Dead Car Bounce

I took the runaround to have it’s MOT inspection yesterday, and on the way there I could tell there was going to be trouble. The oil light flickered briefly and then stopped, it coughed and stuttered as I queued in nose to tail traffic, and it really didn’t like reversing round a corner.

And yet it was still a shock to hear that it had catastrophically failed the test, especially because of all the plans for the rest of the day that I’d sort of arranged in my head.

The minute I heard the words cracked head gasket, I knew that our sixteen year old Ford Focus would not be rolling back into the road with me. The litany of other faults that seemed to have materialised out of nowhere were a little more alarming – and gave me the impression of the car having coughed and wheezed its way on to the ramp before letting all its guts fall out.

A bit of a pain, and one that feels like it cut my feet out from under me a little. Plans are afoot to sort out a replacement, but it seems to have now made this week rather more busy than expected

Driving Lady M’s Car

In a hitherto unknown level of trust, Lady M has allowed me to drive her car as we’ve travelled North for Christmas. I know, you’d think the car I normally drive round the local area was on its last legs or something, right? 

Certainly the thought of driving six or seven hours up the M1 in a sixteen year old Ford Focus gave us both pause for thought; so after several enquiries with her company, the filling out of several extra forms, the generation of a one-time access code via the Gov.uk website so her employers could read my driving license and history, and a certain amount of finger crossing we heard last night that her employers would not send out a crack death squad if I touched her brand new BMW 2 Series SE Grand Tourer.

I think I got the bits of that name in the right order. Maybe, I don’t know, it has four wheels and more displays than the bloody space shuttle…

Lady M will be the first to tell you I have only a passing interest in cars beyond “will it move if I stamp on this pedal?”, and “it had better bloody shift if I stamp on this pedal.” She will not only tell you this, but also her shame that she is the resident petrol head in our house and that I don’t have a wish list of expensive vehicles to own (apart from the DB-9, because I’m not a total moron).

So where better to present my first vehicle review than here? Oh wait, no, I have actually written car reviews for money before as a ghost writer, but they weren’t for very good cars or very good money and I won’t tell you what they were or for who. (Disclaimer, I did have to ask Lady M what some of the model names meant)

So, what were my impressions of driving this beastie, compared to an old Ford Focus? Well, I was most vocal about how I felt I was going to break it, compared to how I have to work to get the old rustbucket to move. This is actually a good thing, believe it or not. To get the same performance out of the BMW 2 Series as I do out of the Focus, I have to treat it like it’s made of very very fragile things – so it feels like the slightest bit of brute force will snap the accelerator pedal off, or make the steering wheel melt. 

The truth of course is that if I were to treat the BMW 2 Series the same way I do the old rustbucket, I’d have made the journey up here in half the time, chased the entire way by several police constabularies, and covered in the debris of numerous vehicles through which I had driven.

Oh, and don’t get me started on the bloody indicators. There’s a reason BMW drivers famously don’t use them, and that’s because they’re crap. If you tap them you’ll get a couple of seconds flash and off, but if you hold them they’ll start flashing and never turn off again until you’ve over compensated, flashed several directions in one go, caused a three lane pile-up and got evil glares from traffic police in three counties.

BMW indicators are designed to do this. It’s not a bug, it’s a feature – like early 90s computer security or self-detonating Galaxy Note 7s. 

You may be forgiven for thinking I haven’t enjoyed driving Lady M’s car. It is a good drive, but the transition to sports brakes and suspension is rather a large leap – similar to the one I made from learning to drive in an Austin Allegro to driving in a Nissan Primera and suddenly discovering power steering. 

My initial thoughts were that it felt rather similar to driving an automatic a couple of years ago in Florida. It was less an experience of making the decision to move as managing a vehicle that wanted to move by default.

Perhaps that says more about me than it does about the vehicle, and about the level of control I expect to have. All in all, as much as I’ve found it a strange experience, I have generally enjoyed it. I may even give the car back at some point.

Detonate The Focus

No, this is not the latest battleplan from my gaming group, but instead what seems to have been the danger posed by my car the last few days. I’d be the first to admit that I’m not really a petrol-head (that appellation definitely belongs to Lady M), but I’ve had a bit of a steep learning curve recently. In times gone past, when I earned a lot more money, I just had my car serviced several times a year and let the mechanics at the dealership worry about oil levels and coolants. I don’t have that luxury these days, and so I’d completely forgotten to check the oil. I say ‘I’ as I’m the main driver, even though the car belongs to Lady M.

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Prompted by various odd noises made by the car (a Ford Focus, hence the blog title today), we checked the levels on Friday last week, and I bought some extra oil when I realised that there didn’t seem to be any oil on the dipstick at all. On Sunday, just before heading out to go see Demonic for lunch, we topped it up. Well, I say topped up – as the levels didn’t seem to be rising on the dipstick when I tested it, I ended up overfilling the reservoir. We only noticed this when we got flashed by another driver about five minutes into our journey and I realised that I could only see white smoke out the back window. There was also a rather worrying burning smell.

