Sunday, 18 December 2016

Total transmission transplant

Another update, on my car Fiona. My Volvo XC60. Six and half years old, 97,000 miles done, and from the beginning worked hard as a caravanning tow-car.

She went into the workshop four days ago. They dropped out the rear differential and had a good look at it. As suspected, the Haldex, the electro-hydraulic component that feeds appropriate motive power to each of the rear wheels - indeed all four wheels - had had its day, and has been replaced. They looked too at the purely mechanical parts of course. Nothing amiss with the driveshafts to each wheel, but the joints on the main prop shaft were badly worn, and that now has to be replaced as well. Another expensive item, but it has to be done.

So, by the time I get Fiona back - some days ahead presumably, as the extra parts need to be delivered - she will have had all the major elements in her all-wheel-drive transmission replaced. That's the auto gearbox one year ago (£5,000), and now the prop shaft and Haldex (£4,300). Oh dear. Over £9,000 poorer!

Is it worth it?

I went into the 'sentimental' and 'family' reasons why I think it is worth it a few posts back. In 2016 those still override everything.

More hard-headedly, I'll get her back with a (substantially) rejuvenated transmission, better than she would have had if she'd enjoyed an easier life. This can only enhance whatever value she has, and contribute to greater longevity. And I do want to keep her. She remains exactly the impressive, well-equipped, comfortable and caravan-capable type of car I want to support my lifestyle. Any equal or better substitute would cost at least £45,000 nowadays. The way I look at it, I'll be having a restored £45,000 car for £9,000. With anything up to ten more years' life in her.

The Volvo dealer has given me a 16-registration (that is, March 2016 to August 2016) Volvo V40 to use while Fiona is being worked on. It's a likeable car, but not AWD (so the front wheels can scrabble for grip on some surfaces when driving off - not good for caravanning!), and although not a basic-spec car by any means (it was ready to be sold off for a princely £20,499), it lacks some of Fiona's handiest driver aids, such as parking sensors, her rear-view camera, and the useful onscreen SatNav mapping. I don't like the colour (light bronze), nor the low-down driving seat (Fiona is a tall car, and you step in and out without gymnastics). It's worthy enough, and pleasant to drive, but not at all the type of thing I would choose to buy. And I'd be loath to pay megabucks for it on a monthly PCP plan.

There's something else too, something I'd not fully understood. It's a psychological thing.

I own Fiona. I paid cash for her, and from the start I could do whatever I liked with her. I could modify her, trick her out with fancy accessories, anything. All I in fact did was to ask Volvo to install a towbar, so that I could pull a caravan around. But even that wouldn't have been possible if she hadn't been properly mine.

And I knew Fiona would inevitably become 'battle-scarred', whether my fault or not. I don't necessarily mean she'd get rammed or shunted by careless drivers in public car parks. The slow attrition of bouncing road grit, kamekaze summer flies, and rogue branches would pit and scour the paintwork, however adept I might be at shielding her from minor accidents. After more than six years, she still looks very much the upmarket car, but in reality - if you look closely - there are some minor blemishes to be seen here and there. I have had the worst of them properly repaired and resprayed. The rest are hardly noticeable, and can be ignored; but they are there, all the same.

The overall impression remains good. The blemishes are of no consequence. The illusion of a nicely looked-after car is intact. Fiona isn't going to face a hand-back moment when some chappie examines her minutely for scrapes and dents, and deducts a few hundred pounds for them - or imposes an excess-mileage penalty. I can use her, and enjoy her, as much as I want, and with complete peace of mind. I don't need to worry about some nemesis moment when my usage becomes a big issue. It never will. I see myself eventually trading Fiona in for some nominal amount, and if that's ten years ahead then I need not care what I may get. I'll have got full value out of her.

Not so with a car you don't own, that you must hand back after only a short time. You have to take such care, because it will cost you big money if the car comes to any harm at all. So when driving the V40 loaned to me I'm worried all the time, just in case a traffic situation develops and something bad happens. Country lanes have become a no-no, in case I have to scrape past a hedge. I can't relax and enjoy the drive. I've used the V40 for essential local trips only - shopping and appointments. It serves merely as a utilitarian transport device. It's kept me mobile, so I'm glad to have it - but I can't in any way bond with it; I can only look after it for the time being, until I can hand over responsibility for it.

That's not the kind of relationship I want with a car.

So I will feel huge relief when Fiona is back. The cloud of constant anxiety will lift and blow away. Indeed, it may be tempting the gods to say it, but what big item is left to go wrong? Only the engine itself, and there are no signs that the 2.4 litre 5-cylinder diesel under the bonnet is feeling its age. I will still face regular replacements of this and that - tyres, brakes, drivebelt, exhaust, and the rest - but that's the nature of older car ownership.

I don't know how my holiday plans for 2017 will now be affected. I need to cover the expense of that prop shaft. It looks as if I will have to curtail my spring West County Tour pretty drastically. So nothing can be booked yet.

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