I gots to Getz in front!

Why yes, student in the 53-reg Hyundai Getz, I see you coming. It’s hard not to – you’re the only car in the outside lane of a fairly empty motorway. And I see you are approaching at a speed that I can only assume is making your little 1.3L engine cry out in anguish. But even though you’re travelling considerably faster than I am, you are still a ways behind me, and I would like to get around the lorry that is sitting in my lane. So I will speed up a bit and pass, because I will safely be back in the inside lane before you have closed the gap on me.

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Wait a moment, I’m sorry, now you’re going to have to stay behind me for a minute. There are cars coming down the slip road, and a lorry ahead is pulling into our lane to let them in. Come on now, is there really a need to scrutinise all the minor imperfections of my rear bumper at motorway speeds? Well, I hope your brakes work, because I’m about to use mine to bring us down to 60mph. There we go, now that the lorry has moved back over, I’ll accelerate back up to speed. Ah, I see that’s a difficult task for your little car. Never mind, just keep your foot to the floor and you’ll get there eventually.

Doggedly holding your position in the outside lane, I see, despite the fact that the inside lane is wide open again, and you have a queue of cars behind you who have far less trouble getting up to speed. I’m sorry to leave you behind once more, but I’ve just passed another car, and as I’m approaching another lorry, both of us are going to go around him, once again frustrating your attempts to coax the Getz to V-max.

Here we are, a downhill stretch. I can see you are anticipating this with everything you’ve got, hoping gravity will come to your aid while you continue flogging the Getz. As the inside lane is wide open, I’m just going to reset my cruise control and let you do your thing. Though I can’t hear it, I presume you’ve downshifted to press every last one of those 81bhps into service; after all, to maintain your dominance on this relatively quiet stretch of motorway, you need all the momentum you can get. There you go by, leaning forward determinedly as you stand on the accelerator pedal, doing everything in your power to get that needle to touch 90.

Screen Shot 2017-06-15 at 16.49.11Now, whilst your quest to lead the outside lane pack has been somewhat amusing to watch, particularly as you’ve employed such an inadequate tool for the job, I have noticed that we’re about to go back uphill. Not only that, but there is a third lane available. And it is not a small hill, which means you are going to lose a lot of that momentum you’ve worked so hard to attain. So for my own amusement, I’m going to speed up a little. We’ve reached the valley, and as we begin to head up I can see that you’re losing speed even faster than I anticipated. You briefly think about using this additional outside lane to pass a van, but realise no matter how hard you kick the Getz, it won’t cooperate any longer. Meanwhile, I’m sailing by you with ease, the corners of my mouth ever so slightly turning upwards.

Whether you even notice me, I don’t know. But I’m taking (probably too much) delight in having effortlessly, and without really breaking the speed limit, undone all you’ve worked for over these past several miles, taking a string of frustrated motorists you previously held up along with me.

Farewell, little Getz.

Overhauling the rear suspension on an E39 saloon

There is no definitive answer for how long a suspension component should last, but when your car regularly deals with rough roads, road salt, and other stressors, it is no surprise to find parts beginning to wear out around 50,000 miles. I bought my E39 in the autumn of 2015 with 54,000 miles on the clock, and it needed new tie rods up front. Since I had it apart, I also did the traction arms, control arms, and anti-roll bar links at the same time. A couple of months ago, at 68,000 miles, I replaced one of the rear strut and coil assemblies, and noticed at that point a split boot on the rear control arm. A creaking sound from the nearside rear also indicated a bad ball joint, which you can see below.

So, as I still needed to replace the other strut and coil assembly, I set out to install new controls arms, ball joints, and anti-roll bar links in the rear as well. This post details that process. (Note: These instructions apply to the E39 saloon. The setup is slightly different for estate models.)

Here you can see, first, the setup of the nearside rear suspension. The two control arms mount to the subframe, and attach to the top of the wheel hub. An integral link connects the hub to the control arm, with a ball joint at one end pressed into the hub. In the second photo, it is the control arm on the right that has the damaged boot.

Beginning with the car on the ground, measure the distance from the wheel centre to the top of the wheel arch. On my car, this was about 14 inches. Take note of this measurement, as you will need it later on. Then raise the car and remove the wheels.

The suspension overhaul begins by disconnecting the strut from the hub. This is attached with a 21mm bolt, and it will be extremely tight. Use lots of patience, and a long-handled ratchet with an angled head or a flex joint. Once it is loose, push the strut back out of its mount. Do so carefully, as the whole hub assembly will move up once the strut is loose.

