Technician’s Update : A pre-delivery disaster…

Mike Humble

The latest SMMT figures show there was a record September in 2014, as the economy pulls itself out of the doldrums. All of which got me thinking about the good old days, when plates changed on August 1st…

The new registration period was always a great time in any new car dealership, the buzz and vibe in the air were as contagious as a common cold. Salesmen running around like worker ants, clutching paperwork, boasting to one another how many units they have going out on August 1st, or the workshop manager panicking trying to balance routine servicing with the good old pre delivery inspection (PDI). Before they introduced twice yearly registration periods, the best and most manic time in the dealership was August.

Someone asked me recently about cock-ups in the service bays and for sure, they used to happen. My own messes have included wrecking a driveshaft, caused by putting a nut into the air gun socket rather than spin it on a couple of turns, thus stripping the threads, and forgetting to re-fit an oil filter when servicing a Rover 800, causing an epic oil slick when I fired up the engine. Both incidents took place when I was just 16 years old but serious incidents in my experience have been thankfully rare. But to put a smile on your faces, my own personal ‘oops” involved a simple Saturday morning job that went rather wrong!

A used Sierra Sapphire was being prepped for sales delivery and I had noticed the rear dampers were weeping, the work was authorised and I set upon replacing them – how simple a job is that? Two bolts and an axle stand is all you need and a colleague was summoned to push the damper up the turret for me to pass the bolt through in the boot. Air gun and socket in hand, the trigger was pushed thinking the bolt had securely passed through the eyebush of the new damper. Wrong! All I succeeded in doing was to crush the turret inside the car like a coke can.

The editor's previously-owned Sierra Sapphire. Luckily, Humble got nowhere near the rear turrets on this one...
The editor’s previously-owned Sierra Sapphire. Luckily, Humble got nowhere near the rear turrets on this one…

Eventually, after braying lengths of wood and some spirited prying with a crowbar, we got the damper fitted and hoped the new owner never lifted off the plastic cap on the top of the damper – it was not a pretty sight. The poor salesman (who I still know well to this day) almost passed a brick in horror as his punter was sat in the showroom sipping coffee just 100 yards away. I had the Mickey taken out me relentlessly afterwards and was invited in for tea and biscuits* with the Workshop Manager. When serious blunders did happen, they were certainly worth waiting for.

It may have been 1992 when we had one of our busiest times recorded. Rover were flying high with sales of the 200 and 400 R8 models being very strong, along with the Rover Metro and facelifted 800 also going great guns – good times to be a Rover dealer. One Monday morning in late July, we were all summoned to a meeting about the upcoming PDI period and to discuss workshop damage to customer and stock vehicles. We had one or two incidents happen in quick succession that included a bumper being ripped off a Metro in the compound and a Montego estate that fell off a jack, dropped on a toolbox and split the sump.

The powers that be decided that even though minor mis-haps did happen, if they didn’t decrease in regularity, bonus payments would be stopped and in serious cases – tea and biscuits* with Service Director would beckon. In happier times, it wouldn’t be unusual for workshops to work into the late evening to clear up any backlog of PDI’s with favourable overtime being the prize. Improved build quality of cars during production meant they could be done with lightning speed – only Mini, Maestro and Montego needed tweaking or fettling before signing the sheet off.

Mike's worst nightmare. Probably why these days he much prefers a pint...
Mike’s worst nightmare. Probably why these days he much prefers a pint…

The PDI was a simple affair, you picked the car up from the compound, put it on a ramp and checked it over, fitted the wireless where required (remember the days when a radio was optional?), slapped on the wheel trims, removed the chocks from the springs, whizzed it round the block on road test, came back, fitted the plates and signed off the sheet. The car then joined the queue for the valeting bay and job done. The road test was a pre-set route.  This way, if you conked out, should you not return, someone (hopefully) would notice and come to your rescue – I use the term hopefully very loosely, but these were the days before widespread mobile phone usage.

Around this time we had a new fitter called Vince, who  joined us from the nearby Vauxhall dealer. I knew him reasonably well as we both attended the same college on day release. He was a nice lad but a bit of a speed freak, drove a (badly) customised Avenger and had been ‘nobbled” for his use of speed around the dealership once or twice in so many weeks. One of the late evening overtime sessions literally days before the plate change, he was given the task of a PDI on an 800 Vitesse. I recall it went without fuss and off he went for a road test up to a nearby industrial estate and back.

