Rover K series – the ultimate head gasket replacement

I’ve had several cars with Rover K series engines and found them reliable and cheap to run, easy and cheap to service too. The engine has a novel design runs well and, in my experience is pretty reliable. They do have a reputation for head gasket failure, but my Rover 45 had done over 90,000 miles when I noticed it was loosing coolant, needing topping up every month or so. Careful checking and monitoring followed – it’s easy to blame the head gasket when the fault lies elsewhere. waterpump, inlet manifold gasket etc. The water pump did spring a sudden leak at around 95,000 miles necessitating replacement along with timing belt and tensioner, something I did overnight. I was disappointed when that did not return matters to normal, but rather returned to the necessity to top up every 2-3 weeks. Eventually signs of oil floating in the expansion tank proved head gasket failure as the most likely cause. Nothing ever overheated, I’d been careful to check coolant level regularly, but leaks only get worse and the original-fit headgaskets can fail suddenly, leading to much more damage and grief to repair.
I decided to document the repair here, take a few photographs and give a few tips to anyone who is talking the job themselves, it’s not that difficult and doesn’t need a huge number of special tools.
I opted to buy and fit the “ultimate fix” headgasket kit sold by XPart. I’ve used the “Landrover” designed MLS gasket to good effect before, but thought I’d go for it and fit the higher tensile strength bolts plus stiffer oil-rail available in the XPart kit (ZUA000530) I bought this, and the other parts mail-order from Endon Services Group in Stoke-on-Trent and highly recommend the service offered by Steve and his colleges there.

Newest XPart MLS gasket, shims riveted together on four peripheral tabs
Newest XPart MLS gasket, shims riveted together on four peripheral tabs
CLICK TO ENLARGE- four shims, no fire-rings
CLICK TO ENLARGE- four shims, no fire-rings

Things you will need

Gather the parts that you know you’re going to need for the job. If you go for the latest MG approved uprated components kit you’ll need to buy from an X Part agent. I bought mail-order from Endon Services Group in Stoke-on-Trent

Parts List

Parts you’ll definitely need to replace

  • ZUA000530 – comprises Multi-Layer Steel (MLS) head gasket, set of higher strength head-bolts and a strengthened oil rail that these screw into
  • LVP130631 – Cam Cover Gasket
  • LVV000108EVA -Liquid sealant used when refitting sump and oil-rail
  • LKJ101110 -Inlet Manifold Gasket
  • LKG100551 -Exhaust Manifold Gasket

picture of the other gaskets and seals
The other gaskets and seals that you’ll need- click to enlarge

Parts to consider replacing

  • Waterpump and its rubber seal
  • Timing belt and tensioner
  • LUC100220 – 2 off, Camshaft Oilseal Red
  • LUC100290 – 2 off, Camshaft Oil seal, balck
  • Valve stem seals (if you have any work carried out on the head)
  • Themostat and temostat housing O rings

You will also have to make a decision about whether to have the head skimmed, and if you are going to have valves and other components overhauled while you are about this. None of that is too expensive to get done in a good engineering shop, that said I check the head for flatness myself, if your car has not been overheated it may well be fine, as mine was. If it is flat I’m a believer in not getting it skimmed, though many engineering shops will recommend that as routine. A compression test, or leak-down test before you start will tell you if the valves are functioning OK, as long as the head gasket is gas-tight.


  • Engine oil and oil filter
  • Coolant, use OAT Antifreeze/coolant – Halfords Premium coolant is OAT
  • Clean rags or thin paper towel to clean head and other oily parts
  • latex gloves or barrier cream, Handcleaner (used engine oil is not good for skin)
  • Carburettor cleaner spray or similar (used to clean oil and dirt from gasket surfaces)


General tools

  • Decent 3/4 inch socket-set
  • Some 1/2 inch sockets and a breaker/ extension bar
  • Torque Wrench
  • Screwdrivers
  • Hard plastic scraper and perhaps a razorblade scraper for cleaning head faces
  • 6mm allen key, if your car has the manual cambelt tensioner
  • Two 3-4 mm drill bits, used to hold-off the belt tensioners
  • Set of metric ring/ open ended spanners
  • Feeler-guage and straight-edge to check head is flat, unless you use a machine shop to do this
  • Jack and Axle stands

Special Tools

  • Camshaft locking tool
  • E12 star socket for headbolts
  • Crankshaft Locking tool (you might manage without this)
  • Guide-pins for refitting the sump (easily made by sawing the heads off two M8 bolts)
See special tools list above for more info.
See special tools list above for more info.

