The Nutter On The Bus

Regular readers of my musings will know that cars and driving frequently crop up in my writings.

It does not, of course, mean I am a rabid petrol head who is obsessed with cars. Indeed nothing can be further from the truth.

To me a car is a functional lump of plastic and metal designed to get me from A to B in a reasonable standard of comfort and it needs to be reliable.

If somebody talks to me about torque, b.h.p. or anything else technical they may as well be speaking to me in Serbo-Croat. I could not even tell you the “basics” - like my cars engine size without having to look it up.

One of the great joys of my job, and probably one that elicits most envy from others (indeed probably the only aspect that elicits any envy) is I get to spend my days visiting race courses the length and breadth of the country.

I can’t deny it is a great life and one I would be loath to swap, however it does come with its downsides and one of those is having to get to the races.

For my sins I happen to live in the land of concrete cows - Milton Keynes, a soulless town which seems to have ideas above its station and thinks it is a city but that is another story.

It has few redeeming features, although the arrival of a theatre a few yeas ago was a boon, however from my point of view it has one overwhelming benefit in its favour.

Every UK and nearly all the Irish courses can be reached in a day trip. OK for the Irish and Scottish courses the day trip involves flying but with Luton virtually on the doorstep and Stansted just over an hour away that is no great shakes.

However most courses are driven to and the drives can be long and, sometimes, tedious, especially this time of the year when racing ends just before sunset and one is invariably driving home in the dark.

Add in the problem at this time of the year, with racing finishing around 4:00 – 4:45, you are going to hit the rush hour on the way home and the pleasure can rapidly evaporate.

Of course go racing anywhere near the M25 corridor any time of the year and you are in trouble.

Last Friday afternoon I was at Kempton, with the last race at 4:55. A mere 60 miles door to door, it took about 90 minutes to get there, three hours to get home.

Well you try getting from inside to outside the M25 any quicker on a Friday evening!!

Driving home from a long distance meeting in the summer, by contrast, can be a joy. Ask the sat-nav to find a non-motorway route home and a great, relaxing drive can be had.

As I said earlier my needs for a car are simple. A reliable means of transport and apart from that three simple requirements, air conditioning, cruise control and a large service interval.

Therefore my car is as much an essential tool of my trade as my laptop, binoculars, race card and form book.

My mileage is around the 30ka year mark. Not the greatest in the press room by any means, one top commentator notched up a mere 45k last year, but more than enough.

Luckily my car has a seemingly pocket friendly 18k service interval. I say seemingly more pocket friendly but is it true?

Yes the car needs fewer services but those services can be more expensive. A “basic” service with the main dealer is between  £240 and £285.

However my ’07 registered car, which I bought two years ago with a reasonably average 13, 000 on the clock. Now two years, almost to the day later, has 75k on the clock and is overdue its 72k service.

Normally I just book the car in for a service and cough up when I get the bill. This time, because there is a new main dealer locally, I asked how much the service would be when I called to book it.

Without pausing for breath she replied £950. After I had picked myself off the floor, then having apologised for my language, I asked her to repeat the amount, lest I had misheard her.

But no, it was quite clear, she had quoted me £950.

The reason, it transpires, is the manufacturer “recommends” that the cam belt be replaced at the 72,000 mile service – even if it needs replacing or not. This is, apparently a major job, costing almost £700 because the engine has to be taken out to get access to do the work.

Now the last bit does not surprise me in the least. Although I am not that technical when it comes to cars I can do basics like change light bulbs. Well I can in most cars, not mine however.

A few months ago, a couple of other drivers flashed me as I was driving back from racing at Huntingdon, when I pulled into my drive I could see my offside headlamp had gone.

No big shakes. I popped over to my local motoring retailer purchased a new halogen bulb for £7.50 and decided I would change it next morning.

Luckily I was only racing at Towcester, my local course, the next day. So I popped out after breakfast to change the bulb.

Two hours later with my arm almost ripped to shreds I gave up – it was physically impossible to replace the bulb. The engine compartment was too “compact” to actually get the bulb out.

I presumed there was some knack to changing the bulb and went to the main dealer for advice. There was indeed a “knack” to changing the headlamp bulb. You need to take off the front bumper, the front facia, remove the light assembly and replace the bulb …. and that will be £72 thank you very much.

And I missed the racing as well.     

Was I impressed?

I was even more impressed when, four weeks later, the other headlight bulb went.

Ah ha, I know the trick now.

Was it that simple, of course not.

I began taking the front assembly off and guess what? You need a special tool to remove the two most critical bolts. So it was back to the main dealer once more.

They seemed to sense my displeasure and, full credit, the mechanic did manage to replace the other bulb by just loosening the front assembly and somehow managing to get enough space to change the bulb, only costing me £24.

Needless to say I decided not to have the cam belt replaced and have settled for a “basic service.”

This morning I duly took my car in and, being a cynic, double checked they were going to do just a basic service.

Yep, dear reader, you have guessed, it was booked in for the “full monty” so a full and frank discussion ensued and I came away with a personal assurance from the service manager they would only do a basic service – we shall see!!!

Then to cap off a great morning I had to catch a bus home, in all honesty a very novel experience for me. The first surprise was when the driver demanded £1.70 for a journey of little less than 3 miles. I could swear the fare was about 70p last time I caught a bus in MK last year.  

I was the only person on the bus.

Next stop somebody else got on. He had the whole bus to sit down in, he came and sat next to me.

Yes I had attracted “the nutter on the bus”.

He then spent the next ten minutes berating the terrible bus service as if it were my fault and I could rectify it for him. He complained the previous bus had not turned up and this happens all the time.

When I suggested he should complain to the bus company if it was that bad, he just turned round and said ”it isn’t worth it.”

I just got up, got off the bus several stops early and walked the rest of the way home.

I think I’ll take a taxi when I go to collect my car.

I have only been without it four hours but I really do want my car back.

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