W

New Zealand Classic Car - - PRICE ON -

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.

Buyer be­ware

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.

More ques­tions

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.

Abuse

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?

Re­li­able pa­per­work

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.

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