Reasoning that this was a small overfill and that it would eventually burn off, we nevertheless doubled back to the flat and swapped over to Lady M’s hire car. This has been provided by her work place to cover her until her company car gets delivered. We duly sped over for Sunday lunch with my brother and his family, and I spent some time in the evening trying to burn off the excess.

By Tuesday there was still no improvement, and the burning smell kept coming back (obviously, because it’s oil that’s getting fried off as the engine heats, leading to a last minute cancelling of our usual evening jaunt to the pub because I didn’t feel safe driving down busy roads in a cloud of partially burnt oil and water vapour. So this morning I steeled myself to call the RAC to come and have a look. By now we were half convinced that we’d done permanent damage to the car, possibly cracking a gasket, and that we’d either need to buy a new engine, or a new car.

My relief, when the engineer arrived and confirmed that there was no permanent damage but we really had very much over-filled the oil reservoir, was immense. Almost as immense as the three excess litres of oil that he had to drain off. I’ve now spent a reasonable portion of the afternoon running the engine and quietly driving around the estate and the local carparks to finish burning off the excess still in the pipes.

The ultimate test has been driving over this evening to see the Charleesi, using the heavy spray from the rain to disguise the vapour and enjoying the relative anonymity of the autumn evening light. I’m only slightly exaggerating, as the smoke seems to have largely subsided. I’ve also been encouraged by how many other vehicles have been pouring forth equivalent amounts of smoke from their exhausts on my journey. Hopefully this means my confidence will start to reassert itself soon – I’ve felt rather more shaken by the whole experience than expected.

Oh well, I’ve at least had the opportunity, while peering over the engineer’ shoulder, to learn a bit about my engine’s layout. If I ever need to rev my car’s engine from the outside, I now know what to pull on to make it happen.

What’s the worst that could happen?

Weird Wednesday

How do you pronounce all that?
I just can’t odd…

I definitely do seem to be having one of those weeks where I’m either running to catch up with myself or having to go back and give things a kick to get them moving. It’s not an ideal way to spend the week, and seems at odds with my stated aim of being awesome in as many ways as possible at a time.

Today, for example, was my second attempt at getting the car through it’s MOT – having failed on brake pads, wipers, a brake light, two possible punctures, a rear seat that wouldn’t lock in position, a rear seatbelt that wouldn’t work and I wouldn’t have been too surprised to hear that Dread Cthulhu had been found in one of the foot wells.

A couple of hours work and it should all have been done, I thought, especially as I dropped the car in as they were opening their doors. To be fair, Staines Service Centre have always done right by us – they’re good value for money and have never messed us around, and they did advise me to go home – but I thought I’d hang around in Staines on the off-chance, even though I had writing commitments. It really did seem a good idea at the time. By the time I’d had a coffee and written a couple of things on the tablet to save to the cloud I began to think that heading home would just get me a call on the way there, or pretty much as soon as I got home, so that I would have to then turn right round and come back.

There’s only so much window shopping you can do in Staines. Pay day is tomorrow, so while I saw plenty of possible things to get for both Valentines Day and our 3rd Anniversary (what? already?) I wasn’t able to actually get anything. This of course only added to the simmering irritation with my own decision, which when coupled with it being a little on the chilly side made for some rather self-critical inner monologues. Not awesome.

Fortunately everything did get fixed, for cheaper than quoted, and the car did pass its re-test. I even got home in time to finish off a rather large document and mail it off to a client before Lady M got home and I needed to head out for my weekly visit to see the Charleesi.

I’m sure at some point this week I’ll be able to get ahead of my ever-growing list of ‘to do’ items. I rather dislike feeling that I’m reacting to events rather than proactively making things happen, so I shall be managing my time more tightly for the next few days. There may even be multitasking and sarcasm involved.

Car Repairs, Christmas Shopping, and Everything

Busy day this week, and no sign of the pace really letting up just at the moment. The library continues to be short-staffed and demoralised ahead of a restructure, so I’m just focusing there on keeping busy and helping to decorate for Christmas. I’m mostly managing to be supportive and positive, except where I have to try and bite my tongue. It certainly hasn’t helped that this week had a major disruption with failures in a data centre move that knocked out all the IT systems for two days.

Today has been more about my time however. We’ve needed to get work done on the car for a few weeks and really couldn’t put it off any longer, so I was in Staines first thing to drop it off and head into town to buy some presents. Some of it was final top-ups for people, and some of it was specifically for Lady M, so it was a good excuse to take my time in various shops and to try out a number of places selling coffee. I’ve been reasonably successful on both counts, with the added bonus that the actual cost of repairs to the car came to less than the quote they’d originally given us. Can’t complain really.

I’ve even managed to get this week’s game written up while I’ve been commiserating with Charleesi, who is in the middle of her GCSE mocks while suffering with an epic head cold. She remains cheerful with a side order of slight exasperation.

I’ve even managed to get some time to play on the XBox – with some time on the Master Chief collection playing through the Halo CE campaign, and a side trip to look at two games I bought at the weekend for the 360 – Injustice and Prototype 2. I think I shall be kept reasonably entertained between these games between now and Christmas..!