Friday, January 15, 2010

Advertisement in Linz

McDonalds Advertisement 'Reinhold, Ess Ma!'
PhD student Johannes Christian found this advertisement in the Linz Train Station (in Austria) a few days ago. I wonder which Reinhold is meant there... (yes, I could eat a nice Roesti-Burger!).

Rough translation of the Austrian text: Reinhold, come on and eat!

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Car Adventure

When owning a car that costs less than £ 1000, one thing is for sure: there will always be some interesting stories to tell. Such a low-cost car is not like those brand-new cars with their never-failing-no-break-down life, but instead provides a lot of material for heroic stories of overcoming challenges. And with such a car, I get to make good use of my AA breakdown cover...

On Saturday I had driven with the Renault Megane Scenic, which I had bought 3 months ago, across the Pennines, on a snowy motorway M62. The front wheel drive worked great, and I travelled in the right-most lane, overtaking the two queues which began to slow down on the left. The rear-screen wiper worked fine, wiping away the wet snow.

Next day, driving again through cold winter weather, the car runs great. But when I try the rear screen wiper, only the cleaning fluid comes out, but the wiper remains motionless. Well, this is now the first thing of all the things that will eventually break at this car, the problems of the Ford Granada which I had from 2005-2007 also started with the rear wiper...

Today I had to run a brief errand, which I wanted to do during the daylight in the late afternoon. When I returned back to Uni for a planned evening session of software work, I got into the evening traffic in Headingley. The cars moved slowly forward. Suddenly I noticed that the windows began to fog, for no apparent reason. I put the ventilator on max, but the fogging continued. I had to wipe the front screen clear. Why was that happening? Did I bring too much snow with my shoes into the car? When I looked out to the front, it seemed to me as if some vapour was coming from the engine department. But it could also be the exhaust of the preceeding car. The temperature appeared to be fine, so I continued, but I decided I would stop at the next petrol station and have a look.

When I stopped the car at the BP petrol station on Otley Road, I noticed clearly that there was some vapour coming from the motor. I opened the bonnet (US-american: hood), and yes, there was some steaming and some water dripping. Damned. Where was the leak? Then I saw the thermostat loosely lying on the engine. I immedialely recognised this part, as 10 years earlier I have had a lot of trouble with that 1971 Plymouth Fury Custom Suburban Station Wagon, which had constantly trouble with the cooling system, and I had done a few thermostat changes on that car myself.

I looked for the place where that loose thermostat could have come from, and I found it: on the side of the engine where the cooling hoses lead into the engine, there was the thermostate case. I could lift the upper part - it had no connection to the lower part. The whole piece had just broken. No wonder, it is only made of plastic! The thermostat case of the Plymouth had been made of full metal.

So what to do now? I got petrol, and also bought two liters of antifreeze coolant. Poured one liter into the reservoir, but while I filled it, the steam came again out. Not good. I decided to drive the short distance up to the University campus and wait there for the AA to pick me up.

The coolant in the engine had probably all gone. But the temperature still had been reasonably in the middle, and even now when I slowly drove out of the station, it was fine. Only when I drove up on Churchwood Ave, the needle began slowly to move up. I made it into the campus, with the temperature needle now being at 45 deg angle instead of the usual horizontal direction. Parked the car at the road between Caedmon and Metceno where AA could easily pick it up. 17:00 now, I had hoped I could get some food for the wait, but the campus food shop closes now at 17:00. I go to my office, call first KwikFit, asking if they repair thermostates. No, they do not, but the guy there recommends Nationwide. I call there, yes, I can drop off the car. Then I call the AA breakdown service. They tell me that I will have to wait about 2 hours. Is fine with me, since I am in my office and can do some work as planned anyway.

I receive a txt message from AA that in 10 minutes their service vehicle will be there. I slowly pack things and walk down.

The AA van arrives. I tell the guy the situation, and he concludes that he cannot fix it here but that I need a towing to a repair shop. Since there is a thick flattened snow coverage on the road, he is concerned that he will not be able to pull my car from where it stands now. Instead he drives forward until he reaches the downward sloping road along the Acre. Since my car in principle can still run, he asks me to drive behind his van so that he can setup the towing.

This van has a built-in device for towing; with several motors the towing axle comes out of the rear of the van, and the driver assembles it and sets it up. It takes about 30 minutes to set up the towing. Since my Megane has an automatic transmission, it cannot be towed by a simple towbar, but its frontal axis needs to be lifted for the towing.

