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.

S-MX

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…

What do you reckon?

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