Lies, ripoffs, being green & the motor industry

Another Rimmer Rant! I've broken my leg so have plenty of time to kill - sorry!

I am a "garagiste" here & operate a small workshop next to my house. I don't work too hard but am busy enough working on expats' cars & a few local French owned cars. Most car owners are on a tight budget & I am busy enough (& I would like to think honest enough) not to create work. Many cars built over the last ten years rely quite heavily on computer diagnostics to locate faults which sounds a good idea - except it's not!

Older cars tend to be quite simple. If it won't go it is usually because there is no fuel or no spark so a simple series of tests will usually isolate the problem. A replacement part can then be fitted if necessary. Newer cars are far more complicated. The basic functions are the same but in order to better control fuel burn to reduce emmissions the computer needs to analyse engine parameters, such as engine rotation, air flow, fuel mix, fuel pressure, throttle position, air temprature... the list is huge. Each item that needs monitoring requires a sensor to tell the computer what it needs to know. These sensors can be quite delicate and can easily fail in a hot, dirty, vibrating engine bay. Sometimes this will result in a worrying light appearing on the dash with the instruction to visit your dealer & sometimes the car will just stop, then the light will come on.

The dealer will plug in his diagnostic computer to read the faults (50 euros) & the betting is that it will say that a sensor is faulty - which means that your engine is in perfect working order & would power you round the world had the computer allowed everything to work! On some cars a build up of metal dust on the crankshaft motion sensor - yes, the computer needs to be told that - is enough to blind it so if the computer does not think the engine is going round there is no need for the fuel pump to operate. With no fuel getting to the engine you go nowhere! Some of these failures mislead the diagnostic computer. If no fuel is getting to the engine the fuel pressure sensor will tell the computer that it is not registering. Most garages will just replace the offending sensor (at least 300 euros). The faults will then be cleared & you're on your way - until the fault recurs.
I have a 2002 Renault Laguna here which I bought from a Brit. It has a fuel injection problem & now will not start. He was not a customer of mine choosing instead to use the man dealer when the fault first appeared. Over a 2 year period he spent almost 8000 euros with them as they tried to rectify the fault. He has had a new fuel pump (600 euros), various pressure sensors, 2 cam belts ( within a few months!), assorted motion sensors - a long & expensive list! When an expensive component was replaced & found not to be at fault he was not offered a refund. He therefore had to pay to have a perfectly good component taken off his car & thrown away!
Apart from the unfairness of this there is the worry that the diagnostic computer does not diagnose correctly. Any fitter can keep changing parts at random until the car works without the expense of a computer!

There is also the environmental cost of this. The old perfectly good components are disposed of. Whether they are recycled or dumped is immaterial, there is the cost in pollution terms of transporting the unnecessarily produced waste to its final resting place & the same in manufacturing an unneeded component, packing it & transporting it to a garage.

It gets worse! A customer was unlucky enough to buy a peugeot 307 from Belgium through a rogue who offered to register it here for them. He said he would need the car for this (he didn't). Whilst swanning about in it the turbo developed a fault & consumed all its oil, resulting in a siezed engine. The "warranty" apparently did not cover the engine! To cut a long story short I ended up with the job of finding another engine & fitting it. One was obtained from a salvage yard for a reasonable price & duly fitted. When the car was tested ther was a small water leak on the oil filter cooler, an aluminium bit the size of a sardine tin which had probably been damaged in transit. It is held on to the plastic filter housing by 4 screws. A visit to the main dealer revealed that, although the cooler & housing are 2 distinct parts, you have to buy the whole assembly - 280 euros. I had the small leak soldered for 20 euros. Another component that need not have been made. After a road test the car only ran on 3 cylinders - the diagnostics correctly pointed to no 2 injector not working correctly. A new one can cost 350 euros + fitting. These are coded so you cannot fit just any old one but a luck would have it one was found on Ebay. So a set of injectors for this car would be over 1500 euros, enough to make you wonder if it is worth doing especially as the car drops in value. Ford are worse although some engines are shared with Peugeot. On a 2005 Transit each injector nas a unique code which has to be programmed into the vehicle's computer so if one has to be changed it can only be done by a Ford garage with the correct computer. Coding each injector has nothing to do with the vehicle's operation & can only be a money making act. These things are already overly sophisticated & this extra coding adds a potential area for faults. It is not unknown for a computer to forget the code causing a breakdown. Sometimes reentering the code will correct this but I doubt this is often tried. More unnecessary expence!

And worse! Many vehicles with hydraulic clutches now have a sealed system. In the old days if your clutch master cylinder failed to pump you could replace the rubber seals. Then you had to change the whole master cylinder. Now, on such vehicles as a Freelander you have to change the whole system - master cylinder, slave cylinder, resevoir & connecting pipes - as a single part! So now you buy 4 parts to repair just one. 3 perfectly good bits for the landfill, then. Very green - not.

