Plus ca Change But Different

I discovered something very important, for me, this week.

I decided to save 300 euro by changing the timing belt on our Renault Clio – the car has done over 200,000 km and the belt was last changed at 110,000 km, so it was due for renewal to avoid very costly repairs should it break – at the same time I decided to change the water pump as this can only be accessed from behind the belt casing.

How hard could this be I thought, I have changed and set timing on many cars and motorbikes including V12 Jaguars, so I bought the kit, belt and locking pins and prepared for the work.

Increasingly over the last 20 years I have “complained” frequently about the atrocious design and poor quality of most manufactured items, from computers and electronic equipment to washing machines and furniture (even at times Ikea). Carole must have heard me say “what idiot designed that” a thousand times.

Starting work on the Clio was no exception, flimsy plastic covers, spaces too tight to get a spanner into, it seems the engine and its myriad of sensors and pipes was poured into a mould and to remove one item meant dismantling half the car, wheels, engine mountings, covers ad-infinitum. A fully equipped and experienced garage would take four to five hours for the job – I reckoned it would take me about double that, with luck.

Four hours in – my complaints about the stupidity of the designers who thought of the engine, bodywork and decision to make the car totally reliant on a rubber band not breaking could be heard, mutterings from the end of the garden, where I was working, were heard in the house. I quit in the evening, exhausted and frustrated at the inability to remove a blanking-plug so I could insert a locking pin.

Day two and I was deeper into my loathing of all all designers and modern technology in general – I eventually got the plug out by welding a nut on top of it and then undoing it with a spanner – four hours to do a three minute job – this was just the first of several “impossible” tasks to get access to and then remove the old belt and water pump – end of day two and all was dismantled (not much was broken except my spirit) – ten hours gone and had not started assembly.

However, that evening, over a glass of wine (actually rather more than a glass) – before boring everybody again with the crass idiocy of modern equipment, I thought a little about the problem.

In fact the car is is very good condition, yet had done over 210,000 km since we got it – with no major repairs, no problems and minimum maintenance – what I was doing now was setting it up for another 100,000 km – it was also fantastically cheap – representing about five months work for a person on average wages. It also (being diesel) does 100km on 4.5 liters of diesel (70mpg).

All other cars I have done work on (30 odd years ago) were thirsty, needed lots of maintenance and packed up completely after about 150,000 km – for the last quarter of a century I have been busy and tended to send cars to garages for servicing and maintenance. So how come this engineering aberration, the cause of my mutterings of imbecilic design, is in fact very good at being a car. Then the light-bulb of cognition clicked on in my head.

It is because it was not designed by engineers who would have to work on it but was the product of many bright people with computer systems to help them optimise the manufacturing process to create a car that, looked good, was at an optimum cheapness to manufacture, performed as well as any of the competing products on the market and could develop a brand loyalty from the buyer. To achieve this it had to be reliable (keeping warranty costs down as well) cheap to run and efficient to make.

On the third day, looking at the Clio in this light it appeared as a masterpiece of modern engineering – still bloody awkward to get a spanner in to some places, but I reassembled all the bits, checked the timing and turned the key in the ignition feeling absolutely confident as to the outcome……

The four hour job for a garage took me 15 hours, but the lesson for me is very valuable – I recognise now that even Microsoft gives us cheap efficient and amazingly well produced items perfectly suited for the purpose they are intended (I can safely say that as we are totally Apple :) ). I will not grumble about incompetent design or rubbish engineering – we get what we want and need. Ok no grease nipples, or repairable components, but cheap, efficient and brilliantly designed for their purpose.

The car, yes it fired immediately and is running fine. SO if anyone wants their timing belt changed by an expert – – go to your local garage, I will next time.

2 thoughts on “Plus ca Change But Different

  1. Tony, Very amusing! I want to visit now, just based on this story. If there were an easy, reasonable expense way to get there from Tampa, we surely would come.

    c ;)

  2. Florida to London has good deals and then there are flights from London to Beziers (20 minutes from us) for as little as $20 – so now you have no excuse :) – we can muse about life and share some bottles of wine – no fixing up of cars I promise

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