As I left things last time, I’d just about managed to limp an oil-less Volvo from Haverfordwest in Wales to St Albans in Hertfordshire. I had hoped to meet the new owner that very night, but his plans were derailed slightly and he couldn’t collect until the following morning. So, having got to within walking distance of MY Volvo, I parked up and hoped I’d left it in a nice area. Especially as the stereo was just resting on a Burt Bacharach CD compilation and wasn’t actually attached to the car in any way save for wiring…
Of course, by the time I reached my Volvo, it was very dark indeed. I could see something vaguely Volvo-shaped on a driveway so assumed I’d got the right place. A full inspection could not really take place, but I know the owner’s son (the car was for sale as the owner had sadly passed away) had taken the car for a spin round the block after discovering that the battery was flat.
I’m not sure of the exact circumstances, but the car had sat unused on the driveway since March, though it had passed an MOT the previous month. The car was free, for which I’m truly grateful, although the owner did say that if a donation found its way to the British Heart Foundation, they’d be very grateful. This may well happen come pay day, though if you’d also like to make a donation in the name of this Volvo, that’d also be nice.
We couldn’t find the red logbook at first, which made it impossible for me to tax the vehicle – something you need to do when you buy a car. A frantic search through the paperwork got us there in the end, and I was very swiftly able to set up a direct debit via my smartphone. The joy of technology. Incidentally, the new DVLA system that allows you to register changes of owner online only works during office hours! How rubbish is that? Needless to say, we were about half an hour too late for that.
With the vehicle taxed, I could set off for my friend’s house in Berkshire. Even I have limits and I knew that trying to drive all the way back to Wales was just stupid. Sadly, I didn’t even make it the 20 miles to my friend’s house! It struck me that the wipers were slow, far slower than the Volvo I had just got out of. Then a row of dashboard warning lights came on dimly, including the charging light, bulb warning light and (for some reason) the handbrake warning light. My brain was already very tired, but this was looking distinctly like I was running out of volts.
We then hit a downpour that hit the windscreen like a slab of concrete. It made me jump! It was like trying to drive through the Niagara Falls. The wipers battled against the flow, but were getting slower and slower. Then the car in front pulled into the nearside lane and I noticed how little I could see in front of me. Oh dear.
The wipers got slower and when I spotted a Services sign, I knew my journey was about to come to an end. At least I could break down somewhere with facilities. On the slip road, I was reduced to a crawl as there were no street lights and I could not see a thing! I limped, gratefully, into the car park and may have gently uttered a few obscenities. Despite a history of dreadful cars, breaking down is something that happens to me surprisingly infrequently! At one stage this week, I was on the cusp of cancelling my breakdown cover. Thankfully, I did not!
I have breakdown cover as part of my insurance with Peter James, so I called the freephone number and spoke to a lady who told me that my car was not on the system… I hoped that this was just because I’d only just added the car and the AA were dispatched.
I called my friend to let him know I was having a spot of bother. I wandered into the store to buy a much-needed drink and then my pal called back to tell me he’d located an alternator in Watford! How quick is that? He also tends to own a lot of dreadful cars, so it turns out he’s well connected in the motor factor world. Even better, it was only £85. Lovely. I had to abandon that phonecall though as remarkably, the AA man was here! It was less than half an hour since I’d reported the breakdown, at 7pm on a Friday evening. Blimey.
The patrolman quickly confirmed that the alternator was kaput. I decided the best move was to get my car to my friend’s house, so we could fit the new alternator in the morning. Being a lovely, old, simple car, fitting a fully charged battery borrowed from the patrolman was enough to get me to my destination nine miles away. Try that in your fancy modern car. The patrolman followed me to make sure I didn’t run out of volts again, but it was fine. He then took his battery back and sailed off for his next mission.
We then dashed out for some food – I was so hungry! My friend’s Fiat 126 was chosen as our steed and we headed into town and discovered how difficult it is to fit an 18″ pizza into a tiny Italian car. What a fabulous little machine though! It’s frantic twin-cylinder engine delivers surprising speed. Well, relatively speaking. My run of luck continued when said Fiat inexplicably lost power. It doesn’t have very much to begin with! We somehow limped back, ate food and crashed out.
Next day, we removed the alternator from the Volvo and headed to the motor factors – having the old one with us allowed us to check that we’d got the right replacement. Then it was back to St Albans to collect Alan (the new owner of the silver Volvo) and his son. We scooped up some oil on the way and it took quite a bit even to get it registering on the dipstick! Fortunately, the engine sounded fine and off he went.
Then we fitted the new alternator to my Volvo, checked it was charging and had a celebratory brew. I set off homeward at about half one. A productive morning. This was really the first time I’d seen my car in daylight and I was pleased. Sure, it’s cosmetically challenged – brush painted in places, with a black tidemark and a very saggy headlining – but I like it.
My sat nav wisely took me back via Oxford, Gloucester, Ledbury and Leominster and with traffic levels light, it was a surprisingly joyous route – far nicer than the M25 and M4. But the journey wasn’t problem free. The car began feeling sluggish as we skirted Cirencester and I was reminded that when I checked the MOT history, there was an advisory for slightly binding front brakes. That’s certainly what it felt like and as we went down one very steep hill, I noticed that I wasn’t having to touch the brake pedal at all…
I pulled over, but the wheels felt cool to the touch. It was pouring with rain, so this probably saved me from cooking the stoppers. If you continue to drive with a binding brake, it can generate a LOT of heat, which then destroys seals and allows grease to escape from wheel bearings and the like. As we orbited Gloucester, I gave the brakes a few good shoves to try and get them moving properly. Whether this worked or not, I have no idea, but certainly the car was rolling far better as we headed towards Herefordshire.
Thankfully, that’s as exciting as the journey home would get. I reached home just four hours after leaving Buckinghamshire – an average of 45mph! Not bad considering there was no motorway on this route at all.
So, my ‘free’ Volvo has already cost me £85 for an alternator, and probably £40 in fuel to get it home. Getting to the Volvo was free (in fact, I was £1 up on the deal!) but did cost me many hours on a bus and a lost wallet. However, I grew rather fond of it on our drive back, despite the very tired dampers that make it bounce rather too much, and the steering wheel which is not straight. Watch this space to see what happens next!
Huge thanks to my friends Matt and Bérénice for looking after me when cars began failing all around me, and Matt in particular for running around grabbing bits of Volvo and helping me fit them.
PS – my wallet was somehow dropped on the bus. It has been found and is on its way back to me. Yay!