Caught a bug

Car Mechanics (UK) - - Our Cars - Mar­tyn Knowles Editor

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...

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...

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...

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...

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.

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...

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.

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....

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...

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...

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