Had a new clutch recently? If you have a fairly modern vehicle you may have a "dual mass" flywheel. For the first 100 years of motoring cars had a flywheel made of a single lump of steel & it worked very well. Then some bright spark came up with the totally silly idea of nailing two flywheels together with little springs, supposedly to take any vibration out. I can never recall vibration being a problem! With the new design the springs stretch & break, allowing the whole thing to wobble & rattle, causing premature wear of the clutch. A replacement flywheel can add 600 euros or more to the cost of a new clutch, which can last as little as 30000 miles. This is such a problem that some manufacturers offer an old style flywheel as an alternative replacement part!

Another recent job was to fix a Peugeot which lacked power & the computer kept coming up with "anti pollution fault". After much investigation I noticed that the air hose would collapse on acceleration. The turbo was blowing, but not enough. Rather than waste time the car was taken to a main dealer, who diagnosed a siezed turbo & quoted 1500 euros to fix it. This turbo was not siezed & was not old so anothe avenue was explored. This Turbo was a variable vane type, the amount of blow being adjusted by a vacuum controlled lever which can ingress water & rust. It can be replaced but involves the removal of the front subframe & the new lever has to be set up on Peugeot's computer. I hired the mechanic & his machine & he set it up. After reassembly the fault was the same. The only thing left was the electronic vacuum valve which activates the lever. 60 euros for the part & 5 minutes to fit & the car was back to normal. So much for diagnostics!

My point is not to boast about how good I am (I've made the odd mistake myself) but how bad manufacturers can be, & how the motorist can unwittingly pay huge prices for a simple job & never know. A Renault Clio which would not start most times but when it did it ran rough could have cost over 1500 euros to repair had the owner left it to his local dealer. The immobiliser was reset & the EGR valve removed & cleaned - 90 euros - & is in every day use.

I could go on giving examples all day.

Cars cause more pollution more when they are built, repaired & scrapped than they do in everyday use. Lots of parts are being made & changed needlessly. I cannot support this with figures because no one is checking this.

Manufacturers are making us buy more than we need - why not replace the faulty bit rather than make us buy a whole assembly?

If a diagnostic computer cannot do its job then don't use them.

A little honesty goes a long way & its no wonder sales are dropping so much.

Rant over!

Our UJ went and the car required a stub axle (according to the dealers in France). Sourced it in the UK at greatly reduced price although could only source and have fitted by authorised dealers. To cut a long story short, fiasco developed - What Car were consulted and the dealer had the UJ refurbished. This was after parts were replaced needlesly and what we were informed was a sealed unit was removed and sent to a third party. I think we have been black listed by the dealer but have come out the other side with new wheel bearings ect at no extra cost. We gave up trying to get to the bottom of the milage clocked up whilst the car was up on jacks - could have done a round trip from Berkshire to Bordeaux!

A little honesty or, in my case a, a 1980 2CV6 Special goes a long way indeed. My ear replaces the diagnostic computer and some DIY-tools replace these expensive garages. 270K kilometers and still going strong :-)

I'm sorry but I just had to post this here. Can you imagine someone in England or France being stopped with a car like this :-)

Terry, we have plenty of stories about our troopie.

Also sold her for more than we bought her, and she is still going strong, the new owner sends us pics.

"an oldie but a goodie" springs to mind. I only wish we imported it here. Our hilux works a charm, but with turbo, and plenty of electrical bitsq and bobs, she demands more "looking under the hood" time.

Had a LWB Land Rover 109 series 2 in Kenya which rattled its way all over the country despite being 25 years old when I bought it. Still had the original engine and gear box. Broke down once in the middle of the Masai Mara, got a tow from a passing tourist bus to the nearest camp where a local mechanic found a broken wire in the distributor. Not having the right part to repair it he just soldered in a bit of lighting cable and it worked a treat. So well, in fact, that we forgot about the "repair" until we had the engine rebuilt. On the first safari after the rebuild the engine suddenly cut out, as usual in the middle of nowhere. Felt like a fuel problem so I got out my screwdriver, undid the four screws holding the carburettor together, took off the top and spotted a tiny piece of blue plastic clogging the jet. Borrowed the wife's eyebrow tweezers to remove it, screwed the lot back together and bingo, engine started first time! And no, I'd never taken a carb apart before. But in the middle of nowhere with no phone, no-one likely to come past for three or four days to give us a tow, needs must! Four years later I sold it to an American for more than I'd paid for it and she drove it to Botswana and back. She did wreck the gear box, mind you. Only ever driven automatics before! Double de-clutch? What's that, she said.

