What do you do when you have finally been successful selling two cars but then come to the sobering realisation that the back-up car is still not ready – even though it was transported to the garage a year and a half ago -ish…
Crisis management time; insert batteries in the cycle lights and dare to wear that hi-vis vest; winking LED lights to the amusement or bemusement of other motorists and cyclists. That’s how it was for a month or so with reliance on trains, my brothers’ cars and Hertz car rental. £66 got me four days with a Fiat Panda despite the coersion of the salesman who attempted to tempt me with an upgrade and to increase my accident insurance which would have doubled that fee. Younger and older bruv run Volkswagen Polos from different eras so observing that the steering wheel was off centre eons ago enabled me to rectify the problem, years later. “Tracking’s miles out!” exclaimed National Tyres man with worn rear bushes squeaking like a hyperactive mouse. Pumping up the tyres then checking with my own gauge made driving the Polo a more pleasurable experience which leads seamlessly on to elder’s 1998 model that I bought for £900 over five years ago. Two bulb replacements later with manic foot inflation led me inside the engine bay and blow me with a trumpet, the dipstick ( not my brother) had not repeat NOT topped up the engine oil as the level was below the minimum chequered marker. A few colourful words later led me to the local Asda to spend £16 on a litre and a half of 10W 50. An oil leak didn’t help although the sludgy deposit on elder bruv’s driveway did give a subtle clue, ‘eh Sherlock.
So, the pressure was on to find another ride so the usual car salvage websites were scanned to reveal nothing of worth to me. Cars were either categorised C or D or were too expensive so lateral thinking was needed. In the Midlands or page two of Google, I discovered a dealer who bought ex-rental cars that had mostly been slightly damaged including a group of non-recorded vehicles. I spied a Chevrolet Spark – one of four advertised at the cheapest £3450 but it had a dent to the top edge of the bonnet with a crack across the bumper. Luckily on inspection, the impact had missed the right chassis leg but had twisted the right slam panel support. Enterprise vehicles have a small ‘e’ sticker to the bottom right of the tailgate with a fuel label over the flap which tends to be peeled off when the cars are sold on with the V5 registration document stating ERAC UK LTD as the previous keeper which is indirectly defined as Enterprise Rent A Car. Manuals with a spare key were available although the service book showed no stamps despite a genuine General Motors air filter looking relatively clean. Surprisingly, visiting my local Chevrolet dealership enabled me to buy a headlight bracket for the grand sum of one pound to replace one that had snapped on impact.
Happily, this contrasts with the majority of other cars whose headlight brackets are moulded as part of the whole unit; furthermore an Enterprise Spark LT was in the process of having brake pads replaced in the dealership’s garage and the mechanic stated that Chevrolet service Enterprise’s Sparks but why hadn’t they stamped the service book on the example I bought? Trying to get information about Enterprise servicing was fruitless as the company are very cagey about releasing information probably because bulk purchases of rentals occur at discounted rates without warranties or so the seller of the Spark in the Midlands explained.
Back to the Spark, with Michael the mechanic giving the bonnet a beating gradually ironing out a crease on one side. Another bodyshop refused to repair the panels with an ambiguous, ” you get the panels and we’ll charge £600 for labour.” With bumper removed, Michael got to work on reshaping the compressed slam panel support rib with the aid of a lump hammer and hydraulic ram. A piece of wood was cut to fit inside the rib so that it wouldn’t lose its shape and a rod was inserted beneath that slowly pushed out the indentation. Some splitting of metal occurred where folding had taken place on impact so these were seam-welded and with the exercise repeated which went on until the early hours of the morning. An interesting process to watch testament to the patience and practicality of the mechanic, yet of utmost importance to a decent repair as if compressed parts are not reshaped, other parts may still be out of alignment. The passenger wing, for example was too close to the neighbouring passenger door although the gap widened to how it was originally after pulling via hydraulic rods and rams; the cracked bumper was also threading across from the inside by using a soldiering iron to melt the plastic. Critically, the bonnet now closed securely so that bootlace was removed that was used to tie the bonnet down so no more stares from other motorists, hopefully. One helpful soul even got out of his car at the traffic lights to tell me that the bonnet was unlatched. Safe in the knowledge that I could accelerate more sharply, I drove home to a chorus of birdsong – reminding me of walking home from the city centre after a night’s clubbing… Of course, the Spark was due another visit to Michael to have paint work done…
A revisit enabled the Chevy to increase another notch towards normality with some filler skimmed over bonnet dents and fibreglass to strengthen the bumper although under pressure of time with water-based paint taking longer to harden, the buffering machine wore through the top coat so the Spark had to return – again! Another issue was suspected warped brake discs that caused vibration through the steering wheel although a quote of £250 from National Tyres seemed anomalous considering the type of car. An idea to source used brake pads with their discs off an identical car would be a more viable and safer option so a replacement set was negotiated in the purchase of a 2012 Seat Ibiza – my new project! My time getting aquainted with the Spark enabled me to achieve a combined 57 mpg although you should remember to give enough revs when setting off otherwise you can stall – made more difficult when you drive other cars. I could fit my mountain bike by first removing the front wheel when seats were down to slot the handlebar around the passenger seat when pushed slightly forward. The Spark is a welcome diversion from its GM stablemate, the Vauxhall Corsa and Chevrolet have had a commendable attempt at simplistic but functional design and ergonomics however the brake and throttle pedals are too close so that my size eleven beetlecrushers sometimes brake and overrev simultaneously. Crosswinds on the motorway can also disturb the slab-sided Spark although this is common with most other narrow city cars that find themselves on the motorway. I like the turquoise neon effect lighting for the displays – so much more original than blue or red hues.
Back to the garage. Paint spraying man bodged the Chevy’s sheen by not applying appropriate nozzle pressure so back inside it went, to my frustration, delaying my schedule as I had hoped to advertise it for sale. Eventually, after the toils of the sprayer had been told, the job was completed although the silver shade wasn’t was mismatched. Apparently, there are two shades of the same colour yet despite two attempts, the job was still not right. So, if you’re ever contemplating repairing a slightly damaged car, do your sums to include that all important profit margin and choose your repairers carefully. £4495 anyone?
Words and photos are copyright of Sotiris Vassiliou