Cars V Trains: Fixing cars

In my last post, we saw how trains we’re poking ahead slightly in this battle, partly down to cost. One of the ways we could all save a few pennies, especially in this climate where companies seek to get every last penny they can from us, is to get our hands dirty and get under the bonnets or our cars.

Most things on cars, all though seem incredibly complicated and difficult, are relatively simple; older cars especially, which is handy as they are more likely to break down. For example, the ABS system on the old Calibra is a simple cog on the driveshaft and a small magnetic sensor.

As the teeth of the gear pass the sensor, the magnet will pick up strong or weak pulses, feeding back to the cars computer, letting it know that that wheel is spinning, therefore not locked up and skidding. It’s a beautifully simple solution.

A few weeks ago, if you remember, VX02 broke down, dropping the cars baton in this #CarsVTrains monthly battle at the first hurdle.

However, from a relatively small amount of research (Thanks, Google 🙂 ), I was able to pinpoint the problem to either a faulty EGR valve or a simple temperature sensor breaking. A quick call to the AA and 15 minutes later, we’d identified the fault as a seized EGR valve; a blanking plate was fitted and the car was drivable again, until a new valve could be sourced and repaired fully.

When it comes to motoring issues, some of you reading this may feel completely inadequate as to where to even begin looking for a problem. If you have common sense, you’re more than likely going to be able to at least identify when the fault lies.

All you have to remember that cars are built on a number of separate basic systems. When they all work together, you get something as seemingly complicated as the car to run in a very calm composed manner. It’s only when one of these systems fail, you get problems.

The seized EGR valve, for example, is a very simple piece of technology. It re-circulates exhaust gas into the engine for cleaner, cooler running, by opening a simple valve. Over time and many years of use, the part has simply worn out, and stuck open. By doing so, the tick over became lumpy, struggling to keep going at idle like an old F1 car. It would also struggle to start if the engine was at all warm.

These two symptoms, at first, are enough to cause anyone to worry – engine problems are always a big fear, especially on a model of engine renown for failing with no warning.

By Googling the symptoms, and calling the AA for a second opinion, we identified the problem and made a temporary fix. Sourcing the part through an official Vauxhall main dealer threw up a price in excess of £200, plus VAT. Getting them to fix it would have cost even more, and if you hadn’t of identified the problem, who knows what they could have charged you for.

Turning to the internet once again, the part was found and delivered for almost half the price, £135, and fitting it was a matter of undoing two bolts, changing the part and replacing the bolts.

Now, at this point, you might be thinking, that’s all well and good for you, you understand cars and have the tools and knowledge to do it; although I have studied motorsport engineering, I’ve had no mechanical training. I’ll admit, I do have a technical mind, the kind that has to find out how things work to the last detail, but I have never done car maintenance until a month of so back, when funds run short. The tools used to complete this job were brought from Halfords for less than £30. Undoing two bolts isn’t labour intensive, and if you do get stuck, there is any number of local garages; mechanics and even the AA are on hand to help.

Often, a Haynes manual and a quick Google is good enough to fix the majority of problems.

Providing you have got the nerve to delve under your bonnet, you can probably keep your car maintained for a far reduced cost. I got VX02 running again for less than half the cost of taking it to a garage, and far quicker too. I’d got the part fitted and car running in 10 minutes, against the day or two you’d lose to a garage.

The benefits are 10 fold. There’s a reduced cost, you’re learning a new skill and gain a great feeling of satisfaction from completing the job yourself. You’ll be amazing at how simple cars are too, they are just a number of simple systems all running and working together towards a common goal. Also you’ll not only begin to understand your vehicle more, but respect it, knowing what’s doing what and how it’s getting you safe, wherever your going.

They can, however, throw up jobs that are past your skill level. Remember the ABS ring I mentioned on the Calibra… Well over time, that simple ring has corroded and the sensor covered in 15 years of muck. Changing the sensor is an apparently simple “take-the-wheel-off-and-release-the-bolt-job”. In practice, you’re looking at taking the hub off, which means releasing the lower ball joint, hub nut, steering, suspension and drive-shaft.

I’ve spent the past 3 months getting tools and working on the damn thing trying to get this job done, but alas, it has beaten me.

I’m almost ashamed to admit it, but that job has beaten me and I need to call on my local garage to fix it. It’s not the actually mechanics of the job that is difficult; no, it’s the physical side of doing it. I simply don’t have the tools, equipment or strength to complete the job. I’m fairly gutted if I’m honest.

Still, I have sourced all of the parts myself, and given the hubs a spring clean with lick of paint in the process. I’ve learnt how to change brake pads and discs too, so I guess all is not lost just yet. One thing it is worth remembering however, is that if a train or bus breaks down, it costs us nothing. If only the ‘Cali was that cheap to fix.

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