I recently told a story about having to postpone buying a camera, due to problems with my car. I got the car fixed, at least some of the repairs required, and retained a list of outstanding jobs, to await the time when I could afford them. Heading off to my windmill shift yesterday, the car suddenly stopped dead, in a very inconvenient spot, right in the centre of Dereham. This caused some consternation for the local shoppers, who could neither enter the nearby car park, nor exit it. I eventually managed to get the car into a place where I could try to establish what was wrong. Initially, I feared the worst, failure of the automatic gearbox. The eye-watering cost of a possible replacement would exceed the value of the vehicle, and make it worth little more than scrap.
After a bit of fiddling with the ignition key and the gear selector, I managed to restore drive and power, but noticed that an ominous warning light had appeared on the main dial. I carried on to the windmill, so as not to let them down, and once there, I perused my owners’ manual. The light warned of problems with the engine management system. The information was vague, as it could refer to anything from the exhaust system, to the catalyctic converter, and any of the electronic signal systems involved. I had no choice but to book it into my local dealer, for computerised diagnostics.
There was a time when cars where a lot less reliable. During the 1960s and 70s, when I had my first cars, they broke down all the time. The big difference was that they were easy to fix back then. Everyone carried a hammer, a screwdriver, and a set of jump leads. Add a tin of easy-start, some WD-40, and a lot of blowing into crevices, and most problems were generally solved in a few minutes. Cars today are far more reliable, with the result that a breakdown is always unexpected. The downside to this is that they are also far more complex, and it is near-impossible to fix anything yourself, without extensive electrical knowledge, and specialist tools. The other main consideration for me, is that we now live in the countryside. No chance of just hopping onto a bus or tube train, when the car leaves you stranded. Mobile phone signals tend to be intermittent, or completely absent, and there are almost no public phone boxes left. With all this to consider, you soon become aware just how dependent you become on a vehicle, and how important it is that it doesn’t let you down.
So, in it went this morning, to be plugged into the General Motors computer, which will tell them what is to be done. After an hour, it had settled on a stuck valve in the manifold inlet. This was freed, cleaned, and tested. The warning light went out, and I was back on the road, for a reasonable fee of £48. I received a warning from the staff though. Should this happen again, and it might, I could be facing bills of many hundreds of pounds, for new parts throughout the inlet system. These are small parts, and rather insignificant in themselves. The trouble is, the engine has to be almost completely dismantled to fit them. That takes time, and it is that time that costs money.
When a car reaches the age when many things need replacing, and parts fail like falling dominoes, you start to think it might be sensible to just cut your losses, and replace it with a newer model. A few years ago, I would have done just that, without a second thought. But I am retired now, and have to think very carefully about what I spend, as I am using the income from a pension, not a substantial salary. So it looks as if the car will have to be repaired piece by piece, the most important things first; as the cost of new, or nearly-new cars in this country has to be seen to be believed.
On Saturday, Julie picks up her brand new car. She is very pleased to have her first ever new model, and has chosen a Hyundai, with a five-year guarantee, and lots of modern extras. At least we will have one reliable car between us. For five years anyway.