Friday, 28 December 2012

La voiture est tombe en panne*

*Well it is a French car, after all.

Some of you may remember that earlier in the year I got rid of my old car, thereby reducing us to a single car family. In all that time, we have managed perfectly well and there have only been a couple of occasions when the use of careful planning or clever logistics have been required to work around a situation.

The family car we have left is one of those large Citroen MPV "People Carriers".  It's only six years old, extremely versatile and with a small-ish diesel engine, pretty economical too.  It is also however very electronic and correspondingly complex and bug-prone.  In general I can forgive the latter characteristics on account of the former.

Last Saturday night, we were all on the way back from a Christmas Pantomime when just about every warning light came on and the car became very sluggish and unresponsive.  Having no breakdown cover (which has been on my list of "things to pay for" for several months) we managed to limp home and consult Google.  Apparently it seems, many modern cars have a "limp mode" whereby they operate but at reduced speed in the event of a control-related problem.  All indications were that this was what was wrong with the Citroen and so yesterday, once local businesses opened after Christmas, I took it to a garage.  An initial reset to clear any spurious alarms (and congenital electronic glitches to which these cars are prone) did not work and so the mechanic undertook a more detailed assessment...

Long story short, the turbo is completely shot.  I'm an experienced mechanical engineer and having now seen the rotor rattling around in the turbo housing, there can't be a bearing left in it anywhere!  As bitter experience has made me come to expect, it is not a simple job to repair either.  A bulletin from Citroen (shown to me by the mechanic) list all of the other parts which have to be checked and/or replaced in order that they will honour a warranty on the new turbo.  Turbo failure is a common problem on this range of engines it would appear.  Why are cars so unreliable these days or at least not simply fixable in the way they used to be?

Anyway, the upshot of all of this is a bill which will be between £1,200 and £1,800 and the car off the road until the New Year.  I was wondering what to do with all of that spare money I had left after Christmas as well...

So we are, somewhat involuntarily and in the short-term, a completely car-free family.  Always one to try and find a scrap of positivity in catastrophe, it will at least be an interesting experiment. We live in a rural village a couple of miles from a small town, three from the nearest large supermarket and four from a larger town to which we can get a bus.  I expect to be running quite a few errands on my Dahon, which is no great chore and will help to work off any excess calories stuffed in during the Christmas period.

And so the experiment begins.  Wish me luck and I'll keep you posted!


  1. I'm fairly convinced there's a conspiracy of complexity to make car repairs more and more complex and thus more expensive and out of reach of the handy home mechanic. The evidence for this includes minivans with batteries which cannot be replaced by an average owner, and a spare tire which is stored in such an inconvenient location that it's almost a certainty that roadside repair will have to be called in the event of a flat tire. Best of luck, and remember: most repairs on a bicycle can be made with a multitool and a zip tie.

  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  3. John I agree wholeheartedly. It's also the case that motor manufacturers dream up ever more complex gimmicks and gewgaws, not because we want them, but to differentiate their product from the competition. Then they work to convince you that you want them. The guy I took my car to drives a 1994 1.5l normally aspirated diesel Peugeot. Simple and solidly reliable - a monkey with a spanner could fix most things on it. I am sorely tempted to trade in the "Starship Enterprise" for something simpler once its turbo is fixed.

  4. I had a 4 year old Mondeo and it went wrong. It would suddenly just judder to a halt even over taking once. Tried all the usual garage stuff with multiple stuff replaced but it kept happening. After a rather long recovery I got rid and started to look for a simple car without all the bells and whistles. I ended up with a Skoda which so far has only needed a suspension bush replaced. It's all this electronic computer wizardry. While we do have one car, the bikes get a lot of use and I wouldn't want to be without them. We still have an old trailer that we used to pull the kids in about 35 years ago. We can get a whole weeks shopping in it if we need to. Cycles are just great
    Brenda in the Boro