Tidy, small enough to park in a multi-storey and cheap – what’s not to like about Whit’s new van? Oh, the gearbox. Reminds him of an unhappy adventure on a Ural...
Like pretty much everyone else at the moment, here in the Whitham household we’re trying to tighten our belts a bit and save some money.
And although saving money goes against all she’s ever stood for, Andrea came up with a plan to cut back on the amount of vehicles we run as a family. The idea was that instead of having a motor each and a van for me, we’d get rid of her car and share a van and a car between us. I liked the idea but my van, a Volkswagen LT35, is too high to go into most town centre car parks, generally too big to run day to day and a bit scabby-looking for Andrea to be seen in. So I sold the old LT and looked for a smaller van to replace it.
I got a tip on a Renault Trafic a local dealer had just taken in part exchange. He told me that if I was prepared to take it as seen – i.e. if it falls apart it’s my problem, not his – I could have it for what he paid for it. So that’s a nice-looking, three-year-old van for three grand; this was going to be the bargain of the year, surely?
I went to give it the once-over. You know, slam the doors, kick the tyres and everything seemed dead right about it; good tyres, mint bodywork, right mileage, job’s a good ’un. Trouble was it was in the bloke’s compound, completely hemmed in by other vehicles, so I never actually got to test drive it, but I was confident it’d drive okay and was chuffed with the price, so I gave the man a cheque there and then.
Three days later I went to pick it up and, as I drove away, discovered a possible reason for it being so cheap, the gearbox was completely shagged. It plays a tune as you attempt to select second or third and it’s reluctant to stay in fourth. I’m not sure if fifth or sixth work at all yet, simply because I haven’t managed to get it going quick enough to find out.
When I did a bit of ringing round to try to find a secondhand or reconditioned gearbox, it became apparent there are two kinds of Renault Trafic van; those that have done a gearbox and those that are about to do one. A reconditioned unit is going to set me back about £600! As my old dad always said, if something looks too good to be true then it probably is.
And then it got worse, though I can only really blame myself for the next episode. I’d noticed the rear bumper had what looked like parking sensors moulded into it, and I also noticed a beeping noise every time I selected reverse gear. A parking system, right ? Wrong, as I discovered when I reversed into a supermarket in front of loads of shoppers. Turns out all Trafic bumpers have the sensor housings moulded into them, and the beeping is just to warn people you are reversing.
Obviously the damage to the rear of the van and Sainsbury’s wall was my own fault, but you would’ve thought Renault, a firm that’s been making cars and vans for over a century, would’ve been able to design a gearbox that could reasonably be expected to hang together for the life of the vehicle.
The only time I’ve encountered a gearbox as bad as the van’s was one that belonged to a Cossack Ural sidecar outfit a mate of mine owned when we were teenagers. It was a strange contraption; an air-cooled, BMW-style flat-twin with a driven sidecar wheel and, fortunately as it turned out, a reverse gear.
Three of us – me, the Urinal’s owner Casey and a heavy-smoking lad called Ivor – once set off to Windermere on a camping weekend. After a fair amount of crunching the Urinal had a gearbox prolapse that left reverse as the only gear that worked. So, after a period of deliberation, we simply reverse the remaining 80 miles back to Huddersfield. We took it in turns to back this Russian relic down the A65 at 15 miles an hour. You could only do about 20 minutes before your neck started hurting and your eyes went squinty. We looked like something out of Dad’s Army, weaving down the road backwards with fag smoke wafting from the sidecar. By the time we got to Kirkby Lonsdale we were done. Forced to swallow our pride, we phoned my dad who came out with a pick-up to retrieve us.
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