Friday, 20 November 2015

A transplant is needed

Not for me, I hasten to say! It's for Fiona, my car. She needs a new automatic gearbox.

I mentioned the humming noise that began a few months ago, which still hadn't been traced and fixed. We'd been thinking of wheel bearings, and driveshafts, and differentials, and other components of the transmission. But not the gearbox itself. Well, very recently there had been a few issues with gear-shifting, when starting up from cold. I reported these, and today the Volvo dealer made a few checks specifically on the gearbox.

The oil level in the box was correct - but there was clear evidence of burnt oil. It appeared that some electro-mechanical bits had not been letting the gearbox oil circulate quite as it should, and heat and wear had been the result. Made worse, of course, by towing the caravan so much. The gearbox was still good for a while yet, but the recommendation was to replace it in the next few thousand miles. The dealer's quote was £5,015. This was £3,353 for the automatic six-speed all-wheel drive gearbox, £115 for gearbox oil, £711 for labour, and the remainder was VAT on each of those items.

If Fiona were just an old runabout, I'd be sourcing a reconditioned auto gearbox, getting it installed, and possibly passing her on for cash so that I could buy another car to get me around in. But she was not an old runabout.

This was the car bought with a ring-fenced inheritance from Mum's brother Des, which I scrupulously spent to the penny.

This was the car that Mum (unusually) approved of my buying - an impressive, luxury car that would be a fitting memorial to her brother.

This was the car that was built for me at the Volvo factory, in accordance with my personally-chosen specification. It was in fact the top specification possible in January 2010, plus more. In a sense, I created Fiona.

She had been my faithful friend and reliable companion in many, many adventures all over the country. I had a lot of family sentiment invested in her. And I owed her a huge amount of personal regard and loyalty.

Fiona was only five and half years old. Given a new gearbox, she might easily go on to live her full expected lifespan. There were plenty of old Volvos on the road, and they generally looked very good for their age. If Fiona were a dearly-beloved horse or dog with some life-threatening illness, £5,000 would not be too much to spend on her.

But - but - I did not have the money. On hearing the verdict, my eyes filled. I must have looked stricken with despair. But I recovered. She need not die. It was basically a matter of money - ways and means must be found.

I discussed an alternative: trading her in, as she was, for a new car. But the figures predictably did not add up. I could not afford the monthly repayments needed to have a spanking-new 2015 version of Fiona. Even though the deal would of course reduce my day-to-day running costs, the fuel consumption being better, and the ordinary servicing costs coming free for three years. I sat in the showroom car. It was swish and high-tech. But at the same time, I was quick to realise that the differences between this car and mine were only superficial. The salesman could offer a cracking deal. But it was no good. It made no sense, even if I'd been able to meet the cost. What, £462 a month for four years? And then a final settlement payment? Beyond my reach.

I told them that I would think about all my options over the weekend, and I drove away. How lovely it was to sink into Fiona's familiar driver's seat! She was warmed up, and all the way home her performance was smooth and faultless. But there was still that humming noise to remind me that something must be decided. At least we now knew where the hum was coming from.

By the time I got back home, I knew that I'd be having that new gearbox with a bank loan to fund it. I fired up the PC and looked at what my bank could offer in the way of a £5,000 loan. And I tweaked the loan period to produce a monthly repayment that struck a good balance between getting rid of the loan quickly, and affordability. £176 a month for 30 months seemed about right. This would have no effect whatever on my day-to-day standard of living. It would however restrict my monthly savings by £175 each month for the next two and half years.

I read the terms and conditions, then applied online, and got immediate provisional acceptance. I'm now hoping there is nothing in my credit history to deny me this loan - there shouldn't be; and there certainly wasn't when I last obtained Experian and Equifax reports in late 2009. Obviously, the gearbox replacement can't go ahead before the loan is actually signed and sealed, and the funds have arrived in my account.

So - if all goes well - Fiona will get her transplant and live on to a ripe old age.

But I'll be £5,289 poorer by June 2018. That means some of my expenditure plans must be postponed. Probably no new laptop in 2016. And less ambitious caravan holidays for a while - I won't now be going to Shetland in 2017.



  1. The greatest fear with any car is such a fault occurring. I made enquiries about when the timing belt would need to be replaced, a very cheap part, for my cheap van they will want £500+, they have us by the short and curlies! Gone are the days when cars were designed with ease of maintenance as any part of the brief! I remember days when I was even poorer and I followed the instructions and removed a gearbox just out in the driveway and put it back once the clutch was repaired, did I really save myself the equivalent of £853.20?

    You know that you can have free B & B up here if you want to save some cash next year...

  2. Thank you as always for your B&B offer, Coline, but as you know, if I travel as far as Scotland, I'll want to tour, and that means having the caravan with me...

    It's amazing how much motoring costs nowadays. At least what you might call 'quality' motoring in fairly new cars.


  3. Ouch! That is a very big bill for a relatively new high quality(?) car. How sure are they that this fault won't recur in a few year's time?

    Is there any sense in delaying the repair until the 'noise' gets markedly worse, or is the gearbox now likely to fail catastrophically?

    It seems not long ago that you were rejoicing about your extra £125pw in state pension. I'm just so glad for you that Fiona's problem didn't raise its ugly head before that pension arrived.

  4. It's a huge bill. I have been urged to consider other options, such as trading Fiona in against a new car, as part of an ongoing series of three-year hire contracts. In that way I'd avoid all the maintenance problems of running an older car. Fixed-price motoring in fact, although to match (or improve on) my present costs I'd have to accept something less powerful and probably less luxurious. Nor would I ever own such a car. And it might be a car from another maker.

    Do I really want to abandon personal ownership and live with contractual restrictions? Is it only about costs? And would I end up with a capable towcar?

    I'll be thinking hard about these things in the days ahead, before the bank loan firms up.



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