Technician’s Update : A real SEi opener…

Mike Humble

Your typical ‘older’ Rover jockey tended to be decent trusting folk – Too trusting sometimes!

I will, as many of you may now know, equally applaud excellent service as well as lambast the shonky or slate the slapdash. Anyone who entrusts their motor to a garage – either due to an acute lack of skill or ability – knows it’s like placing your head into the Lion’s mouth. It’s the same with plumbers, builders and gardeners – if we were all blessed with skill or ability, Anne Robinson and Co would be out a job.

On a personal note – I stand on the time honoured belief that good honest money can be earned by just doing your stuff to the best of your ability and fairness. Okay, you may not quite make a million overnight but, trust me, you’ll be able to sleep soundly.

Working as a mobile mechanic, there are certain jobs you have to sub-contract out like exhaust fitting or replacing tyres mainly due to the next to nothing profit margin or the maul-on that’s involved. I hate having anything to do with tyres or exhausts – the epitome of misery and doom is dicing with death on your driveway trying to rive off a rusty back box from your mate’s Cortina Crusader, armed with nothing more than a scissor jack, hammer and a can of WD40 – all for 20 smokes. On the whole, the big names in the fast fit world do a decent and steady job in re-booting or re-exhausting the family motor but woe betide the small back street independent chambers of doom – or some of them at least.

This recollection of ‘rammle’ and horror revolves around one such local back street tyre and servicing place I once used with some frequency. On the whole, you wouldn’t send your worst enemy there but, providing you watched them like a hawk, they did a half decent job for next to little money.

My own Corsavan was due for its MoT that very day and, although I knew the front tyres were kind of legal, I opted to play it safe, as t’wer, and pop by for a pair of new boots. The chap I normally used, Dave Turnbull, was flat out busy – and besides, we go right back to school in terms of us knowing each other. But time was not on my side so hence my visit to ‘Jeopardy Motors’. Upon arriving I noticed an immaculate Rover 214SEi on the two-poster ramp – a car I know and love well having owned a brace of them during my time.

Most independent back street garages do a great job where reputation matters – Some are just Bear pits.

One chap is holding a booster pack onto the battery while another lad is cranking over the engine like fury all to no avail with your stereotypical old man with flat cap and driving gloves ever patiently looking on with the colour draining quickly from his face. Trundling my van into the dark abyss, the owner of said establishment hot foots over to me before I’ve even popped my seat belt.

Into my ear he mutters, ‘if you don’t know nobody knows’, and he continues to explain the dilemma with the non-starting Rover. It then gets a bit messy as he suggests that if I succeed in bringing the car back to life, he will bung a small wad of poppy into my pocket and charge the old chap a call out fee for getting a ‘specialist’ involved.

We all like a bit of easy money but, in this case, I had to think on my feet if I was to please all concerned without becoming a party to what quickly looked like nothing more than an old-fashioned rip off tactic. After asking the owner a few investigative questions privately, I diddled around under the bonnet for a short while to look keen as one of the fitters battled to remove a front wheel of the car armed with the biggest sledge hammer I have ever seen.

It was then that I knew exactly what the problem was.

When my own tyres had been fitted, I paid the bill and shouted over the gaffer that I would ‘waive my call out fee’ using the excuse that it needed an electronic something or another fitted and offered to get it moved out of the way.

The chap settled his bill for his two front tyres and sauntered over towards me after the tyre chaps pushed his stunning 214 into the Darlington daylight. Now then, this old boy was far from daft and had a good inkling that someone was trying to lift his leg. Giving him a provocative wink, I asked him if he was confident in being towed behind a straight bar for 200 yards at the most.

An affirmative answer followed and I cobbled together my towing bar and dragged the lifeless Rover quite literally – around the corner. Spinning the van round the other way, I clipped on my jump leads, re-started my engine and asked the old boy to jump out for a moment and quite literally – got down on my knees.

Winding my arm behind the radio/console area I pushed in the fuel cut off solenoid, jumping to my feet once more I proudly asked to owner who, by know looked distraught, to ‘try that mate’ and the 103bhp 1400cc K-Series spun into life. After explaining what the cut off solenoid actually does, I then continued to tell him the force used in removing his seized front wheels had done nothing more than simply actuated the plunger and cutting off the fuel pump.

