A week look at all the sucks in the car world, plus some good bits
If like me you drive an old car, or if you drive a classic car, that is something from the Sixties or Seventies, sooner or later you run up against the problem there is a component you need replaced that is no longer made. Every few years car manufacturers make a decision to stop buying-in certain spare parts. For the sake of a small part you are faced with scrapping the car and buying new. Planet Earth has become a graveyard for old rusting vehicles. Cars ought to last more than a few years!
Mercedes Benz was famous for keeping in store every component for every car it produced from 50 years back, but the cost of storage became too great as demand fell away for the oldest vehicles. In any event, selling cars is all about the throw-away society.
Today, owning an old MG sportscar carries with it many little companies remaking parts, better quality parts than when MGs left the factory. The old story of the man who owned a modern Ford waiting five weeks for his spare part, while the man who owned an old MG got his in the post next day, is actually accurate.
In my case I bought a non-runner model same as mine for £250 and cannibalised all the parts I needed, plus the dividend of a sunroof (US: moon roof) my car didn’t have when produced. (What was left went to the crusher.) But the seat belts were as slack and useless at the ones on my car. You can fail an MOT if the belts don’t work efficiently. In time, my Toyota dealer found a company than can renovate old seat belts and as I write I await there return renewed. However, some components are very costly to fabricate as a one-off item. What if there was a company that could make the part you cannot get and make them at an affordable price? And what if it could improve the part that caused all the breakdowns?
In the USA the aftermarket car industry is vast. You can get pretty well anything for anything. Some companies specialise in harvesting original parts from scrapped cars, some will upgrade the part, fabricating it in superior material.
In the UK there’s a man in a wee industrial unit in Ramsgate named Kieran Mannings running his company called X8R that makes components to allow owners to fix their cars at a fraction of the dealer cost – and re-engineer them to avoid the same fault happening again. His company sends out tens of thousands of parts to owners around the world.
“Some of the parts fitted to cars are completely unsuitable for the job. They use materials that won’t last or they’re just poorly thought through. Some of it is cost-cutting, or a need to save weight and time, I think. But it’s the poor owner who has to pay in the end.”
Mannings created the company when a schoolboy, selling parts to make Honda mopeds go faster, thus the X8R company name. Next came selling under-car neon lights on the internet, cashing in on the Fast and the Furious craze.
Years back, so the anecdote goes, Mannings noticed his girlfriend using a pencil to open the boot of her Renault Mégane. The release button had failed, replacement £150. Mannings took the lock to pieces, saw a tiny plastic ring had disintegrated and made her a new one from stainless steel. The new won’t break. He still sells the part online.
He began looking for similar iffy parts in other cars and soon discovered a hug gap in the market. Word of mouth from car mechanics and reading car blogs told him which parts are flimsy and which constantly get renewed only to fall apart just as quickly. He discovered car manufactures are loathe to improve flawed and flimsy parts.
“You’ll see Qashqais with duct tape securing the boot handle. They’ve got flimsy mountings and they snap. A new one is £70 from Nissan. You need to pay extra to get it painted and it’ll just break again. One of our most popular kits to fix the original part and make it stronger costs only £18.90.”
Two designers work on the technical drawings and prototype parts are 3D printed before being tested. The components are built to X8R’s specification in factories around the world before sent to Ramsgate’s storage shelves. Mannings is studying electric cars and thinks there will be enough to keep his company busy. “They might not have engines but they still use cheap and unsuitable bits in lots of places.”
There’s no doubt people are getting wise to poorly made expendable products. Buying a car with a good life span that is well built is the way forward, all parts biodegradable. Anything that makes cars last longer and be safer has to be a good thing.
GROUSEY’S FOOTWELL FINDS
Tory bullshit think-tank
Institute of Economic Affairs UK’s most influential Tory think tank boasts 14 members of Boris’ cabinet associated with it. It has published four books, articles, papers over two decades suggesting man-made climate change is uncertain or exaggerated. Donors: BP and ExxonMobil. This is the same fraudulent group that hosted a series of short papers, articles and blogs questioning climate science, including an article celebrating “20 years denouncing the eco-militants” in 2013. One infamous cause celebre blog post recycled allegations of academic fraud against climate scientists at the University of East Anglia, allegations subsequently denounced and proven to be a sack of lies. The IEA won’t make known what proportion of its funding is drawn from entities with an interest in fossil fuels, but claim donors and their interests have no influence over its publications. (Chuckle.) I’m left wondering if the Institute of Economic Affairs real function is a cover for grants and dalliances with blonde American entrepreneurs.
Dyson dumps his car
James Dyson has scrapped plans to build what he called a “ground-breaking” electric vehicle, because he doesn’t feel the project can be ‘commercially viable’. The British firm had established a £2.5 billion division, Dyson Automotive, to develop a large crossover-style premium electric saloon, a launch planned in 2021. Billionaire Brexit inventor Dyson vowed that new technology and design methods would make it stand apart from every other electric vehicles. He claims to have succeeded, and spies report a working model is at the plant, but not commercially viable is business speak for three things: (a) the competition from mainstream manufactures has overtaken a single saloon project, (b) no company will manufacture the vehicle, (c) staff who worked on it will be ‘let go’, (d) what has been invented and copyrighted will sell to EV firms. “The journey to success is never linear”, says ultra-comfy Brexiteer Dyson, business speak for, we’re a bunch of big talking putz; but hey, the little guy gets it in the neck. I’m safe.
More haste, less speed!
Sweden has design a quite beautiful electric car, the Unite Car: one seat middle-front, two behind that can fold flat to create a large luggage area, made of recyclable materials, the car to be built in the UK. You can order it now. Nicest part – prices start at £15,000 up to £19,000 for the 180 mile version. Sounds an excellent city car, or between Scottish cities. Meanwhile, the UK government has vowed to accelerate its climate action for the transport sector by drafting new plans to end emissions from trains, planes and cars by 2050. They plan to de-carbonise the transport sector immediately and unveil the plan in full next year. None of that mollifies critics such as myself, bewildered to see the UK transport secretary remove financial incentives to buy electric cars, while it presides over a painfully slow installation of UK-wide charging points, and talks of a date to usher in Nirvana when most of us will be old, decrepit or dead, Earth a toxic mass. Reasons to be cheerful – none.