Tackling the Job

Before you start

If you have the time to do it spray releasing fluid on the exhaust manifold bolts a couple of days before starting work, and again on the night before. These can be rusty and seize, so it helps. Park the car where you are going to carry out the job, a decent garage is ideal but you might just get away with doing this outside as long as you have a nice flat solid surface below and the weather is good (lay components out on the roof or in the boot as you remove them).

A maintenance manual will give you a good step by step description, what follows is a basic guide with pictures and a few tips. LHS means Left hand side as viewed standing in front of the car facing the engine bay RHS means right hand side, viewed from the same position.

Safety first! You need to take appropriate measures when jacking up and supporting the car, lifting heavy parts, dealing with used engine oil, petrol and car wiring etc. All of this can be done with minimal risk, but if you are not competent to do this, don’t! Never work underneath a car when it’s only supported by a jack.

Taking it Apart

Start by removing the battery earth wire and tying it well clear of the -ve battery terminal it was attached to. Now put a suitable container under the car, remove the sump-plug and drain the oil. Hopefully you wont see any light-brown sludge in it – if you do this indicates that a significant amount of coolant has leaked into the oil and I’d recommend using a flushing oil when you get the thing back together again. While the oil is draining get to work on the top of the engine – remove the plastic cover on the cam-cover and (if this is the later K2 engine, like mine) remove the twin wasted-spark ignition coils and leads. Unplug the L.T. wiring at the head-mounted connector. Disconnect the electrical connectors from the two temperature sensors fitted where the water exits the front of the head on the RHS. Remove the connector to the O2/lambda sensor screwed into the exhaust manifold. Disconnect electrical connectors from the alternator. Remove the heat-shield from the exhaust manifold, which will involve removing one of the alternator mounting bolts. You’ll be removing the others soon! Spray more oil on the exhaust manifold nuts, they will be easier to see now. Working on the LHS of the engine, remove the plastic outer timing-belt cover (10mm bolts) to reveal the twin camshaft sockets. If there is any evidence of oil inside the cambelt cover you’ll be needing those camshaft oil seals!

Outer cover removed so the Timing belt is visible. Camshaft locking tool fitted.
Outer cover removed so the Timing belt is visible. Camshaft locking tool fitted.

The oil should have drained by now, refit and tighten the sump plug. Jack up the offside front of the car, support on axle stand and remove the offside front road wheel. You’ll be removing sump and the starter motor – so have a look underneath the car now and consider jacking it up higher and supporting both sides securely on axle-stands to provide more clearance. Remove the old oil filter and replace with a new one, I like to do this now in case I forget later. Look for and release the plastic fitting that retains the plastic inner-wing/ undertray, this should then sag down so that you have better access to the crankshaft pulley and lower timing belt cover. You will now need to release the tension on the belt that drives the power steering pump. This is done using a ring spanner to lever back the spring-loaded mechanism and inserting a 3mm pin (a drill-bit is good!) to hold it in that position. The multi-V belt will then be slack enough to remove. Release and lock back the tensioner for the serpentine belt that drives the alternator and (if fitted) aircon compressor. You wont be able to take this belt off yet – the LHS engine mount needs to be removed first. Switch to the top of the engine bay and remove the top alternator mounting bracket. Make sure that the manifold nuts are still liberally soaked in releasing fluid, give them every chance to go quietly when you get around to tackling them!
Next step is to drain the cooling system, do this by putting a container underneath the car, removing the expansion-tank filler cap and then removing the air-bleed bolt fitted to the metal pipe on the upper RHS of the block just above the clutch bell-housing. If you can’t find this, or if the coolant drains too slowly then slacken the jubilee clip and remove the bottom-hose from the radiator. Be prepared to get a wet arm! Removal of the camshaft cover next, release the two engine breather pipes that link this to the inlet manifold, then the 10mm bolts (remove these bolts in the order given in the manual – working from the centre out). Carefully lift off the camshaft cover, and if the gasket below stays in the head carefully lift this off too. This gasket has a habit of shedding it’s outer layer, leaving bits lying on the camshafts themselves. Watch for this and clean up carefully if needed. Now is a good time to tackle removal of the inlet manifold, this plastic component is quite fragile, don’t put any strain by leaning on it or pulling it too hard during removal or re-assembly. Tip: you don’t need to remove the coolant or petrol pipes, get a bit of string and simply tie the manifold back out of the way when it’s removed. The manifold retaining nuts, fitted to studs screwed into the block wont be tight – but are a little tricky to get access to. Using a 3/4 inch ratchet & socket, with a decent extension, will ease the job. Tip: put a bit of ‘bluetack’ in the socket so that you don’t drop the nuts as they are removed.