Everything is ready, the Megane is affixed properly to the towing axle, the additional rear lights are affixed, we are ready for driving. Slowly downwards the slippery road along the Acre. Some sliding around the left-hand curve into the exit road, towards St. Chads Drive. The driver does not want to go down directly through St. Chads Drive, because he considers this too steep and too slippery. So instead he wants to turn right to Batcliffe Drive, then down to St. Anne's Rd. When exiting the Uni campus, the roads are not as much cleaned: a thick snow cover has been flattened by cars driving on it, creating a slippery road surface. Exactly at the exit of the campus, a taxi van wants to enter at the same time. It partly blocks the access road, so we cannot immediately make a right turn but have to drive around it. During the turning-right maneuvre, the AA van appears to slip, and slides slowly onto the opposite side of the road while still turning to the right. We make the curve, but are now very much on the left side of the road, with the left wheels digging into the deeper snow at the side. And then we stop - stuck. This was a short ride.

An AA van with a car behind it now stuck at the snowy road curve. The driver makes several attempts, but mostly the left front wheel just spins freely. He tries to rock the vehicle. letting it roll back, then trying again to speed up towards the front. But it always gets stuck at some icy patch. Finally the van appears to get some grip, and slowly inches forward. We made it. Allright. Now forward uphill on Batcliffe Drive. I tell the driver about my recent experiences with driving on snow, but he appears to be very concentrated on moving forward. As the slope becomes steeper, we are loosing momentum, and finally we stop - again the left front wheel is spinning, while the whole van with its appendix stands still and only slides a bit about. We are now actually blocking the road, having slid onto the right side of the road. Other cars squeeze into the relatively narrow gap on the left between us and the cars parked there. An SUV graciously overtakes us on the right - by driving completely off the road onto the sidewalk and the side lawn. Currently there is no visible difference between the road and the side - all covered by snow. How will we get out of this stuck location?

The AA driver decides that we have to unload my car, drive up the hill separately, and then tow again downhill St. Anne's Road. Ok, if there is no other choice... he tries a few more times to drive out with the whole assembly, but it does not work. So he reverses the whole procedure for affixing my car.

He drives the van uphill, but the van still does not get a good grip on the surface. He asks me to push the van. What a situation: I am pushing the AA van which I had called for help! But it works: I push on the right back side of the car, always weary of the towing axle which dangerously follows from behind me; the left front wheel still keeps spinning, but it helps to move the van uphill. When on top, the driver decides to move even further forward, until the downward slope begins. This is reasonable, because even on the horizontal road stretch it would be difficult to start towing my car. I walk back to my car, start again the engine. The cold air should be able to cool it sufficiently, even without any liquid coolant! The Megane drives without any problems up the hill, then towards the van.

Same procedure again as before: affixing the car to the towing equipment.

Done. We continue down St. Anne's Road. The van slides a bit, but holds the track reasonably well. We even stop properly at the red traffic light. From now on the driving is smooth, as the roads are relatively free of snow.

Arriving at the Nationwide Repair Centre. There is already another car parked in the back. While the driver releases my car from the towing equipment, another AA van comes along, towing another car - also a drop-off at the repair station. And their driver tells that earlier he had brought the car which is already parked there! Tomorrow this Nationwide Repair Centre will make a very good business.

When I drove the Megane into its parking position, I operated the screen wipers. And surprise, surprise - the rear wiper was working again! That is the nice thing about such an inexpensive car: full of surprises (good ones and bad ones).

I just hope that the thermostat repair is not very expensive.

My car being towed in Headingley

- Posted using

Happy New Year 2010!

A bit belated I wish you all a Happy New Year 2010!

Here in Leeds there was a "White Christmas". It had snowed before the holidays, it snowed before New Year, and yesterday a new snow dump brought at least 15 cm snow cover everywhere in and around Leeds.

As usual, road traffic collapses here in the UK when such snow conditions occur. There is usually not much snow here in winter, so when it comes, the road services are overwhelmed. One problem is that here in the UK a lot of salt is used to clear the roads from snow. They do not use snow ploughs but instead spray salt and sand grit. This is only effective when the snow cover is not more than a few cm. But with the current snow amount, I believe it would be better to use ploughs to move the snow to the side, before spraying salt on it. This is also for environmental reasons: salt damages the environment around the road ways. It also leads to increased corrosion of cars.

Driving on the M62 Motorway across the Pennines from Leeds to Manchester on 2.January 2010.