Saturday, 7 November 2015

Back in action - my father's car

Twenty months ago, in April 2014, my father's driving licence was not renewed. He couldn't read a car number plate from 20 metres. So he cancelled his car insurance, posted a Statutory Off Road Notice, and his car, a Rover 214 SLi, stood in the drive, in the rain, the mist, the drizzle and the sleet.

Since then, my father has had two eye operations, as a result of which his eyesight is better than mine. In August, he re-applied for his driving licence. It finally arrived in the post on Thursday. Now, how about that car? Is it fit for purpose, or for the scrapyard? With a mere 61,000 miles on the clock after 23 years (it was bought and first registered by my father in December 1992 - before Moni was born), would it ever go again?

Over the car's lifetime, it has been regularly serviced by a garage on the Argyle Road. Recently, it has been acquired by the giant Halford's Group. The resurrection of a 23 year-old car, laid up for over a year and half, is not something that you'll find in any corporate Standard Operating Procedures. So my father chose a small garage in Hanwell, offering MoTs (ang. przegląd techniczny) and services. We went. A tiny Victorian mews, all brick and cobbles, space in the garage and forecourt for no more than four cars. My father spoke to the proprietor, and soon I was driving back with my father, two mechanics, a battery power pack, a spare battery, a pair of trade plates. Everyone was silently weighing up the odds of getting the old car started.

Silted up oilways in the cylinder block. Seized handbrake. Wheels rusted solid onto the axles. Short-circuits caused by rusty wiring.

But start it did! Within five minutes of their arrival, the mechanics had fired up the engine, and a few minutes later, with trade plates attached, the guys drove off back to Hanwell to fix the car. This was around half-past three. An hour or so later, they called to say that the car had failed the MoT. Minor things - windscreen wiper blades - would be easy to fix, but the failed emissions test would be trickier. The following morning they called back - all fixed. The car was ready for collection, with a new MoT certificate valid for 12 months.

So my father called up the insurance company to renew his policy which lapsed in June 2014. A long time spent waiting for the call centre to put the call through, but once we did, all went smoothly. With my brother and me as named additional drivers on his policy, my father is once again fully insured.

But given my father's age, it was not cheap - probably three times more than the value of the car itself. Twenty-plus year-old Rover 214s can be had for a couple of hundred quid. [However, my father reminded me that I'd got the car for him through Rover's journalist discount scheme back in 1992. No doubt, the car had been specially prepared with a particularly critical customer in mind. No ordinary Rover 214 SLi, then.]

Next up was road tax (as Vehicle Excise Duty is erroneously called). Online this was sorted out in moments, credit card payment and a print-off of the confirmation that the duty had been paid.

All street legal. I walked to Hanwell to pick up the car. The proprietor told me that the car was in phenomenally good shape for its age, and for the fact that it had never been garaged, spending all 23 years of its life exposed to the elements. There was not a spot of rust on the underside of the vehicle. All it needed was a thorough clean, and a new clutch plate within the next year, and it will go on for years to come.

I drove it home. Indeed, the clutch's biting point is very high, but it's still working. Between 1,200 and 1,500 rpm, the engine's vibrations feed through to the dashboard, as they have done for at least 12 years, otherwise the car is good. Good for another 23 years? Hope so! Classic cars from the 1960s and '70s are still a common sight on Britain's roads.

Classic cars. Back in the early 1980s, when I started motoring, a 'classic car' was one over 20 years old. So my 1963 GAZ Volga M-21 was a classic car, eligible for classic car insurance and no road tax. Today, as the longevity of cars increases, a 'historic vehicle' is one built before 1975. And that's fixed, so each year, historic vehicles get a year older, newer ones no longer make it into the fold.

Back at the garage, picking up the car, I had so many  nostalgic memories - this is Dziadzia-Auto, as Moni used to call it when she was a year and half old. Before her second birthday, she could identify several car brands - Audi, Renault, Mełczedeś (Mercedes), Fud Gennada (Ford Granada), but all Rover 200s were 'Dziadzia-Auto'. The smell of the interior reminds me of summer holidays, returning to the car, warmed up by the sunshine in a Welsh beach car park.

So my father is mobile again. The car will only be used for local trips to the shops, to church, etc. Mobility = independence = dignity.

The developed world's demographics mean that more and more very old people will be still driving. This is a challenge that will have to be met by policy-makers. On the one hand, independence through mobility is a good thing - on the other, a road-safety issue.

I believe that in the same way that motorcycle licences are issued (AM for mopeds, A1 for 125cc bikes, A2 for bikes up to 48 BHP and A for unlimited power), so car licences should be graded. My father is allowed - as are all other nonagenarians and centenarians possessing valid Cat. B driving licences - to legally drive a Porsche Cayenne Turbo S, Range Rover Sport, Bugatti Veyron etc. On motorways. This is absurd. And it is also absurd to restrict old drivers' access to means of mobility.

I would argue that over a certain age, say 85, restrictions should apply as to the power - and physical size - of cars that can be driven. Small urban cars - fine. Big, powerful cars - no longer. And they should be marked accordingly - like the red 'L' plate for learner, or the green 'P' for provisional plate, some means for other road users to quickly identify an elderly driver, should be made mandatory. The sign would mean 'I'm slow but safe, please be patient'.  'V' for veteran (what do you think?) plates should also limit elderly drivers to local roads - certainly no motorway driving.

This time last year:
Defending Poland against hybrid warfare 

This time two years ago:
Another office move

This time four years ago:
PiS splits again - Solidarna Polska formed

This time five years ago:
Tesco vs. Auchan

This time eight years ago:
My father's house


Anonymous said...

A very interesting story. Thank you for it, Michael.

student SGH said...

Failed emissions test? Similar problems occur with much newer cars ;-)

Now the car's value has little room for decline.

Don't I see a garage door in the background? If possible, good to convert a clutter-room a garage with time turns into, into its original purpose. Keeping a car in a garage saves you some expenses related to accelerated wear and tear (who cares about resale value when buying a car for many years), not to mention the comfort of getting into a dry and warm vehicle in the colder season.

Michael Dembinski said...

@ student SGH:

The garage, built in 1933, is just wide enough to accommodate an Austin 7 Chummy. Even my father's smallest car, a Morris 1100, was way too big to fit in the garage.