SOME cars are born survivors. And in my line of work, you get to know them fairly quickly.
All I’ll say is this: the quality and reliability of a car has absolutely nothing to do with the amount of money you spend. For example, two of the most durable cars of the 1990s were the 1993-on Nissan Micra and the 1995-on Jaguar XJ6 – opposite ends of the price spectrum, but both mechanically indestructible. Go back a decade and the Volvo 240, Nissan Bluebird and Peugeot 205 were the automotive cockroaches of the era – no matter how much you tried to kill them, you just couldn’t.
Diesel-engined Vauxhall Cavaliers were pretty unbreakable, too, apart from the inevitable corrosion, while the old Austin Maestro and Montego were astonishingly reliable despite the reputation they had.
I mention this because I have a new favourite candidate for the most reliable and forgiving car of all time.
A short while ago, a lady in her 60s came in with a 2001 Toyota Yaris, which I recognised from us doing the annual MOT. Apart from that, we never saw it, so I assumed she had her brakes, tyres and servicing done by another garage, a main dealer, or some fast-fit operation.
This time, though, the car came in because the oil light had come on. The owner was baffled, as she told us she’d always checked the levels and the oil level was still showing almost ‘max’ on the dipstick.
We started the car up and immediately noticed a metallic clattering, as if the engine was starved of oil, so we loaned her our courtesy Ka and booked the Yaris in for further investigation. What we found was astonishing…
The Yaris was, outwardly, in remarkable condition, especially as it had a rather hefty 190,000 miles on the clock. The bodywork was still bright and free of rot or major damage, the interior had held up well and the nearly-new tyres and brakes suggested the owner believed in regular maintenance, but that didn’t tally with what we discovered when we looked inside the engine.
Pretty much everything was covered in a creamy black sludge, and when we removed the sump plug to change the oil, what came out (or didn’t, as the case may be) was a jelly-like substance that left a trail of slime in its wake. Not sure as to what the cause may have been, we decided the first step would be to clean out the block using engine flush then investigate further using an endoscope.
After three flushes, most of the gloop seemed to have disappeared, so we had a look at the unit’s insides. There appeared to be nothing immediately wrong. Still uncertain, but aware that the Yaris was a low-value car and the owner wouldn’t want to spend big money on it, we treated the Toyota to some fresh oil, fired it up and, as we had some parts to pick up from a main dealer 30 miles away, decided to take the car for a proper run to see if the problem came back.
The Yaris ran like clockwork all the way, no rattling, no clattering. Indeed, for a 190,000-mile car with a 1.0-litre engine, it was a surprisingly tight and responsive thing. Back at the garage, we had another look at the oil and it seemed fresh as a daisy.
We called the owner to explain that the car was running beautifully but that we hadn’t really been able to trace the fault, as once we’d dropped the oil out, flushed and replaced it, whatever had been clogging up the engine and starving it of oil had obviously gone…
Our advice was that she should keep an eye on the oil level, as always, and next time she took it for a service ask the servicing garage to check the consistency of the oil to see if anything looked awry. ‘But I don’t get it serviced,’ she told us. ‘It’s never needed it.’
That’s when the penny dropped. Apparently, because the oil and coolant levels had never fallen during her ownership, the Toyota driver had assumed it didn’t need a service. And she’d owned the car from new…
The little Yaris, then, had been back to the dealer just once, for its one-year inspection. After that, it had covered the next 178,000 miles of its life without any kind of servicing whatsoever. No wonder the engine was gummed up, with 14-year-old oil and an oil filter of similar vintage.
Luckily, we were able to remove the air filter without the help of a chimney sweep and change that as well before the owner picked it up, ready for another 178,000 miles of neglect. What a car!
Who is Our Kev? If we told you, we’d have to kill you… What we can say is he has been around for longer than he cares to remember and has a fund of stories to tell…