Next remove the long bolt that passes through the lower control arm, integral link and ball joint. Get a good breaker bar for this one – the 24mm nut is tightened down to nearly 200lb.-ft. Once it’s off, tap out the bolt, and lift the hub assembly up to rest on the lower control arm.

Next, remove the integral link, which is attached to the hub with an 18mm bolt.

Now it is time to remove the ball joint. This will probably be the most difficult part of the job because it is pressed in, and given its exposure to road salt and the elements, things will feel like they’re welded together. Clamp the hub and lower control arm together with a pair of vice grips. Then, using a chisel, begin to pry the snap ring away from the hub. You’ll need a lot of patience here as the ring rusts to the carrier, but if you start at the opening and slowly work your way around, it will eventually come free.

Once the snap ring is off, remove the rubber boots from both sides of the ball joint, and then you can press the ball joint out. Owing to the unique design of these ball joints, you will need a special tool to remove them. These can be quite expensive, but I found one on eBay for £25 (if you check the forums, you will also find some DIY solutions that involve big C-clamps). As you can see in the photo below, it uses two cups, one to push, and one to receive the ball joint. The offside ball joint popped out easily, but the nearside required lots of 3-in-1, and me throwing all my weight onto a breaker bar. But in the end, it came out cleanly. After you remove the ball joint, use a wire wheel attachment with your drill to clean out the carrier in preparation for the new ball joint.

Now you can remove the upper control arms from the subframe. First, mark the position of the bolt on the control arm that sits towards the front. This is the toe adjustment for the rear-wheel alignment, so you need to ensure this remains as close as possible to the original position. Then remove the bolts from both control arms. Removing the 16mm nut from the toe adjuster bolt is not easy, as it’s in a very tight space. If, like me, you don’t have long-handled spanners, hook another spanner on the end of your 16mm spanner to get leverage to remove the nut. The other control arm uses an 18mm fastener.

Now you can remove the control arms from the hub. Should you be blessed with extraordinary patience, you can try and remove the 21mm and 17mm nuts that are inevitably welded to the hub. Even if you do manage to break the nuts loose, the ball joint inside the arm will spin with them, so I recommend just cutting them off with an angle grinder. I have marked below where I cut – on the front arm, right up against the hub, and on the rear arm, next to the washer that sits between the nut and hub. Go ahead and cut the anti-roll bar links off at the same time. I had the benefit of having the strut and coil assembly out at this point; if you don’t, it will take some careful angling with the grinder to get at the lower anti-roll bar link mount.

Make sure you place a brick or some other sort of support underneath the hub at this point to avoid pulling on the CV joint and the brake line. Now that everything is removed, reassembly can begin.

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Begin with the anti-roll bar links, and then attach the new control arms to the hub. You could attach them to the subframe first, but this makes it more difficult to move the ball joint ends into position.

Next, resting the hub on the lower control arm again, press the new ball joint into place, and fit the new snap ring. Getting the snap ring on takes patience, but work it around carefully with a flathead screwdriver, mindful of the rubber boot, and it will seat properly.

Fit the new integral link, and fasten the upper bolt to the hub. Then lift the whole hub assembly and carefully slide it between the two ends of the lower control arm, as the ball joint boot will tear easily if it gets caught on the control arm. Once it’s in place, reinsert the long through bolt.

Reattach the upper control arms to the subframe. Then push down on the hub assembly and refit the strut.

Finally, preload the hub by putting a jack underneath and raising it normal ride height, using the measurement you took earlier. Then begin to torque everything down, using the following torque specifications:

Anti-roll bar links: 47lb.-ft.
Lower strut mount: 94 lb.-ft.
Toe-adjustment arm: 44lb.-ft. (subframe), 48lb.-ft. (hub)
Other upper control arm: 81lb.-ft. (subframe), 105lb.-ft. (hub)
Integral link to hub: 77lb.-ft.
Lower control arm through bolt: 188lb.-ft.

There is a problem here, though. Unfortunately, even with those specifications in hand, you will immediately realise that you can only get a torque wrench on some of the fasteners. I believe you can buy torque spanners, but I don’t have any, and so in the end, simply had to rely on feel when tightening a few of the fasteners. It’s not ideal, of course, but it was the best I could do with what I had.