His faced beamed like the sun above his cap donned head and, even though it was evident he needed a new battery which I sourced and fitted, a fair and sensible sum of money exchanged hands with Eric becoming another regular customer – along with his son Brian.

At the same time, it was also mooted that he used my contact Dave in future for his tyres. Oh… and the van passed its MoT, though I was an hour late for my booking!

Mike Humble


  1. Well young Michael your expertness is put to good use on the good old British motor car. I can only imagine the guys shock and thanks that his little car spluttered back to life! well done that man!….. good to see an old cav still living!…. keep up the good work!!! ole freind

  2. Good to see you dip in here Phil!

    Yes.. he was a bit taken aback somewhat. Being a ‘Darlo’ resident, and just in case you were wondering who had a go at trying it on with the `owld fella… the establishment was not too far a walk from the Civic Theatre (ahem sniff)

  3. Takes me back to the 70’s when I put on the shining armour. Young Mum and tearful toddler with a dead 1100 out in the sticks (Droitwich!). The thing had spluttered to a halt but, had plenty of fuel. Ignition on and no telltale clicking of the pump. I got her to sit in and put the ignition on, I crawled under and gave the pump a clout. Nonchalently told her to start it. It did, and she burst into tears! I didn’t know what to say or do but the wife,of the time,wanted to know why I had lipstick all over me and smelt a little bit sweet. Happy days!

  4. Ah yes, the fuel cutoff switch! I took some work colleagues for a spin in a newly purchased Alfa 145 many years ago. Test-drive over, they all piled out, and we went back to work. At home time I got in the car, turned the key…..nothing….lifted the bonnet (like I knew what I was looking at!!)…..tried the key again……nowt. After half an hour of head scratching I went back inside the building and prepared to call the AA. Then I had a brain-wave. I went back outside, pulled the passenger seat forward, and found the fuel cut-off switch – my previous car had one in the same place. Pushed it in……hey presto! The action of pushing the front passenger seat forward must have triggered the cut-off…..I felt a bit of a chump for not spotting it right away!

  5. removing the hinge pins and the door from an old Fiesta had the same effect, the switch was under the a pillar trim inches from the hinge…we live and learn…

  6. Good mechanics are hard to find.

    But there are some good ones out there – by reading marque forums and the like I have found some good ones.

    I do however have an advantage over most people – my brother in law is an excellent mechanic and auto electrician (he learned his trade with Leyland DAF)who has got me and many others outside the family out of trouble over the years.

  7. Remember the certain tyre and exhaust chain (who claim you can’t get quicker…) I took the ZX to for an MOT (in Scotland where they can do such things!), left it with them – key, immobiliser code and went off about my day.

    Got a phone call about 1/2 an hour later “Oh we think your starter motor and battery is dead.”

    Hotfooted it back, offered to try it myself, entered the keycode, waited a second on the glowplug light extinguishing, then chug-chug vrrrrr as the XUD rumbled into life…

  8. Once bought a nightfire red 214SEi from one of these dodgy tyre fitters I visited as it was lying outside supposedly dead.

    A new battery, and a new PAS rack from the breakers yard had it pass it’s MOT, and frive me from Northern Ireland to Gaydon in November (where I took some pics of it at the heritage motor centre) and sell it for 3 times what it cost me (still cheap)


  9. Well, I’m going to have to find a good mechanic, ’cause I know my 300C will want some suspension wear and tear items done during my ownership and won’t be in a position to do it.

    Almost as nerve-wracking as finding a car I liked in the first place!

  10. Hi Will,

    They are on my laptop. Can they be posted here?

    I have ones of me at Gaydon in my NI reg March 2011 Land Rover Monthly cover car 90 as well 🙂

  11. Reminds me of the time a friend got someone to jump-start his car, he had known the battery to be failing but was too miserly to fork out the necessary £70 for a new one.

    After his car had been jump-started, he left it ticking over for a few minutes to try and charge the [all-but-dead] battery, then went to drive off.

    He couldn’t release the handbrake.

    The jump-starter person had somehow arranged that the starter-motor current passed from body-to-starter-motor via the handbrake cable, which had got hot and melted the plastic liner between the inner cable and the outer part. Let it cool, the plastic congeals, and the thing was locked-up solid.

    I slackened off the adjuster on the outer part of the cable and sent him on his way to get both the battery and the handbrake-cable replaced at a local ‘second tier’ dealership.

    Upside was that he bought me drinks for several months afterwards!

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