Electrical headaches and crumbly foam
Continuing the saga of my 1989 Skoda Favorit project (which has since been sold on), it is typical of a car that has been used very little and then left to sit that there were plenty of electrical gremlins to investigate. So
I took a break from the fuelling issues that had been preoccupying me in recent issues and tackled some of these in preparation for a possible return to the road.
My first check was the lights, and while the indicators were all good, the offside rear light and OSF sidelight did not come on. Also, while both headlights came on dip beam, they went out when you selected main beam. My first port of call was the Haynes manual to see if there was a fuse that linked these circuits. There wasn’t, so I started with the easiest bulb to access – the sidelight. Taking the bulb out and testing it with the multimeter, it had continuity so clearly wasn’t blown. For now, I put it back in the holder and plugged that back into the light unit.
Turning next to the headlights, it would be unlikely for both main beam filaments to have blown at the same time. They had separate fuses too, fuse no.3 doing the
LH light and warning lamp, with no.4 doing the RH light. However, they did have a relay in common, so that was the most likely suspect. I located and removed both the dipped headlight relay and the one for the main beam. These were identical Type 541 units, so to confirm that this was indeed where the problem lay, I swapped them over. Sure enough, I now had main beams but nothing on dipped.
Out of interest, I took the faulty relay apart and found it full of rust. As an experiment, I soaked it in de-rusting solution overnight, then washed and dried it. The contact seemed to move freely and testing with a multimeter showed good continuity, but it still did not work when plugged back into the relay board. So I dug a matching relay out of my stash of spares. This came from a BMW MINI – I’d bought an entire fuse box complete with fuses and relays for a fiver some years ago when I was experimenting with a homemade fuse and relay board for my Standard 8 Tourer. With that relay fitted, the Skoda
then presented a full set of lights, including somehow the previously reluctant OSF sidelight and OSR tail light, suggesting that dirty contacts had been the issue there. I could see why the sidelight had come back on from being removed and replaced, but I hadn’t touched the rear light yet, so I then cleaned the contacts there as well just to make sure.
Meanwhile, when knocking the wrong column stalk to check the lights, I had discovered that the wipers were moving very slowly and not parking correctly. That could have been partly down to the dry screen, but I suspected there were also some sticky linkages. However, greasing everything that moved made no difference, so my next check was to take off the wiper arms and see if that made any difference to the speed of the motor – they did not seem to be angled correctly, plus the spindles where the linkage mechanism went through the scuttle was only loosely secured, so I wondered if the movement here was twisting things out of line and making the wiper motor struggle.
To remove the arms, you have to prise off a plastic cap, then remove a 13mm nut. The LH arm came off surprisingly easily, and I could see that there was a mangled E- clip and a bent washer crammed on below it which did not look promising. I removed these, and then a plastic cup, followed by the 22mm spindle securing nut. Under this was a top hat spacer, the flange of which was very chewed up. So I started building back up, cutting a thick rubber washer to replace the broken parts of the top hat brim and so stop water from leaking past, then tightening the nut up properly.
When I went to refit the wiper arm, I noticed that it was cracked at one end. That would explain why it was not holding its place on the spindle, and why somebody had tried to bodge it on. I wasn’t sure quite how it got cracked, until I had disassembled the other side – when I was putting it back together and tightened up the arm’s 13mm securing nut, I cracked that one too! On the bright side, the motor did seem to be turning the spindles more quickly now and to have two speeds rather than one very lethargic one, even if the cracked wiper arms would not now grip those spindles.
So now I needed two new wiper arms, only I couldn’t find any for a Skoda Favorit that were for sale in the UK. In the end I found a new pair in
Germany, only £5 each but the same again for postage. The problem was that they were naturally for LHD, and so bent the opposite way to what I needed. However, I had figured out that I could use the cast section of the new wiper arms to replace my cracked ones, but transfer across the upper sections that hold the blades from my old arms.
It was pleasing to see that the new arms had more metal around the spindle hole than the old ones, and so should be more robust. To separate the two sections I removed the spring and drilled out the rivet. To secure the RHD ends with the new and unbroken base sections, I replaced the rivet with an M4 machine screw and nyloc nut. After fitting them, the wipers were working much better, but I did notice that after parking, when you started them again they went down a little before sweeping up. So I repositioned the fixing bracket to the wiper motor so that they parked at the bottom of the sweep and all was good.
My next concern was that when you activated the screenwash, it not only squirted fluid onto the font screen, but also operated the rear wiper. Then it wouldn’t wash on the front if the wipers were moving, nor would it allow a second squirt until you had stopped the wipers. Eventually I figured out what was wrong – there were two screenwash pumps, one for the windscreen and another for the tailgate, and somebody had connected them up incorrectly so that the rear wiper was connected to the windscreen’s pump. Swapping the washer pipes over sorted that one out.
Meanwhile, the Panda had been suffering from crumbling seat syndrome ever since I’d had it. You know the one – you can vacuum the interior clean as often as you like, but within a day the carpet under
“The damage had been caused by the mice whose nest I had previously found in the engine bay behind the bulkhead mat”
the driver’s seat is covered with foam crumbs again. The driver’s seat was also not the most comfortable I’d ever sat in, a bar at the base of the backrest not being particularly well padded.
Often this combination of symptoms is caused by a foam cushion being split and allowing the seat frame to grind away at its insides, so I removed the fabric cover to the backrest to investigate. I was only partially right, because the damage had been caused not by the seat frame, but by the mice whose nest I had previously found in the engine bay behind the bulkhead mat. It appeared that they had chewed a lot of the bedding for that nest out of the driver’s seat foam. So I vacuumed out any remaining loose bits of foam, filled the hole with some wadding and placed underfelt between the seat back and the foam to offer more padding.
On an enthusiastic roll by this point, I decided to do something to make better use of the modest boot space, and also reduce the risk of one of the kids being stranded at the roadside by a flat tyre. You may recall that the Panda had lost its spare wheel some time before my ownership, and my plea for anybody with a spare to get in touch had yielded no results. So I got a can of expanding tyre foam, wrapped it in insulating bubble wrap and cable-tied that bundle to the screenwash reservoir. This is where part of the spare wheel would normally have sat, the other side of it resting on the bulkhead ahead of the passenger.
Looking at that empty bulkhead, I had another idea that would also free up some space in the modest boot, an idea suggested to me by seeing T-Type MGs and other pre-war era cars with their underbonnet toolboxes. For the Panda I bought a metal cash tin (red, naturally!), threw away the plastic coin tray and bolted the tin to the bulkhead. I then filled it with a few emergency tools, spare bulbs and fuses. Finally, I also found a space in the boot that couldn’t be used for luggage, but which was perfect to permanently mount a fire extinguisher. It was all going so well, until the Panda then failed its MoT on a poor handbrake and excessive travel at the brake pedal. Unfortunately, that saga will have to wait until next issue.