The road test lasted about 15 minutes point to point and after half an hour I mentioned to our workshop supervisor that Vince had gone AWOL. Grabbing the keys to one of the parts department’s Maestro Diesel Vans (Express Factors-liveried) I clattered off to find him. Upon arrival I was greeted with a Police traffic car blocking the road that looped round the estate. Telling him who I was, he let me by and I was greeted with the sight of Vince blowing into a bag and the glistening of broken glass on the road – but it got much better – or worse depending on your view.

Half on the footpath at a somewhat jaunty angle sat the 800 Vitty, and at an even more of an angle was a street lamp which was now leaning like a drunkard walking into a headwind. It turned out that poor old Vince had given the car a lungful while driving round the long bend in the road, lost traction, clipped two vehicles belonging to night shift workers of a brewery and launched up the kerb into the lamp post. The bobby released Vince from custody after taking his details and it was agreed that I would return to the dealership to arrange recovery.

Ooops. (Library Picture - not Vince's doing!)
Ooops. (Library Picture – not Vince’s doing!)

I beckoned a fed up looking Vince into the van for a ride back to base, which he declined saying there was little point now. Inside, I had to agree, and he walked off into the early evening leaving myself and two others to clear up the mess and sort out the recovery. He was never seen again as he sent a family member in to collect his tool box and personal effects about a week later.

Sometimes, I still wish to have been a fly on the wall when the eagerly awaiting Vitesse owner received that phone call the day before he ought to have taken delivery.

*Tea & Biscuits = trade speak for an almighty private one-to-one bo*****ing or in special cases – THE SACK!

Mike Humble


  1. How the simplest of tasks go wrong in the commercial environment of “work” ( Sierra dampers, Rover oil filter ), distractions, interruptions, last minute changes of task, boredom and frustration lead to mistakes, it is not the fault of the worker, although he or she will see the finger of blame pointing, it is the culture created by management who are the root cause.
    Go and look on youtube, W Edwards Deming and his famous red beads experiment, this video explains much of the deficient thinking in our system of work.

  2. Been there–nearly!
    An A35 (giving my age away here!) out on a PDI trip was clipped by a gent in a Moggie 1000 who failed to stop at a halt sign. The A35 ended up somewhat scratched as it slid down the road on its side!!!
    The would be owner was provided with an alternative purchase, the A35 was repaired and sold on and, yes, I did keep my job!!

    The same week our version of of Vince reversed a new car down the garage at speed hanging out the open door to see where he was going (impressive-he thought) only to catch the door on one of the vertical RSJs that held the place up.
    He went to work somewhere else the same week!

  3. Smashing up a new 800 Vitesse on a PDI… sounds horrid. Luckily (to date) I’ve never had any trouble with PDI escapades or care of my cars during service trips to the garage – but these things do cross my mind. Thanks for another “Tale from the Workshop” Mike

  4. Love it!
    I wonder how many “new” cars have been damaged in dealers, repaired and passed on to unsuspecting proud 1st owners?

  5. The husband of someone I worked with once bought their first new car some years ago.

    It drove fine until they took it on a motorway for the first time.

    At speed the rear end was bouncing all over the place.

    As soon as the could they paid the dealer a visit, who lifted up on a ramp & could see the rear suspension was all out of line, somewhere between the factory & the showroom someone had let it drop off a transporter.

    The dealer offered to replace it with another car, but in a final twist the husband had a phone call a few weeks later from someone wondering why their “new” car had his name as first owner in the log book, & 500 odd delivery miles…

  6. A few years ago, I had an R-plate Mondeo that I left at a reputable Ford main dealer where I borrowed a brand new Focus RS for a magazine feature. The day before I was due to return the Focus, I had a call from the garage asking me if I wouldn’t mind holding onto it until Friday as they were extremely busy and couldn’t find time to do the handover. Odd.

    Friday came and I returned the Focus. When I parked my Mondeo – a Ghia estate – on the drive I thought it looked a bit different but couldn’t put my finger on why until a couple of months later, when I looked back at some old photos and realised the number plate surround used to be chrome plated but was now body coloured.

