The Humble Opinion: Animals, Children, Friends and Neighbours.

Mike Humble:

Next doors Rover 25 heads off to the promised land despite the fact it could have been avoided.
Next doors Rover 25 heads off to the promised land despite the fact it could have been avoided.

Back in the time when I lived about 100 miles or so north of here, I used to be actively involved with Hospital Radio and a spot of co-presenting on the local “beeb” in my spare time. At the BBC Three Counties Radio station at Luton, we once organised a live on air charity broadcast whereby listeners were invited along. During this three hour nightmare of plate spinning, I learned first hand the old showbiz adage: never work with animals or children. In the motor trade there are similar group of people to avoid – family, friends and neighbours!

A good example of this comes in the form of my neighbours Rover 25 Impression S. After five years of relatively trouble free motoring, its about ready for the spiritual world, its done them well but it could have gone on for another couple of years at least. Even though I mention the credible reliability record, it was when purchased, and still is now – a rather rough and tatty example. But they certainly went through the pain barrier very early on after buying it.

I actually went with them to view it years ago and vociferously told them not to entertain it owing to every panel being dented or scratched, no service history, the owner was more shifty than the artful dodger. The coolant bottle contained what in all essence looked like beck water too. The main reason for the doubt back then was that I couldn’t really tell if the head gasket had been previously done with little attention to flushing the coolant through, or whether it was just about ready to blow, there were that many pipes and parts seemingly recently changed it was difficult to confirm.

Anyway despite my best advice, they bought the damn thing and within five days it lost all of its coolant, turned into a kettle and this resulted in a knock at the door. We hadn’t exactly fallen out over the buying of the car but I had made my sentiments clear in the fashion that your parents used to tell you all those years ago by signalling if it all goes wrong… don’t come running to me. Well, it did and they did so after spending all of thirty seconds with the bonnet up I told them the car had popped its head gasket and I was asked if I could put it right for them as a matter of urgency.

As in the case of people in close personal proximity, when it all goes t*ts up, it ends with pain, heartache and embarrassment to all parties involved. To summarise this I have a little rhyme that goes; friends and neighbours all want favours and family want it all for free. Anyone who works at the sharp end of the motor trade will be slowly nodding at the monitor as they read this. Sometimes its just not worth getting involved or loosing a long time friend over a bloody motor car… well that’s my experience anyway.

Getting back to the Rover next door, I was wisely told by ‘er indoors not to get involved any further and I refused to mend the car for them – even if a little voice inside got excited about a few extra pennies to keep me in the pink with ciggies and drink. So I put them onto a nearby trade mate who did a good price on the labour providing they supplied their own parts and consumables. I pointed them in the direction of my trusted motor factor who only stocks the upgraded MLS type K series gasket and left it at that.

Once again, the advice was not heeded and they sourced some cheaper inferior items from a well known national chain of motor factors whose first name rhymes with Truro, the car was trailered away to the garage and repaired. Since then it has performed reasonably well and covered plenty of miles until a couple of months ago they mentioned it had taken a huge gulp of water. Upon hearing this I advised them that it warranted a little more action than just pouring in half a litre of water but no further action was taken and I was told that “it must have been a one off“.

Unlike the human body, a motor car does not heal or mend itself and I find it frustrating at those who take the aforementioned stance despite being told. But being a nice neighbour, I didn’t push the fact to hard that something was seriously wrong for the risk of coming across as a profiteer despite the fact that a few bob here and there makes life all the sweeter. Well the situation reached a climax just the other day when the husband told me that he had just had to add another fair quantity of coolant and avoiding the I told you so statement, the bonnet was lifted for a good look.

The cooling system was so contaminated with oil it would have been almost impossible to flush it all through or guarantee the car would be right once put back together again.
The cooling system was so contaminated with oil it would have been almost impossible to flush it all through or guarantee the car would be right once put back together again.

The expansion tank contained what at best could be described as a murky pool of melted chocolate, not only that, but all the coolant hose ends looked like a thumb that had been hit with a mallet. Oil and water contamination had got to every hose and caused the internal braiding to fail, so around the point where a hose clip was fitted huge swelling was bulging the hoses. There was a brief train of thought whereby I would pull the head off and try to make good but after much thought and the nearing MOT, its been decided old Rover is to be scrapped.

Its not nice to see a friend, neighbour or family relative down on their luck and without wheels, especially when they depend on it for work but sometimes they can be the hardest ones to please. Not only that but there’s always that never end thanks and appreciation when things go well but more frustratingly, there’s that horrible gut feeling of doom and acute embarrassment when things go wrong. I once bought a 1998 Vectra that an Uncle of mine wanted to buy not a few months after I had bought it and the incident that follows still makes me double up in pain at the recall.

I had barely done the list of items it required before selling it on (for pennies more than I bought it for dare I say) when after a while I caved in and sold it. The scant service history meant that I told him it required a cambelt to be on the safe side and it was agreed that he would get me to do this at a later date. Well a few months went by and at every opportunity I was told the 1.8 EcoTec engine purred like a kitten until one tea time there was a knock at the door. After stopping at a nearby paper shop he had gone to pull away, got twenty yards in bottom gear and spluttered to a halt.

We walked the few minutes to the stricken car and in the back of my mind I knew what it would be. Loosening off the timing cover revealed a brace of timing pulleys with no belt attached. After explaining the engine or at least – the cylinder head would be dead I was asked why I hadn’t changed the timing belt. Then followed a “what did I tell you” reminder which eventually thawed a slightly frosty Uncle. But then that’s family and friends isn’t it? You seemingly don’t care if you refuse to get involved but there is a unspoken 24hr 7 days a week lifetime customer care package when you do – either way… you never win but at best gain a few brownie points and maybe a ticket to heaven when judgement day cometh.

Anyway back to the present. There now comes the search for my neighbours replacement car, and even though after I wagged my finger and reminded them about the last time, I’m dreading the chase even though they promise to listen this time around. By no means is this an article to make myself look big or smart, but it only serves to prove a single point – and a very expensive one in some cases. If you rely on others for advice and a guiding hand through the minefield of motoring mayhem – for crying out loud listen… and act when advised to do so.


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