Engine block and inlet manifold with the cylinder head removed
Engine block and inlet manifold with the cylinder head removed

You wont be greeted by a view like the picture above as your cylinder head hasn’t been removed yet! The last bit to remove before the head can be unbolted is that timing belt, and this needs care. First step is to slacken the bolt that retains the crankshaft pully. This will be tight! You have choices, either get hold of a special crankshaft locking tool made for the K engine, remove the starter motor and fit this tool in it’s place. The tool then holds the starter-ring gear allowing you to slacken the crankshaft bolt (22mm socket and extension bar needed). If you don’t have access to this tool you can do the job either with a decent air/ battery powered impact wrench or, the old fashioned way – put the car in fifth gear and get an assistant to press the break pedal to stop the engine rotating as you pull on the 22mm crankshaft bolt with your extension bar. This does work, but compliance in the drivetrain does make it a little tricky. Slacken but don’t remove the bolt yet.

Look at the arrangement of the LHS Engine mount, adjacent to the power steering reservoir. there is probably a lower engine-steady mount fitted below the engine and forward of the upper mount as well. Remove the bolts between engine steady and a metal bracket that links to the upper mount. Next take the weight of the engine by using a jack supporting the LHS of the sump – use a block of wood between the two to avoid any risk of distortion. With the engine supported in this way remove the two 22mm nuts that face upwards and fix the timing-side of the engine block to the LHS mount. A deep 22mm socket will be handy here – these nuts are fairly tight. Once they are removed unscrew the through-bolt and remove the engine mount from the LHS inner wing. There may also be three bolts holding a metal plate that links to the lower steady. Remove these as well. Only now will you be able to completely remove the multi-V accessory drive belt. Supporting the engine on a jack in this way also means that you can move it up and down a little to make access to timing belt components a little easier.

The crank and camshafts needs to be turned to the correct position before the timing belt is removed- refer to your maintenance manual here, basically the engine needs to be rotated until timing marks on each camshaft wheel point towards each other and a timing mark on the crank pulley aligns with a mark on the lower timing belt cover. There are a few things to note here – the camshaft sprockets for inlet and exhaust are actually identical, they are correctly aligned when the “Inlet” mark on the inlet camshaft sprocket points directly at the “exhaust” mark on the sprocket fitted to the exhaust cam. When the sprockets are in this position a little notch on the crankshaft pulley should be pointing upwards, aligned with a line moulded into the plastic lower camshaft cover. Check all of this – you are going to need to be confident that everything is back in this alignment when you put it back together. BE WARNED failure to align and correctly refit the timing belt when you re-assemble the engine will likely result in valves touching pistons – causing a lot of damage! A slightly unusual feature is that this timing position is not “Top Dead Centre” (TDC) as some engines, but 90 degrees away from this point, resulting in each piston being at the same height – half way down each cylinder bore. Completely remove the crankshaft pulley retaining bolt now, remember you slackened it before. If anything does move off its mark put the car in gear and use a roadwheel to rotate the engine in a forward direction only until it’s back exactly in this “timing” position. Put the gears in neutral and fit the camshaft locking tool once you have got the engine in this position and don’t rotate the crankshaft any more. You can now remove the 10mm bolts retaining the lower timing belt cover, then slacken the timing belt tensioner and carefully remove the timing belt itself by easing it gently off each wheel, a little at the time. Use your fingers only, don’t use any tools to prize or pull the belt. I’d recommend replacing belt and tensioner when re-fitting in any event.

