Friday, November 06, 2009

Buying a New Car - And First Repairs

I did not really plan to buy a new car, but the need to replace the Citroen Xantia eventually became more evident: only two months left until the obligatory annual MOT. Since the car did currently not have any problems, I was confident it would pass this test. But what if it would not? I would have then the choice to put again a few hundred pounds in it for repairs, or would have to scrap it. Which would be a pity, since is really drives well, is quite economical in its diesel consumption and someone still could put this car to good use.

Originally I had thought about this already months ago, and selling the car in summer would have been good. But time went by so fast, and now it already was autumn, the time for the MOT deadline approaching fast. My friend Clive who now works at a car dealership, offered me to have a look at the cars he was selling. Most of them in the mid-range mileage around 50k miles, with good life left in them. Price range between £s; 2000 and 3000. But since I would not use this car much, I thought it would be a waste to spend so much on a car that would mostly stand: for all the daily driving I use the small Smart car, which runs economically, reliably, and always finds a parking spot. But there are occasions when a larger car is needed: for driving a bunch of friends, or for bringing the odd Billy bookshelf from IKEA. So for these occasional drives, I came to the conclusion that I would not want to spend more than £ 1000 on a "new" car. It would be nice if the car would have an automatic transmission: I am already sick from that constant left-hand switching the gears, while I was brought up using the right hand for this (which now has nothing to do, only can lean out of the right car window).

So around the end of September I decided to have a look at Clive's selection in his car shop, and I also began to browse in the Autotrader. And there online I found it: A metallic-red 1999 Renault Megane Scenic RXE, with automatic transmission and two sunroofs, for £ 950. Quite a high mileage: 130k. I decided to have a look and drove to Dewsbury, where the seller lived. The car looked very good. A few scratches, but nothing serious. I test drove it around a few streets, and it appeared to drive smoothly. The radio did not work and there was no luggage cover. Otherwise the car seemed to be in a good condition. So I decided quickly - and bought it for £ 950.

On Friday afternoon I took a train to Dewsbury, picked up the car and drove it back to the university, just in time before heading out again for an external evening meeting. This time was the first time I drove the Megan on the Motorway, M62 to Pontefract. The car ran great. There was a construction on the motorway, speed limit to 50 mph, I could smell the fresh tar. But strangely the construction did actually not have any new road surfaceing... I realised that the tar smell came from my car. What could that be? Some oil getting hot? When I left the motorway, I noticed some faint smoke coming from under the car. The cooling temperature seemed fine, so what was the problem? Some oil dripping onto a hot part? I had noticed that the automatic transmission seemed to switch a bit hard sometimes. The smoke went away as I was driving more slowly, and when I arrived at my destination it was gone completely. But the smell of hot oil (tar-like) remained. I decided to watch it on the way back. But this time there was no smell or smoke at all.

Now I got worried. I decided to have the transmission checked in a workshop before I would go on any longer travel tour with this car. So on Monday I brought it to Leeds Transmission Services. The diagnosis cost £ 45. The result: several things failing. New solenoids are needed (what are these for in a transmission?) - would cost £ 350. Also a rebuild of the transmission might have to be done - would cost £ 650. So these repairs would cost more than I had paid for the car. This was not what I had wanted... I asked what simply changing a complete transmission would cost: between £ 250 and £ 350. They might search for a transmission, or I could find one myself.

Now the next few days the car actually seemed to work fine. I drove for a longer distance in the Yorkshire Dales, and except for the faint tar smell of burning oil there appeared to be no problem with the transmission. But after 2 weeks, I noticed that the indicator light of the automatic transmission did flicker when in "D": it flickered between "D" and "N", although it was clearly latched into "D". When then driving outside the city, I noticed that the gearbox did not switch up into a higher gear than 3. The gearbox had 5 gears, so this was now a problem when driving at a higher speed.

I began to search on the Internet; found the site 1stChoice, where I could make a search for any car part. This site sends out queries to all members of its network, and then back come the quotes for the requested part. One quote came back from a dismantler located not far from Goole. He had this transmission from exactly a 1999 Megane, but was not sure if the specific type would be correct. So on one Saturday I drove to there. (Fortunately I had renewed my AA breakdown cover, so I was not worried about the car breaking down.) I kept away from the motorway, because the transmission would not switch higher than the 3rd gear. I noticed that leaving it for a while idling in "P" before driving did help - for about 10 minutes the transmission worked fine all the way up to gear 5. But then the indicator again began to flicker, and the gears kept switching between 3, 4 and 5. No, this had to be fixed. Fortunately this transmission from the dismantler was the right type. That car had an accident at 56k miles, but all of its engine parts were still functional. I decided to buy the transmission and have it shipped to Leeds Transmission Services, where they put it in.

This was the cheapest option to fix the car - I had also asked at a Renault dealership for an estimate, and they came up with several 100 £ more. I hope that this repair now lets the car run fine for the next 2 years or so.

And now I can finally take it out again for a longer ride. The smoke smell appeared to have gone - this could mean that this burning oil smell was related to the transmission and not, as I had originally suspected, from a leaking valve cover gasket or even a cracked engine. The engine looks quite clean, no oil traces there. But I guess I will get a confirmation of this only when I will take the car for a longer ride out on the weekend.

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