Blog : Friends, neighbours and endless favours

Mike Humble

My neighbours Rover 25 some of you may have spotted in the background of some of my posts. Sadly... its died an unfortunate and avoidable death.
My neighbour’s Rover 25 which some of you may have spotted once or twice in the background previous photographs of my cars. Sadly, it’s died an unfortunate but entirely avoidable death

Back in the time when I lived about 100 miles or so north of here, I used to be actively involved with Hospital Radio and also did a spot of co-presenting on the local “Beeb” in my spare time. At the BBC Three Counties Radio station at Luton, we once organised a live on air charity broadcast whereby listeners were invited along. During this frightening, almost uncontrollable three hours of plate spinning, I learned first hand the old showbiz adage: never work with animals or children. In the motor trade there are similar group of people – family, friends and neighbours!

Some of you may have noticed over the years next door’s Rover 25 nudging its way into the picture when I have posted my own driveway tales of triumph and trauma. After five years of relatively trouble free motoring, it’s about ready for the spiritual world making me ponder if old dogs called Rover go to heaven. Even though I mention the credible reliability record, it was when purchased, and still is now – a rather rough and tatty example. But my neighbours certainly went through the pain barrier very early on after buying.

I actually went with them to view the car and vociferously told them not to entertain it owing to every panel being dented or scratched, no service history, and an owner who was more shifty than the artful dodger. Not only that, but the coolant bottle contained what, in all essence, looked like raw sewage. The main reason for the doubt back then was that I couldn’t really tell if the head gasket had been previously done with little attention to flushing the coolant through or whether it was just about ready to blow. There were that many pipes and parts seemingly recently changed it was difficult to confirm.

Anyway, they bought the damn thing and, within a week, it lost all of its coolant and turned into a kettle which resulted in a knock at the door. We hadn’t exactly fallen out over the buying of the car but I had made my sentiments clear in the fashion that your parents used to tell you all those years ago – if it all goes wrong, don’t come running to me. Well, it did and they did, so after spending all of thirty seconds with the bonnet up, I told them the car had popped its head gasket and I was asked if I could put it right for them as a matter of urgency.

As in the case of people in close personal proximity, when it all goes t*ts up, it ends with pain, heartache and embarrassment to all parties involved. To summarise this, I have a little rhyme that goes friends and neighbours all want favours and family want it all for free. Anyone who works at the sharp end of the motor trade will be slowly nodding at the monitor as they read this. Sometimes it’s just not worth getting involved or loosing a long-time friend over a bloody motor car… Well, that’s my experience anyway.

After pulling off the bottom hose, I was greeted with this. DIY and professional Rover mechanics will know this vision well, but it was only the tip of the iceberg.
After pulling off the bottom hose, I was greeted with this: DIY and professional Rover mechanics will know this vision well, but it was only the tip of the iceberg…

Getting back to the Rover next door, I was wisely told by ‘er indoors not to get involved any further and I refused to mend the car for them even if a voice inside got excited about a few extra pennies to keep me in the pink with ciggies and drink. So I put them onto a nearby trade mate who did a cracking price on the labour including a head skim providing they supplied their own parts and consumables. I pointed them in the direction of my trusted motor factor who only stocks the upgraded MLS-type K-Series gasket and left it at that.

Once again, the advice was not heeded and they sourced some cheaper items from a well-known national chain of motor factors whose first name rhymes with Truro, the car was trailered away to the garage and repaired. Since then it has performed reasonably well and covered plenty of miles until a couple of months ago they mentioned it had taken a huge gulp of water. Upon hearing this I advised them that it warranted a little more action than just pouring in half a litre of water but no further action was taken and I was told that “it must have been a one off.”

Unlike the human body, a motor car does not heal or mend itself and I get frustrated by those who take the aforementioned stance. But being a neighbour, I didn’t overly push the fact that something was seriously wrong for the risk of coming across as a profiteer despite the fact that a few bob here and there makes life all the sweeter. Well, the situation reached a climax when the husband told me that he had, once again, needed to add a fair quantity of coolant so, avoiding the I told you so statement, the bonnet was lifted for a good look.

