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.
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.
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.