SENSOR SHORTAGE TO HIT MODERN CLASSICS
1980s and 1990s Audis, VWs and Rovers kept off the road by switch and sensor failures
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 While the debate on ECUs is noble, ECUs can be superseded – a lot of the switches and sensors can’t. Surely these should be the priority?’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.