Slummy single mummy and the art of car maintenance

Since passing my driving test in 1996 I have had over a dozen different cars, starting with my first car – an A-Reg Talbot Samba with a mouldy steering wheel, nowhere near and lovely and new looking as the one in the picture – through to my current car, a hand-me-down Peugeot 206 that used to belong to my mum and that smells slightly of feet.

Along the way I’ve had an interesting mix of cars, and I always follow a simple pattern – buy something cheap, drive it until it collapses, buy a new one. Very similar in fact to the relationship I have with shoes. While I was at university, I had an old VW Golf that I loved, and which I drove almost literally into the ground, travelling over 100 miles a day to lectures and back.

It was in the year I had that car that I discovered that AA membership doesn’t actually allow you an unlimited number of call outs – by the seventh in the year I was being charged. I remember one particular motorway journey in the dark where my radio suddenly went quiet, and my lights started to dim, and things started to stop working, until I had to pull over and be rescued.

One of my favourite ever cars was a very old automatic metro that I bought on ebay for £87. It is the only automatic I have ever owned, and I loved it. Automatics are so handy aren’t they for eating sandwiches and such like? The downside was the damp on the back seats, no back seatbelts for car seats, and the fact that you couldn’t do over 50mph in it. The irony of course being that I actually got a speeding ticket in that car.

When the metro, which we fondly called Little Mo, inevitably failed its MOT after 11 months of otherwise unfaltering service, I swapped it along with £400 in cash with a man wearing a single diamond earing, behind a pub, for a Citroen Xantia. I hated that car as much as I loved Little Mo. Completely lacking in any kind of suspension, driving it was back-breaking, and it was so big that I was constantly misjudging parking spaces and driving it into wall and bollards.

The Citroen brought out the very worst in me when it comes to car maintenance. I’ve never liked spending money on cars – servicing to me just makes no sense – if there is nothing obviously wrong, why would you voluntarily want to take it to a garage and spend money on it? Worrying noises are usually easy to cure by turning up the radio, and is it really necessary to top up the water in your windscreen washer? Surely that’s what rain is for?

As a rule, I don’t like being told what to do, and I particularly don’t like being told what to do by a car, so when a big red light shouting STOP came on on the Citroen’s dashboard, I opted not to stop, but simply to put a satsuma in front of the light. This car is just bossy, I thought, who does it think it is?

Of course after a couple of months of satsuma maintenance, the car could tolerate my neglect no longer, and one day when I went to turn a corner, it refused. No, it said, I have had enough, I am only going to drive in straight lines from now on. Rude. Just rude.

It’s my irresponsible attitude to cars that makes me wonder if I will ever feel grown-up enough to buy my own house. I can picture it now… hole in the roof? Nothing to worry about, a bit of blutac should sort that out. Cracks in the wall? A strategically placed bowl of fruit is surely all you need? It’s one thing to run a car into the ground and buy a new one, but I’m not sure how financially sound it is to let a house crumble around you and then pop out and get another one on ebay.

Are regular services really important do you think, or is it all a conspiracy, with mechanics and garages across the country convening in secret, plotting to convince us that servicing is crucial? I’m not even sure I believe they do anything at a service. I think perhaps they just drive your car up onto a ramp, sit in the office for half an hour looking at porn, then spread some paper over the seats and place one strategic muddy footprint in the driver’s footwell.

I would be much more inclined to get a service if there was some tangible benefit, some evidence of work being done, (other than the footprint). Maybe I am just irresponsible, but just knowing the oil has been changed recently doesn’t exactly thrill me. Now if there were decorations, or pictures put up maybe…

So what do you reckon, is this a girl thing, or just extreme slumminess on my part? Do you swear by a regular service or do you rely heavily on strategically placed fruit as a form of car maintenance?



