Friday, 23 October 2015

Top 5 Car Failures

I've had many cars over the years and driven many miles. As a consequence I've experienced a fair few failures. In amongst all the flat batteries, water leaks and more mundane failures I've picked out 5 of the more memorable:

5) Difficult Hilux

This one wasn't even my car. I'd taken my Dad's Toyota Hilux to work, a journey of about 65 miles, 100Kms at the time down the motorway. It was barely 2 years old, a pristine white 4x4 example. The journey there was unremarkable, the truck was parked up happily until home time. When I set off to go home all was well. After about 5 minutes of driving on the motorway I started noticing a hesitation and occasional jerkiness. It felt like a misfire which in a diesel is probably not going to be the case! There were no funny noises and it was still driving ok so I carried onto the motorway services another 5 miles up the road to take a closer look.

I parked up, got out and had a look under the bonnet. Engine was idling nicely, revving freely couldn't see anything out of place. I was a bit stumped so had a walk around the vehicle and a look underneath. That's when I saw a missing drain plug in the transfer case and still a hint of magic smoke escaping. The drain plug that was installed at the factory and yet to be touched by a service department was AWOL leaving me stranded with a seized transfer box.

It got towed and fixed under warranty and came back with some nice shiny new parts.

4) Ford Falcon Head Gasket

Many years ago I embarked on a round Australia road trip. Starting in Perth, Western Australia I bought a heap of junk Ford Falcon (with working AC) and set off on a 20,000KM drive. Things were going well. I'd had a few near misses with cows, camels and other wildlife. Crossed a few rivers and the car was still going. Having spent some tine in Darwin it was time to drive through the Red Centre of Australia - essentially a desert with temps of up to 50 Celsius (122 Fahrenheit).

One leg of the journey took us from Katherine to Alice Springs, a distance of around 1200KM. There wasn't much to look at between the two places and other travelers had just started disappearing so we made good time. There never used to be a speed limit on the highway so we were making great progress. Hammer down, AC blowing then I noticed the temperature gauge pinned to the red. We stopped to have a look and wait for things to cool down. An hour later the thing was still red hot so we started cramming ice from the chilly bin into the radiator. That proved to be quite effective and the car carried on for another 7,000KM before being abandoned. Occasionally a radiator hose would blow off or it would run like crap but for the most part it kept going.

3) Skoda Dual Mass Flywheel

The only car I have ever owned from brand new. A fully spec'd, all wheel drive Skoda Octavia Scout with all the options. Fantastic car if you ignore the emissions. The plan was to look after it and keep it forever. Well that didn't work out, mainly because I moved to New Zealand but regardless the car let me down after a few months.

Driving through a fairly dodgy part of Hull, East Yorkshire late one night I pulled off from some traffic lights. The car didn't seem to be moving very quickly. I turned the stereo down to hear the engine revving but the car not moving. I checked I was in gear and I sure was. Turns out the dual mass flywheel had imploded so I ended up with a new clutch and flywheel with only around 3000 miles on the dial.

2) Audi S6 Clutch Pedal

My Audi S6 was a phenomenal car. Fast, comfortable, heaps of grip. It was the last petrol car I used for work and covered around 30,000 miles a year in it. I was heading back to the office after a weekend in Worcestershire. The journey takes you from the M5 motorway in the Midlands to the M4 in Berkshire via the A417/A419. The A417 includes the stretch heading up the notorious Bridlip Hill
and around the Air Balloon Roundabout. It always used to be one of the busiest stretches of road anywhere in the country, especially on a Monday morning. Heading up the hill in stop start traffic I started having difficulty getting the car into gear and when I did clutch was either off or on.

On a hill, in the outside lane approaching a roundabout of one of the UKs busiest intersections is about the worst place to break down. It causes a level of automotive stress that I don't ever wish to relive. There was nowhere to pull out of the way, I couldn't push the car up the hill. Stopping where I was would have caused miles of tailbacks and I most likely would have been murdered by countless angry commuters.

Using a combination of left and right foot braking, handbrake, accelerator and driving the car on the starter I managed to get round the roundabout and into the central reservation so traffic could pass. A police car arrived soon after and offered to tow me into a nearby pub car park which at 8 AM was disappointingly shut.

The clutch pedal bracket had sheared off due to metal fatigue. The downside of all wheel drive cars with powerful engines is a heavy clutch. Being the car I used for work I had taken out a warranty and up until then the warranty company had been great at paying out claims. The warranty stated that the 'Clutch Pedal Assembly' was indeed covered but they did not think that the failed clutch pedal assembly constituted part of that. It got sorted in the end and they paid out £579.65 for a shiny new one.

1) Suzuki Cracked Head + Budget Fix

The old lady decided that her Subaru wagon was about to cost her big bucks so wanted to get something different. At the time different meant cheap and that meant we ended up with a very used 1992 Suzuki Swift. It was small, powerful and used no fuel. Perfect! Well not quite.

I'd checked it over when we bought it and all seemed fine but when I changed the oil it started to appear that all was not well. The oil that drained out had a milky sheen across the top of it, much like you see with a blown head gasket or as is more common with the G16 engine in the Swift, a cracked head. The car hadn't been had much recent use before we picked it up so I was hoping it was just a bit of moisture from sitting (even though this was summer with temps of 30 Celsius). I changed the coolant as well and that all looked fine.

