Friday, November 25, 2011

Renault's Woes

Here's a little interim among all the vacation stories:

The car we bought here is a Renault Scenic that is not really new or old (six years old) with around 93,000 miles. It wasn't very expensive, though the maintenance costs are starting to pile up.

First, the dash board was blinking on and off. Since the entire display is electronic, the "off" state meant no fuel gauge, no speedometer, no radio! Driving was kinda hazardous. Since it was going on and off at random times, the few people and repair shops I talked to thought the problem was a bad wire. Eventually, the car died one morning. The engine wouldn't start and the electrics seemed to be completely off. Classic dead battery symptoms. We called the local Renault dealership to get it fixed. They could take us the next day, but not tow the car.

We had just joined AA (the UK equivalent of AAA), so they came the next day and were able to jump the car. The charge wouldn't stay in the battery, which was the original battery. The AA guy recommended replacing the battery and I couldn't argue. So with a new battery under the hood (or bonnet, as it's called here) I was able to drive the car to the dealership.

At the dealership, they took the car and promised to call later in the day with an update. I rode the bus back home. My wife headed off to work and I had a usual day with the kids, walking around town on errands. After a full day of work, the dealership was able to install a new dashboard and fix up the brakes which were in bad shape (why do they always look for other problems? And find them!!). So I took the bus back to the dealership with the kids (since Mommy was at work). The children loved riding the bus and seeing the roads from a different perspective.

The dealership took a while to get our bill together, which meant time for Jacob to check out the potty. We also watched some British television, which was an uninteresting cooking show. Reality programming is ubiquitous, unfortunately. We had some water from a water cooler, a fun thing for the kids. Finally, our bill was ready (the delay--the warranty guy was out and they couldn't process some of the paperwork till he was back the next day). We drove back home. After about five minutes, we tried to turn on the radio and it didn't work.

Getting home, we checked the manual to see if we could get it going ourselves. I discovered that the radio needs a special code after being unplugged from the battery. The next day I called back to the dealership to get the code since it wasn't in any of the paperwork from the previous owner. I was on my mobile sitting in the car as the guy tried to talk me through the restart. Unfortunately, the radio displayed nothing on the dashboard. I couldn't input the code. Some buttons would cause random beeps, but nothing showed up on the display. The next day saw another trip to the dealership to try to fix the problem.

This time, the dealership couldn't figure out what the problem was. They tried switching out the radio, switching out the dashboard, switching out the radio and dashboard. Nothing worked, though they were able to get some static on the speakers at one point. They ran a computer diagnostic with no solution. After a full day without success, I rode the bus back out to get the car back. We've been thinking of replacing the radio with a third-party radio that would play our iPod. We had an attachment in our minivan back in the States and became more or less addicted to using it. We only listened to the radio for traffic reports once we had that device. The repair guy at the dealership thought a replacement radio would work since the speakers still were working. As long as the radio has its own display it should be okay.

While we were researching the replacement radio, we had another incident. The day my sister flew home, we had a tire blowout just outside of our home town. The kids were riding with me, so they sat quietly in the car while I tried to find the spare so we could make it to a tire shop. I found the jack and other equipment but then found that there was no spare tire! When I called AA for some help, they gave the standard "up to two hours away" commitment. The nearest unoccupied AA truck must have been in town, because he was out to our car in 15 minutes!

He jacked up the car and tried to reinflate the tire. He was able to get some air in. He had a can of some sort of slime/gel that he injected into the tire to keep it inflated. As we looked at the tire, we saw some green goo come out of a small hole. The goo would hold long enough for us to get back to a tire shop in town. I drove slowly into town. The AA guy and I (and the kids) went into the tire store (spelled "tyre" here in the UK). After looking at the other tires, I decided we should replace them all. They didn't have four of any one brand of tire (the size is not common in England) so they had to have tires delivered from their warehouse about an hour away. Lucy, Jacob, and I walked home from the tyre dealer. It was maybe 10 or 15 minutes, through a local park and playground that we love. We had lunch and naps while they fixed the tires.

Around 5 p.m., the tyre shop called saying the car was all done. The kids were up and ready to go. We took a flashlight with us. Yes, it gets dark early here. Jacob and Lucy loved watching the light play on different parts of the path. When I shined it on their shoes, they'd run away. Lucy claimed it was hot; Jacob just played along. It was a fun walk for everyone. Arriving at the shop, we paid our bill and headed back home.

My only dread is the "rule of three" getting applied to this car repair phenomena. Hopefully the dashboard, the radio, and the tires are the three and there is no third disaster awaiting us in the coming days or weeks. Only time will tell for sure.

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