Firing on very few cylinders – the day my head gasket blew


My head gasket blew last week. Had it not been for well-deserved trepidation about the likely cost of this incident I would have laughed, for I’d always thought head gaskets blowing were the stuff of sit-coms – a made-up ailment, like sprockets and overhead camshafts, used as a euphemism for some non-specific malady.

But I was not laughing much after limping in to the local garage smelling of burning oil and with smoke belching from all orifices – the upshot of a rather long and tedious conversation about rocket science with Peter, the mechanic, was, in summary, “that’ll be £500, thank you very much”.

Now, the car cost me £1200 some 18 months ago, so the chances were that this outlay would be somewhat equivalent, if not more, to the current value of the beast. Peter accepted my logic but pointed out that I’d be unlikely to get another vehicle of any quality for £500. I was languishing between a rock and a hard place, basically.

By one of those lucky chances you come across sometimes, a friend phoned later that morning to ask if I wanted a lift to a meeting we were both going to. Ooh yes, I said, explaining the gasket scenario. Tom said well in that case why don’t you buy my car? Tom was about to complete on a deal for a brand new car, and had been offered £500 in part exchange on his old Toyota. I could have it for £500 instead if I wanted.

The Toyota is the same age as the head gasket-deficient Renault and has had rather more care and attention bestowed upon it by way of servicing – and, claimed Tom, has never had a day’s illness in its 12-year life.

Given this, I overlooked the fact that the Toyota is heavy on insurance, low on mpg and is big enough to carry a family of eight, meaning that everyone will think I am an impoverished Yummy Mummy, and we sealed the deal.

Peter the Mechanic huffed a bit when I told him his gasket-challenged heap of rust would no longer be required as part of the Fenton transportation system, as he’d already started dismantling the engine, but he perked up a bit when I agreed to his offer of £100 to sell it to him. If all goes according to plan he can replace the camshaft and flog it on at a small profit, I get a half-decent car for £400 and Tom’s no worse off other than the hours he spent giving me a “test drive” up and down the M23 and drinking coffee in my garden while I faffed about debated the pros and cons, so everyone’s happy.

The Toyota has the added attraction of being big enough, if you put the back seats down, to accommodate a small party, so I’m looking forward to this weekend’s visit by my old friends Kim and Catherine, the evil twins, who have been told to plan for a midnight feast in the residents’ car park. I suspect they’d rather go to the pub, but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.

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