Once the timing belt is removed you can slacken and remove the bolts that retain each camshaft sprocket, DONT take off the sprockets yourself before noting how they are fitted, specifically note the positions of a pin fitted in each camshaft that engages in one of two keyways in the sprocket. the inlet camshaft will have it’s pin engaged in the keyway marked “IN”, the exhaust camshaft will have it’s sprocket fitted with the pin engaged in a keyway marked “EX”. remember the sprockets are identical, take care that they are re-fitted in this way when you put it all back together. Now remove the sprockets and store them safely out of the way. Remove the inboard plastic camshaft cover, checking for any sign of oil weeping from the camshaft seals behind. Similarly have a close look for any signs of leakage from the timing belt driven water pump, look for signs of staining where water may have trickled out of it, spin it to feel for roughness, there should be no perceptible play in the bearings. Any doubt, replace it – in fact many would say replace it while you have the belt off in any event.

Now that the timing belt and camshaft sprockets have been removed you will be able to remove the 10mm bolts and take off the inner, upper timing belt cover, which is made of plastic and fixed to the cylinder head. Slacken the Jubilee clip and remove the coolant pipe from the front RHS of the head. With this gone have a final good look for any other fixings, wires and components that would prevent removal of the head. If you find anything… remove it!

The head is held on by 10 long bolts with splined heads, you’ll need a special E12 socket for these (these are not expensive) Slacken these bolts in reverse sequence 1/4 turn at a time. Then remove them from the block and discard as a new set of higher tensile strength bolts are provided for use with this gasket. TIP: the torque and angle settings for fitting these bolts has been revised, more on this later. With the bolts removed the head is ready to come of, having been clamped down for thousands of miles it will be a bit sticky. Rock the head back and fourth to loosen it by breaking the seal formed by the head gasket. DONT be tempted to leaver it off with a tool, risks damage to the relatively soft metal. Don’t pull the head off straight upwards, as this could dislodge the cylinder liners, instead once one of the two retaining dowels is disengaged slide or rotate the head off sideways. Have a workbench or suitable surface covered with old newspaper ready to put the head on. Put it down upside down. Quite a lot of oil is going to run out of it!

cylinder head removed and inverted, showing the  failed gasket
cylinder head removed and inverted, showing the failed gasket

The gasket will stick to either block or head when it’s removed. In my case it stuck to the latter, so you can see the gasket with its silicone beads in the picture above. What you cant see so easily is that many of these beads simply fell of or were loose. Theses sealing elements had long since ceased to be firmly fixed to the gasket, causing water and oil to mix at the head interface, necessitating replacement. Sometimes a bit of this seal can suddenly be pushed out by water pressure – causing sudden coolant loss with a high risk of overheating. If this coolant loss is into an oil way the engine fills up with a brown emulsion of oil and water. A disgusting mixture with the constancy of salad cream that takes a long time to drain and remove, and can further damage the engine in the interim.

If you were simply replacing the head gasket with one of the many MLS replacements on the market you’d have completed the dismantling now. The X Part gasket needs to be fitted along with a strengthened oil rail and revised spec. higher tensile, bolts to hold the whole thing together. Fitting the oil rail means that you are now going to have to work below the car to remove the sump. It will likely need to be raised high on axle-stands to do this, unless you have a maintenance pit or car-lift. Remove the bolts that retain the sump using the revers of the fitting sequence given in the manual. Note that two of the bolts on the LHS are longer than the others. With the sump removed you’ll see the plastic oil pickup/strainer that routes oil from the bottom of the sump through to the inlet of the oil pump at the start of it’s route to lubricate and cool most of the engine. Remove the oil pickup (two 10mm bolts) and the oil rail. Note and check the o-ring fitted to the end of the oil pickup that seals with the pump inlet. You will now be greeted with a view like the one below, the crankshaft and big ends are clearly visible, don’t worry, they wont drop out, there are other bolts that are still holding the engine together! Now you’ve finished taking the thing apart, removing half of the engine from the car! The dismantling job finished, all that remains is cleaning up and putting it back together.

