Our Cars : Are friends electric?

Carole Nash Classic Insurance Specialists

Just when you think you have created a reliable car, a small problem comes along to remind you otherwise, which thanks to some laziness, became a major headache.

Friends and neighbours to the rescue!

Words and Photography: Mike Humble


Guilty and not charged

The 'Project 75' - Taken a few weeks back with the dark clouds maybe warning of an electrical storm.

It’s a well known fact that both Keith Adams and I along with a few AROnline readers are huge fans of the Rover 75. A local neighbour who also dips in and out of our pool of facts and figures on the interweb, mentioned just the other day that I had not written anything about my own 75 since its MoT.

He is, of course, quite right but what has there been to mention of note? 300 weekly miles of motoring bliss with no problems whatsoever, superb fuel economy, soft sumptuous seats and an uncanny knack of massaging the knots of stress and daily graft better than a Thai massage parlour. You’ve heard it all before, so in the vain of trying not to over egg the pudding as t’wer, the 75 has simply been getting on with what I expect of it.

Besides, Keith’s 75 is the next project to enjoy and after the (rather surprising) decision of his insurance company to repair the hit and run scrape it suffered, all of us involved at AROnline HQ are looking forward to knuckling down to make the car a real good ‘un. But I have to say, I kind of think Keith is to blame for what has recently happened with my own (until now), utterly reliable Rover 75.

Last weekend, Keith used the ‘Swiss Towers’ long stay airport parking service which, for the record, costs just one meal at the local Horsham Akash Tandoori. On the journey to Gatwick, Keith repeatedly stated how well my 75 looked and ran after I threw him the keys – the last time he had seen the car was only 48 hours after I had bought it.

Picking him up again the next evening, he once again waxed lyrical about the effortless drive as we both admired the ember glow dash seemingly warming our faces in the pitch black gloom of the M23 southbound at night. I know I have been responsible for 99% of the work on the car, but I had to agree with Keith.

The Rover 75 is as good as it got for Rover – a high watermark some might say – but then, on Tuesday, I noticed a slight change in the sound of the starter motor when firing up the old girl from cold. Having used the car virtually every day for over 6 months, I have got used to every noise, habit and foible, so when something new manifests itself, you get a feeling something is amiss.

Our trusty Golf TDi had to provide a 12v shore supply to keep the radio alive owing to not having the security code.

Towards the end of my shift, I drove the car into the workshop and fitted the drop tester to confirm my suspicion the battery was defective. For those who don’t know, a drop tester places a massive load on the battery, a kind of controlled short circuit if you like to check the battery’s ability to hold a charge.

After a few seconds, the meter still didn’t drop but then the needle fell quicker than a stone in a pond. After just 10 seconds on a drop tester the best the car could muster when turning the key was an impression of a machine gun sound emitting from the starter motor. After a quick jump start, I ventured home determined to make the battery hold out till payday at the least. But as the days rolled by, the starter motor became more laboured.

With an old clunker years ago that required more key turning than winding up a clockwork toy – you knew in time when your battery became life expired. In the modern age, where even diesels will start on the merest flick at minus 20, you just don’t know when the battery is shot until its dead.

Even silly little washing machine cars like a Chevrolet Matiz feature 65 amp alternators whereas an Austin Metro with a similar sized engine made do with a paltry 38 amp – how times indeed are a changing. However,  just this morning, I was en route to the barbers when I diverted via the paper shop, jumping back into the car it simply gave in. ‘Er indoors was summoned for the obligatory jump start and ‘car battery’ was added to our Saturday shopping list.

All this has, as stated earlier, taken place short of pay day so a decision had to be made: either we eat or I buy a new battery. A compromise was duly made in the form of my local breakers yard, GW Bridges, who own one of the biggest yards in the South East. They actually recondition alternators on site and also have racks groaning with batteries from the 1000+ cars on site. Being a Rover owner, I am on nodding terms with most of the staff so we jumped in the Golf and headed to Pease Pottage for a nosey. I selected what I thought to be the biggest battery that would fit in the 75’s battery box – an almost brand new 640 amp Varta unit tested, guaranteed and mine for just £18, but I had a slight problem.

After swilling out the battery box with boiling water and borrowing a tool kit, the mega duty 640 amp battery is bolted in.

Getting back home with the Golf almost pulling a wheelie thanks to our shopping and a battery that could put Sizewell B to shame on power output alone, it dawned on me that virtually all my tools were locked away at work some 25 miles away. After tipping all drawers out and rummaging through the shed, it quickly became apparent I was not going to be able to swap the battery over with a hammer, some tweezers and an egg whisk.

