Thursday, August 13, 2009

Caroline's Progress

Caroline is my 13-year-old, 120,000-mile eVolvo.She's a great runner, but like many Ladies Of A Certain Age, she has her foibles. Her aircon has long since ceased to function. She has a man-eating glove compartment. But mostly she's prone to all sorts of strange readouts in her engine management system - mainly, the complex web of sensors that controls the mixture of fuel and air that goes into what in my day I called the carburettor.

Last year, her onboard computer seemed to bear a grudge, re-living ancient faults to her oxygen sensors when there was nothing, in fact, wrong. My faithful garage man took a month to track down the fault as essentially one of automotive psychology. He removed Caroline's computer, let it cool down on his test bench, and plugged it back in. End of problem. This reminded me of the scene in 2001: A Space Odyssey when astronaut Dave Bowman disconnects HAL, the malevolent computer. 'What are you doing, Dave?' the computer asks. The reminder is all the stronger because my mechanic just happens to be called Dave.

This year, Dave has taken five weeks (and counting) to track down another fault in the same system. As I understand it, the fault is as follows: the current fuel/air mixture is very slightly too rich, and the relevant sensor is overcompensating by adding more air to the mixture, such that Caroline burns very lean.

I should point out that there is nothing actually wrong with Caroline. Lean burning suits her, and she has the engine of de-coked sparkle that wouldn't disgrace a car of half her mileage. However, Caroline's emissions don't square with the gummint's increasingly strict air quality regulations - an entirely cooked up mechanical fault, dreamed by some idiot in Whitehall. I think it's all a conspiracy to get us to scrap perfectly good cars and buy new ones that we don't need under a smokescreen of environmental health, when it's really all about propping up the motor trade.

Whatever it is, Dave (who says he is now on the point of sending Caroline hate mail) is trying to introduce a kind of valve thingy to outsmart the air sensor.

Honestly, in my day, all you did was lift the hood and twiddle with the screw on the carburettor. Sorted. And they call it progress?



  1. I do sympathize. And the complexity & expense of the Volvo systems are the only thing stopping me from buying a used one to replace the ancient Subaru, which has had taps playing for its transmission for four or five months now.

    One of the great advantages to living in a state with more pigs than people is that there are hardly any rules. No emissions or mechanical inspections here. If you want to go tootling down the road in a coal-burning buggy held together with Scotch tape that's entirely your business.

    Now what I would like is some sort of regulation of unicycles. I saw a 20something guy crossing the street on a unicycle the other day, in that tight-sphinctered way unicyclists have, and it occurred to me that everywhere I go, sooner or later, there's some jackass on a unicycle. I'd like to do something about that.

  2. Amy - what a strange and wonderful world it is in which you live. :)

  3. Heh - love the 'automative psychology'bit. It makes me think that someone ought to sit down next to caroline and just let her tell her side of the story. The 'burning lean' could be the sign of some sort of trauma - an inauspicious and frankly disturbing exit from the great Swedish manufactory, perhaps, or being made to drive right-handed when she's really a lefty, maybe...

    Volvos are great. We had to get rid of our wonderful 240 estate a year ago and we were really sad. I loved that car like I loved no other. The seats were magnificently comfortable, and you could stuff just about anything in the back. Unfortunately the steering had gone.

  4. The gummint will give you £2000 to scrap a car that's more than 10 years old, provided that you buy a new one. Given that cars that age are cheap (Caroline's list price is less than a twentieth of that sum), that's quite an incentive. However, the envronmental costs of manufacturing a new car, even if it is energy efficient, probably outweigh any efficiency savings that car makes in its entire life - and any further environmental costs of keeping your old banger on the road forever. Whatever happened to prudence, and make-do-and-mend? Phooey - the government cares more about jobs in car manufacturing than it does about the environment.

  5. 400% off topic, but after four months of P90X!!1! I look like a slightly overweight tennis star who's been slipping down the lists forever and is a fave tabloid sports-loser girl.

    And I agree with you completely, Henry.

  6. After six and a half weeks Caroline has Returned!