Mark, you are definitely part of the solution and not part of the problem. The idea of built in obselelsence, or deliberately making a products parts more difficult to re-use is totally immoral and should be made illegal. If we want a sustainable, comfortable safer world we all need to focus on this kind of issue. It's how large companies steal our shared resources and divert our precious wages into obscene profit margins.

Nothing stops those old Landcruisers. You still see them all over Africa.

when I lived in Australia, I had an old long wheelbased Landcruiser troopcarrier. I used to fix it with garden hose, duct tape, pair of tights, and blu tak on one occasion.

We drove it through rivers, the desert, deep mud, crawled rock with it, and it never let us down. I hired a new landcruiser prado for three weeks in New Zealand, and it had nothing but "electrical problems" from start to finish.

the one time we took our old troopcarrier to a licenced Toyota dealer for a repair, they ripped us off so badly that we vowed to always go to the "little guy" from then on. These days we do most of the routine servicing/tinkering ourselves, and we might send her to a mechanic for a more serious problem, like loose steering, or dodgy knocks from the motor.

I had a Golf GTI around thirty years ago and it kept cutting out. It was pretty obviously a fuel issue but I couldn't diagnose the root cause so in frustrationI took it to a VAG garage. In those days computerised diagnoses wasn't too sophisticated but the VW garages did have good problem determination manuals. The mechanic went through the procedure in the manual and (luckily) he allowed me to do it with him. Within about thirty minutes he had zeroed in on a bent pin in a module that plugged into a unit under the dash that controlled the fuel pump, injection, etc. His solution was to change the module for 100 quid or so (which was a large chunk of change then) but I made the "brilliant" suggestion that we straighten the pin. We did that and I never had another problem with the car.

So pleased to find so many people who get where I'm coming from, so to speak! I'm a Petrolhead & love cars, but my concern is with the morals of big industry. I like technology & marvel at how a satnav can go from a James Bond gadget (in "Goldfinger") to a useful tool in my lifetime, but detest its misuse in today's cars. I agree that it helps engines run more fuel efficiently but for now perhaps it should be left there until the sensors & the programming become much more reliable. Who would imagine that a brake light switch, which is just that - pedal down, contact made, pedal up, contact broken - can now affect so many other systems? Some Freelanders can have 3 warning lights appear - ABS failure, traction control & hill descent warnings - just because your brake lights don't work? There is no warning light or even a diagnostic reading to tell you you have no brake lights, so why is it linked to the computer? There is no benefit at all! I cannot see the point of having individually coded injectors. They all do the same job in the same way & are preset at the factory. This is a blatant way of keeping work in-house. No benefit to the customer.

Zoe did exactly the right thing! These forums are a godsend & I use them shamelessly but they don't always have the answer, but it is always worth trying the cheap solutions first. She also points out the failings with diagnostics - they can miss important stuff!

The long term problem with all this is that a car will not have to be that old before the cost of repair exceeds the value of the car & with the rate of depreciation in the UK we will soon see cars of 5 years being uneconomical to repair! You then have to look at the pollution produced to make, pollution in service & pollution to dispose to find that the "in sevice" figure is the smallest.

John, I would look at a classic car of some sort - the 60s, 70s & 80s produced some iconic cars which are beginning to become sought after, even cars which we used to consider mundane. It really depends on one's idea of economical & fun! I have a collection of Renault 4s awaiting fettling as demand for simple motoring increases & values are beginning to rise.At the other end of the scale a friend is selling a very well cared for Bentley Mulsanne, a car costing the equivalent of £100,000 when new, for £6000, less than a new engine for a Ford Focus!

Annette, you are so right! We are being forced into becoming a throw away society. I recently had to say goodbye to my twin drawer dishwasher, a £900 item when new (but a gift to me). It developed a fault in one drawer which would cost 400 euros to repair. How long before the other drawer developed the same problem? The fault made both drawers unuseable.

I enjoy tinkering with broken things. I work on the principle that as it's broken already I can hardly make it worse. My battery charger stopped working recently & a new one was upwards of 80 euros. Inside most of the work is done by what looks like a big square liquorice allsort. It has a part number on it & I bought another one for about £3. Works a treat!

Did anyone catch "Bank of Dave" on Channel 4?

Thanks for the honesty, very interesting.

I have a vw passat that has had the ecu flashing "Stop - Brake Fault" for the past five years, when it first happened I took it to an independant vw specialist, he plugged it in to his computer and found nothing wrong with the brakes, he advised me that the ecu was faulty. The only way to change the ecu is to take it to vw, you have to match the ecu to the engine and the main dealer will charge a fortune for that.

Bon chance


Make him happy - put a rubber ring in the pannier so you can blow it up if you get a puncture. I'd also be tempted to fix a flashing warning light on your helmet so people know you're coming, lol.

story of my life, Valerie, there's always a punchline, lol. OH says i'm taking a real risk on a motorbike, because of the whole not having a spare tyre thing. I say bring it on. There are only four lights on the dash, and two of those are indicators!

