Honda S-MX: Collection video

I’ve now got the video uploaded for the S-MX Collection Caper. Sadly, it seems very slightly out of sync. Not sure why that is.

In other news, the track rod ends seem to have play in them, though there’s some debate about whether that play is in the inner or the outer. I’ve ordered up the outers as I thought that was where the problem is (on the advise of my local garage) but an S-MX expert (yes, there is one) reckons it’s the inners that usually fail. The outers are £50 a pair, the inners £66 a pair. Here is one very apparent downside to owning a car not sold in the UK.

I’ll keep you posted. I guess I need to get my jack out and explore where the free play is.

Honda S-MX: Life on the road

The Honda has responded well to a dose of TLC. On Friday, I changed the thermostat, and this has fixed the gearbox. Brilliant! But how?

Fixing the engine, to fix the gearbox.

Fixing the engine, to fix the gearbox.

It turns out that the Honda’s electronic brain will not allow the torque converter to lock-up if the engine is not at full operating temperature. The lock-up feature is a major improvement to the world of automatic transmissions, and effectively bypasses the automatic bit by locking the engine to the road wheels, just like a manual transmission does. Without the lock up, the transmission relies on the torque converter, which in simple terms, is like a fluid turbine. The engine spins the fluid, which acts on the stator of the gearbox to create forward movement. This means you don’t need a clutch, because if you stop, the spinning fluid can’t overpower the brakes.

Anyway, with the torque converter locked up, engine speed is reduced (by around 250rpm) and, because transmission and engine are now physically linked together, it improves efficiency. The torque converter loses efficiency because all that spinning motion generates heat. Heat demonstrates the lack of efficiency, and indicates why automatics usually have a transmission cooler…

Changing the thermostat was pretty easy. There’s a drain tap on the radiator to drain the coolant, and just two 10mm bolts holding the ‘stat in place. Not that accessing them is all that easy – ratchet spanners proved ideal.

This all means that I wafted along the M54 on Saturday in a rather more relaxing manner than my run up the M5 after collection the car. The new thermostat, of course, also means quicker engine warming first thing, and that it maintains that temperature on the move. All this means better efficiency and hopefully, better mpg. Sadly, this hasn’t yet been borne out by the figures – the second tank of fuel seems to have returned 28mpg rather than the 32 of the first. That did include rather a lot of motorway driving at or around the speed limit, whereas the first tank involved some of that, but also rather more 60mph limit single-carriageway.

The trek along the M54 was the start of a 600-mile trip that saw me end up in Kent, then driving all the way back to Wales. The news is generally good. I’ve now covered 1000 miles in the S-MX in total and I still like it a lot. I’ve improved the bed situation with a self-inflating mattress, and while it’s still a bit uneven, I managed two nights of pretty good kip in it.

Not the most comfortable bed, but it is a bed nonetheless.

Not the most comfortable bed, but it is a bed nonetheless.

I do need to improve the headlamps though. They’re a bit dim at night. I’m hoping the newly-arrived Autoglym headlamp restoration kit can help here (see next update, probably). I do also still need to sort the alignment out and fit some new tyres. It makes embarrassing squeals on some surfaces, and just does not feel planted.

It must be said though, I still like it a lot. It may corner with all the grace of Boris Johnson in a thong, but unlike BoJo, I just want to spend time with it. Could this be the start of Good Times?

S-MX has been hard at work already, helping with both magazines.

S-MX has been hard at work already, helping with both magazines.

Honda S-MX: Time for TLC

Having awoken in Cornwall, it was time to head to a friend on Autoshite who happens to run a garage. The seller of the S-MX claimed there was no history of a timing belt change in the service history. This turned out to be lies, but I didn’t realise it at the point of sale. Thinking the timing belt was probably in dire need of replacement, I’d booked it in to be done, and my pal had offered a very good rate.

Off with the top cover. How old is the timing belt?

Off with the top cover. How old is the timing belt?

It didn’t take him long to get cracking. He’s a bit of a Honda fan boy, so I knew the car was in good hands. I opted to replace tensioner and water pump as well, having been let down by a cheap water pump on the RAV (fitted by a previous owner). I’d rather know everything is ok.

I also decided to change the oil and filter while we were there. With the oil filter buried down the back of the engine, this turned out to be a wise move. Much easier with the car raised several feet into the air. The filter looked quite old.

Yuck! Clearly not changed for a while.

Yuck! Clearly not changed for a while.

The amount of Japanese writing was slightly worrying. Could it be the one fitted to the car when it arrived in the UK in 2008?! Having since gone through the hardly-comprehensive history, there is no mention of basic servicing. A timing belt change and alignment checks yes, but not a sausage about a basic ‘oil and filters’ change. In fact, the timing belt change included a transmission fluid swap too, yet apparently not an engine oil change! Worrying. The state of the air filter also confirmed sheer ignorance of the basics.

