Happy Honda Anniversary!

Yes, prepare the trumpets and bunting, because I’ve done it again! You may struggle to believe it, but I, the champion of the Everchanging Fleet, have managed to own a vehicle for an entire year! What’s more, that makes it three fifths of the fleet that can now be classed (on my terms) as long-termers! The Perodua Nippa is now halfway into its third year with us, while the 2CV has recently passed the 17-year mark. Those two are the only cars to have made it past two years. Remarkable.

Happy anniversary Honda! It deserves a wash.

But, enough about those, because today, the Honda is the star. I’ve written very little about it recently, and it has also been absent from many videos, simply because it just keeps on soldiering on with very little other than routine maintenance. The MOT was passed with no advisories (after a pair of utterly crap track rod ends were replaced, having been fitted the previous year), and the last major work it had (gearbox flush and rear suspension bushes) was back in March. In fact, as a project car for Retro Japanese magazine, it has been a liability of late, not giving me much to write about.

The gearbox continues to be a bit ‘fluffy’ when cold, but is much, much better when warm now. It even manages to kickdown properly most of the time. Not bad for a car with over 150,000 miles on it. I’ve added around 10,000 in the year, necessitating an increase on my insurance as I’d initially put it down to cover 6000…

The only issue is a propensity to drink oil. I’ve replaced some seals, but the level can still drop quite dramatically at times. That said, on the recent trip to the Manchester Classic Car Show, it seems to have lost not a drop. Cars can be strange.

Sure, the ride is still pretty terrible (well, similar to a lot of moderns I guess), and it still views corners with the same distaste I reserve for vegetables, but I somehow just really, really like it, even after an entire 12 months. I like the driving position, the enormous windows, the huge door mirrors and the way it merrily bimbles along at 70mph. I like the way the engine growls menacingly when you ask it to get a shift on. It’s borderline antisocial, especially when it kicks down. I like the column gearlever, the fact I can sleep in it (even if the ‘bed’ is rather uneven) and that its size is so hard to gauge – it’s the same footprint as an MG3. Most of all though, I’m proof that us humans are suckers for looks. I just love the look of this car. The back end is how I dreamt cars would look when I was a child, with those enormous rear lamps and an entirely flat back end.

Here’s a bit of fun, with a before and after. Here’s what the Honda looked like on this day 12 months ago.


The Honda on 18th September 2016.

And how it looks today, after a wash.

The Honda on 18th September 2017 (yes, it does have more doors on this side).

Firstly, you’ll notice the wheels have changed colour. I did that back in April, just before Japfest. Originally, the S-MX had diamond cut wheels, but while I’m sure that looked good when this car left the Honda showroom back in 1997 (another anniversary!), diamond cut alloys never tend to stay nice for long. So, I decided to get them powder coated. Only, I wanted a more distinctive look. Seeing as the Honda has orange interior fittings (yes, from the factory), I decided to go orange.

Luxury bed! And odd orange bits.

In truth, the wheels are a fair bit brighter than the interior bits that are orange – some S-MX Lowdowns could be specified with orange seats! However, I like the orange wheels. They certainly make the car stand out. Oh, I must plug Autoglym for a moment. Its Headlamp Restoration Kit restored night vision when I bought the car, and its Rapid Aqua Wax helps me keep the car looking shiny for minimal effort. I find that very appealing.

There is still stuff to do with this car. I still need to do something about the dreadful state of the paint on the roof for a start. Perhaps my anniversary present to this car might be a vinyl wrap of the roof. Now, what sort of scheme could I choose?

Feb 2017: The HubNut News

One out, one incoming, one unexciting roadtrip

Hello. This is the HubNut News, brought to you on 2CV Day (06/02 – 2CV engine size).

In Honda news, the S-MX has carried out a long journey, for the first time in a very long time. I’m not sure it has left Wales since October. A gaggle of press cars, other fleet members and a Christmas spent at home mean it’s been sitting around a lot of late. Something I’m reminded of when I go to drive it somewhere and the brakes go BANG as the rust breaks free. That open, three-spoked alloy wheel style is perhaps not a good thing.