There was only one thing for it: I would have to go door knocking to beg borrow or steal a few tools. Luckily for me, a chap just a few doors down runs a company that fabricates security gates – I have done one or two spannering favours on his Vauxhall Movano so, having explained my pickle, he loaned me a socket set.

And then, I was faced with another dilemma to try my patience once more. Even though the car came with a brace of keys and a commendable wad of service history, I never had the code for the wireless. After pondering for a while with a brew in my hand, I placed my jumper cables onto the leads from our Golf to keep a 12 volt supply at my Rover and gingerly loosened the terminal clamps, managed to remove the dud battery and replace it with a good one.

The moral of this story? Well,  should someone sit in your car and tell you how good it is, politely ask them to belt up and don’t leave all your bloody tools in the workshop on a Friday evening!

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

10 Comments

  1. I bet Keith is laughing his arse off at this one Mike. Even so called professionals screw up from time to time. Yer only human after all. And yes, cars have a nasty habit of going ‘Pete Tong’ when the bank account says ‘Get lost, yer broke’. Law of sod big time!

  2. Puts me in mind of my aging-but-able Volvo 740, which in 2004 suffered a failed alternator mere hours after I told my neighbour that it was a really reliable car, but had a taste for alternators…

    Enjoyed your article about buying used 75s in the current issue of Car Mechanics, by the way 🙂

  3. I’ve only had one break down in SAAB (I’ve owned three ) and that was a battery that split, I or the AA or the old boy who fixed it have no idea how or why it happened but it did.

    On a foot note Mike, I’ve just done 320 mile round trip in my 75 to Devon to price a job up and returned a healthy 36mpg from V6, well chuffed. Still totally agree ,about the 75’s ability to soak up the miles stress free.

  4. I had exactly the same Mike. Jon Sellars dropped in on me a few weeks ago on his way back from Scotland – the first time he’d seen E225CMV. He was waxing lyrical about how nice it is. Next morning I hopped in, and (As you know from our phone conversations) my starter motor was bajanxed.

    One Montego Countryman in a breakers later and I have a working car again. But I’m not going to let anybody rave about my Montego again! 😛

  5. Oh, and on top of that Andrew Elphick sent me a text the evening of Jon’s visit with the pic of the broken-down London to Cape Town Maestro. If fate hadn’t been tempted by Jon, it would have been by Andrew…

  6. I was very lucky last winter as my battery started “wavering” and therefore could change it before it died totally. Randomly the old battery turned out to be an incorrect fitment. A previous owner had fitted a new battery (A “five star” factors special) that was the same size as the correct unit, but was of lower capacity. What this meant was when the battery was new-ish it had enough power to run the car, but as it started ageing it didn’t like starting the car.

    The new battery (a Varta silver unit) was much better and probably the biggest you could fit in to car as Rover/Honda decided to butt the battery tight against the headlamp at the front and the gearbox mount at the back.

  7. There is a trick to the radio code problem..

    Plug a 9v PP type battery, typically used in smoke alarms, into a car cigarette lighter port before you remove the battery. That gives enough power to maintain the radio code and allows you to change the battery sans code.
    There is another method involving a fridge/freezer that is supposed to disable the code but I dont know if it works.

    I just did colchester to hatfield in the safrane. 120 miles @ 30.3, just over 10% better than stock. I know the float feeling – its not like driving, its more like conducting a 130mph armchair.

    It should be – its had new dampers, indicator lenses, brake discs, pads, radiator, front lower ball joints and alternator after the last one smoked its last. Oh, and the rear track arm that split in half at 30mph because some berk decided to tow the car via its suspension!

    Its worth looking at your suspension carefully, because any damage can have nasty and permanent consequences. This damage was barely noticable, but the arm sheared right down the centre of the damaged section – if that had happened at 70mph…

  8. Mike, it’s never easy is it! Still, they are our pride & joy!

    My weekend wasn’t easy either –
    Coolant is now clean as a whistle after removing the final traces of gunk from the expansion tank. As I thought, these were ‘bits’ not cleared at the second (successful) gasket change. Sourced a new cap from the scrapyard too with better
    seals.
    However, mis-judged a tiny oil top up and went over the max mark. The niggle grew and grew and an oil & filter change wouldn’t be a bad idea. So, that’s what she’s getting tomorrow!

  9. The weather was so hot at the weekend open windows were a must and that meant the air con would have to go off. Also, with outside temperatures pushing 30 degrees I thought the air con maybe having to work too hard. So, having had the ‘Auto’ switch on almost continually for 20,000 miles the air con went off. Now, I prefer it that way. Without the system taking its drive from the engine gearchanges seem easier, smoother. A tad more nippy too and I hope to be pleased by improved mpg.

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