Kim Henson’s Vauxhall Zafira and Ian Cushway’s VW Transporter T5.
Ibought our 2003 Vauxhall Zafira 2.0 SRI DTI when it was exactly one year old and with just 8000 miles on the clock – effectively, a new car. At that time, the Zafira was widely regarded as the compact seven-seater MPV by which others were judged. Having comprehensively driven and evaluated all the competitors in my daily writings for various magazines, I concurred with the consensus.
I opted for the 2.0 DTI for its fuel economy and high torque output, plus the fact that it had a timing chain rather than a cambelt. I also liked this model for its high overall gearing, which meant low engine revs when cruising at speed. In theory, it was the perfect car for our family.
From the outset – and as described in my last feature on this car, at which time it had covered 80,000 miles; it now has 110,000 on the clock – our Zafira suffered from a number of mainly electrical gremlins that detracted from its terrific practicality. This despite the fact that it had always been serviced frequently, using genuine Vauxhall lubricants and components.
It was off the road for months at a time while various ailments were diagnosed and sorted out. Certainly, our vehicle was not a good advert for Vauxhall reliability. Thankfully our ageing British Leyland/rover cars helped us through these times.
Finally, about five years ago and with the help of many specialists, these problems were chased out of the Zafira and I finally had the car I thought I was buying in the first place. Until recently...
After several years of problem-free motoring, I was enjoying the Zafira until one day it was exceedingly reluctant to start. I suspected the fuel pump assembly might have failed – a known and muchfeared problem with this Zafira’s system. Due to some strange design thinking by Bosch/vauxhall, on this model the assembly is a ridiculous combination of the vehicle’s diesel fuel pump and the car’s main ECU. So if one or the other of these units fails, the complete assembly has to be replaced. Cost? A cool £1600, plus labour involving much dismantling of the engine. I was quoted £2750 for the job.
To cut a long story short, following another non-starting episode, eventually the car was towed to the top-class diesel specialists, Electro-diesel (RCJ) Ltd of Poole (Tel 01202 731000) where new leak-off pipes were installed, as the originals were starting to crack, drawing air into the system. In addition, Electrodiesel established that the pump was OK, but that the seals between the injectors and the cylinderhead were leaking. Often the seals themselves are fine, but the nuts securing the feed pipes to the individual fuel injectors (located underneath the camshaft) are slightly loose, allowing the ingress of air and resulting in a lack of fuel pressure. Each injector pipe securing nut on my Zafira’s engine took an entire turn to fully tighten, after which the car started and has been running fine over the last 2000 miles or so.
Incidentally, Electro-diesel recommended that, if one of these DTI engines fails to start through lack of fuel/air in the system, prolonged
cranking of the engine will only make matters worse, draining the battery and resulting in fuel returning to the tank so there is then no hope of self-priming/ restarting. Instead, in cases where the problem is just beginning, ‘flicking’ the ignition key to the start position may help get the engine running. Often, in the early stages of air leaks, the engine may appear to run OK until it is next stopped. Of course, the underlying problem still needs to be sorted.
I was just relieved that the cost of getting the car running was a few hundred pounds, not a few thousand!
With the car back on the road, its next 300 miles were covered with a full load of six people plus a full complement of luggage, followed immediately by another 500 miles on a tour of Cornwall. The next day, the car was at J&C Motors in Bournemouth (Tel 01202 742574) for what I thought would be a routine change of the manual transmission oil. This entailed removal of the engine/ front subframe undertray/shield, to access the transmission drain plug.
When the undertray was released, I was horrified to discover the subframe beneath it was rotten. It had all but disintegrated by the vitally-important mountings for the lower suspension arms/wishbones. As this was possibly the first time the undertray had been removed, MOT testers would not have been aware of the problem.
Having just spent several hundred pounds on the vehicle, I decided that I was in too deep to abandon it, so a new subframe was ordered from Vauxhall and was fitted after being comprehensively treated it with corrosion-resisting paint on the outside and anti-rust fluid on the inside. I introduced this through every available aperture, allowing the fluid to settle before rotating the subframe through 90° and reapplying the fluid.
My understanding is that much of the Zafira bodywork was galvanised from new, but this didn’t include the subframe. The rust problem is not helped by the felt-like insulation material on the upper surface of the undertray, which holds moisture against the undersides of the subframe’s side members. Trade sources confirm that this is a known problem with Zafira A models built from 1999 to 2005, yet the majority of owners and even most garages are almost certainly unaware of the potential danger. It appears that the subframe set-up on B series cars from 2005 is similar.
To avoid a repetition of such problems in the future, I have trimmed the side sections of the undertray with a craft knife, so it’s no longer held against the subframe and is now visible from below. This means it can be checked and, if necessary, rustproofed at each service.
I realise that my Zafira is not new, but at 14 years old I didn’t expect a potentially disastrous structural issue like this.
My Zafira has required the routine replacement of tyres, anti-roll bar links, sections of the exhaust system and two batteries. The plastic-coated brake pipes rusted through beneath their protective layer and also had to be renewed. The main mechanical components, including the engine, clutch, gearbox and driveshafts, are the originals, with just one driveshaft gaiter being renewed. The biggest issues have been with electrical ailments, manifold flap problems and the fuel system design/construction.
The plastic-coated brake pipes on my Zafira had rusted beneath the plastic and were replaced using non-rusting copper-based pipes.
The fuel leak-off pipes are prone to cracking, allowing air to be drawn into the fuel. They are attached to deeply-recessed stubs, so you’ll need long-nosed pliers to reach them.
Zafira DTI leak-off pipes can disintegrate when being withdrawn from their stubs. Patience is required to remove all remnants with a pointed implement.
The subframe when removed from the vehicle. Not a pretty sight. The subframe was rotten from stem to stern, yet the car’s main bodywork is still extremely sound.
My Zafira’s front subframe once the undertray had been removed. The lower suspension arms/wishbones were barely attached!