Spot the difference. Bleargh!

Spot the difference. Bleargh!

The air filter (red) was quickly ordered up from a local factors at short notice. You’ll note there was no trouble locating one. Thankfully, a lot of items are shared with other cars.

I don’t really understand this level of neglect. Yes, a Honda should be a reliable car, but any car needs looking after to give its best! I can’t comprehend this level of sheer ignorance.

I also decided to replace the transmission fluid. It turns out that this had been done three years ago, but it still looked pretty horrible.

ATF fluid should be clean and red. This is neither.

ATF fluid should be clean and red. This is neither.

That’s the sort of condition that I tell people to run away from when I’m writing buyer’s guides. I never was one for following my own good advice…

The fact that it had already had a fluid change three years ago suggests this is not a gearbox in the best of health. The slipping into gears simply confirms the fact. Hopefully, it’ll keep soldiering on…

My friend also replaced the melted headlamp connectors, so hopefully my headlamp woes have now been banished. With fresh fluids (including fresh antifreeze), I was ready to continue my journey. I refuelled just before crossing the border back into Devon again having finally used up the ‘free’ fuel that came with the car.

After an overnight halt in Bideford, I drove back today. It was a pretty blissful journey to be honest, with little traffic and a very pleasant halt at Gloucester Services.

Bar Tebay, the nicest motorway services in the UK.

Bar Tebay, the nicest motorway services in the UK.

By the way, note how neatly the rear fog light has been fitted. Far better than a lot of grey imports, where a square, dirt cheap aftermarket job is hanging by its wire after the bracket inevitably failed. This is a lot smarter. Though it doesn’t actually work…

The services marked the end of the motorway section, which the S-MX dispatched with great merit. It sails along very nicely at motorway speeds. Still not sure about the torque converter lock up, but fourth is a lot taller than third. No idea what’s going on to be honest, but it feels very comfortable at motorway pace, and excellent, large door mirrors are a big boon.

It does lose its composure on more minor roads though. Generally, it’s fine bar the light steering, but if a bend tightens, it feels slightly like it’s going to fall over its outside front wheel. The Nippa does something very similar. The RAV4, despite a notably tall stance, does not do this. You do have to accept that it is going to kickdown a fair bit too. Top gear is so tall that it runs out of puff, but third gear is so short that it’s immediately up at 4000rpm. Generally though, it’s not bad at all. Respect its limits and it’s fine.

After 285 miles, I had to stop for fuel again. This allowed my first fill-to-fill calculation. I was quite pleased when the sums revealed a figure of 31.95mpg. My hope was that it would do 32mpg. My hope was not in vain.


Refuelling for a second time. 32mpg achieved!

Now, 32mpg is perhaps not that impressive by modern standards, but it’s pretty good for the time given the boxy dimensions, the engine size, the automatic gearbox and the fact that the engine is not running as efficiently as it might due to the stuck thermostat. Certainly not diesel economy, but then it runs on less smelly fuel and sounds a lot nicer too.

In conclusion then, this one is far from perfect, but doesn’t seem a bad base for further improvement. Certainly, it seemed nicely solid when it was up on the ramp, though I’ll need to protect it with anti-corrosion products aplenty to keep it healthy through a Welsh winter.

I’m going to boldly put this one down as a good buy then. Let’s hope it lasts longer than the Rover…

Honda S-MX: Bedding in

As related in the previous post, I had headed to Plymouth to collect my new Honda S-MX. Having got the headlights working, I could settle in for a 60-mile drive, and get a feel for my new steed. What is the S-MX like to drive?

Oddly different. In terms of looks, it’s like a shrunken Volkswagen Transporter, and it feels similar to drive too. You have a nice, upright driving position and always feel like you’re driving a big box.
The column gear selector is not very VW-like I’ll grant you, and it’s not very pleasant to use either. It really is a case of stick it in D4 and leave it there. Snicking around the ratios is annoyingly difficult and best ignored.

A nice place to sit.

That’s ok though, as it’s a pretty nice gearbox. It is perhaps a bit over eager to kick down, but changes are smooth. It does initially slip a bit on downshifts, and the torque converter lock up doesn’t seem to function. I’m hoping fluid changes will improve both issues.

Gear selector a bit clunky and rubbish. 

Thankfully, even with the lack of lock-up, the engine is smoothly doing 3250rpm at 70mph, so doesn’t seem overly stressed. 

The steering is very light, to the point that I think something may be wrong. I wonder if it is meant to get heavier at speed and isn’t.  

It makes it very easy to drive, but it does feel a little nervous at speed. It also inspires zero confidence when cornering, not helped by mismatched tyres and, I suspect, poor wheel alignment.

