25 Feb 2013

Speedmonkey Fleet - Colin's Garage

Colin Hubbard writes about his vehicles, a BMW 320d Touring, a VW Golf GTi Anniversary and a Honda VFR800Fi - and his garage

Welcome to the first instalment of Colin’s Garage, a monthly feature on my arrangement of vehicles I run to transport me, the wife (Sarah), kids and dog around the planet, but mainly in Cheshire.

I start this feature with a look at my actual garage which I am particularly proud of and had built for me about 6 years ago. When we first moved into our house it had a concrete sectional garage at the end of the garden and our plan was to build a large garage next to the house to offer privacy and safety for the rear garden whilst giving me somewhere to ‘play’ at nights. As a serial car and bike lover it’s great to be able to work day or night to get jobs done on our vehicles in good light and relative warmth.

I had some drawings put together based on my sketches and they were submitted to the planning authority as a Full Planning application due to the size of the garage – 6 metres wide by 7.5 metres long, enough to comfortably fit 2 cars, a motorbike and workbench. Not surprisingly the planning application was approved.  This was a given as I had spoken to my neighbours to get them on side and the scheme proposed the same roof pitch and slate to match my house along with matching reclaimed brick.
The garage was built in about 3 months.  I specced it up with a boarded loft space, insulation in the floor and walls, 4 large double strip lights, double glazed rear window and insulated and remote controlled double width front garage door. The insulation means it remains warm in winter and cool in summer and as we always put our cars away they are dry and a comfortable temperature whenever we get in them. In addition when working in there I am at a comfortable temperature, so it was worth the extra spend. The remote electric garage door is absolutely fantastic, it takes the bother out of getting out of the car in bad weather and getting dirty hands closing the garage door, without this and like most others we wouldn’t put the car in the garage as much.

All in it cost £15,000, which adds to the value of the house and makes me smile when I use it.  Like looking back at a really handsome car when you are walking away from it. The only negative point about the garage comes to car insurance.  My car insurance company wanted an extra £30 a year to leave it in the garage overnight due to the fact I could drive into the garage when parking so its more of a risk than leaving on the drive. As I have eyes and a neck that turns around and thus the ability to park a car without crashing into the garage it’s insured on the drive but it gets put in the garage overnight as it would be just stupid to leave it on the drive.

Theres plenty of space in the garage to open all the doors on Sarah’s car and my drivers door (I reverse in), unlike modern garages where they are only designed to take a lawnmower, the Christmas decorations and a few empty cardboard boxes. My Dad's modern house with its modern garage only has enough room to open the drivers door on my Golf when parked close to the wall on the passenger side, and even then you have to grab the door to get out as you’ve only about 10 inches room and have to manoeuvre backwards and out like a contortionist. In addition to the space in the garage theres a small loft area which I can’t stand up in but it’s the perfect space for those spare wheels, spare stereo equipment and all those empty cardboard boxes that you don’t use!!!

To sum up - designing, building and owning your own garage is great fun and keeps your pride and joy in it’s own armoured shell safe from the rain, the sun and the scum.

Anyway enough about the garage, whats going on with the vehicles which is the likely reason you are still reading this.

The most costly vehicle this month has been Sarah’s BMW 320d Msport Touring, to quote its full title.  I've done a 'Living with' of the 320d, which you can read here.

As it’s a BMW its got rear wheel drive which proves a challenge (read ‘frigging nightmare’) in the snow and ice and, after Sarah declared she wanted to change her car after an incident in the snow before Christmas, I set about finding a set of winter wheels and tyres. Cue Ebay and, after a 3 week search and various bids, ended up with a set of genuine BMW 16 inch steel wheels and Dunlop run flat winter tyres for the not so princely sum of £326. These were delivered to me by a friend of the seller all the way from Swansea when he came up north to watch 22 men run around on a field spitting and kissing each other.  I think the field may have been called Old Trafford!? Anyway, as there's some frost still about I have swapped the 18 inch M-sport alloys for these winter wheels and instantly the car looks a bit, well, pathetic due to 205 section tyres vs 255 section rear tyres and wheel trims in leau of some sexy MV3’s.

Looks aside we have been on a trip into Wales and report that the car is grippier in a straight line (the old tyres had only 3mm of tread which could affect grip), the suspension feels a little harder, it’s a little louder and the handling not as sharp as the standard wheels. Its not a massive price to pay for a few months of the year when it could save many ££s in the event of an accident and priceless if it saves any injuries to my family. One difference is that these winter tyres are run flats and, as our BMW doesn’t have them fitted (I swapped them out),  then this accounts for the harder ride and makes me glad I don’t normally run them.  The noise is due to the winter tyres make-up to grip the road and the handling down to a taller and thinner tyre than standard. We haven’t driven on any snow or frost yet ( I have been looking in Wales!!) but its nice to have the security if it comes again. They will be swapped out in a few weeks when the weather improves and stored in the garage, ready for the next winter.

The other cost was a clutch and the dreaded dual mass flywheel replacement. The symptoms were an exceptionally difficulty to engage 1st, and sometimes third gear, I thought it may be the syncromesh but my mechanic (he’s not actually mine but I use his services) said the likely culprit was the clutch, and at 111,000 miles I didn’t have an issue with that.

We agreed he would remove the gearbox and if there was nothing wrong with the clutch then he would send the gearbox off for stripdown and inspection. As it turned out the clutch was worn, as expected, but the shaft which the clutch, flywheel and selector sit on was rusty - which explains why it was difficult to select 1st as the worn clutch wasn’t slowing the gearbox down enough and the rust provided extra friction. 

