“Oh… that looks serious”

As my avid reader (me) will know from this post, our car was damaged in a car accident last month. The insurance company told me that it is considered a write-off so my father offered me his car as he is no longer driving it. Last Wednesday afternoon I flew down to my old home-town of Crawley in West Sussex to pick up the car and spend some time with my Dad. The car seemed to be making a slight knocking sound, it may have just been the sound the car always made but I felt safer having it checked out before driving 336 miles back up north in the vehicle. The following morning we took the car to one of my Dad’s friends who works at a garage.

Dad’s friend confirmed that the noise did not seem too serious but he had a good listen around in an attempt to figure out where the noise was coming from. His guess was that the alternator bearings were knocking, the worse case scenario would be that the car would lose power somewhere and require a new alternator (cost approx. 100 pounds) to get going again. He could not be sure without spending more time with the car and I wanted to get back to Newcastle that evening, but he said that if it was his car he would drive it, the car had been doing very little for a couple of weeks and might just need a good run.

A little later that day I set off in my new 1998 Vauxhall Vectra, 1.8 litre, in black. It drove wonderfully well. I took a while to get used to the gear changes… well… I’m still not quite there… but the extra 0.5 litres was making a clear difference to the acceleration compared to our VW Golf, which I have always been more than happy with. The Golf was Ladan’s before wee got married, the Vectra will have to do well for a significant length of time before it can gain the same sentimental value as that Golf, but it was certainly proving itself a worthy friend on this journey.

I had chosen the A1 for this drive, over the M1, I always regret making that choice. It is probably 30-50 miles shorter but it takes at least as many minutes longer. The A1’s roundabouts and lorrys overtaking lorrys at slow speeds mean that even with long stretches of roadworks on the M1 the motorway tends to be the better choice. I will hopefully remember this next time.

So, eventually, I arrived at the nursing home in my smart black Vectra, spent the next seven hours with Ladan, and drove back to the flat in the early hours, still hearing that slight knock but pleased that 336 miles of driving had not caused it to develop into anything more serious.

Last Friday morning, after getting to the nursing home fairly early, I took the car to collect some parcels that were waiting for me at the post office, just 1.5 miles away. On my return from the post office my new Vectra started knocking more loudly and then the power went from under my feet. It was exactly as I had expected it to be with the alternator going, a loss of power that merely allowed me to pull over to the side of the road before coming to a complete halt. I tried starting the engine, but it was dead. There appeared to be a little smoke coming from the engine, but I concluded it was some hot oil buring off. I called the RAC to come and get me going again, they thought it was probably steam rising from the car but advised me to phone the fire brigade if it became more smoke-like.

After about half an hour the orange van appeared and I popped the car bonnet for him. As he lifted the bonnet his first words were “Oh… that looks serious”. This wasn’t exactly what I was expecting. I mentioned the alternator bearings and he had a good look around. “Something seems to have come away from under the engine”, he informed me. The car would have to be towed to a garage.

On closer inspection it was determined that the water pump had probably collapsed. Such was the nature of the damage caused by this that a new timing belt kit would need to be installed, as well as a new water pump, at a cost of about 300 pounds before they would be able to determine if any of the valves had been bent, and if they had it would cost almost another 500 pounds to fix the car from that point. So, I was looking at a bill of between 300 and 800 pounds, and later that day the call came and the final repair bill was going to be 780 pounds. Initially the fear was over whether any of the engine valves had been bent, in actual fact all 16 of them were bent and the head gasket needed replacing. Obviously the final cost of the work comes close to the overall value of the car but it has only done 50,000 miles and I would have been landed with a 300 pound bill for nothing had I not had the rest of the work done.

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