Our Cars

Kim Hen­son’s Vaux­hall Zafira and Ian Cush­way’s VW Trans­porter T5.

Car Mechanics (UK) - - Contents - Kim Hen­son Spe­cial Con­trib­u­tor

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!

Di­abol­i­cal de­sign

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.

Other as­pects

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!

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