Ever blown a gasket?

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If your car has ever blown a head gasket, you’ll be all too aware of that sinking feeling as you realise not only is your car now completely undriveable, it’ll also cost the best part of a family holiday to get it back on the road again.

 

While a blown head gasket can be ‘just one of those things’, there is evidence to suggest that some cars are more susceptible to the problem than others. And if you know the warning signs, you could get the problem fixed before you find yourself stranded on the roadside with plumes of steam coming from your engine.

Cars that could blow their top

If you drive a Daewoo, MG or Rover then it could be time to take a look under the bonnet as data from consumer warranty provider, Warranty Direct, has found these makes to be most likely to suffer head gasket failure. Head gasket breakdowns tend to hit after the car is at least three years old  - which is out of the warranty period for most manufacturers – and costs an average of £770 to repair. And I can vouch for the glint in the mechanic’s eye when he sees he’s got a head gasket job on his hands as I’ve had two cars blow their gaskets, both on the same stretch of motorway. While this was nothing more than an unhappy coincidence, I could have avoided the second one quite easily had I just done a bit more research before buying – the car in question was a 52-plate Rover 25, and I subsequently learned these cars are notorious for head gasket problems, particularly as they hit the 70,000 to 80,000-mile mark. Mine blew its top at 77,000 miles.

The head gasket hall of shame

Manufacturer Chance of head gasket failure in one year
MG* 5.61%
Rover* 4.75%
Daewoo 2.36%
Proton 2.04%
Saab 1.27%
Fiat 1.20%
Chrysler 0.89%
Peugot 0.81%
Subaru 0.78%
Vauxhall 0.64%

 

*It’s worth noting the analysis includes MG and Rover vehicles sold between 2002 and 2012 – there’s my 52-plate covered – when both brands were undergoing a change of ownership and underwent significant changes. Since 2011, MG has been under the ownership of SAIC and has started introducing all-new vehicles.

At the other end of the scale, the data shows vehicles made by Lexus and Aston Martin are the least susceptible, with fewer than one in 500 and one in 1,000 respectively suffering from blown head gaskets. So, what are the warning signs your car could be about to blow?

Blown head gasket – the warning signs

The head gasket is positioned between the engine block and cylinder head and creates a seal to prevent engine oil and coolant mixing. When it fails, the car will lose power, overheat and emit white smoke from the exhaust. The first and most straightforward check you make is to take the oil cap off and check the oil isn’t milky, you can also check the oil on the dipstick.

 

This check is by no means failsafe, though, and so you should also check your engine’s coolant levels. If you notice your engine is overheating, the coolant is disappearing and there are no cracks or leaks in the coolant reservoir, take it to a garage to get it checked out. They will check for hydrocarbons, a presence of unburned fuel in the cooling system – if any is present, you’re going to need to get the head gasket fixed or replaced. Remember, prevention (in a garage) is best that cure (following an unscheduled stop on the hard shoulder). Any head gasket tales of woe? Let us know in the box below…

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