The brakes are good though, and the ride pretty refined. It loses composure over uneven terrain, but I reckon it rides better than my Rover 600 did. The suspension is typical Honda double wishbone up front, but an unusual trailing arm multi link set up at the rear, which is unique to the S-MX and, I think, the Stepwgn, which is an annoyingly named long wheelbase version.

Being a big, boxy thing, there is a fair dose of wind and road noise at speed, but it isn’t sufficient to ruin the listening experience when tuned in to Radio 3. Pretty good then.

Back to the story. I reached Cornwall, found a quiet lay by near St Agnes and got ready to test bed mode! 

Wherever I park my car, that’s my home.

Luxurious eh? To be honest, like every car with seats that convert to a bed since at least the Austin Maxi, it isn’t exactly ideal. It is a bed with contours that most beds do not have. Despite this, I got a reasonable night’s kip. I avoided steamy windows by cracking open each opening window (there are three). Normally, this could allow rain to sneak in, but the S-MX has wind deflectors to keep the rain out. Which turned out to be fortuitous. 

It took mere moments to get packed up and on my way, though mist ruined any chance of the nice view I had hoped to wake to. Now, I needed to get near Redruth for the entire reason for the Cornish adventure. A friend of mine with a garage had offered his services at a very good rate. It was time to treat my new steed to a bit of love. It would turn out to be a long time since anyone else had…

Honda S-MX: Collection

I’m writing this on my phone, so there may be even more errors than normal. The reason for that is that despite this Collection Caper starting yesterday, I’m still not yet home. Why is that?

Let’s start at the beginning. The journey began at 10:30am with the trusty Perodua Nippa providing a fine steed.

At Caersws station, I swapped the Nippa for the first of three trains, though the first of many train seats. Two trains got me to Birmingham, where I’m afraid I made use of the best toilets I’m aware of. The Museum and Art Gallery. Sorry for my preference for lavatories facilities over art…

Coming out of the gallery, you can see that Paradise is indeed lost.

I then jumped aboard a Cross Country Voyager which would take me to Plymouth. Boarding was chaotic, as everyone seemed to have a suitcase. I had to find a spare seat for my large backpack and my reserved seat was surrounded by spilt crisps and litter. Joy!

It was also horribly hot. Everyone  was sweating. Mobile sauna. Oh, and no catering, because the food person hadn’t got on the train…

At Cheltenham, I thankfully got to move from hideous coach C to coach F. This was a bit cooler, but still warm. At Bristol Temple Meads, I had to change to coach D. This was the coolest one yet. So cool that at Taunton, where my cheap tickets instructed me to return to coach F. At the risk of causing anarchy, I refused. At Tiverton, the electronic display instructed me that my seat was now available. Ace. I could legitimately stay here until Plymouth, where I complained to Cross Country on Twitter about the overpriced tea (with UHT milk, horrid, though at least there was catering again) and rubbish-strewn carriages. I can’t help thinking having more bins, that can actually be found, would improve things. 

Anyway, if you’re still reading, I did get to Plymouth on time, at 1742hrs. Long day, but I still had to collect my new Honda S-MX and make a bed in it…

I thought the collection had gone well. I checked the car, paid my money and headed off. But, problems! 

I’d turned the headlights on, and the main beam light illuminated. I pulled the stalk but it remained illuminated. I quickly switched to sidelights, thinking I was blinding everyone. I found a petrol station to stop at and discovered I wasn’t blinding anyone at all. No headlights. Not a sniff.

I’d spotted a spare bulb in the glove box, so fitted it. Nothing. As it was a new bulb out of the box, I began to realise the car was the problem here. I gave the bulb connector, which was slightly melted, a wiggle. Light! Ouch. H4 bulbs are quite bright. Now I had to refit the bulb without losing the working connection. Difficult. A wiggle soon had the other side working too. Phew! It was fast getting dark, and I still had distance to cover. To Cornwall!

In the next blog, I discover what it is like to sleep in the Honda S-MX, subject it to more fettling and talk about what it’s like to drive. 

Honda S-MX: The Collection Caper

Tomorrow morning, I set out on yet another crazy car collection caper – this time, it’s Cornish!

The car in question is a Honda S-MX. It is located in Plymouth, so my first challenge will be to get there. I will be using a combination of Perodua Nippa, awful Arriva Train Wales and then a hopefully-more-pleasant Cross Country fast train from Birmingham. The train is costing £59.75, though I’ve saved about £60 by booking through Split Ticketing. This website has become an essential tool in the car collection caper business, because it uses clever calculations to break up your journey into the cheapest possible format. You could do this yourself, due to the utterly stupid way in which our railways are run, but it would take many hours.

This actually is my new car. Hope it's ok!

This actually is my new car. Hope it’s ok!