The expansion tank contained what could, at best, be described as a murky pool of melted chocolate – not only that, but all the coolant hose ends looked like a thumb that had been hit with a mallet. Oil and water contamination had got to every hose and caused the internal braiding to fail, so around the point where a hose clip was fitted huge swelling was bulging the hoses. There was a brief train of thought whereby I would pull the head off and try to make good but after much thought and the nearing MoT, it’s been decided that old Rover is to be scrapped.

This was the top hose NOT the bottom. After weighing up the pro's and con's that would have involved replacing EVERY coolant hose owing to oil contamination, I didn't go any further.
This was the top hose NOT the bottom. After weighing up the pros and cons that would have involved replacing EVERY coolant hose owing to oil contamination, I didn’t go any further

It’s not nice to see a friend, neighbour or family member down on their luck and without wheels, especially when they depend on it for work, but sometimes they can be the hardest ones to please or placate. Not only that, but there’s always that never-ending thanks and appreciation when things go well or, more frustratingly, there’s that horrible gut feeling of doom and acute embarrassment when things go wrong. I once bought a 1998 Vectra that an Uncle of mine wanted to buy not a few months after I had bought it and the incident that follows still makes me double up in pain at the recall.

I had barely done the list of items required before selling the Vectra on (for pennies more than I bought it for dare I say) when, after a while, I caved in and sold it. The scant service history meant that I told him it required a cambelt to be on the safe side and it was agreed that he would get me to do this at a later date. Well, a few months went by and at every opportunity I was told the 1.8 EcoTec engine purred like a kitten until one tea time there was a knock at the door. After stopping at a nearby paper shop he had gone to pull away, got twenty yards in bottom gear and spluttered to a halt.

We walked the few minutes to the stricken car and in the back of my mind I knew what it would be. Loosening off the timing cover revealed a brace of timing pulleys with no belt attached. After explaining the engine or, at least, the cylinder head would be dead, I was asked why I hadn’t changed the timing belt. Then followed a “what did I tell you” reminder which eventually thawed a slightly frosty Uncle. But then that’s family and friends isn’t it? You seemingly don’t care if you refuse to get involved but there is an unspoken 24hr 7 days a week lifetime customer care package when you do – either way, you never win but at best gain a few brownie points and maybe a ticket to heaven later on in life.

Anyway, back to the present. There now comes the search for my neighbours’ replacement car and, although I wagged my finger and reminded them about the last time and they have promised to listen this time around, I’m dreading the chase. This article is not, by any means, intended to make me look big or smart, but it only serves to prove a single and, in some cases, very expensive point – if you rely on others for advice and a guiding hand through the minefield of motoring mayhem, for crying out loud listen and act accordingly when so advised.

Mike Humble


  1. You told them so Mike… what a pity they didn’t source the original parts from your recommendations in the first place. I cant understand people who have access to such an expert opinion (like you) then ignore it. You did your bit though.

    • People like that are cheap, a neighbour had a radiator problem, slow leak of coolant (pinhole rust in radiator bottom ) every few weeks arriving home in clouds of steam, over several months I had the knocks on the door to refill the empty radiator for him.
      My advice to buy a new radiator (£100) fell on deaf ears, after one too many knocks on the door, and realising the radiator was never going to be bought, I decided Radweld might cure the problem, heading off to the local parts shop I enquired ” which of these radweld products is most likely to work” the shop owner, probably an ex mechanic, pleased to be asked for his professional verdict pointed to a particular brand, my neighbour scowled when he saw the price on the bottle £5.99, he had seen one for £3.99, he only wanted the cheapest, irrespective of quality.

  2. The wifes best friend asked me to find her a car, budget £800…..I found a really decent Renault Megane 1.6 at a dealers trade in section and got the car for £400. Cue the “get the cam belt done” lecture…..3 months later one dead car with the excuse that she couldnt afford to get it done.. I asked about the £800 original budget to be informed that she hadnt had that money but couldve borrowed it if she tried….

