Technician’s Update : Nightmare on Reid Street

Carole Nash Classic Insurance Specialists

Once again, we delve into the toolbox of tales from the sharp end of the motor trade.

We share a ramble about some sorry practices even the established garages will play on the motorist…

Words and photography: Mike Humble


Karmic Rover

The Rover 25: Cheap to buy and own? Well, they should be.

Only recently, I was rummaging through my trusty filing cabinet that protests with creaks and groans under the strain of old car mags, dealer sales folders and other motoring tat, and came across some CDs with digital pictures on.

Just like the late great Bob Monkhouse used to carry a note book for jotting down funny thoughts or fresh ideas for gags, I am never without a digital camera or at the very least, a mobile phone with a good picture taking feature. Sometimes, the strange things you encounter need to be backed up with some form of tangible evidence because explaining your encounters can often be met with a certain level of uncertainty. One of my all time pet hates is sloppy workmanship, especially if it is motor trade related and I sometimes really wonder how some people can sleep at night.

Reid Street in Darlington holds some happy memories for me that go back to that halcyon year of 1977. It was in this very road that my first day at school took place in Mrs Jarvis’s class – for the record, she drove a blue Citroen GS, oh yes folks! I started on the motors from a very early age.

Fast forward to more recent times when I operated as a mobile mechanic, I blitzed this almost endless terraced road and surrounding neighbourhood with printed flyers as the whole area was ideal custom – average affluence with average middle aged cars. It certainly paid off as a good few profitable jobs came my way in quick succession as good Northern folk in terraced houses tend to socialise with each other more so than detached or semi detached property. In a nutshell, do someone a good turn and others soon hear of you.

A prime example of this came in the form of a youngish couple who owned a Sienna Gold Rover 25 1.4 which looked a picture with its glossy paint and 15 inch fission type alloy wheels. I was doing some work on next doors ageing Vectra when the husband came out and asked if I could knock on their door when I had a spare moment. This of course I did after completing the other job and it transpired that their 25 had a problem with the heater which their “usual” garage had quoted a staggering £300 to fix.

After a nifty poke around in the passenger footwell, it was nothing more than a burnt out fan resistor of which I kept a few in the tool kit. Half an hour later and the sum of £60 exchanged, the fan worked once again on all four speeds, but the owner was a little aggrieved at the garage price.

Being cheeky, I mentioned they need not rely on that business again and more worrying was the fact they had told the customer a whole new heater box would be required. Many of you in reader land will know this to be rubbish, as the heater motor on a Rover 25 takes only a tad longer to replace than the resistor pack with a good used one being available from your breakers for no more than a tenner.

As was the case on this 25, nine times out of ten it’s just the resistor that needs replacing, their usual garage was obviously just out to rip them off. While we were small talking, the owner asked for a rough price on changing the clutch, my eagle eye scanned to the pedal which was really high. Tapping the pedal with my toes, I noticed the pedal had no free play and felt quite tight – not good and certainly not right.

I was told the cable had snapped in busy traffic a short while earlier and the breakdown agent had recovered the car to their local garage where a new cable had been fitted at cost of some £120. The garage had recommended a new clutch too but the customer had baulked at the cost for the short term. Lifting the bonnet, I looked at the cable and duly noticed the date stamp on the original part which coincided as the same year as the car was registered.

The cable appeared to have been wiped with a rag soaked in WD40 or brake fluid as this can give a false impression of looking like new and I told the customer what I had noticed. After realising that he had his leg lifted more than once by this local back street garage, the man quite rightly became somewhat angry but thankfully not with me.

The old clutch cable had been bodged up using this heavy duty block connector!

He then told me the name of the garage in question, and went on to say he would be having words with them. This was a pointless exercise for one very good reason; they had closed down or more to the point been forcibly closed down just a few weeks earlier, a fact proven when the chap stabbed the number into his mobile phone only to hear a terminated number tone.

Needless to say I was asked to see what I could do and looking at my watch, noticed it was fast approaching 11.00am on a Saturday morning. I had just over an hour to diagnose why the pedal was so high and tight as well as fly down to Unipart to obtain any parts if need be before they closed at noon. The air filter box and resonator was stripped out in double quick time and there was the problem in front of me, of which I had to chuckle at in amazement.

The clutch cable had indeed snapped, right at the nipple on the end of the cable where it fits into clutch actuating lever at the gearbox. As can be seen in the picture, the garage had simply used a ‘choccie block’ type of electrical connector and screwed it onto the exposed cable after snipping the frayed strands of wire back. In a bodged kind of way, this had in fact done the job but owing to the cable being somewhat shorter than it should have been, the cable was tight and the pedal was at its extreme height. Left like this the cable would have gone once again, but also there was a chance that the release bearing would have been put at jeopardy because the car was in effect been operated in the same manner as driving with your foot resting on the clutch pedal. A cable was sourced and the bonnet was dropped just after 12.30.

This extra work cost another £60 with £120 being the total according to my 2006 accounts log – exactly the same figure the first garage had charged for nailing an electrical connector onto the end of the existing broken cable and claiming it was a new one!

Mike Humble

Upon leaving school, Mike was destined to work on the Railway but cars were his first love. An apprenticeship in a large family Ford dealer was his first forray into the dark and seedy world of the motor trade.

