Caught a bug
Regretfully, I’ve not written an
Our Cars report for a very long time. But that doesn’t mean I’ve not been actively involved in general car duties. To bring you up-todate, I wanted to talk about my latest purchase and the reason behind it.
Generally I buy vehicles I consider ‘value for money’ – I’m known as the ‘fifteen hundred pound man’ (no jokes, please). Buying a car at auction is always dicey and I consider £1500 not too much of an outlay if things do go drastically wrong – such as the engine going kaput. That hasn’t happened yet, but if it did I could conceivably break the vehicle and get back a majority of my outlay.
So, with a trip across France and into Spain planned for last June, my partner Sarah and me decided that we liked the idea of travelling topless!
We had plenty of convertibles to choose from in the sub-£1500 bracket – I think the Renault Megané is one of the cheapest on offer with its hard-top design, and the new VW Beetle and R50/52/53 BMW MINI models have come down considerably in price on the used car market in the past couple of years. I had bought a 130,000-mile Y-reg R50 MINI One for a colleague a few months ago for £500 + fees at BCA – it was one of the pre-production press cars, but I don’t think anyone else knew that.
Sarah liked the retro-look, so we nailed it down to either a Beetle cabrio or MINI convertible. But having seen the size of the MINI boot, our decision was made for us: we needed a German bug.
Next, Sarah said she wanted a brightcoloured exterior for our trip. Looking at candidates at BCA in May, I spotted a Sundown Orange example – you don’t see this colour as often as beige or yellow. It had a private plate attached to it. Initially it was booked to enter the auction in the coming week, then that was changed to the following one, so I knew the plate was going to be coming off.
Registered in September 2005, it had higher miles than I would have preferred – warranted 111,841 – and there was no service history to speak of, apart from one sheet showing an oil change and checkover from the selling garage prior to the sale to the last owner. In fact, this garage had become one of the registered keepers for two weeks in 2013 – why? The last owner had taken the speedo from 73,000 to 111,000 in just over four years, so she must have liked it!
Bidding starting at £600 and fell to me at £1000 + fees. I hadn’t seen the Beetle myself and decided to have it delivered. Although I had paid a transporter cost, the VW was driven to my house by one
of the auction workers – he was using my fuel! On the notes from the driver it stated that the tyres were low on tread. Strange that, I thought, as it had passed its MOT test only two months earlier with no advisories.
Viewing the last owner’s address on Google Maps had it sussed: the Beetle was riding with a different set of alloys. The genuine VW alloys it was now wearing had some dodgy-looking mismatched rubber, so a new full set of Toyo Proxes was ordered.
Our bright orange Beetle didn’t quite look orange to me. Sarah described the colour as Coral, then someone suggested it was Peach, then Salmon... Hold on, Salmon is pink! Still, at least it didn’t have any flower decals stuck to the paint. Bizarrely, the bodywork has become more Orange over the past few months – maybe it has a suntan?
Spec-wise our little Beetle has a few extras: a Winter Pack – including heated front seats, heated windscreen washer jets and front foglights – aircon, parking sensors and a six-disc CD autochanger mounted in the front armrest. The
non-metallic Sundown Orange paint was also apparently an extra-cost option.
First job was to check for engine oil. There was barely a smidgen on the end of the dipstick and it took 1.25 litres to reach the maximum mark. However, it fired up with no blue smoke from the exhaust, and the electric roof worked!
The Beetle ran fine and I probably could have run the Cabriolet to Spain as it was – I reckon it would have made it – but I like to have my cars in tip-top condition. So a job sheet was created.
First, the MIL was glowing and so was the airbag light. Attaching my Foxwell code reader showed that the post-cat Lambda sensor was at fault. Not too bad – that’s the cheaper of the two. However, I couldn’t get the airbag light to go out.
The clutch was making a horrible creaking noise when lifting at idle – this was one of the jobs not touched as it would involve clutch removal. The gearchange on the Beetle (being essentially a Golf MKIV) is fabulous to operate and our example was fine in that respect. The top mounts on the front suspension were creaking, but that was left for now.
