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Don't be taken for a ride in your jalopy

By unknown | Jun 25, 2008 | COMMENTS [ 0 ]

Many motorists are only too familiar with the following scenario: your vehicle has been showing some disconcerting symptoms; it no longer starts as easily as before, especially on cold mornings, and when it does, there is a puff of black smoke at the exhaust.

Sometimes there is a smell of hot oil vapour from under the bonnet. It uses a can of oil every 1000 km and at times it trails a thin blue haze. It's down on power and has a high-speed misfire. Its fuel consumption seems to be getting worse. It sometimes struggles to go into first gear and has developed a rhythmic tapping noise from inside the engine.

Here are a few guidelines:

lDo not make a beeline for the nearest workshop or backyard mechanic. No doubt there are honest and trustworthy mechanics and workshops, but there are also those who can spot a desperate, clueless owner from a mile away. It might well be that you will eventually require the services of a workshop, but before you go there, make some careful observations of the behaviour of your car. When does the oil level drop the most; in town driving or during fast highway runs? When does the blue smoke appear at the exhaust? Does the tapping noise go away when the engine warms up? When were the spark plugs last replaced and does the misfire perhaps date from that time? If you have taken note of these things, a workshop foreman will think twice before ripping you off. When you do take your car to a workshop or private mechanic, insist before signing the job card that it should be stated in writing that they must only diagnose the problem(s), and then telephone you before doing any repairs or replacements. It is reasonable to expect that they will have an examining fee in case you decide not to have the work done by them, but ask how much that is, and if exorbitant, drive away.

lDo not expect or accept the worst-case diagnosis. Even apparently serious problems are often surprisingly minor. A drop in oil level could be due to a leak which only needs a new gasket or seal to fix; blue smoke at the exhaust could be caused by valve stem oil seals allowing oil into the combustion chambers; black smoke at start-up and heavy fuel consumption could merely indicate a high float level in the carburettor; a clicking noise could well be only a loose tappet, a matter of simple adjustment. So, listen to what the workshop tells you, then take a few minutes to think so that you can correlate their story with your own observations, talk to friends, phone around, etc. Don't let them rush you.

A few symptoms do spell serious and imminent trouble.

One is the muffled, thudding sound, like cloth-wrapped hammer blows, coming from deep inside the engine, produced by worn main or big-end bearings.

But, on the whole, cars are tough pieces of machinery.


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