In May, my eleven year-old car was due to have the annual government inspection, and a full service. Despite its age, it was running well, and has only done 66,000 miles from new. I don’t use it that much, but living in Beetley with one car is not really an option, as long as Julie is still working. I transferred the money into my current account to pay for the work, and dropped off the car at the dealership as arranged that morning. It was a nice day, so I walked the almost four miles back to the house.
Whenever I go further afield with Ollie, he loves to get in the car. It is a spacious 7-seat MPV, (I think you call them mini-vans in America) and he has his own bed in a large area at the back. I only have to say the word ‘car’, and he runs to wait expectantly for the tailgate to be raised, before jumping in. There is no doubting that he thinks it is his car, reserved for those special trips to dog-walking pastures new.
Late that afternoon, the service manager called me. His funereal tone didn’t bode well, and the news he imparted confirmed my worst fears. It seemed that my (perfectly running) car had fallen foul of the new stricter emission laws introduced just three weeks earlier. It had not only failed the inspection, but would need a great many new parts if it was to ever pass. On top of that, those new laws forbade me driving the car away, to seek other estimates, or even to dispose of it by driving it off a cliff. No inspection certificate meant the insurance was not valid, so it was either agree to the work, or employ a recovery company to trailer my car somewhere else.
The cost of the parts and work required exceeded the resale value of the car by over £100. But the alternative was to arrange for someone to scrap the vehicle, and the costs of getting it trailered to the scrap yard would wipe out anything I would be due in return. Besides, it would leave me with no car, and just enough funds to only be able to replace it with something almost as old, and decidedly inferior. I bit the bullet, and agreed to the huge price.
Thus began the saga that will henceforth be known as ‘The Summer Of The Car’. One week later, I was contacted to be informed that they were unable to get a crucial part. This was called a DPF, something I had never heard of, and that alone cost £900. I did some research, and discovered this was a Diesel Particulate Filter, an integral and important part of the catalytic converter and exhaust system. In one afternoon with Google, I increased my knowledge about car engines by 100%. I found a suitable part on Ebay, from a supplier with good feedback. It was much cheaper too, less than £600. That cheered me up, and I resolved to contact the service manager the next day, with the good news.
That phone call was met with yet more gloomy tones. They could not guarantee the work, if they used a part supplied by anyone other than their own company. In fact, they would not even consider putting it into my car, even if I bought it, and walked to the workshops with the small parcel. It was their way, or the highway, and of course, I could always pay someone to trailer it somewhere else, if that was my choice. I reluctantly agreed to let them carry on, as I didn’t want to spend so much money, without a 12-month guarantee on the work.
Twenty-one days later, and they still couldn’t get the part. They cited problems with the supplier, and a national shortage of the elusive DPF, due to the very changes in the law that had caused my car to fail in the first place. I looked up the issue on online forums, and discovered they were right. Many owners all over the UK were in exactly the same boat. The day after, they rang to inform me that they had ‘no onward delivery date’ for the part, and that my car could potentially be in their car park for the foreseeable future. I suggested that they might as well fit some wings to it while they had it, as flying cars would be the thing, by the time it was repaired. They offered to lend me a car in the meantime, as a ‘gesture of goodwill’, because I was a valued customer of long-standing.
Julie dropped me off the next day, to collect my ‘loan car’. It was one of their new range of tiny hatchbacks, with an engine similar to that found in a food-mixer. The manual gear-shift was a shock, after six years using an automatic, and the driving position so low, I felt as if I was sitting on the floor. Once I got going, the sensation was something akin to being on a large roller skate, that just happened to have windows. And of course, once they had given me what passed as replacement transport, I dropped off their ‘waiting customer’ radar.
Using the car, I soon found it to be the vehicular equivalent of a chocolate teapot. The boot could take three carrier bags at a pinch, and certainly not a good-sized Shar-Pei dog. Performance was acceptable, when compared to a hairdryer, but the finish and quality of this Indian-built impostor left much to be desired. So it sat on the driveway, unable to be used for anything dog-related. My weekly supermarket trip necessitated using all the seats to store the shopping bags, and the one comfort I could glean from having it, was that the air-conditioning worked well, during that very hot summer.
Fast-forward, to cut a very long story short. Almost four months pass, and I have come close to forgetting I ever owned a car. Numerous phone calls, some acrimonious and heated to say the least, and eventual threats on my part. The job was finally done, and I drove their excuse for a car back, and handed it over with pleasure. I paid a bill in excess of what most people earn in a good month, and was handed the keys to my car, which sat washed (by them) and shiny in their car park.
Ollie is very glad to have his car back.