Generally, replacing these parts means the geometry of the rear suspension will have shifted, and an alignment will be needed. The easiest way to do this, of course, is to bring it your local garage, but if you’re feeling brave, you can also do it at home with guides like this. The only thing I briefly checked after putting the wheels back on was the toe, by placing a straightedge across both wheels and measuring at the front and rear. To my delight, the measurements were exactly the same, indicating the wheels still point straight, and meaning it will probably only need minor adjustment.

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Overall, save for the difficult ball joint, a suspension overhaul on this car is not a very difficult process. Basic hand tools are all you need to accomplish the work, and parts are reasonably priced. Set aside a few hours for each side, and you will once again have an E39 that drives and rides as it should.

Review: 2017 Volkswagen Jetta Trendline+

There are few things more stressful than playing the hire car lottery. When I arrived in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, to begin a week-long road trip around the Great Lakes, I approached the hire car desk with trepidation. To my delight, I was given an option: ‘Would you like a Chevy Cruze, or a Volkswagen Jetta?’ A General Motors vehicle today is probably satisfactory, but I have memories of GM products from 10-15 years ago, and they are not good. ‘Jetta, please.’

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Not yet sharing the MQB platform – the upcoming Mk7 Jetta will do so – this 2017 model is the final iteration of the PQ35 platform. Though dated now, having driven several Golfs built on the platform, I have high expectations for this car. If anything, I anticipate the Jetta to drive even better, given it’s longer wheelbase and its new powertrain.

IMG_20170409_110418452_HDRAfter collecting the car, I load up in preparation to set out on the trip. With two small children, there is quite a bit of stuff to take along – a car seat, booster seat, three large suitcases, and various other small things. The Jetta impresses at this point already, the sizeable boot easily swallowing our luggage. Prior to installing my youngest’s car seat, I sit in the back seat and am surprised to find it providing ample room. At 6’4″, there is enough space for my legs to entertain the prospect of a longer drive back there, although the sloping roofline means headroom is an issue. But for young children and smaller adults, comfort is not going to be a problem.

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In the driver’s seat, you notice the typical Volkswagen build quality, which stands out all the more after spending some time in American vehicles. Fit and finish is good, and the materials are pleasant to the touch. Volkswagen does switchgear well, and things are well-laid out, with only a few minor niggles (try figuring out how to make the instrument panel read miles per hour!). For a family road-trip, the Trendline+ comes well-equipped, with USB inputs, a decent infotainment unit with good sound, and heated seats. The latter are firm, but supportive and comfortable. Again, my only complaint has to do with height – owing to the presence of a sunroof, I have to put the seat all the way down, and even then, my hair still brushes the roof.

We set out on the trip, and with 350 miles of motorway ahead of me, I have very little to worry about. Get up to speed, engage cruise control, and the Jetta soaks up the miles with ease. I am immediately impressed by how quiet the car is. At 70mph, the engine is turning just a tick over 2000rpm, and is nearly inaudible. On this first leg of the journey, the weather is not cooperating – lashes of rain, and 40+mph wind gusts (hence the condition of the car in the photos), and yet wind noise is minimal. What’s more, the car remains stable and planted, even through the strongest of gusts. So many North American roads are straight, which makes handling less of an issue for many people, but on the few twists and turns I find, the Jetta complies willingly. It’s not a GTI by any means, but you can throw it into a corner with some confidence. Roll is minimal, and it never really feels off balance.

IMG_20170408_122313278_HDRUnder the bonnet, the 1.4L TSI ticks away without a complaint. I’ve driven a few cars with the new TSI engines, and each time I’ve been impressed. That is no different here. The 1.4L engine for the North American market makes 150bhp and 184 lb.-ft., and as is characteristic of the TSI engines, provides most of that torque between 1400 and 3500rpm. That means power is always right where you want it for daily driving, whether you’re accelerating away from a start or passing at higher speeds. Whilst sounding strained near the redline, keep it below 5000rpm and the engine always feels responsive and smooth. Is it fast and sporty? Of course not. But it is more than adequate, and for a daily driver, I could see myself being perfectly happy with this engine.