View from below the engine after removing the oil rail
View from below the engine after removing the oil rail

Cleaning and checking

Start with the cylinder head. Many would say just take this to a machine shop, who will check everything out, overhaul as necessary and return it to you. They will likely skim the block as a matter of course. This may well be the right thing to do, depending on the age and condition of components and the amount that you want to spend. Skimming the head is certainly the quickest way to clean it and make sure that it’s flat. I opted to clean and check the head flatness myself. Cleaning is very time-consuming and tedious, involving scraping every trace of old gasket material and dirt from the gasket faces of the block and removing carbon build up from the combustion chambers, called a “de-coke” in the days when garages offered this as a service option. I’d tried a product called “K Seal” in an attempt to put-off the need for gasket replacement and found that this had formed a very hard, almost glasslike, deposit in some of the waterway areas of gasket surface. This had to be removed. Avoiding scratching the flat metallic surface of the block is essential. Any scratch big enough to feel when running your fingernail across the surface will likely result in some sort of leakage later. Books say use a “soft” scraper made of plastic or hardwood to avoid the risk of scratching the block. By all means do this, but my experience is that some areas will be left where you will need to use a hard metallic object (like a razor blade scraper) to remove deposits. Do this with great care, especially around the sealing faces close to the perimeter of the combustion chamber. any scratches here and it’s off to the machine-shop for a skim! While you are cleaning all this dirt away use bits of cloth or paper to stop paricles getting into waterways, or worse, oil ways in the casting. Once clean, you will need to check that the block is flat. Use an engineers straight edge to do this. checking from one corner of the head to the diagonally opposite corner and across the width of the head in several places. Look for any gap between the straight edge and the head by seeing if light gets through. See if you can push the thinnest feeler-gauge (0.002mm or so) between head and block. Valve seats should be uniform grey with no scratches, burns or other marks indicating the beginnings of leakage. Removing the valves to check thoroughly is tine-consuming job, especially as this head has 16 of them! A machine-shop will do this, and likely grind or recut the seats as a matter of course. The valves my car were working well before dismantling, no tapping noises and compression test readings were all ok. I decided not to make an exhaustive inspection, neither did I have the head skimmed, it had cleaned-up ok and checked out as flat. Though routine, skimming does have risks, it can expose softer areas of metal or even small voids, defects cast into the head when it was manufactured. Tip: I did use an old trick to carry out a quick check of the valves- rest the head, correct way up, on blocks of wood at each end. spray carburettor cleaner into the port of each valve that’s closed and watch for any leakage of this low-viscosity volatile fluid through the valve, there should be none.

cylinder head checked and carefully cleaned, ready to refit.
cylinder head checked and carefully cleaned, ready to refit.

The final step of cleaning the head is to remove any traces of oil or grease, use carb. cleaner again, methylated spirit is a good substitute. Wipe with a clean cloth or reasonably fibre-fee paper. Any dirt or grit on this surface may well prevent the new gasket sealing properly. The block should look something like the picture above- even shinier if it’s been skimmed

Clean the surface of the cylinder block in the same way. Take even more care as you can’t get this skimmed if you scratch anything. Don’t rotate the crankshaft to raise the pistons in order to clean their surface. This would dislodge the cylinders themselves, which are separate from the block and sealed into it with a special sealant. The cylinders constructed in this way are termed “wet liners”. If for some reason you do have to rotate the crank it’s essential to fit a special tool to retain the liners whilst you do so. Final clean with a de-greasent such as carb cleaner. Once cleaned you may want to check the liner protrusion. Use a dial gauge or straight edge and feeler gauges. Confirm that it’s within specification. If the engine had been badly overheated when the gasket failed, the material of the block can deform in the area that the liner seats in, causing the top of the liner to sink below the surface of the block. This would render the block, and likely the whole bottom end of the engine, a write-off.

putting it back together

I can’t resist the phrase so classically employed by technical writers “re-assembly is a simple reversal of the dismantling procedure” Much of it is as simple as that! I’ll just highlight the points to watch out for here. Do refer to a manual, it will give torque settings for fixings and tightening sequences for head-bolts and sump etc Do note however that revised torque/ angle settings are needed with these higher tensile head bolts..

