At home with the Robinson family garage.
It’s been a while since I contributed anything to DTW other than a few comments pegged onto others’ well-researched and insightful offerings. A rather thorny operational issue at the company I work for has meant that I’ve been somewhat distracted, but I would like to keep my hand in, so I offer some musings on our family’s current ‘garage’ of cars, all of which have previously featured in one form or other on these pages.
In our household, the hard work is done by our diesel (sorry) Škoda Octavia estate, the running around town and learning is the preserve of the FIAT 500 and the twice weekly, 90-mile round-trip schlep to the office is usually the domain of the Citroën C6. The Škoda is now over five years old, the FIAT is over six, and Citroën has been registered for almost thirteen years (although it was built fourteen years ago, according to records).
You might be surprised toknow that the prize for the most reliable / least bother between them has thus far been … the FIAT. Exogenously sourced damage aside, faults have been a dodgy control panel bulb, a dodgy interior lamp and failing air-conditioning (we’ll come back to that). It is having a service and MOT today and I was a bit surprised to be told that the service would include the recommended replacement of the timing belt and water-pump (for £650+VAT at at a local dealership).
At least, it would have been a surprise had it not been for the fact that a few weeks earlier the brainless service human at the Skoda dealer had given me a similar warning. Brainless because I was just collecting the Octavia from a warning-message prompted ‘oil-service’ at 58,000 miles when he decided to inform me that the Octavia was due the replacement of the cam-belt and water-pump at 60,000 miles (costing £750+VAT). Why did he not think to tell me when I first called to book the car in for the oil service and save me a second trip?
Back to the plot. Is it that modern day cars (the FIAT has a 1.2-litre FIRE petrol engine) can only be relied on to survive between five and six years on a single belt and water-pump? This is (expensive) news to me. Heavens, that makes the 110,000-mile life of the same items on the C6 look positively hardy (and cheap) – a first for the blessed Citroën.
Speaking of the giant leaky piggy-bank on wheels, it’s been working OK recently, at least since I had the power steering repaired for a second time (corroded pipe – a different one to last time). I had a recurrence of the temporary turbo cut-out the other day (fixed by ‘re-booting’ the engine). The air-con has gone AWOL (patience, please) and there’s a gremlin in the window / door mirror switch panel, which seems to be exacerbated when it’s hot. Oh, and the passenger-side windscreen wiper also only works intermittently.
Otherwise, it works, and fuel economy has improved a little over the last eight months / 6,000 miles with an average of 38.8 mpg (up from 36.7). Thanks to Mr Putin, it currently costs over £130 for a full refuel of diesel. I am expecting the next visit to BL Autos to involve new front pads and discs (the latter are corroding), an effective bodge-it job to fix the window / door switch panel (maybe solved with parts from their latest resident salvage-car), similar for the window wiper unit, and further repair to the air-con unit should the re-gas planned for next week prove only a short-term fix.
Thank you for being patient. As well as puny cam-belts and water-pumps, what gives these days with air-con on cars? By the middle of next week, all three of ours will have had a new dose of gas in order to restore the necessary chill-factor (during another record heat-wave).
I can’t recall having to do this so often (it was the FIAT’s second re-gas) with the five previous cars we have had with air-con (two Subarus, one Toyota, a Scenic and a Xsara Picasso). Have manufacturers had to switch to a more environmentally friendly gas which is more corrosive to systems or does it just evaporate faster? We need to know!
The Škoda has previously been reported here as having suffered from a failed alternator at just three years and four months old. A few weeks ago, at the end of a week’s holiday in Devon, we had a rear coil spring crack (TWANG!) and break. Fortunately, it only lost about 2cm from the bottom of the coil, which was still safely contained in the cup that attaches it to the rest of the rear suspension, so could be driven home. But, once back home, it required replacement of both rear springs at a cost of around £280+VAT all-in.
We have had this happen on a previous car (the Scenic), again whilst on holiday, but it’s not what one would expect from a VW Group motor. That said, an AA employee acquaintance of mine tells me that it’s a common fault on BMWs. This is a shame (not about BMWs) as it has shaken family confidence a bit in the robustness of the otherwise much-liked and admired Octavia estate. The Škoda really is an excellent workhorse in normal use. On a recent trip to Norfolk and back, a 240-mile round trip, it returned an indicated 72.8 mpg, even though there was much use of the (freshly re-gassed) air-con.
Due to the lack of chill-factor in the Citroën, exacerbated by the aforementioned intermittent inability to open the front windows, I took the Octavia to the office on a recent hot day. I really appreciated the consistency of feel with everything from the weighting of the steering, gear change, throttle and brakes, to the handling and ride balance on what is a very simple suspension system. Only road-noise and occasional engine clatter spoil the effect.
The dashboard is a model of clarity and ease of use. Indeed, it’s miles better than that in the new-model Octavia, which has adopted the VW Group’s swanky-but-s#!t screen and touch-slider disaster-zone, experienced via a loan-car whilst the cam-belt / water pump work was being done (or was it while the rear coils were replaced? It all blurs into one these days). I’ll go further and say I much prefer our car’s looks to the latest model, which has tried to go ‘emotional’ and so lost some of what makes a Škoda look ‘Simply Clever’ (IMHO).
Going back to the trusty FIAT, it seems to benefit from being a relatively simple design that has been honed over many years into a decently engineered and built car. Its ride is quite poor and the steering becomes vague and slow to respond around the straight-ahead as speed picks up. It’s at its best in what one expects is its intended environment, around town. Here, the small footprint and low gearing allow it to zip around and be easy to park. Over the shoulder visibility is not great though, with wide rear pillars, tiny rear side windows and large headrests (unless, of course, occupants can be convinced to lower them after use).
Anyway, enough of my banal ramblings. I’ve just heard the FIAT passed its MOT and there was nothing beyond the anticipated service items which needed attention. The dealership is one of those multi-brand affairs encompassing Jeep, FIAT, Abarth, Alfa, Mitsubishi (still!) and MG(?!) I’ll have a nose around the showroom before picking up the cinquecento, especially at the GTAm Giulia which I spotted on a display podium earlier this morning – rather gorgeous.