Running out of time, I went to my local VAG specialist, Vasstechnik in Eastbourne. Jobs requiring attention included an oil and filter change – I purchased five litres of Quantum 5W40 fully-synthetic oil from a VW main dealer for £19.99, along with a genuine filter. Mann air and pollen filters were fitted, along with NGK spark plugs, Drivetec front discs/pads, DOT4 brake fluid, a fuel filter (the old one was the 12-yearold original), a cambelt, water pump, drivebelt, temp sensor, three vacuum hoses/pipes and an oxygen sensor. Plus an aircon regas. My credit card was getting a bashing! Vasstechnik also offered an EDT engine decontamination treatment – more on that next time.
The orange airbag light is still glowing as a control module is required – a secondhand replacement will do here.
Did we make it to Spain? You can read all about it in the next issue...
The 100bhp 1.6 Volkswagen engine, coded BFS, is not one of its best in terms of reliability. Nevertheless, this one was still running at 112,000 miles and we needed it to run for another 2000 without fault for our trip to Spain.
A new dipstick was purchased as the original was breaking up. Bits of orange in the sump is best avoided. A nongenuine part was bought for £7.99.
The driver’s side sun-visor retaining clip was broken. I eventually found a replacement from a UK ebay supplier, predominately dealing with VW Transporters, for £3.59 delivered.
The offside door reflector was missing. I found it hiding in the glovebox – with a broken lug. A copy came from China via ebay at £2.29.
Vacuum pipes on the 1.6 are a weak point. They can split with age and the large pipe running from the air mass meter can become clogged, causing engine smoke. With one of the hoses bodged with black tape and not seating correctly, I decided to change all three vacuum components: a crankcase breather at £47.10, an air pump vent hose for £19.17 and the connecting pipe (at right) for £102. All genuine parts = one expensive experience!
Bought for £1000 hammer price, the 2005 Volkswagen Beetle Convertible hasn’t been the bargain that I thought it would be. I can’t bring myself to count up the total outlay for repairs/servicing. There’s plenty of scratches around the paintwork and a dent in the nearside sill where there have been repairs in the past, judging by the exposed metal underneath. The bonnet also has orange peel (no pun intended!).
For me, Yokohama and Toyo are a good mid-range choice of tyre. I had taken sizes from all the old tyres and ordered up a set of 205/50/16 Toyo Proxes T1-R. However, the spare is wearing a 205/55/16.
With no evidence of any service history, it was wise to change the cambelt. The belt runs the water pump so that was renewed as well, along with an INA tensioner.
The pollen filter is hidden inside the cabin under the huge dash panels below the windscreen. It was a matter of removing a few large bits of trim to find a filter that hadn’t been changed since the day it was built. No wonder the cabin had a stale smell. Vasstechnik technican Lee plugged in the vacuum cleaner to clear the mess, before offering up a Mann replacement filter.
With a fault code showing for the Coolant Temperature Sensor – a common VAG failure – and no temperature gauge on the dash, it was soon changed for £16.31 from ECP.
The centre exhaust was lacking a weld join here. They all do that, sir... The whole system was still sound, so we left it as we found it.
Both front and rear bumpers, as well as the door mirrors and sill areas, had faded orange paint; the traffic film remover used at hand car washes causes this discolouration. It’s not all bad news, though, as cutting back the paintwork is easy enough. First, I sprayed the bodywork with a fine mist of water, then applied 3M Fast Cut PLUS with a Sealey rotating polisher. Once wiped off with a microfibre cloth, the same process was completed with Sonax Perfection Polishing Wax. For the Beetle’s back bumper (top right), it took 1.5 hours to achieve this finish.
There are deep scratches on the nearside back bumper. I had intended to rub these down and repaint them using the correct Sundown Orange rattle cans, but I ran out of time and will be tackling it in the future.
Changing spark plugs on the 1.6 is a bit of a challenge. The inlet manifold needs to part to gain access to plugs 2 and 3. Fortunately, the manifold splits after removing eight bolts. Technician Lee felt that plug 3 was fighting him all the way out. In fact, refitting the new NGK BKUR6EG-10 spark plug became a stressful task – he could feel that the thread might be slightly damaged in the plug port. After a few goes at hand-tightening the plug, it was decided get the torque wrench on it. All worked out OK and it hasn’t fallen out thus far. Lee suspects that the plugs taken out were newer on 1 and 4 than 2 and 3 – the last person who serviced this engine must have realised the problem facing them!
Using the same 3M Fast Cut PLUS on the chrome trim that runs around the bottom of the fabic hood, I managed to get good results in removing the horrid discolouration caused by traffic film remover. I was impressed by how it gave the whole car a fresh look.