Less impressive is the 6-speed automatic gearbox, which regularly seems confused about which gear it actually wants to be in. This is especially noticeable if you adjust the throttle position when accelerating. Let’s say you press the accelerator, the gearbox shifts into second and then third, but then you let off the accelerator a little because of a slower car in front. The car will hold third, but once you increase pressure again, suddenly thinks you want second. And so it downshifts, and you’re now accelerating faster than you intend to. Let off the accelerator, and now it assumes you’re ready to cruise in fourth. At other times, it is slow to respond to prods from your right foot, as if it’s contemplating the benefits of downshifting before deciding to actually downshift. Even selecting sport mode and shifting by hand, the gearbox is slow in responding to your inputs, particularly on upshifts. In the end I discover that to get the smoothest acceleration, you need to drive in a relaxed manner – fine for empty rural roads, but a bit of an irritation around town. In my opinion, a manual gearbox is the better option to make the most of this engine, but depending on what you want from a car and your driving style, you may be perfectly happy with the automatic.

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One nice feature of the gearbox, however, is automatic downshifts. I know that many automatics do this these days, but the downshifts are particularly pronounced here, and if you let off the accelerator early enough approaching a traffic light, you only need to touch the brakes at the last moment. Drive more spiritedly, and when you let off approaching a corner, the gearbox will downshift and hold the lower gear as you accelerate out of the corner. And when descending a hill, if the increase in speed is rapid, especially when using the cruise control, the gearbox will downshift to help slow the car down.

IMG_20170409_183808668_HDRLong distance trips are a chance to be impressed by how efficient these TSI engines are. Most of my driving on the trip is on motorways and long, straight, empty North American rural roads, which means my average speed over the whole 1500km is 58mph. Official figures put the Jetta’s fuel consumption at 5.9L/100km (47.9mpg). I know onboard computers can be inaccurate, but on one 300-mile trip the car is telling me we’ve done 5.4L/100km (52.3mpg), a significant improvement over the stated figure. At the end of the trip, which concludes with some shorter trips and stop-and-go traffic, we still come in at 5.8L/100km, and that’s in a car loaded down with people and luggage. That kind of economy will make anyone second-guess a diesel option, especially when the TSI is so much more responsive and engaging than an equivalent TDI.

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Even on this increasingly antiquated platform, the Jetta Trendline+ is an attractive package. It drives and handles well, it is efficient, quiet and refined. The 1500km I spent behind the wheel were anything but a chore, and I walked away thinking that, if you have to buy a car for everyday use in North America, this should be on your top 5 list (with a manual gearbox, of course). If you’re going to buy new, I might suggest you wait for the next MQB-based Jetta, because I can only imagine it will be even better. But this model is a well-rounded and polished package, and considering the Trendline+ has an MSRP of $20,795 CAD, you can hardly ask for more.

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2017 Volkswagen Jetta Trendline+

Engine: 1.4L turbocharged 4-cylinder
Power: 150bhp, 184lb.-ft.
Fuel economy: 5.8L/100km (claimed: 5.9L/100km)
Mileage on collection: 29,849km
Total distance driven: 1463km
MSRP: $20,795 CAD
Official Volkswagen Jetta website

Lighting the road like it’s 1999

I bought my E39 for a variety of different reasons, but its headlamps were not one of them. The previous owner had fitted some imitation ‘angel eyes’ that he found on eBay, which, while providing good light, did not look very nice. It was particularly when looking at them from the side that you noticed how cheap they looked (despite costing about the same as a proper facelift set).

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For quite a while, I left them alone. After all, they worked, they passed MOT, and I couldn’t find an OEM set for under £200. If I was going to replace the lights, it would have to be done cheaply. Patience was rewarded, however – a few months ago, I found a pre-facelift set off a breaking E39 for £50. They needed to be rebuilt, as they were missing a couple seals and the adjusters were broken (a typical problem on the E39), but they were complete and clean. A few quid for new adjusters, a helpful tutorial from YouTube, and a quiet Friday night in front of the TV, and I was in business.

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As this wasn’t really something essential, it has very much been an on-and-off project, but last night I finally installed them. So it was out the old…

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…and in with the new (old?).

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Without a doubt, there is no modification I have made to the car that has made me more happy than this. It looks so much better than it did before. I’m a big fan of originality, and it’s nice to see the car looking as it would have looked when it rolled off the line in 1999 (with 2017-quality bulbs, of course). The only thing left to do is remove a little bit of hazing from the lenses, and they will be perfect.

The Bugatti Chiron is boring

I said this last year when it was first revealed at the Geneva Motor Show, and I say it again after last night’s feature on Top Gear: I think the Bugatti Chiron is boring.

