26 May 2013

Jet spotter of the track (racing cars)

What sort of running blog is this, when I have no running to write about? I have spent two days working on the vegetable patch and the cars, which leaves no time for running but plenty of scope for commenting on cars. And I also took time to watch the highlights of the Monaco Grand Prix, giving me an excuse to embed a piece by John Otway. A dominant performance in the race, but not a patch on '72. There will never be a race like that again.

Imminent annual tests forced me to give the cars my undivided attention. First, the MGF: the RAC patrolman who recently solved its little no-starting problem observed that the engine oil was past its best, which I had suspected for a while. Obviously it had not been changed for a long time before we bought it. That bodes ill for its emissions levels, so oil, oil filter and air filter would have to be changed - I haven't looked at the plugs yet, and perhaps I should - and something would have to be done about the handbrake. Plus, the driver's side door mirror was cracked when we bought the car and that is a test fail.

The Renault also displays signs of exhausted engine oil - a very noisy tickover from cold, until the oil gets round the system. So an oil change (and a new filter) was indicated there too, plus an air filter. All pretty simple, no?

No, not really. Neither car has enough ground clearance to accommodate the special receptacle that I have used for about 35 years to catch the old oil, which replaced a gallon oil can with an aperture cut out of it. Which in turn was a solution that replaced positioning the car over a convenient storm drain grate - but that was never an approach that I adopted. So I had to jack them, both of them, and - would you believe it - I could find my trolley jack but not its handle, so I raised the cars on the scissors jacks from their toolkits. And got my work done quickly rather than bother with axle stands - although tomorrow, when I have to remove wheels, it will another story.

The sump plug on the MG is conveniently located on the front side of the sump, close to the offside rear wheel, and takes a 15mm socket (and, in my case, a sharp tap with a heavy hammer to turn said socket). The filter is just over from it, towards the centre of the car. A doddle. The Renault's, by contrast, is masked by a large plastic undertray which miraculously is provided with a hole under the sump plug. Socket? No, it requires an 8mm square drive thingie, which fortunately I have in my toolbox (bought to do this job on a Fiat Panda in the mid-80s). A Sykes Pickavant thingie, at that. But how to offer that up to a plug you can't see, when it won't fit in a socket? Hold the other square end in an adjustable spanner, seems to be the answer. Loosen the plug, and be prepared for a deluge way beyond the capacity of the receptacle to swallow it. Result: black, grotty, used oil on the drive.

Renault thoughtfully place the oil filter in plain sight just inside the bonnet, so no problems there. Except that unscrewing it causes a trickle of old oil to escape - of course, fully expected - with nowhere to go. There is no hole in the undertray corresponding to the filter. Fail.

As for the air filters, don't get me started. The MG shows signs of having been built around this component. It cannot be removed by entering through the aperture in the boot which gives access to coolant and oil fillers - it is possible to undo the clips from here but not to separate the box and remove the filter. The engine cover has to come off - unfasten the hood from the back of the cockpit, remove carpet and soundproofing, then unscrew ten or so 10mm bolts (two missing on my example, which might explain why the engine is loud) and take off the metal cover. This is also necessary, incidentally, to get to the oil filler cap (the satellite filler reached through the boot being incapable of taking on 4.5 litres at any reasonable rate). Then the air filter can be wrangled out and a new one put in. The new one is nice and white and clean: the old on black, confirming the wisdom of carrying out this operation before emissions are tested.

Renault's air filter looks, superficially, much more accessible. The owner's manual says unclip the trunking that funnels in the air, then unfasten two screws at the back. Removing the trunking allows a substantial plastic box to be removed - but I celebrated too soon, as this is merely an expansion box and the filter casing is held in place by those two screws, which are in fact under the scuttle so not exactly easy to get to. Worse, because this is a Renault they are not screws in the conventional sense, with a slot or cross head to get a driver onto: they are star drive affairs, referred to generically by ISO 10664 as "hexalobular internal" but commonly called Torx which is of course a proprietary name and should not be used generically, and they require a bit that fits into a socket - but one has to attack them across the width of the car, not from the front, so it's not easy to keep the bit engaged with the screw. Madness. Alternatively, a hexalobular internal screwdriver will do the job - but the one I have at my disposal, from a recently-scrapped Renault's toolkit, is mysteriously bent and the points of the star are chewed up. Cue much cursing, aimed largely at French car designers (reminding me of when I called the RAC out to my Citroen Dyane because it was making an unnerving noise: "I can tell you what's wrong with that", said the patrolman at a glance, from a distance of about 20 yards. "What's that?" said I, highly impressed. "It's a Citroen" he replied.)

Both cars run much more happily with new oil and filters, and the feeling of satisfaction is reward in itself. Mechanic's high, perhaps. Now for the brake pads.


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