Nor was it good to discover barely any oil in the engine on the morning of departure. Oops. A substantial amount was added. These engines can and do burn a bit of oil, but I will keep a closer eye on it. Sorry.

Our destination was York, where we attended a wedding, met some lovely Canadians and, just in case the weekend wasn’t busy enough, we went to the National Rail Museum with our nephew and niece (and family). It was worth travelling all that way just to hear my four-year old nephew say “This is the perfect place for me!” He really is quite fond of trains.

York is nice. You should go there.

York is nice. You should go there. Probably not  by car to be honest. Ignore the yellow lines…

I’m sure you’re allowed to stop on double yellow lines if it’s for artistic reasons. Whether most people consider a filthy, boxy Honda worthy of art is an argument I’m not prepared to start.

I digress. The trip was very nearly without fault, other than the usual somewhat iffy gearchanges (usually downshifts – it revs up a bit as the changes aren’t quick enough), the clunking bushes on the rear suspension and the offside headlamp, which did its usual trick of not earthing sufficiently. I will definitely* do something about all of these things at some point. Maybe.

The headlines for the journey are just over 400 miles, at 33mpg. I’ll take that.

In ZX news, well, it’s gone. Today. Didn’t have time for much ceremony, as I’ve spent pretty much the whole day proofing pages for the next issue of Classic Jaguar magazine. It’s press day tomorrow. That typically doesn’t leave a whole lot of time for anything else.

The ZX was everything I expected. It rode superbly well. It handled very nicely. The interior plastics creaked in that way only French interiors can. It was remarkably good on fuel (55mpg). It was also horrendously dull, had one of those stupid, useless single wipers and the speedometer would often only work if you smacked the dash top. I don’t think I’ll miss it.

The ZX. It came. It went. The End.

The ZX. It came. It went. The End.

Which leaves space on my driveway. Of course, I already have plans. Well, things have developed a bit since then. You see, my local buddy Jasper is a rather good fiddle player, and one of the outfits he doth fiddle for is Songdog. They have a gig in Bristol on Thursday night. My new car is in Bath, and is to be collected on Friday. Well, as I don’t have to buy a train journey (nor suffer another three hours of misery aboard an Arriva Trains Wales thundering Class 158 – the train equivalent of stumbling into a Black Sabbath gig when you were expecting Sade), I think I’d rather accept a lift from a friend and spend the money on a no-doubt dubious B&B instead.

That means I can arrive at the car nice and early on Friday. I know it needs a sidelight bulb replacing for the MOT, but I don’t know a fat lot else yet, despite most excellent comms from the vendor. He’s even offered to send me a video if it running, but I want to save that pleasure until I’m there, feeding the clatter of its six-cylinder engine into my ears and the mic of my phone for your future enjoyment.

The story takes an interest twist, because the chap I bought a Nissan Bluebird from about five years ago has offered assistance with The Caper, and has booked my new car into a garage for MOT at half past two on Friday. That’s back up in Bristol, so the short drive there should give me a chance to ensure the brakes are nice and clean. I know some of you know what it is, but I’d ask that we don’t divulge further clues until the day itself. I think a lot of people will be surprised. I hope I’m not one of them, as it all goes horribly wrong, the MOT man dons a black cloth upon his head and I’m faced with the horrors of a train home after all. Oh, the anticipation is so utterly, utterly fantastic!

Until then, I’ve got a magazine to get to the printers, a lunch appointment with some of my favourite elderly folk, and then a morning of taking some different favourite elderly folk into town on the community minibus.

And, finally, I’m sorry to report that the 2CV is yet to turn a wheel in February 2017. I must do something about that. How remiss of me not to get the 2CV out on 2CV day!

Honda S-MX: 2000-mile review

Er, I’m not quite sure how it happened, but I seem to have clocked up 2000 miles in the S-MX already. About 2300 in fact. Blimey.

So, how has it gone? Seeing as I’m just back from yet another trip to the South East of England, I’m well placed to give a report.