New, strengthened oil rail
New, strengthened oil rail

The cylinder head bolts are actually more than just that, these long through-bolts pass down the entire height of the engine, holding the head, block, crankbearing ladder and lower oil rail together as a rigid assembly. They are more akin to main bearing cap bolts turned upside-down and made a lot longer! You must fit the replacement, stiffer oil rail now as these bolts screw into it. Sealant is needed, just around each of the holes that carry oil from the pump into each main bearing. Follow the instructions with the special sealant that you bought, put a small amount in circles around each feed-hole and use the brush to form this into a thin layer. The surfaces must be oil-feee when you do this, so apply to the clean new oil rail then use a rag/ paper-towel and carb cleaner to clean the corresponding areas of the crank bearing carrier at the bottom of the engine. When this is clean and oil-free offer up the rail fitting to the two mounting studs then fit the retaining nuts tightening to the specified torque. Refit the oil pickup- two 10mm bolts- and the new rail is back in place instead of the old. You could carry on to refit the sump now, though I delayed this in order to see the head/through bolts in place first.

On with the head

Make a final check that the gasket surfaces of the head and block are clean and oil-free. Now have a look at the new gasket – it will have the word “TOP” pressed into it. Lay the new gasket onto the engine block, locating it on the dowels (which usually get left in the block – sometimes in the head) The “Top” marking marks the top face of the gasket. Make sure you also get it correct left/right, the section with more oilways and with the high pressure feed, via the dowel, to the camshaft is on the LHS, the timing belt side of the engine. Having checked correct location of the new gasket lower the cylinder head gently onto the block, locating it carefully onto the dowels. Make sure it’s squarely fitted and settled onto the block, with both dowels engaged, once you are happy with that it’s time to fit the new head bolts. These have a higher tensile strength than the originals and are tightened in the order specified in the manual, but with different angle settings. I like to mark the head of each bolt -a nick with a hacksaw- to make seeing and setting the angle turned very easy (you could also decide to use one of the many angle-gauges available). Either way you will the E12 star socket and a good torque wrench. The original bolts were torqued to 20Nm then each one turned through 180 degrees, followed by a final 180 degrees, the new spec. bolts need different settings. My kit didn’t come with the revised procedure, so I contacted X Part who sent me this PDF copy, as you can see the revised settings are 20Nm then 180 degrees, followed by a final 135 degrees.

I’ve attached a sheet which I made to help with the angle settings, use it by setting the initial 20Nm torque on each bolt, then copying the position of the mark I make on each head-bolt across to the sheet. I then make the two-stage angle settings by eye. It’s half a turn (180 degrees) on each bolt, followed by a further 3/8ths of a turn (135 degrees) This drawing gives a good reference I think.

The picture below shows the head re-fitted with the new X part gasket. This is the exhaust manifold (facing front) side of the head and you can clearly see two of the four little tabs, each with a small rivet that holds the four steel layers of the gasket together until they are fitted to the car. If you ever need to check that an engine has been fitted with this gasket, these tabs are the give-away and you’d be able to see and feel them below each manifold.

Tabs on the new design  gasket are visible after it is fitted.
Tabs on the new design gasket are visible after it is fitted.

Final bit of work below the engine is to re-fit the sump. The pain here is the need to make sure that the mating faces of sump and the bottom of the engine (the main bearing ladder) are completely clean and oil-free for the sealer that’s used instead of what would have been a gasket on older engine designs. Engine sumps are inherently oily places! Clean the mating faces with a rag, then with carb cleaner for final de-greasing. You’ll need to follow the bolt-tightening sequence and torques given in the maintenance manual. The manual refers to us of two guide-pins. These are just bits of M8 threaded bar to help align sump and engine first time they are offered up. Cut the head off two M8 bolts, and cut a slot in the top of each “stud” you’ve just made, you now have your guide-pins! bead of sealer, brushed to a thin film all around the perimeter of the sump, in with the guide-pins, offer the assembly up then fit and tighten the bolts that hold it together in the correct sequence. Tip: take care to refit the longer bolts in their correct position – as noted when you removed the sump.

