e recently decided that it might be a good idea to upgrade our daily driver, given that Christchurch’s earthquake-damaged roads have been taking their toll on its suspension components, to the point where even a shopping commute is no longer pleasant — one has to turn up the CD player to drown out the noises! Clearly, buying something local was not an option, as other cars might also have similar issues. Thus an alternative was to look at a car from outside Christchurch. Having decided to look at something a bit more up-market, as we were missing my old ‘works’ late-model vehicle, we visited a local auction centre from which we had purchased cars in the past. One of those was my former company-provided car which I had driven new off the showroom floor in 1997. Knowing it was serviced with no expense spared during its time in my hands, it seemed sensible to purchase it when it came up for auction.
With this in mind we went for a browse, and spotted a rather nice late 1990s Jaguar S-type — the V8 version. While it looked okay and started and ran well, there was no driver manual or other paperwork (such as service records) to indicate whether or not it had been looked after. At nearly 120,000 kilometres, any astute buyer would want to see the service history, as these things needed to be serviced on a regular basis. More particularly, the V8 engines apparently clapped out in a major way at around 60,000 to 90,000km — if the internet sites are to be believed. Having owned a Jaguar MKI in the early 1970s, there was something enticing about owning a more modern version, but one that looked ‘old’ — as the S-type did. So the next step was the important internet check (Carjam, Checka etc). The NZTA database captures odometer recordings at Warrant of Fitness checks ( Wofs). From these readings one can get a reasonably accurate idea of the veracity of the odometer reading showing in the car. Imagine my surprise when I noted that, according to the NZTA records, this car had only travelled fewer than 700km per year for the past four years! And had seemingly ‘ lost’ some 13,000km at some stage prior to that. There was no indication that the engine had been replaced (one expensive repair option), and with no documentation, there was no way of establishing if any remedial repair work had been done to the motor, if anything else.
Given that it was in the hands of only one individual for some five years, and the average kilometres travelled for most cars is approximately 8000 to 12,000 per annum, why was this example seemingly not driven more than approximately two kilometres per day for some four years? Further, given that the internet know-alls claim that the Jaguar V8 engines last only 60,000 to 90,000 kilometres, was it simply the fact that this Jaguar’s V8 engine was well past its ‘best-by’ date, having regard to possibly the ‘preclocked’ kilometres, and was it likely to clap out on the way home?
Normally at these auctions any paperwork, driver’s manuals, receipts etc. are in the vehicle, so that prospective buyers can inspect at their leisure. The fact that there were none rang warning bells for me. Jaguar S-types have the OBDII (On Board Diagnostics II) connection under the dashboard just above the driver’s left foot, and it is a simple matter to plug in your scan tool (or even your adaptor to connect to your laptop) and rewind your odometer back to where you want it to be.
Apart from owners misusing the computer gadgetry to mislead potential buyers, there is evidence that some commercial operators misuse vehicle computers to facilitate additional and often unnecessary services. For example, resetting the service light to make it illuminate much earlier than necessary in order to have the owner bring the car in earlier than recommended by the manufacturer. I can recall a work-related trip in a rental Holden Commodore from Mr Budget from the Far North back to Auckland Airport, when just south of Kawakawa the damn ‘engine fault’ light came on. No amount of stopping and starting would make it go away, so I limped carefully back to the airport. The car drove fine all the way. On arrival I mentioned the warning light to the rental company employee, who replied, “Aw don’t worry about that! On that model the damn thing comes on all the time! It’s still okay to drive it!”
Having been recently brought up to speed with OBDII by one of my loyal readers, I discovered that our Mustang GT also has one — but that has an old-fashioned odometer that cannot be fiddled with by computers.
Having grown up in an age where one could normally fix a car on the side of the road (if it stopped, it was either fuel or electrical, or mechanical!) and given I’m a bit of a Luddite with computer technology (did you know that Megabyte was not a big mouthful?), I struggle with comprehending the advantages of computers in cars, if the data generated can be tampered with so easily, thereby rendering it useless to you and me. I also struggle with the need to pay large amounts of folding stuff for a ‘service’ when often there is no corelationship between what work was actually done and what work was invoiced. On more than one occasion I have been charged for work that had not been done as claimed. If it happens to me, then it is happening to others, but on what sort of scale?
Hopefully someone will develop a computer programme that when it is connected to your car’s computer will detail exactly what work has been done or not done. And getting back to Jaguars — some S-types have a sealed transmission unit, which means that it cannot be topped up without a major dismantle. Which begs the question, why would a service document for one of those cars show “top up transmission fluid”? Further, one receipt I looked at on another Jaguar showed “$676 to rotate wheels”. Either their hourly rate is $676 per hour, or someone was being ripped off.
Receipts/ service documentation (accurate or otherwise) will tell a reasonably accurate picture of a vehicle’s history. Paperwork, in my humble opinion, is a damn sight more reliable than a car’s computer, which is only as accurate as the latest information that was inputted. Meanwhile the hunt for a new ride continues.