  1. 13 December, 2010 / 10:59 pm

    Personally no I don’t do regular services I can leave cars with service lights on for ages and ages and ages. Unfortunately my dad is the absolute opposite so everything gets done on my car, as he knows when mine and my sisters should be due for a service and MOT and nags until they are done. But hand on heart I am with you on this! xx

  2. 13 December, 2010 / 11:48 pm

    Gosh this sounds just like my car owning history!!! I would never, ever pay for a service and firmly belong in the ‘drive ’em into the ground’ club!!! I also have a very shocking history of reversing into things ;-)

  3. 14 December, 2010 / 7:54 am

    It’s a girl thing. Get your car serviced – seriously. All the things they change are small and prevent bigger things from going wrong. Spend 200 quid on a service now rather than your gearbox going kaput in 6 months time. I had a Golf for 7 years that had nearly 180,000 miles on the clock and it didn’t break down…because I serviced it.

    Also, most garages valet your car at the same time, so that smell of feet would go.

    You could learn to do it yourself and get that whole ‘chick in overalls with oil on her forehead’ hot look going on…

  4. Vicky
    14 December, 2010 / 7:54 am

    You know where I stand on this… Fruit! Every single time! And I also find that turning up the radio so I can’t hear the sound of my tractor-like engine helps quite a lot (this is the tactic I am currently using). Its not big or clever but it suits the ostrich-like way I address most situations I don’t feel comfortable with. Xxx

  5. 14 December, 2010 / 11:42 am

    Oooh, my specialist subject! And an opportunity for me to plug The Girls’ Car Handbook!

    Like you Jo, I’m in the ‘buy a cheap one and run it into the ground’ camp – the difference is that I do service and look after my knackered old motors.
    And it’s paid off. I’ve had an N Reg Vauxhall Astra for 6 years – it gets through each MOT for about £50, has broken down twice (puncture, failed battery) and is a brave little soldier. I do have it serviced once a year, which costs about £200, but my local garage is fab and if they look at porn, they do it in their own time (though lots of garages do *exactly* what you say!!). To be honest, for me it’s a bit of a personal choice – most people are conscientious about servicing when their car is new but as it gets older it’s one of the things they let slide on the basis that ‘it’s old, knackered and going to go soon anyway so why spend money on it?’ – I can see their point, and will only say that cosseting my elderly car has worked for me, and I’m going to carry on doing it until it’s time for it to go to The Great Car Park in the Sky.
    And re what a service is – it’s sort of a mixture of actually doing stuff, like changing oil or air filters and then checking stuff, like brakes – sort of like when you go to the dentist and they check you haven’t got any loose fillings and then the hygienist freshens you up a bit…

  6. Beth
    14 December, 2010 / 7:26 pm

    I am very lucky and have a lovely neighbour who, in the summer, asks when I am away and takes my spare key and my little car into his little shop for a bit of car loving (not literally I’d like to point out). He then makes a point of invoicing me the month after I get back from holiday. I recommend everyone check the proximity of a mechanic to a future house purchase as well as a good school!

  7. Vicky Robinson
    14 October, 2013 / 12:29 pm

    I too have owned a series of old, high mileage cars. My first was a Citroen Xantia & I loved it! If yours had no suspension then the guy who sold it to you must have known that it was broken! The Citroen Xantia had a really fancy suspension system that you turned on the engine & then waited a few seconds while the car levelled itself up &! It’s the only car I’ve known to do this. Mine was really smooth & when I took my driving test in it, my examiner even commented on how lovely the suspension was. I think you got sold a dud there! My Xantia I only sold on when we had outgrown it & it had done 164,000 miles & was still going strong! I swapped it for a Citroen Synergie which I later sold at 148,000 & now I drive a Citroen Relay minibus & a lot newer & lower mileage due to getting an amazing bargain on ebay.

    My Synergie had some warning light issues due to freak electrical problems & one day the handbrake light came permanently on & knowing my handbrake was off I thought it was just another silly warning light that the garage would tell me was nothing – bad mistake. I drove down the motorway one weekend at speeds of 70mph, the next day was on dual carriageways at 40mph & the very next morning after that I went to take the kids to school, got to a stop line & realised that the brakes didn’t work. I went right across the line frantically pumping on the pedal before eventually getting a small amount of resistance which was enough to stop the car safely without hitting anythign. My rear brake shoe cylinder had corroded & all the brake fluid had been leaking out! After that I never ignore warning lights that I don’t understand ever again!

  8. 11 July, 2015 / 10:48 am

    I will confess that I do check my tires, and water at least once a month, but its only because once I got caught out by my car overheating. So, tricky situations do arrive if one is not prepared.

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