Manifolds, with new gaskets on next. The inlet manifold gasket seal has been a weak point on these engines, newer designed gaskets are available. I prefer to go for a genuine MG rover gasket, gave the part numbers at the beginning of this article. Original fitted gaskets were green, latest MG rover supplied items are black, and noticeably thicker. Fit this gasket to the inlet manifold, make sure it’s correctly located in its groove then offer up the inlet manifold to its mounting studs. Be gentle with this plastic assembly and follow the manual when it comes to tightening sequence and torque for the mounting nuts. Fitting these nuts is a bit of a pain -just as removing them was. A selection of 3/4 inch or even 1/4 inch sockets and the right length extension bar makes a big difference. Tip: use a bit of Blue Tack to hold the nut into a socket while you maneuverer it into position. Fitting the exhaust manifold is easier, as it’s more accessible. Never re-fit the old gasket. I use a bit of copper-based grease on the threads of the studs during re-assembly.

Most of the remainder of re-assembly is straightforward, thought it is always important to take care when re-fitting or replacing timing the timing belt, gears and tensioners etc. so I will give these a specific mention. Do follow all the re-assembly instructions and recommendations given in the manual. First step is to re-fit the upper, inner plastic timing belt cover to the cylinder head. The timing gears (or ‘sprockets’) themselves are identical – but are designed to be located differently on inlet and exhaust camshafts. Note that each timing gear has two keyways, intended to accept the locating-pin fitted to each camshaft. When re-fitting the sprocket to the inlet camshaft (the shaft at the back of the engine, nearest to the driver) locate the camshaft-fitted pin into the keyway marked “In” and fit the wheel so that the “in” and the “Inlet” timing marks are visible, i.e. facing away from the cylinder head. When fitting the sprocket to the exhaust camshaft locate its pin in the keyway marked “Ex” ensuring that this marking, and the timing marks are facing outwards. Finally, replace the sprocket fixing bolts finger-tight and rotate the sprockets until they are in the same position as they were when you removed the belt, with the “inlet” timing mark on the inlet sprocket directly adjacent to the “Exhaust” timing mark on the exhaust sprocket. Fit the locking tool then re-torque the sprocket retaining bolts to their correct setting. The crankshaft and its sprocket will be in the same position that you left it in as you must not rotate the crank while the engine head is removed. I’d advise replacing the timing belt and the tensioner. The belt must be slipped over each sprocket and around the waterpump and tensioner (with the tensioner in the fully slack position) inching the belt gradually over each sprocket. Only use your fingers to do this, levering with tools etc might damage the belt. Any slack should be on the tensioner side of the belt run. If you find that the belt is a tight fit, persevere, it will go on! Once fitted follow ther instructions in the manual to set the tensioner correctly (there are two types of tensioner assembly fitted to these engines – “Automatic” and “manual”. My car had a “manual” tensioner, this using a 6mm allen key to rotate the offset centring pin of the tensioner wheel, gradually increasing the tension in the belt. When the tension measuring arm and pointer are correctly aligned you have set the tension right. Do remember to fully tighten the tensioner retaining bolt (13mm) at that point, and to the correct torque.) With the belt tensioned re-fit the plastic lower timing belt cover, the crank pulley and retaining bolt then rotate the crank manually by two full rotations. Use a socket on the crank bolt to do this. Listen for any sounds or unwarranted resistance from the engine. You will be able to ‘feel’ the springiness of compression in the cylinders (assuming spark-plugs are fitted), but no more than that. Only turn the engine in it’s normal direction of rotation. Stop when the camshaft timing marks are correctly aligned again. If you accidently go past this point, don’t turn the engine back, turn it forward another turn and try again to stop at the correct point. With the camshaft correctly aligned look at the timing mark on the crank pulley. This should be exactly aligned too. If it is not you must have fitted the belt incorrectly, maybe just one tooth position out. Remove it – lign everything up- and try again. The timing marks should be in alignment after you’ve made this hand-driven rotation of the engine, which will have distributed the tension correctly around the timing belt. Check the alignment of the pointer on the tensioner, it may well have moved slightly, if it has, slacken it’s mounting bolt, adjust the tensioner, then re-tighten the bolt. It’s important this is done correctly as mistakes can cause the belt, or other component to fail prematurely. I always like to rotate the engine once more, by hand, and check all marks etc are correctly aligned. Finally fit the upper outer timing belt cover.