In effect, my journey is broken into several chunks, even though the reality is that I’ll be on the same pair of trains as if I’d paid full price. My first ticket takes me from Caersws to Birmingham, but the next leg is broken down into Birmingham to Cheltenham, Cheltenham to Bristol, Bristol to Taunton and finally Taunton to Plymouth. The only minor inconvenience is that I have reserved seats for each ticket, and they’re not the same for each leg. I shall combat this by either hoping the train is quiet, and just staying in the same seat, or taking an unreserved seat all the way.

It’s annoying that such tactics are necessary. Rail travel in this country is hopelessly expensive. The normal £129.50 price for this journey is just ridiculous.

Train travel can be grim. These Arriva Trains Wales things are horrible.

Train travel can be grim. These Arriva Trains Wales things are horrible.

I’ll be arriving in Plymouth at 1742hrs (all being well) where I shall set eyes upon my new car for the first time. Assuming it is as described, money will change hands and I’ll then head to Cornwall. I will then find somewhere to sleep in my new car, because the seats transform into a bed, and I need to test this. Immediately.

My ultimate destination will be Redruth, where a friend will perform a timing belt change on my new steed. There doesn’t seem to be any mention of a belt change in the history and at £750, this car goes down as an expensive purchase by my standards. I need to protect my investment. We’ll also give it a good going over to see what else is going to be necessary in the future. I’d guess the transmission fluid hasn’t been changed in a very long time. I’ll also assess whether it needs a general service, but may wait until I get home to sort that out.

It’s all very exciting and I look forward to seeing what my new car is like, seeing what it’s like to sleep in and seeing where I manage to find to park up for the night. Stay tuned!

Another new car! What is it?

Thanks to the magic of Ebay, I have purchased yet another car I’ve not actually seen. In fact, I’ve never driven one at all. Actually, I’m not really sure if I’ve ever even seen one before. Sunday promises to be interesting!

I’ll save details of the actual car for the Collection Caper, but I’ll try to explain a bit more about what it is – a Honda S-MX. Just a few days ago, I didn’t really know what one was either, but I’m building up my knowledge! If you’re wondering why, we’ll the fact I’m editing Retro Japanese magazine should be a big enough clue. I’ve decided the RAV4, while fun, just isn’t interesting enough. That’s why I’ve gone and bought my first grey import – the tag used to identify Japanese market vehicles, which have moved to the UK later in life (because our testing regimes for older cars are much, much less strict).

The Honda S-MX. Not a squashed tomato.

The Honda S-MX. Not a squashed tomato.

The Honda S-MX was launched in 1996 in Japan, and was joined in 1998 by the similarly boxy Nissan Cube. These were cars that rebelled against the squashed tomato look favoured by automobile manufacturers. These are unashamedly practical cars. Curiously, there are two doors on the passenger side, but only one on the driver’s side. Most of the back end is a tailgate, while inside, there are two bench seats, which transform into a bed.

I wonder if it's comfortable?

I wonder if it’s comfortable?

Sadly, my S-MX does not have the lurid orange seat option, though random bits of the interior do indeed seem to have an orange hue. That at least breaks up the sea of grey plastic somewhat. The bed, hatchback and oddball styling have led one pal to sum it up as the Japanese Maxi. That just makes it all the more cool in my book!

The eagle-eyed of you might have noticing the column gearchange, though automatic is the only option. Bench seats, column gearchange, it’s going to be like being in a Ford Zephyr! Or maybe not. The engine is Honda’s B20 twin-cam, in 2-litre form. In effect, it’s a twin-cam version of the engine in the Honda Prelude I owned earlier in the year, producing 130bhp.

The underpinnings apparently owe a lot to the Honda CR-V soft roader, and indeed, there is a four-wheel drive option. I’ve not gone for that one. Mostly because the only one I could find for sale was the Lowdown model. This appeals to the natural boy racer in me, as it came from the factory with a 15mm suspension drop and a smart bodykit. Oh yes. I’m a real boy racer.

Will this car make me the king of cool?

Will this car make me the king of cool?

Mine is black, just like the one above, though much shabbier, and with the usual ‘grey import’ aftermarket fog lamp squeezed onto the backside somewhere. Note the delightful three-spoke alloys and the lack of a rear door.

I must admit, I find the cosmetics entirely appealing. Yes, it’s a fairly bland shape, but I really like the full-height rear lights, and the cheeky front end. I hope I like driving it too. Information scoured from the internet so far reveals that the ride should be surprisingly good for a Honda, and it should even manage 32mpg. My Prelude could do 34, so that sounds about right.

This does mean I’ve now bought a different Japanese car for every single issue of Retro Japanese magazine so far, though this one won’t be appearing in it until the winter issue in December. Shall we place bets now as to whether I’ll still have it by then?