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There is no doubt that the Chiron is something of a technological marvel. Put your foot down, and the 1487bhp quad-turbo 8.0L W16 will catapult you to 60mph in 2.5 seconds, and only 11 seconds later, to 186mph – yes, that’s nearly 200 miles per hour in less time than it takes most cars to do a standing quarter mile. Hold on long enough, and you’ll reach a top speed that has to be limited to 261mph because the tyres can’t handle more than that. At £2.4 million, it’s almost the definition of exclusivity.

But that’s part of the problem. It’s so exclusive, and so out of reach, that it’s not even worth dreaming about. Never mind the fact that you will never own one, the possibility of even seeing one in the metal is virtually nil. It almost exists in another realm, where only oil sheiks fear to tread.

There is another problem, though, one that Chris Harris unintentionally identified last night on Top Gear, when he said, ‘The Chiron is really just about straightforward speed.’ As would be expected, and as I’m sure it is, he found the acceleration intoxicating. But is that really the point of the Chiron? As accomplished as it is in other areas, is its raison d’être really just to be the fastest in a straight line? We used to criticise the American manufacturers for building cars that were only good for winning drag races, but suddenly it’s acceptable because Bugatti has done it?

This is why the Chiron is boring. It really is just a ‘top trumps’ car. The only reason you would buy it is to be able to say you have the fastest and most exclusive production car available.

I thought it fitting, actually, that Rory Reid drove the Renault Twingo GT in the same episode. You’d never compare a Chiron with a Twingo, of course, but his comments about the ability to actually use all the Twingo’s power on the right roads were apt. It’s the same reason so many people love cars like the Fiesta ST and Golf GTI – they are useable sports cars. They’re not dramatically fast, but they have a level of performance that you can actually explore the limits of. alan They are cars that you can fully enjoy on the right roads. You don’t buy them to one-up the guy in the next lane. You buy them simply for the thrill of driving.

Sure, the Chiron commands a certain ‘wow’ factor. But at the end of the day, I’m left thinking, ‘So what?’

Fuel mileage testing can be fun

As my driving is largely for pleasure, I don’t generally worry about fuel mileage too much. That being said, every now and then I do try and see what kind of mileage I can coax out of my machines. My record with my E39 is 40.3mpg over 154 miles (according to its onboard computer), a figure I have managed twice on some careful motorway journeys.

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Sometimes attempting those kinds of records can be fun – I always enjoyed the Top Gear challenges that focused on fuel mileage, such as that in series 12, episode 4, where Clarkson, Hammond, and May attempted a run from Basel, Switzerland to Blackpool on one tank of fuel in a Jaguar XJ, Subaru Legacy, and Volkswagen Polo, respectively. It seemed a fairly boring challenge at first, but ended up being edge-of-your-seat entertainment.

So I was delighted to see on Twitter yesterday that Ed Wiseman, of Telegraph Cars, was going to attempt to drive from Land’s End to John o’Groats on one tank of fuel in a new Vauxhall Insignia 1.6 diesel. Vauxhall claims 70.6mpg combined on the Insignia, and with a 62-litre tank, the range for that kind of journey is theoretically there.

Ed posted regular updates along the way, and if you click the tweet above, you can follow his journey. And this is why Twitter is fun, because as he neared the end this morning, the drama was building. The onboard computer stopped showing the distance remaining, and as he counted down the miles, you began to wonder if the next tweet would be an image of him stranded on the side of the road.

So, did he make it? Find out here…

Rebuilding a propshaft on a BMW E39

In my previous post, I mentioned that I wouldn’t be doing any more work on the E39 until after Easter. I really shouldn’t say things like that, because yesterday I found myself underneath the car again.

Very soon after I bought the car, I became aware that the centre support bearing on the propshaft was on its way out. The initial clue was an occasional pinging (metal to metal) sound when I set off from a stop. It wasn’t something that needed to be done right at that point, though, as there were no other symptoms and everything was smooth. But in recent months, the pinging has gotten worse (it has been doing it all the way up through third gear), and I noticed increasing slack in the driveline and some minor vibration, particularly at higher speeds. A day off had been marked in my diary, so I decided it was time to rebuild the propshaft.

This post won’t be as detailed as the last, because I was on a schedule and didn’t take as many photos, but if you want to know the procedure I used, you can view it here (propshaft removal) and here (propshaft rebuild).

