Fiat Palio goes far on fuel

TSHEPISO, when I asked a local motor spares dealer whose delivery vehicles are a fleet of Uno panel vans (and lately Strada bakkies) about his experiences with these Fiats, his words were: "Those Fiat engines are tough, often going for 300000km without an overhaul. And they are light on fuel!"

The fact that he was referring to delivery vans that don't have an easy life should be reassuring to you. I would suggest that you look at the following things when you take possession of the Palio:

l Make sure about the timing belt. This is the synthetic rubber belt that drives the overhead camshaft from the crankshaft, and has to be replaced every 75000km. The Fiat 1242 engine on the Palio is one of the easiest of all engines on which to replace the timing belt (take a bow, Fiat). If you ask for directions from the SA Fiat Owners Club ( ), I am sure you will get valuable advice.

l Drain the oil and replace the oil filter, keeping note in the logbook of the date and distance reading at which this is done. Refill with the grade of oil prescribed in the car's handbook, and don't listen to people who are "cleverer" than the manufacturer.

l Carefully look at, and feel, the tyres for signs of uneven wear, which would indicate faulty wheel alignment. Then lift the front of the car, support it on stands, and slide in underneath with a good inspection lamp in hand. Look carefully for oil or coolant leaks. The 1242 engine has two big welsh plugs that are prone to corrosion. One of them is next to the water pump and is easily visible. Scrutinise it for any sign of a coolant leak. The other one is hidden behind the flywheel, between the engine and the gearbox. It's completely invisible, unless you first take out the gearbox. The first indication of a leak from that welsh plug will be drops of coolant appearing at the bottom of the engine.

And when it comes to getting the car ready for your long-distance trip, I would focus on two areas:

l The cooling system. It's a safe bet that you are going to encounter sweltering weather on the road in December. Go over the entire cooling system, making sure that: (a) the antifreeze/water mixture is less than 2 years old (thereafter it starts deteriorating) and is at the ratio stipulated in the car's handbook. Remember, it often gets diluted gradually as forecourt attendants top up with plain water; (b) the radiator is not partially clogged, especially if you suspect it hasn't been flushed out at regular intervals. Also ensure that the airflow through the radiator core is not obstructed by leaves, grass seeds, etc; (c) there's no leak anywhere in the system, including at the hoses, water pump, radiator seams, and of course those pesky welsh plugs; (d) the hoses are not cracked, and not soft and flabby as they become when they perish; and (e) the cooling fan switches on when it should.

l The second area is the electrical system, especially the vital, heavy-current trio of battery, alternator and starter motor. Together with overheating, electrical faults account for the majority of roadside breakdowns. Check that all connections are tight and free of corrosion. Loose wires dangling around in the engine compartment spell trouble.