Courtesy Cars

I love my car. It’s now official.

In the space of a couple of months I’ve had two courtesy cars and was impressed with neither. Stepping back into my Accord this afternoon was just heaven.

It all started back in March when I needed a replacement clutch, but it couldn’t be completed within the day. I therefore ended up with a courtesy car of a Honda Civc saloon. Now I’d already driven the new, angular Civic hatch and was less than impressed. Rear visibilty was poor, the diesel engine felt leaden, and the dash was starting to date horribly already. The engine was a real sore point, given that the same unit shoves my Accord along very happily, despite weighing about quarter of a ton more.

So I got this Honda Civic, but it was the saloon Hybrid drive system. This means an automatic gearbox (actually CVT) coupled with an electric motor and a little petrol engine. Normal gentle town driving uses the electric motor, heavier stuff brings the fossil fuels online.

Driving it was just weird. The first oddity was the fact that the engine switches off if you’re sitting at a junction with your foot on the brake (no clutch remember). That’s odd if you’re not used to it. Especially as there’s a definite jolt runs through the transmission when the engine does fire back up.

The main beef was the CVT gearbox, whose only purpose appeared to be to disconnect the engine completely from the wheels. Plant your foot at 60 and the engine just whined loudly with no extra progress being made. Nudge it along gently in traffic and the addition of the electric motor made it feel like it was permanently stalling. There was a rev counter, but I’ve no idea what that was supposed to be there for.

The Honda Civic was at least well-made, though. My next foray into guest vehicles was the devastatingly cheap Chevrolet Matiz (originally the Daewoo).

This is engineering on a severe budget. The model I received was the “deluxe” 1.0 SE version. This produces 64 bhp and 67 lb ft of torque. Put it another way: that’s around half the power and a quarter of the torque of my normal motor. Inside there are little in the way of creature comforts. Air con, electric front windows, and electric passenger mirror are about the limit of things. You can’t adjust the steering wheel in any direction. The driver’s side wing mirror is adjusted with a wiggly stick thing. Seats are a fully-manual affair.

But I really do get that. It’s all down to money and weight. I paid a reasonable sum of money for my car and got some nice options. I wasn’t disappointed, however, to find that my Accord didn’t have the gadget-list of a £100k Mercedes S-Class. In the same vein, I shouldn’t be disappointed with the Matiz when I’m missing a couple of motors for the chronically lazy.

Same with weight. Lighter means easier to move with a smaller engine. Smaller engine means cheaper and more fuel efficient. But that’s not my problem with the car. It’s aimed at being cheap, basic transport. No-one who buys this car will be under any impression that it is anything else. For cheap transport you expect thin, low quality plastics and very few trimmings.

My main problem is that nothing inside makes sense positioning-wise. For example, I’m just over 6ft. and obviously the seat needed to be right the way back. To operate the handbrake, I needed to move my arm so far back that my elbow poked past the seat backs. Now if you’re a 5ft 4in granny who drives with her nose on the windscreen, then I have absolutely no idea how she is to reach back that far.

To make things easier to transition between left- and right-hand drive versions, the speedo, rev counter, and fuel guage are all in the centre console at the top of the dash. Fair enough. But how much more money would it have been to make two versions of the mounting plastic – one which points it to a LH drive and one which points to a RH drive? As a result, the Transit which is currently up your arse on the M3 can read your speed more clearly than the driver.

The heater and vent controls are again, very basic. But why put them effectively on the floor, when there’s plenty space higher up the dash? I was reaching downwards to turn the heater down. And you can’t see the air-con button either because of your knee.

Just above the pedals is a small shelf designed to store something. No idea what, because it’s too small to be practical and secondly you’re going to die anyway. To drive this thing, you need to hook your feet underneath this shelf to get to the pedals. Thankfully I didn’t need to stop quickly, because I might not have got my feet out of the way fast enough.

And why could they not have got a clutch which was adjusted correctly? Only the top 3/4” of pedal travel provided the bite – after that the clutch was simply “off”.

Awful.

Wiper Trouble

My driver’s-side wiper has a small split in the end – about an inch long. That means I need some new wipers in the near future, but nothing urgent. That’s until I discovered that there was a 3 inch split in the centre of the blade, hence more urgency required. Given that main Honda dealer prices for something as trivial as a wiper blade were likely to be vastly inflated, I braved the tarted-up Saxos and Corsas for my local Halfords.

Before I left the house, I looked at their clever online tool, which confidently predicts the required wiper size for your vehicle. Simply enter your registration number and up pops your vehicle make and model, along with a list of suitable wiper-blade products. Online it reckoned I needed 24” on the driver’s side, and 16” on the passenger’s side.

So off I pop to the local shop and decide to make certain by leafing through the little flip-book that they have. This is a more manual version of the online tool – you lookup your make and model, along with model year and it gives you the various options. This suggested I needed 26” on driver’s side, and 16” on the passenger’s side.

Standing looking confused, one of the shop “assistants” asked if I needed any help. The conversation went like this:

“Can I help you there sir?”

“Yeah – I’m replacing the wipers on my car and the online tool said one size, but the book says another and I’m not sure which one to get. Do you have a tape measure I could borrow and pop outside to measure it please?”

“Well we can have a look on the computer and see what that says.”

“My car is just outside and will only take a minute.”

“Nah – we’ll have a look at the computer.”

OK then – fine. I sighed and wandered over to his little kingdom of the oily parts desk. After giving him my registration, he went quiet.

“Hmmm. Hmmm. That’s odd. Hmmm.”

“Yes?”

“Well the Halfords parts are showing up as needing 24 inch and the Bosch parts are showing up as needing 26 inch. If I were you I would get the bigger one.”

“But the difference between them is an inch at either end and that could be the difference between catching and not catching.”

“Well it depends on how far apart they are.”

At this point I was expecting someone to turn up with an honorary Physics degree from Oxford to pay testimony to his amazing spatial awareness. He then suggested we go outside and measure it, which I thought was a good plan, if a little late to the conversation.

It was late and there were only three cars in the (small) car-park: two of those probably belonged to staff because I didn’t see any other customers in there. Bearing in mind I had just given him the make, model and registration of my car, he asked me to point out which one it was.

He wandered round and measured 24” for the driver’s side. I needed to prompt him to check the passenger’s side. He measured that to be 15”.

He seemed quite put-out when I told him I was going to the main dealer because Halfords couldn’t get the sizes right.

I phoned the main dealer the following day and they promised £25 fitted for a proper Honda part. That was only just a little more than the Halfords’ own brand. When I went into the garage, they only charged me £21.73 fitted. And the service guy (who I trust) told me the Halfords ones don’t fit very well anyway.

All together: I can see clearly now with wipers on…