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.

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