1980s and 1990s Audis, VWs and Rovers kept off the road by switch and sen­sor fail­ures

Classic Car Weekly (UK) - - News Analysis - Sam Skel­ton

En­thu­si­asts and me­chan­ics are warning that the fo­cus on ECU (elec­tronic con­trol unit) prob­lems by the Euro­pean body rep­re­sent­ing clas­sic car clubs (FIVA) is miss­ing the point, and that there is a far more se­ri­ous prob­lem fac­ing 1980s and 1990s cars.

Switches and sen­sors that con­nect and feed in­for­ma­tion to the ECUs of mod­ern clas­sics are in very short sup­ply in some cases, and this short­fall could keep cars off the road al­most in­def­i­nitely.

FIVA has claimed that ECUs were the main source of con­cern be­cause their fail­ure would per­ma­nently keep clas­sics off the road. Ex­perts have since ar­gued this is not the case be­cause new con­trol units can be used, or the old ones re­pro­grammed.

How­ever, switches and sen­sors could be a tougher prob­lem. Audi can no longer sup­ply coolant tem­per­a­ture sen­sors for Qu­at­tros, for ex­am­ple, and Volk­swa­gen Cor­rado head­light switches are scarce. Roger Galvin, chair­man of the Qu­at­tro Owner’s Club, tells CCW’s sis­ter ti­tle Mod­ern Clas­sics, ‘It’s an on­go­ing is­sue and we have ap­proached Audi. Sadly, we haven’t got any­where.’

Alex Seb­binger is the chair­man of the Rover 800 Owner’s Club and feels parts for the 800 and its sis­ter the Honda Le­gend can be hard to source. ‘Ig­niter packs and crank sen­sors for the 2.7 Honda V6 are prone to fail­ure and very hard to source now. Both have the po­ten­tial to keep our clas­sics off the road,’ he says.

‘FIVA is sup­posed to rep­re­sent the in­ter­ests of clas­sic car own­ers through­out Europe,’ he con­tiunues, ‘and a ba­sic part of this is en­sur­ing that those com­po­nents most prone to fail­ure are re­man­u­fac­tured. While the de­bate on ECUs is noble, ECUs can be su­per­seded – a lot of the switches and sen­sors can’t. Surely th­ese should be the pri­or­ity?’

The Fed­er­a­tion of Bri­tish His­toric Ve­hi­cle Clubs (FBHVC) dis­agrees. Com­mu­ni­ca­tions di­rec­tor Geoff Lan­caster says, ‘There are many seem­ingly in­signif­i­cant parts that can ground a car. EU man­u­fac­tur­ers are re­quired to pro­vide spares back-up for 10 years, and work­ing with FIVA to ex­tend this is un­likely to work. It is un­eco­nomic for the man­u­fac­tur­ers, es­pe­cially for the less re­mark­able mass mar­ket cars. We there­fore have to fall back on spe­cial­ists, and many clubs com­mis­sion batches of parts.’

Mar­que spe­cific ve­hi­cle break­ers are still the best op­tion for find­ing re­place­ment parts and one ex­pert sug­gests that not all mar­ques are af­fected by the sen­sor and switch short­age. Clas­sic BMW breaker Ian Thomp­son, who runs Lin­war Mo­tors in South­port, says, ‘We have draw­ers of elec­tronic com­po­nents for 1980s and 1990s ex­am­ples. I’ve been break­ing BMWs since the 1960s and we have a large ware­house full of al­most any part you care to name. We’re not feel­ing the ef­fects of any short­ages.’

The so­lu­tion for some clubs is to look over­seas to source parts – with sev­eral Chi­nese com­pa­nies mak­ing bits that aren’t now of­fered in Great Bri­tain. The VW Cor­rado Club has or­dered parts in bulk for sale to its mem­bers. It has im­ported head­lamp switches among other bits and pieces from China, but only big clubs and or­gan­i­sa­tions can af­ford to buy in bulk.

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