DIAGNOSING faults can, at times, be a pretty unpleasant process. Other times, you get lucky.
On one recent occasion, we had a lovely old Rover 75 Tourer towed into the garage. It had the 2.0-litre BMW diesel engine, an automatic ’box and a wonderful specification – full leather, wood-rimmed steering wheel and plush deep-pile carpets.
Despite having covered more than 200,000 miles, it was its owner’s pride and joy, and was a car that he had fastidiously maintained – indeed, we knew it well, as we did the annual MOT and the occasional job that the owner wasn’t confident enough to do himself.
On this occasion, though, the owner was somewhat distraught. He’d been to visit his daughter at university and on his way back, cruising up the A1, the automatic gearbox suddenly lost all drive and the car coasted to a halt. He limped into a layby and called the breakdown services, who established that the Rover would still engage drive if you put it into reverse, but had no forward motion whatsoever.
Assuming a catastrophic gearbox failure, they reversed it onto their recovery truck and delivered it to us so we could give a second opinion. I fully expected our opinion to be the same as the first. The breakdown operator couldn’t find any obvious reason for the gearbox to have stopped engaging drive and assumed it was a case of the internal clutch mechanism breaking up – a not unreasonable supposition given that the car had covered over 200k.
However, the owner was prepared to pay £40 for a diagnostic scan to confirm his worst fears. If the ’box
was dead, then so be it, and he was prepared to read his cherished car its last rites and find a replacement, though he was stumped (quite reasonably, in my opinion) as to what kind of late-model estate car he could find that would be as cossetting and lovely as his old Rover had been. That was, after all, why he’d not changed cars in 13 years.
It was our apprentice, Jack, who became the car’s saviour. Whilst I was in the footwell plugging in our OBD scanner, he was giving the car a quick once-over under the bonnet.
n The scanner, for some reason, refused to even communicate with the gearbox, which led me to believe that the transmission had already had its last supper.
If it wasn’t even talking to the code reader, let alone throwing up a fault, then there was every chance it had forgotten it was a gearbox altogether, such is the joy of dealing with ECUs.
As I was puzzling away, plugging and unplugging the reader to see if I could get any codes out of it whatsoever, Jack was talking to the car’s owner.
‘Did anything unusual happen just before the car broke down?’ he asked.
‘Not really,’ said the owner, ‘though I did hit a bird as I was accelerating down a slip road. I can’t see that causing much of a problem.’
‘You’d be surprised,’ added Jack, as he summoned me around to the Rover’s business end.
There, on the nearside inner wing, I could clearly make out the sticky, feathery remains of one of God’s unfortunate creatures, which had met its end in the jaws of a chrome-effect radiator grille.
And also there before me was a rather obvious problem. The auto gearbox on these engines has a transmission oil cooler, offset to one side of the radiator. Where the gearbox oil temperature sensor should have been was a decapitated bird’s head, the sensor itself sheared clean off its connectors in a jumble of broken wiring and wings.
Of course, the reason the car would still drive perfectly normally backwards is because the reverse gear isn’t reliant on the sensor to work – it takes a very ‘special’ kind of driving to overheat an auto ’box in reverse, after all.
One of my mechanics has a 75 saloon with the same transmission, so before ordering any expensive parts, we borrowed the sensor off his car and plugged it in to see what happened. You guessed it – normal service was fully resumed. So instead of condemning the cherished Rover to the breaker’s yard, we ordered up an £80 sensor and had it back on the road for £100 all-in.
The owner was, understandably, delighted. Much more so than the bird, sadly.
Jack, meanwhile, completed his apprenticeship that day. With that level of under-bonnet intellect, tracing the remains of a dead bird to the source of a problem that had stumped the roadside recovery services, I figured it was time to give him a real job.
And he even got a Stella Artois-shaped bonus, courtesy of the Rover’s owner. I love a happy ending, me.
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