The next day, new coolant started pouring out of the water pump. That got fixed, but over the next few days globs of white mayonnaise started accumulating under the oil filler cap and it was running hot. The engine was toast. It looked really bad, and after finding that this particular Swift was super rare and near impossible to find parts for I was sure it was going to scrap.

With nothing to lose I got hold of some K-Seal. The little bottle promised so much but delivered so little. I changed the oil in the sump and it quickly turned back into goop and the water level kept dropping. I was about to give up but a quick chat with a friendly local mechanic suggested I try a copper powder based stop leak like this.

With low expectations I followed the instructions and drove the car the next day or so. To my surprise the water level did not budge and after changing the oil again that stayed the colour and consistency of engine oil.

The car was fixed and kept going for another year or two until we sold it still working. It had even managed an 1100KM fully laden roadtrip from Christchurch to Auckland.

I wouldn't recommend any kind of stop leak in a car you plan on keeping but when the alternative is the scrapyard, chuck $10 at the problem and you could get lucky.

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Filtering Fuel

The fuel filter on the Golf VR6 got changed today. The old one had been on the car for a year but only around 7000KMs. That doesn't seem like a long time but for the sake of a $13NZD filter it gives piece of mind that the car is running on nice clean 98 octane fuel and helps guard against needing to get the injectors reconditioned for $400NZD.

I was surprised at how dirty the old filter was and having seen the state of it especially glad to have swapped it out. I suppose fuel tanks have vents and big openings for filling that lead to the ingress of dirt and grime. Petrol being a solvent keeps the dirt from sticking to the tank and the fuel pump sucks it on through to the filter. This makes the filter pretty important to keeping the car working properly.

Amazingly Volkswagen state that the filter on the MK3 golf does not require changing and should last the lifetime of the vehicle. If you look at the state of the one I removed off the car last year after 15 years you would probably disagree.

Lots of black, nasty gunk. I'm sure that if I had dissected this filter you would have seen that dirt was making it all the way through to the 'clean' side.

It was interesting to see that the new genuine Volkswagen replacement part was made in China. That's the first time I have seen 'Made in China' on any VW packaging. I would have thought that they would have stuck to Mann & Hummel or one of the other German parts manufacturers.

Anyway, it's an easy job you can do yourself and here's the video:

Friday, 9 October 2015

Dashcams - The Hard Truth

Living in a big city with people who can't drive is the reason I got my first dashcam. I had a voucher for somewhere and it cost about $25 after discount. It was big and bulky and the video quality was pretty average but it worked. It looked like this:

I figured that better video quality would be good for whatever the camera would be used for. If you want it as a silent witness to any road incident you need good quality to read number plates and get the details. If you want it for scenic views it needs to be HD at least.

That took me to the G1W-C. Great video quality and good reviews all round seemed like it was a good choice. It cost around $70, and video looks like this:

The G1W-C has its issues. You'll notice from the video above that the time and date are up the whoop. That's an issue when you pass footage onto the police like in the case above. Took some effort to verify information of when and where this crazy stuff happened. There are also big gaps between each clip on the camera and it doesn't always record. Both of those are definitely an issue if you want it to get you out of a tight spot.

So next, after reading heaps of review I thought I would try the Dome G30B. It was cheap, had an emergency button so you could save incidents at the touch of a button and included a rear camera.

It seemed good at first. It remembered time and date, video quality from the front camera was good and it was a compact unit. Then it went downhill. The rear camera quality was shocking, the unit was very fussy about memory cards and despite multiple claims that it featured 'Loop Recording' it just gave up as soon as the memory card was full. The device still said it was recording but it wasn't.

This turned out to be a big issue when the old lady was rear ended and the guy drove off. She got the number plate of the person who did it but it then becomes her word against there's and we're left with a $500 insurance excess until the other party accept they were at fault. Not a problem if you have a dashcam with rear camera to capture the evidence but as you guessed it the card had filled up some days prior to the event and we didn't have the evidence that would have made things so much easier.

I dealt to the dome in an appropriate manner as shown below:

So I found myself needing a solution that was going to work reliably and be there when I needed it. The budget Chinese cameras are a false economy. You need something you can rely on when you need it. I decided that I needed to spend more money on a camera. I needed to buy locally and it needed to have a warranty.

The local options were the Navman MiVue 580 or the Blackvue DR650GW-2CH. The Navman goes for around $300 and the Blackvue around $585. As it happened, the day after the hit and run the Navman was on special at $200, so it was a done deal. I did take a look at the Blackvue and it is an impressive bit of kit with some awesome cloud features coming soon so I will probably end up with one eventually.

The Navman has been installed for a couple of days and so far it has been very impressive. It's solid, great build quality, awesome video and so far just works exactly as it should. It also features GPS so tracks speed and plots your route on Google maps making following footage a breeze. The emergency record button works as expected and so far I have nothing bad to report. After my experiences so far I remain skeptical but hopefully when I come back with a long term review of the Navman in a couple of months I'll feel the same way.