It is now a case of re-fitting everything else, including the alternator/aircon belt and the power steering pump belt (removing the drill-bits holding off their automatic tensioners. Re-fix the exhaust fitting to it’s manifold joint (I must admit I re-used the gasket here). Check that the oil drain plug in the sump is refitted and correctly tightened. Confirm that the new oil filter is in place and secure too. Likewise check that you’ve refitted all hoses and hose-clips etc. Likewise all of the wiring and connectors you removed, along with both ignition coils

Filling and starting

Fill the engine with the correct amount of new engine oil. Now remove the cap from the expansion tank and re-fill this with coolant until bubbling etc stops. I re-used the old coolant (caught in a bucket when I drained it) as there had been quite a lot of oil contamination – I skimmed the worst of this off before re-using! I worked this way as I knew I was going to be adding a cooling system flushing compound to fully clean out the system, then draining it again, disposing of the coolant this time, before flushing and replacing with new OAT coolant in the next day or so. With the expansion tank filled you can guarantee that there will still be air trapped in the system. Locate the air-bleed point(s) usually a bolt fitted in the steel coolant pipe on the RHS of the engine block above the bell-housing not far from, but below the LT connector for the ignition coils. remove this bolt to let air out, keeping the expansion tank topped up. When coolant, rather than air, starts exiting this bleed point tighten it back up again. First start-up is worth taking a bit of care with, after work like this I like to let the engine turn over on crank without injecting petrol or starting. This allows the oil pump time to prime and get oil into all the bearings etc. Also allows a final check for any untoward noise or operation. You can do this on the rover by removing the Lucar “spade” connector from the starter-motor (actually from the solenoid mounted on the starter motor) and using a crocodile clip lead or similar to connect the solenoid/ starter directly to battery positive. Let the engine crank for 30 seconds or so. There is no risk of it starting – you don’t have the ignition switched on! Remove the lead, reconnect the Lucar connector and give a final check to everything, then start the engine! You should be greeted with the unit bursting into life (mine did!) don’t rev it, just let it idle and come gently up to full operating temperature. While this is happening keep a look out for any leaks and keep squeezing the top hose, waiting for this to get hot when the thermostat opens. A little smoke, especially from the surfaces of the head and the exhaust manifold, which will have oil etc to burn-off is normal, as is a slight drop in coolant level as more air is purged from the system. Keep an eye on expansion tank level. Let the engine idle like this for at least 15 mins, or until the engine cooling fan kicks in. Finally take the car for a test drive to make sure all is ok. I’d advise avoiding use of full-throttle for a week or so while gaskets are bedding in, just as I’d advise flushing the cooling system, removing and cleaning the expansion tank then re-filling with new OAT coolant now that oil, water and air are prevented from mixing by a nice new and correctly sealed uprated head gasket. Your K series engine is now back to full-health and in this case has the latest MG head gasket and engine modifications, described by X Part as the “Ultimate Replacement” designed to avoid future occurrences of head gasket failure.


2 thoughts on “Rover K series – the ultimate head gasket replacement

  1. Hey there great read, well done! Just wondering if you know what direction the new MLS gasket goes on? Has I had my head skimmed there is a shim with a shiny sideand not sure what ddirection it goes?


    1. The MLS headgasket I used was from XPart and had the word “TOP” stamped lightly into the face that needed to be on top (ie showing) when the gasket is placed on the block. There are several other designs of gasket that I’ve used over the years, but all have had a “TOP” marking similar to this- it can be hard to see, have a good look, illuminating with a torch at an oblique angle may help.
      I think you are referring to the “head saver shim” – not all gasket designs use this (this XPart one doesn’t) but if you need and are using one I think you’ll find the glossy side should be in contact with the head.

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