SAVING AN OLD CAR
I SAW a column in Sowetan to which we can send queries about our cars. I have a problem with which I hope you can help me.
My car is an Opel Astra CS 2000 model with 300000km on the clock. I am paying it off in monthly instalments of R1957 and still owe about R26000 on it.
Though the car does not present any problems as yet, I am afraid, considering its age, that it will break down at any moment when I drive long distances.
I would like to change the car but my credit rating is compromised. I am desperate. Please advise me on the best course of action.
IF it's any consolation to you, I can identify entirely with your dilemma, as can hundreds of thousands of other South Africans in the current adverse times.
I wish I could tell you there was an easy way out but your only option is to soldier on with your present car - at least until it is paid off.
And I don't say this lightly. I have a lot of experience of keeping an old car going on a shoestring and I know how difficult that is.
But, since that is the only way forward at the moment, here's my advice on how to live with (and enjoy) the Opel for another year or so.
l Familiarise yourself with your car. Inspect the engine bay and underside regularly for leaks (oil, brake fluid, coolant or petrol) and for loose or frayed electrical wires.
On older cars the rubber grommets that keep the wires from rubbing on the bodywork are often missing or perished, and consequently the insulation gets worn away, leading to short-circuits, a major cause of roadside breakdowns.
l Don't skimp on maintenance, however great the temptation to save money.
You want to keep the car going for at least another year, possibly longer, so be punctual with oil changes and use a good quality oil. Regularly check fluid levels, tyres, brake pads and so on and do it yourself.
Watch out for early signs of head gasket failure. Attend to wheel alignment. A car will very seldom break down without having given early warning signals.
l Have faith in the old girl. The fact that the clock shows 300000km is not, in itself, a bad thing.
A car that is used for regular long-distance trips in the hands of a careful driver can cover amazing distances with very little engine wear.
l Use whatever help you can get. Never forget the help you can get on the Internet.
You are in the lucky position that there's an active, well-run, supportive South African Opel Owners' Forum on the net (http://opelownersforum.co.za).
Registration is quick and free, and allows you to post messages and queries. It will give you access to a vast fund of knowledge. You might even be able to obtain a workshop manual for your car from a club member who no longer needs it.
l Look on the bright side. In a year's time, if all goes well, your car will be paid off, which will do your credit rating a lot of good.
Then you can start looking for a replacement for the Opel. Perhaps the most valuable lesson that living with an old car teaches you is summarised by the saying: "Life is not about waiting for the storm to pass; it's about learning to dance in the rain."