I was so rooting for you, Zoe, going DIY and getting it sorted yourself, then burst out laughing at the last sentence. Brilliant.

With you... prefer a used car. Bought a 03 polo, last summer, with on board computer. The ESP light keps flashing on and off, and I refused to go to VW to have it "diagnosed", instead, I looked about on internet forums, and it turns out it was a faulty switch on the actual brake pedal. Ordered it, fitted it, and fixed the warning light, for 15 euro, and a bit of fiddling around. I know someone in the same boat with a Seat, and refused to go down my route. 60 for diagnostic, 60 for the part, and 60 for fitting it.

In saying that, my polo went up in flames in december. Turns out burnt out water pumps are something the many flashing lights DON'T include.

I agree entirely. I've always been a car enthusiast and (by way of establishing my credentials) rebuilt my own and friends engines and gearboxes in my youth. I was also involved in rallying in the 70s and when living in London had the privilege to be involved with the Chequered Flag Lancia Strato's in 1976. I went on to design and develop with some pals the first computerised rally results system in Ireland.

In my opinion, apart from materials quality (which I admit is really important) engines haven't really moved on in decades. With a good engine management system the roughest lump can be made to appear smooth and purring. Imagine the data processing required to keep a Golf GT running which has a turbocharger, a supercharger and an automatic (DSG) gearbox. I had a CLK 230K back in in 1998 and I could almost hear it think whether to engage/disengage the supercharger and shift up/down the gearbox. It was a fast car but not engaging. Of course everything was kept safe by traction control and the electronic stability programme but really it wasn't worth driving. I had an NSU TTS in the early 70s that was almost impossible to keep in a straight line, but what a hoot.

IMHO manufacturers and consumers have become lazy and modern cars are boring with no character. There is really no difference today between a Renault, a Citroen, a BMW, A Mercedes, a Toyota, a Lexus, etc. etc. For example, there is absolutely no difference between an Audi, a Volkswagen, a Seat and a Skoda. No more than there was between an Austin 1100, a Morris 1100, an MG 1300 or a Wolseley or a Riley.......... (So, as an aside, BMC had the right formula but incompetent management and militant trade unionism killed the UK car industry). A Lexus is just a tarted up Toyota and Mercedes lost all credibility when they got into bed with Chrysler. Porsche are now just a VAG brand. Ferrari have been a Fiat brand for decades.

So if you like cars where does one look for something that is fun, reasonably economical and maintainable without a mainframe computer?

I also enjoyed your rant and can identify with not just cars but home electrical appliances too. Often when the appliance breaks down it is a case of taking it to a repair shop to be told that the part can either not be ordered seperately or needs to be ordered/imported from somewhere and the quote for the part and fixing is either more than the appliance cost or at least 2/3rds of the replacement which point the whole appliance is thrown away!!! makes me so mad.

We have a rental house that has an old tumble dryer which I bought second hand as it is the same make and model as the second hand one I have at home. It looks ugly, tenants always comment until they use it and it never breaks down. Simple and mechanical rather than computerised and problems easily identified and easily fixed. I can't tell you how many new and wonderous/designer looking tumble dryers I have owned over the years and all of them cost me a small fortune and rarely lasted more than two years before they were deemed "unfixable." Both these old units have been abused again and again and continue to work even if the knobs are a bit skew or occasionally come off! they were built to last.(somewhere circa 1980's!!!).

Cars, home appliances, mobile phones, the list is endless....lets hope the world will continue to become more aware of the green issues and move away from the "throw away" mentality we have seen over the past decade or so, and manufacturers will be forced to produce longer lasting, better built technology.....although I remain skeptical :-)

An honest man, just like my garagiste in Nailsworth, Mike at Nailsworth Motors!

I agree absolutely with what you say. i think in the UK there is no longer a qualification of Motor Mechanic, it being replaced by Motor Fitter. There is a nuance, a motor mechanic used to repair things like I often do whereas the fitter simply diagnoses the fault and replaces the part. He does not know how to cut a thread, use a vernier, ream a kingpin bush or lapp a cylinder bore. On the other hand, the modern common-rail petrol and diesel engines that are computer run deliver amazing economy and respond far better to driver imput than the old mechanical/electric systems that are easy to fix.

There is nothing wrong with computer-controlled engines ; what is wrong is the way manufacturers make money out of this, as you say. I am having a car built for me which will be powered by a Ford Zetec. The computer component is lapdog friendly - a serial cable between the two and one can do most things oneself with an ordinary lapdog loaded with the programme that comes with the ECU. All cars should be like that but the manufacturers use the technology to try to keep repairs 'in house'