    To be fair, I knew something was amiss when I picked it up and was told the garage had serviced it and replaced the rear exhaust box free of charge as it was on the way out, and they knew I was a good and loyal customer who earned them some good publicity.

    It was only a couple of years later, when I bumped into the garage’s previous senior tech in a pub, that I found out the truth. Over a beer, he told me that his apprentice had moved the Mondeo but had left it on a steep incline, not in gear. Half an hour later, there was an almighty crash as it rolled down the sloping forecourt into a skip, taking out the whole back end.

    By that point, it was long since sold on. And to be fair, they’d done a cracking job repairing it. Plus, I got to keep the RS for a week longer. Happy days.

  7. not a PDI story but I still remember this, 1983 I had started my apprenticeship at a BL dealer a Daimler hearse was in for a service, at this particular dealership servicing was a bonus winner. The workshop had a ” service line” 3 stages old Ron with his wooden leg used to do levels, pressures, wheel alignment, headlight alignment door locks hinges etc ( Ron was a friend of the MD he wasn’t allowed to carry out repairs due to the fact he had forgotten to tighten some wheel nuts correctly, he was there to collect his pension which he did in 1985)
    So the fitters used to do one week out of every month on the bonus cash cow that was the service line, this week the guy I was apprentice to Les was on but his usual partner Jack was off sick, so a chap called Steve joined us.
    The hearse was on wheel free for brake inspection which was duly completed, the wheels refitted and tightened with ye old windy gun and the ramp was raised so that the wheel nuts could be torqued up.
    I was sent to the stores for something and Steve after tightening the wheel nuts was lowering the ramp, unfortunately the rear wheel free locking pawl had not retracted, he wasn’t looking and so this Daimler began a slow but speed increasing slide down the wheel free bars until it thudded in to the ground in front of the ramp, Steve’s one and only ” tea and biscuit” time with the service manager

  8. The mad PDI period leading up to August also generated the phenomenon known as the “Christmas Tree Car”. This was the one that was robbed of parts to allow PDIs to be completed on others without waiting for parts on back-order.

    The “Christmas Tree” was eventually put back together with the back-ordered parts over the next few weeks. Sometimes the correct parts weren’t fitted which helps to explain some of the strange trim specifications that turn up from time to time.

  9. Ford had some interesting run-out models to use up parts, so some otherwise low spec cars had factory fitted extras normally only available on the high end models as standard, just to clear out the parts bins.

  10. Ah ha! Interesting…

    The last picture of the smashed-up 827 “Vitesse” is actually my picture of my car…

    Story went like this….

    Somewhere in 2007 I’d aquired this lovely low-mileage 1989 Rover 827Si equipped with full TWR kit, the car in the picture you see above. I’d always been a Rover fans since the days when my old Dad owned a 1987 Rover Sterling.

    The 827Si wasn’t quite the car I was wanting, but as always, when you’ve got money to spend, the car you want isn’t always out there (oddly enough, there are always plenty when you can’t afford it) however, I’d spent time/money and making links and aquiring parts to get it as I’d wanted it, almost a replica of the TWR kitted 827 Vitesses as per brochure.

    One day, the company I’d worked no longer required my services so I was looking for some work to keep the car-spending money coming in. I was living in Birmingham at the time and an opportunity came up in Telford. I was invited to an interview. The day rolled on by and knew a nice quick but scenely short-cut to Telford from Birmingham avoiding the motorway, so off I set with the lil’_Sterling with me.

    I was coming up and over a small lane leading to a major A-road when I suddenly saw a Toyota Aygo just pull out of a driveway seemingly without looking, no time to stop, brakes applied and I had to pull into the verge otherwise I’d have T-boned thier car…

    The photo you see above was what I took just after the accident. My lovely 827Si with rare TWR kit was no longer the untouched, perfect car it once was. I’d made a futile attempt to get it sorted but it just wasn’t to happen, the car no longer felt the tight and responsive car it once did, it was never the same again.

    An opportunity came up to borrow a Mk2 827 Sterling which I took up, the 827Si was retired to a garage I’d just begun renting, it was later sold to another Rover 800 nut who was to break it for spares.

    Since then, I’ve ended up with 5 Rover 800s, which up until November 2014 was 6 Rover 800s….

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