Saturday, 16 February 2013

The idiot and the cripple - a cautionary mechanical tale

MECHANICAL maladies, to trot out an old cliché, are like buses. You spend ages untroubled by them and then a stack of them all arrive at once.

The Life On Cars fleet normally consists of my cherished old MGB GT, the Mazda MX-5 for when I'm in the mood for a B-road blast and a Rover 214SEi for all the mundane, everyday tasks. However, while I can expect the MG, which was built at British Leyland factory in the 1970s, to be a bit temperamental, in the past week I've suffered a coolant leak on the MX-5 and starting problems on the normally faultlessly reliable Rover. 

All relatively minor problems for anyone with even the slightest bit of mechanical nous, but a talented engineer I am not. Normally I'd entrust such tasks to my long-suffering dad - who is a talented engineer - but because he's suffering from back problems I thought I'd do something dangerously unprecedented in my petrolhead life thus far.

With all the parts already ordered in, I thought I'd have a go at mending the problems myself.

It was a great plan. I'd set off at the crack of dawn this morning in the MX-5, pick up some spark plugs for the Rover, and appoint my dad as project manager while I changed the MGB's candle-in-a-jam-jar headlights for some halogen jobs. With this simple job out of the way, I'd then switch the cracked hose on the freshly cooled MX-5 for a new one, swap it for the Rover and treat that to a new distributor cap, leads and spark plugs. I had all the bits I needed, a full Saturday to do it in and a talented engineer - albeit one who couldn't, thanks to a spot of sciatica, do anything involving physical labour - to advise me.

Sadly that's not exactly how it worked out.

For starters, the MX-5 decided it wasn't going to play ball, and decided at the exact moment of me pulling into PartCo's car park that the my pre-mend bodging wasn't up to scratch. As the man behind the till passed me the Rover's leads and plugs, he looked past my shoulder and out of the window, at the increasingly sick-looking Mazda.

After giving me a slightly worried glance, he asked: "Would you, by any chance, be needing any K-Seal as well?". 

"Yeah, it might not be a bad idea," I responded, before he gave his diagnosis.

"Your car looks like it's about to explode."

Half an hour, a bottle of K-Seal's finest and three miles of automotive limping later and I was ready to crack on with the first of the three tasks - swapping the MG's lights over. It should've taken, at most, half an hour, but everything that could possibly have gone wrong did go wrong. We blew fuses. We rounded screws. We ended up getting endlessly frustrated by impossibly fiddly bits of wiring which could only really be solved by suddenly sprouting a second set of arms. Worst of all, we'd underestimated that dark force of the UK's classic car scene; British Leyland electrics. All the coffee, minor injuries and swearing in the world can't beat that one!

Several hours later and the idiot/cripple team had to throw in the towel, when the talented-but-injured member of our double act found it just too painful, literally and metaphorically, to carry on. Frustratingly, even after all that grafting I'm at the exact same point I was this morning, with an MG with a single working headlight, a Mazda that thinks it's a kettle and a Rover which refuses to start if the weather's being a bit British. 

Naturally, there's only one way to deal with this humiliating defeat on a trio of relatively simple mechanical tasks. Have another go tomorrow, of course...

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