Not entirely smoothly is how it’s gone. I’ve had to spend a fair bit of time, effort and money on improving this car, though the good news is that it feels like time, effort and money well spent. As already reported, the collection caper included fitting a new timing belt and water pump, as well as giving the poor thing a much-needed service and an optimistic transmission fluid change. That’s because these Honda gearboxes can be a bit weak. I found it was flaring, or revving up on downshifts, and also on upshifts when cold. I can’t say the fluid change has greatly improved matters, but it’s worth bearing in mind that you can only drop about half the fluid in the gearbox. I plan do it again and this time, remove all the solenoids and clean the gauze filters underneath. Hopefully that’ll speed up the changes. When I got the car home, I changed the thermostat, which got the torque converter lock-up working again. That does seem to have improved economy – it varies quite a bit between 32 and 36mpg on the previous two fills – I suspect because different pumps click off at different points. 32-34 is my gut feel. Not bad.

Honda S-MX on ramp

More work! Track rod ends get replaced.

I also had to get both track rod ends replaced, which then allowed me to get the tracking set correctly. It was way off, which destroyed a tyre and left it feeling exceedingly uncomfortable on wet bends. The local garage did this work, and I’m happy to report that it is much improved. That said, the steering is still hideously light – it seems they’re like that. This is not a car for hooning. It handles like a wardrobe on the Cresta Run.

That work included fitting a full set of Nokian Weather Proof all-season tyres. I’ve not tried all-season rubber before, so I look forward to seeing whether they really do work well in all conditions. Typically, it has been pretty much drought conditions since they went on, but they certainly grip well enough in the dry. They’re pretty quiet too.

At the same time, I liberally applied Bilt Hamber’s excellent Dynax UB anti-corrosion wax to the underside, having already treated the rear wheelarches to a dose of Vactan rust converter. None of this stuff was blagged by the way, this is all honest appraisal of stuff I paid for (though if I ever do blag stuff, I’m honest about that too!).

I was sent Autoglym’s Headlamp Restoration kit to try on my hideously ruined headlamps, and I can honestly say I’m very impressed with the results. I’ll do a more detailed report on that at some point, as it definitely deserves it. It’s so nice to have an actual headlamp beam pattern again! Night vision has been improved immensely. It’s quite a scary kit to use, because you make things a lot worse before making things better. Worth persevering with.


Before. Note lens deterioration.



After. Note masking tape protecting the bodywork.

One small thing I did was paint the wiper arms using some matt black paint. That’s improved the looks no end, along with using Autoglym’s Bumper and Trim gel on the scuttle trim. Sadly, the paint on the roof remains terrible. I think it’s a combination of sun bleach and salt from surfboards. LIFESTYLE YO!

I also had to replace the rear washer pump, which became a bit of a farce. I discovered that the front washer pump was also leaking – huge globules of sealant hinted that someone had already tried to fix this one. A new pump sorted it out, so I ended up replacing both pumps in the end. Screenwash consumption has dropped dramatically! A drop or two of Captain Tolley’s Creeping Crack Cure seems to have cured a small leak at the rear washer jet itself. Water was dribbling down the inside of the rear window.

There’s still stuff to do though. The rear anti-roll bar drop links are utterly ruined. I’ve no idea how they got through an MOT to be honest. Thankfully, replacement looks easy, and they’re shared with an Accord, but I’m still waiting for another pay day to pass before sorting them out. It’ll be nice to banish the constant rattle from the back end. I wonder about a fresh set of dampers too, as it is really quite bouncy! Being a Lowdown model doesn’t help – it has shorter, stiffer springs from the factory – but firm doesn’t have to mean bouncy. Given the pitiful level of car this poor car has received in the past, it wouldn’t surprise me if the dampers are the originals.

Then, as mentioned earlier, I need to do another transmission fluid change and see if I can get the gearbox to behave. It’s generally fine, for a good 99% of the time. In fact, it’s a rather pleasant car to waft around in. It sailed back from Sussex with no bother at all. It’s like driving a cosy armchair. I’ve even got deep pile carpet mats, so I drove home in my slippers.

Amazingly, I still like this car!

Amazingly, I still like this car!

I really like this car though, which has surprised me. Hopefully that means an end to the frantic flurry of car changes during the latter part of this year.



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…