    Never again will I help friends or family with cars, too much like hard work….

  3. My sad story involves being the Knight in Shining Armour to a relation, in that I gave away an old but very clean well-loved low mileage car. It was at the height of high fuel prices, “We cannot afford to run our 3 litre 4×4, the petrol bills are killing us” the small hatchback I handed over (gratis) was a very fuel efficient and refined polite and well broughtup little car (ie Japanese), easily capable of long distances on the motorway, the car was well received, but after a couple of thousand miles was abandoned, the wretched gas guzzler 4×4 was brought back to life to continue to leave its trail of pollution and monetary havoc in its wake as before, the hatchback ended up being used as as skip for household junk, the interior was so destroyed it was not worth asking for the return of the car.

    I am not a vengeful typ, but on the proving of my Will, there will be a some long faces if I depart this earth before the said relative

  4. I just tell them…. ‘I don’t fix modern motors’. That (to me), is anything later than 1999 model year. Even my partner’s Polo which had burned its exhaust valves out with only 33,000 miles behind it got the same response, although I did have to justify it by telling her it would require several special tools that I don’t have, or risk not getting any nookie for a month.

    It’s just not worth all the aggro. Timing chain needs replacing now and it’s barely passed 50,000 miles. Modern motors are rubbish but women love ’em!

    • Not quite. My first car was a 6 year old chevette, It required constant tinkering with the points,carb etc, and needed wings, sills, a new passenger door due to the rust (and an experienced welder for the inner wings) It expired at 8 years old with 80k and engine failure. My current car is a 10 year old Octavia VRS mk1 with 185k – I only open the bonnet to check the oil once a month, tow 1.3 tonnes of caravan and most days it’s in the fast lane of the M6 – It’s not even had a clutch. Paint is still bright and shiny (apart from stone chips), and no serious rust anywhere.

  5. “After five years of relatively trouble free motoring…”

    If your neighbours have had 5 years of relatively trouble free motoring out of a 10+ year old Rover 25, presumably bought for little money (a grand or two?), I’d say they’ve done alright.

    Staying vaguely on topic Mike, if friends/family ask you to recommend a good used car that is reliable and cheap to run (or an acceptable compromise between the two), what are your suggestions? Or are modern used cars just too much of a minefield for you to go near?

  6. @ Andy, unless you buy something like a Rolls Royce, all cars have a shelf life. To get 15 years out of a Rover 25 is very good and for it to be mostly trouble free for most of its life is even better. I think the owners did well with this car and it’s a pre Project Drive model where the cost cutting reduced the quality.

  7. As always a quality piece Mike that has people in the “trade” Nodding the length and breadth of the country.

    Try as I might I cant find one of these 24/7 for the lifetime of the car warrenties that cost me nothing, seems only my friends and family can find them!!

  8. Dad & myself had this experience with a friend who wanted an Austin Cambridge (D reg IIRC). We tried to point out that a 9 year old Austin was probably going to be a rust trap told him where to look and also to look for a few other things.

    A week later this rust eaten Austin rolled up. We knew we were in for extended trouble when opening the bonnet to do the obligatory oil & filter change and finding the engine was labelled “Morris” on the cam cover. I personally must have put about 2cwt of Isopon into the front wings and how this thing managed to pass 3 MOTs was beyond me. Never mind the piston ring change done on a Sunday “off the books” and the new clutch (also off the books).

    Needless to say it rattled and shook its way around something terrible and we refused to travel in it.

    Best banger these days for my money would be a little old lady Corsa 1.4 if you can find one or better still a Yaris. Still lots around with FSH and one elderly owner.

  9. For the same reason I dont like to sell a car to friends or family either because there is the expected lifetime warranty that must inevitably accompany it!

  10. I’ve had my 2001 Yaris since 2007 & next to nothing has gone wrong with it, just the items you expect a bit of wear & tear on.

    A service almost every year certainly helps.

