WHEN ANY LEAVES ARE THEWRONG KIND OF LEAVES
There’s an old joke, here in Britain, about the ‘wrong’ kind of snow. It dates from a particularly severe winter about 40 years ago, when many trains were brought to a halt by unusually fine powder snow being ingested into their electric traction motors and control systems. Someone at British Rail – as it was then, long before privatisation – used the now famous phrase in an attempt to excuse the predictable PR disaster and, like weatherman Michael Fish’s later and no less famous remark about the October 1987 hurricane, it passed into folklore.
And now, every autumn – or fall, to you Americans – we have the ‘wrong’ kind of leaves, which no less predictably affect train services by coating the already inherently slippery rails with a greasy slime that naturally has a dramatic effect on both acceleration and braking, and thus journey times. Never mind that one obvious solution is to chop down at least some of the trees which in many places, thanks to perennial – and short-sighted – costcutting, now dramatically overshadow the tracks.
Fallen leaves are a major problem for we car owners, too. If you allow them to stand on the paintwork for too long they will all too often irreversibly mark it, and at the time of writing – early December – some of the rural roads around where I live are as treacherous as if they were covered in black ice or even engine oil. Deceased foliage also has a nasty habit of accumulating in normally unseen areas of the vehicle’s structure, blocking drain holes and causing all manner of seemingly unrelated problems. Ask just about any earlier VW Golf or Passat owner.
Or the owner of this 996. By chance, it’s the same ‘T’-registration Tiptronic car that figured in last month’s Technical Topics, belonging to a customer of Mike Champion at MCE Porsche in Middleton Cheney, north Oxfordshire (mceporsche.com). On that previous occasion, you will possibly recall, the owner was experiencing a problem reliably moving the shift lever out of ‘Park’, thanks to a faulty brakelight switch. This time, says Mike, she was back because just a few weeks later the brake pedal itself had become hard and unresponsive.
Acting on an engineer’s hunch, Mike’s first port of call was the vacuum-operated servo, with its actuating rod located beneath the plastic cover under the trailing edge of the front lid. It was immediately apparent that this area had become the final resting place for not just dead leaves but the almost soil-like substance into which they inevitably compost. This was completely blocking the (hopelessly small) drain holes provided, and there was an obvious – and suspicionarousing – ‘tidemark’ on the concertina-style rubber gaiter protecting the rod between the pedal, inside the car, and the servo itself.
Long story short: the gaiter, while not visibly damaged, was somehow allowing water into the body of the servo, where it had accumulated and, over time, caused the mechanism inside to corrode and seize. The only answer would be a brand-new servo – at around £150 plus VAT and four hours’ labour to fit it and, of course, to clear out the drains. Mike was initially hopeful that he would be able to tackle the task without breaking into the hydraulic lines to the master cylinder, but in the event the servo’s actuator rod was just too long to allow the cylinder to be pulled far enough forward to allow that. It was something of a silver lining in the cloud, though, because the brake fluid would undoubtedly benefit from being renewed, too.
So you know what to do – irrespective of whether your car has a suspected servo problem or not. Get out there now, and lift off that plenumchamber cover to check and clear the drain holes, either by vacuuming out as much debris as you can, or by vacuuming and then blowing out the area with compressed air. Have a long, hard look at the servo gaiter, too (below). Many cars of this period – 986 Boxsters, as well as 996s – would have had an improved servo fitted back in the day, under the provisions of a Porsche technical service bulletin, or TSB, but yours, like this one, might for some reason have slipped through the net.