Moving on to Rover and then PSV / HGV, he has circumnavigated most departments of dealerships including parts, service and latterly - the showroom. Mike has owned all sorts of rubbish from Lada to Leyland and also holds both Heavy Goods & Public Service Vehicle licences, he buys & sells buses and coaches during the week. Mike runs his own automotive web site and writes for a number of motoring or commercial vehicle themed publications

23 Comments

  1. For me Darlington and cars will always mean Whessoe Road – home to more dodgy motors than Arthur Daley ever saw.

    Wonder if its still the same?

  2. Crazy thing is it probably took them longer to faff about trying to fit the electrical connector than actually fit a new cable!

  3. Great story Mike, and so common for the innocent to be ripped off like this.

    I wonder how many K Series car owners have been told they have HGF when it’s just the inlet manifold gasket or water pump?

  4. Very interesting Mike. My R400 & 45 both suffered from the heater resistor fault when they got older. My regular garage (non dealership) charged me about £55-60 to fix, just like you.

    It’s apalling to realise that even these days with so called tougher Trading standards laws,that some garages are still rip off merchants.

  5. Marshalls of St Neots was always hopeless at MOTing me mams 1100k Rover Metro – always retarding the motor to pass the emissions, only to leave an undriveable and lethal machine. The Metro that is/was.

  6. I went to a garage (that I never went back to) asking to see old parts and they said theyd binned them. It was a glow plug change and I was genuinely interested to see if they had visible wear.
    Got a year out of the “new” ones before the next winter they needed done again. 3 good ones, 1 that had never been replaced.

  7. Regarding the heater resistor pack. They can be repaired by using discrete resistors, available from RS Components as follows:
    160-691 1R5 25W
    107-3841 R82 25W
    615-0381 R27 25W

    These cost £1.64 each + VAT but you have to buy five of each, after VAT the cost is £29.52, still half the price of a real item. Actually, the R27 one never goes wrong and can be ommitted from the list. On the old unit you will see coils of wires, the thicker the wire, the lower the resistance, just match them to the values above. Use a couple of short lengths of 2.5mm^2 wire (30A ringmain wiring) to make the connections as these resistors are much longer, and when fitted will descend into the airflow keeping them cool. For those unfamiliar with resistance terminology, the R replaces the decimal place and has a multiplier value of 1, i.e. R82 = 0.82 ohms, 1R5 = 1.5 ohms. Alternatives ar K for 1000 and M for 1000000, e.g 1k5 = 1,500 ohm or 10M=10,000,000 ohm, etc.
    I fitted several of these and was furious when my wife went and got a new one fitted at a garage for more than £4 – fifty odd quid actually. I then bought a stock for our 200 Coupe and ZRs etc.
    Ian

  8. Ahh. I live a short walk from both Reid Street and Whessoe Road. Only ever bought one car from Whessoe Road and I have to say it was a bargain and 100% reliable, with a free warranty. But…the further up the road you get, you can see the trustworthiness of the dealers lowering! I’d keep away from the top of the road…

  9. Ahh. I live a short walk from both Reid Street and Whessoe Road. Only ever bought one car from Whessoe Road and I have to say it was a bargain and 100% reliable, with a free warranty. But…the further up the road you get, you can see the trustworthiness of the dealers lowering! I’d keep away from the top of the road…

  10. Whessoe Road, along with Blenheim Street in Newcastle, were the homes of the used car lot when I was growing up.

    Also working in London on a placement in the early 90s I remember the tail end of Warren Street in London as being the home of the used car (along with the Romford Road).

    Used cars – a different world to me.

  11. My dad’s Marina 1.3 was diagnosed with a blown head gasket once, but it had just overheated due to coolant loss from a leak in the radiator. One repaired radiator and it was working again!

  12. You need to go on Dewsbury Road in Leeds to see plenty of dodgy motors & cowboy garages. MOT’s written in crayon around there!

    I’m one of these people who actually does ask to see the old bits by the way 🙂

  13. Hey guys…in Mike blog he suggests (in passing) that the heater motor blower in a Rover 25 is easy to replace (mine seems to have stiff bearings and won’t work). Haynes says that the entire facia, console, steering wheel and column have to be removed. Can anyone advise whether the motor can be removed without all that dismantling? Thanks guys…

    By the way, resistors very cheaply available on ebay. Go to seller: northeast_auto_parts for fabulous quick service.

  14. In my early days of owning a car, i had a mini 1000. It failed the MOT on worn ball joints. The garage quoted for the work and i agreed. A few weeks later my steering went all strange, as an apprentice engineer on £90 a week i had no more cash to plunge into the car. I was given a Haynes manual and used it to look into what had happened. I found that they had took an angle grinder to the shim face of the cup and not replaced the whole joint like they said. It was this that made me do all i can to fix and service my own cars. I still have that haynes manual to this day. I will never trust ANY garage.

  15. my clutch has is going on my rover 25. garage quoted £350 which i dont have would a haynes manuale tell me how to replace it and which tools are needed. has anyone done this job themselfs and is it a hard job as wilk be doing it with my 15 year old son as away to spend time with him.

  16. My wife’s old polo went in for a pre MOT not to long back to be told that it needed a new exhaust and rear suspension bushes at a cost of 300 pound’s. I took it for a second opinion at a local ATS. The cost there? – nothing! Nothing was wrong with the car at all, they fixed the exhaust for free (putty). I phoned the original garage about it (who I had used for years) to be told “vote with your feet mate” Be careful out there…..

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