  11. Totally agree tony Evans, I’m currently running a 99 corsa 1.2 which so far (touch wood) seems to work well, a little while back I had the oil light come on, I knew the oil was ok so investigated further, diagnosis?? 1x oil pressure switch. £8 later and a couple of minutes with a spanner and problem solved, try a simple fix like that on a 2015 car, a testament to the simplicity of corsas is the amount of older ones still in daily use, I might also add that even at 15 years old it still gets within 1 or 2 mpg of the figure quoted for it when new!!!!

  12. Ah, friends and family – the closer they are, the more aggro they seem to cause.

    I used to help extended in-law family, often going above and beyond, but as has been said, you’re seen as hero until the first problem, (no matter how minor or self-inflicted) or service bill, then you’re firmly in the zero zone.

    These days I offer asked-for advice on choosing/buying just once to workmates/friends – if they don’t want to know then fine, I won’t bother again – nor will get involved later if things go awry…

    My own Father has been the worst culprit for me over the years. My expert advice, (in context to what he knew) was freely given from the age of 14 or so – if not often asked for at that age, not surprisingly.

    The iffy used cars he did avoid buying of course cannot be accounted for, but the first time he took my advice, in buying a new Lada 1500DL Estate instead of another dealer overpriced 3 year old 1.3 Escort, (quite bravely against his comfortable judgement and perceived wisdom from his workmates) was thankfully a resounding success – a comfortable hassle-free car with much better customer service than he’d ever experienced before.
    The fact it’s new-fangled standard-fit laminated windscreen ‘probably saved his life’, (as he claims) when a concrete block hit it at eye level 3 weeks into ownership no doubt helped him fall for it.

    It’s replacement, a supposedly ‘improved’ Riva wasn’t nearly a good a car, but was still OK by him – personally it put me off recommending another in future.

    When he wanted a change again he went and bought another Riva, (used this time) without my knowledge the ‘help’ of his talkative but clueless brother who’d spotted it at a local dealer. Straight away alarm bells rang when I spotted tell-tale remains of velcro on the front bumper – fears confirmed with worn-smooth satin black paint in the rear door pillars – it was no 26K mile tidy little local car, it was a 126K mile ex-minicab he’d paid 30% over the odds for!

    Ever since then he has, (mostly) taken notice and enjoyed very cheap motoring in cars that suit his needs, serviced by prudent garages that know what they’re doing and treat him well – not that stops him moaning about the cost of all things car related.

    • Lada was always an interesting brand, most of their cars were sold by small family garages who possibly took up a franchise when British Leyland had a big cull of dealers in the mid seventies, in the same way many moved over to Datsun when British Leyland abandoned them. Ladas were fairly crude cars, but after some early work on the carburettors and bodies, seemed to work well and became popular as taxis.

  13. I decided very early in my career fixing cars that to my friends and nieghbours i am a librarian or some such other un car like occupation. I can sympathize with you Mike since i have been drawn into a few situations which i had cause to regret.

  14. I would recommend against buying a 1st gen Toyota Yaris because it rolled over in the “Elk test” back in -04, like the Merc A-class.
    Apart from that its a Toyota….. “shudder”

  15. On a car we had given to my stepdaughter very cheaply a couple of years earlier, to replace the one she had written off that we had helped buy I was told when doing a free service ” that I would need to replace anything that I broke”. Gratitude eh!

    Hasten to add short shrift was given and I’ve never done anything on her car again. The grief ain’t worth it.

  16. Very annoying when a friend or relative asks you for advice on their next car and take up a couple of your valuable hours then go and buy something completely different !
    Then they expect you to help them when it goes wrong.
    Tut Tut Tut.

  17. A neighbour saw me lying under my car making a repair and expected me to repair his too. He was so rude when I denied being mechanic which I am not as I must have been due to being horizontal and holding a spanner. Needless to say when he needed jump leads to start his car which was crying out for a new battery, I told him that my Brother in Law had them. Imagine my jaw hitting the floor when my sister in law showed me her 15 year old Polo that she paid 3K to a dealer. It was worth 1K at best. 2 months earlier she asked me to find her a good car at aboiut 4K and rejected everything I had recommended. You just can’t help some people.

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