A new clutch, dual mass flywheel , some lubrication and £800 later and the gearchange is now nice and smooth and the clutch and flywheel good for another 111,000 miles. Apparently dual mass flywheels are used on more and more modern cars to make the progression from gear to gear more smooth by effectively damping out the clutch by using springs between 2 smaller flywheels . The downside is that it needs to be replaced with the clutch and they can also fail on their own. In addition they reduce vibration from a Diesel engine so make the car smoother, but at a high cost come replacement time due to the location within the car between the gearbox and engine and with a complex makeup they are always costly to replace, especially on 4 wheel drive cars, hey Matt!  (see my £2,000 DMF bill here - Matt)

The BMW has been a great winter companion whilst Sarah used my front wheel drive Golf.  Get in, start the engine and put the heated leather seats on the highest setting and straight away they start warming you bum, thighs and lower back.  It's great to have a little cool air on your face and a warm body. Fuel economy's been good with short trips averaging about 43mpg and longer trips up to 55mpg which is welcome in today's financial climate. It was a shame when I put the winter tyres on and had to go back to a car without heated seats. It’s a hard life.

My own car is a Golf Mk4 GTi 1.8 Turbo Anniversary and has also previously appeared on Speedmonkey in a 'Living with' feature. I have been preparing it for sale recently as summer's coming and my motorbike's shortly to be dusted off. The selling process involved removing all of the uprated stereo equipment and Bluetooth handsfree kit -  which consisted of 6 speakers, one massive amplifier, an Alpine CD player and ipod connector along with about 30 metres of cabling. When this was all removed I set about putting the car back together and refitting the original stereo. I personally never sell a car with aftermarket stereo equipment.  I take the time to remove and use it in a future car.  In addition it can actually devalue the car if buyers see it’s been modified. 

 With the Golf being a Special Edition and having a full VW service history I was keen to keep the car entirely standard as a different stereo, remaps, tacky exhausts and aftermarket wheels will only devalue a car like this. So now its cleaned up and looking good I will put on 12 months MOT at the cost of £30 which is worth much more than that to a buyer. I plan to sell for just under £5,000 and as a private buyer will likely have to knock some off as I don’t have to provide a warranty.  But, as I’m in no rush to sell, I can wait for the right price. I feel this price is justified as just before Christmas I put on new Bilstein OE spec dampers along with all new Brembo brake discs and uprated pads so the car feels great.

Whilst Sarah used the car over winter she managed to bend the key through 90 degrees by leaving it in the front house door and slamming it behind her. I thought this would be an easy and cheap fix as the electronics were fine but the blade was too badly damaged and the attachment for holding the key to a keyring has snapped. 10 minutes and £5 later an ebay and I had ordered a new key shell with blade to cut. Brilliant. Except not so brilliant when I needed the blade cutting from my good key.  Timpsons will not cut anyone elses key blade as they have snapped the cutting bit in the past.  

I tried 2 branches of Timpsons without success. Then I couldn’t find anyone else who would or could cut the key. By now, totally demotivated, I rang up my VW dealer to see how much they were going to charge me for a new key, expecting to be met with a dull voice on the other end of the phone asking for £200. It couldn’t have been any different.  There was a genuinely nice fellow who, after I explained my situation, was told to buy a key off ebay.  I explained I had but nobody would cut it and guess what – he offered to cut it for me. I went in the next day and they cut it free of charge for me and were very nice and very professional. What a result, a cheap solution to my problem and a main dealer who was genuinely helpful for no reward.

Last year I took my car off the road during the summer to use my motorbike but this year, in anticipation of the Golf going, was looking at cars on eBay (its turning into a hobby (can I put that on my C.V?)) to use as a summer hack, and came across a Mazda MX5 in what looked like the perfect spec.  It had all the right options and in Metallic Grey. 

 I bid £2100 for this 04 plate car but didn’t win which was fair enough as it was a cheeky opportunistic offer but was surprised when just last week the seller sent me a second chance offer for my bid at £2100. I was excited about this great little car with rear wheel drive and standard limited slip diff.  Even my friends surprised me by not referring to it as a bit of a hairdressers car (Can I remind you of this - Matt) but a surprisingly good little roadster. 

So I transferred funds into my bank account ready to draw cash and was looking at train times, but after a few days couldn’t get hold of the seller by the phone number they quoted nor the email address on the second change offer.  So, I went into the item on Ebay and contacted the seller through Ebay to see what they were playing at. He pleaded ignorance and, after reviewing the emails, noticed they didn’t actually come through Ebay and I was the subject of a potential scam. The weird thing is how the dirty scumbag scammer got hold of my email address and knew that I bid on the little Mazda. Anyway, I now know theres a problem and urge anyone reading this to watch out for this scam.  If in doubt go through eBay as you can’t fake that.

My last vehicle in this update is my beloved Honda VFR 800Fi which I have owned for nearly 2 years and absolutely cherish, I’m not going to give away too much at this time as when it’s back on the road I will write up a ‘Living with’ article on it. Needless to say that it’s probably the only vehicle that I have owned and not thought about replacing with a younger or faster model due to it’s ability to do everything well, from touring to commuting, to being comfortable whilst also having the ability to be insanely fast.

The battery is on charge.  It’s got a little fuel in it and, as it’s had some work done over the winter months,  I’m looking forward to seeing whether these have affected the bikes character at all.

Yes I can’t wait for the frosty mornings to disappear, to the sun rising in the early morning and having an excuse for wearing leather trousers every day and drinking orange in the pub!