensor required a replacement valve cover.

As I dropped the bonnet shut, the car emitted a little cough, then it did it again and, after another minute of idling, the engine went back onto three cylinders and the death lamp started flashing with the same fault code showing. By now the late summer sun was setting on leafy Sussex and I reluctantly shut up shop having to admit defeat for the short term at least. The following day the bonnet was lifted for round two of the battle of wits between England vs Swiss, I refused to be beaten over this and fitted a spare coil pack to number one cylinder and guess what – the same bloody fault remained. As you can imagine, by now I was madder than a box of Frogs but I kept my composure and swapped the two coil packs over – they are both interchangeable.

Again, the same fault code 0301 appeared on the screen of my code reader, so the coil pack on number one cylinder was removed for the 983rd time and another spare spark plug was fitted. This time, the car was perfect and I do mean just that, smoother and more stable on idle than ever so, after running it on a fast idle for 10 minutes to really get things heated up, a good, old-fashioned hiding along the nearby dual carriageway confirmed that Eddie the Project 75 was back on song once more.

However, after sitting here pondering a while and cobbling this latest ramble, I wonder whether my car would have ever decided to throw a tantrum akin to the mid-’80s Mini advert if the lovely Peter had kept his thoughts to himself – do Rover 75s have feelings too?

Mike Humble


  1. Mike,
    Many of the fault codes that result in the illumination of the amber malfunction indicator lamp (MIL) are due to electrical continuity issues, but the misfire codes (P0301, P0302, etc) can have a multitude of root causes. In common with most other cars the detection algorithm in MEMS3 compares the contribution to crankshaft rotation of each cylinder and if one or more cylinders deviates by more than a pre-determined quantity, it is deemed to be misfiring. Some more sums and if more than a certain number of misfires are counted, then the MIL is turned on. If there’s considered to be a risk of damage to the catalyst, then the MIL must flash. As you found, the actual problem may be nothing to do with the engine management, it could be a compression problem, a fuelling issue or the sort of driveability glitch that in earlier times would have been ignored.

  2. Ohh the old brag of doom, Work had an old and very early JCB JS170 which plodded on needing very little in all its life which I was demoted to for about 6 months.. when one of the sites I was on hire to, came the usual “you dont see many of these now” and “Its been a good n” well the following day you name it it failed, the fitter got sick of call outs, The site Manager was getting impatient and the Plant hire firm got sick of money lost due to down time and loss of hire hrs, He replaced it with a newer Daewoo Machine… sods law !

    Mike your cars looking well, I still want a 75.

  3. Your frustration at having to call it a day, light fading, problem not solved must have been immense! Still, it must be great to work on your pride & joy yourself as opposed to having to trust somebody else!

  4. I’ve also had experience of engine warning lights Mike! Not long after getting my current Focus, the lamp lit up steady and the dealer found it was a faulty “Hego” sensor which they replaced under warranty. Same thing happened a few weeks ago, but the light went out next day (no performance loss).

    It happened yet again last Friday and the dealer checked and extinguished it straight away. They want me to leave the car with them this week so they can do a full diagnostic to identify the faulty sensor again! At least I am getting use out of the warranty.

  5. It was a blessing in disguise though. If you hadn’t found these problems, they could have ended up a lot worse, and left you with much wallet raping

  6. I also have a beautiful silver Rover 75 connisseur. Is there anybody in Cape Town who would like to buy it for a song?

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