To access the propshaft, you need to drop the exhaust. You don’t need to fully remove it, but instead just disconnect the hangers and it will give you sufficient access (you’re guaranteed to break the bolts connecting the exhaust manifolds to the down pipe anyway). There is one by the back box, one just in front of the offside rear suspension, and then a bracket in the middle of the car. Once you’ve lowered that, with the gearbox in gear and the handbrake set, loosen the bolt holding the two parts of the propshaft together, and remove the fasteners connecting the gearbox flange to the propshaft and the rear CV joint to the differential. Then disconnect the centre support bearing, and pull the propshaft out.

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You can see below the two main causes of the problems in the driveline. The flex disc is cracking, and the centre support bearing is very loose.

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Once the propshaft is out, the rest of the job is simple. Mark the two sides of the prop shaft carefully, because it needs to go back together exactly as it came part so that it remains balanced. Then separate the two pieces, cut away the rubber bit around the centre support bearing, and use a puller to remove the bearing itself.

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Then install the new bearing. You don’t need to press it on, as it will get pressed into place when you reconnect the two pieces of the propshaft.

You can see here that the centring bushing that fits over the shaft coming out of the gearbox is very worn as well.

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Next, use brake cleaner to help remove the old grease from the CV joint, and repack it with new grease. At this point you’re ready to reinstall the propshaft. Back underneath the car, install the CV joint first, then set the front coupling in place. Loosely connect the centre support bearing bracket, and then you can tighten everything down at the front and back. The final step is to pre-load the centre support bearing about 5mm towards the front of the car.

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I was pleasantly surprised at how straightforward this repair was. The only difficulty I encountered was removing the old centring bushing, which required a lot of work with a hammer and punch. It is also an inexpensive repair, the new parts – the centre support bearing, flex disc, centring bushing, and gasket for the CV joint – costing only about £60. That’s more than worth it for a quiet, slack-free driveline.

Replacing the rear struts and coils on a BMW E39

A week or so ago, I started to notice a rattle coming from the rear end of my E39. I knew I had a few things loose in the boot, so initially suspected it was just something back there moving around. However, after tidying things up, the noise persisted, and the other day I got underneath the car to see if something like a sway bar link had broken. To my surprise, I discovered this.

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I had no idea the coil was in such poor condition. There was no mention of anything when I had it MOT’d in July, and when I most recently inspected it, probably in early autumn, it looked fine, save for some of the coating flaking off. On top of all this, I hadn’t noticed any difference in how the car drove.

But what to do at this stage? Euro Car Parts wanted £49.99 for a Sachs coil, and wisdom dictates that they should be replaced in pairs. And given I don’t have a spring compressor, I would have to buy one of those as well. My heart sank even further when I looked up a tutorial on swapping the struts and coils and realised how much work it involved – more or less requiring that half the interior be removed. At this point, I must confess that I very briefly considered selling the car as spares or repairs just to avoid dealing with the problem. But after some searching on eBay, I found a very lightly used pair of struts and coils from a breaking E39 for £55, and so decided to dive into the project.

The first step was removing the rear seats, parcel shelf, and trim, in order to access the strut mounts. I expected this to be the most difficult part of the job, but using the helpful tutorial I found here, I had everything out and the mounts exposed in 30 minutes.

Once I had access to the strut mounts, it was a fairly straightforward job, again, using a helpful tutorial I found here. First, I removed the 13mm nuts holding the strut mount in place.

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Then I removed the 21mm bolt securing the strut to the hub.

Now, unfortunately, it was not as straightforward as simply removing the bolt and pulling the strut out, and I needed to make some room to get the assembly out. That meant, first, removing the inner lining from the wheel arch, and on the offside rear, the upper portion of the fuel filler neck.

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Following that, I needed to disconnect a few pieces of the suspension to be able to move everything around enough to get the strut out. I suppose there are a number of options here. I could have removed one of the upper control arms (as they’ve done in this photo), but I didn’t have the right size spanner for that, nor did I think the ball joint would survive removal (I have plans to replace those later on). So I decided to remove the bolt connecting the hub to the trailing arm, as well as the sway bar link. The trailing arm bolt head is 18mm, whilst the nut is 24mm. The sway bar link is connected with a 17mm nut.

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This gave me some room to play with in order to be able to push the trailing arm down far enough to remove the strut. I had my wife help at this stage, as it took quit a bit of force to push the trailing arm down, and I wasn’t able to simultaneously do that and wiggle the strut out. A decent pry bar might have helped. At any rate, here is the empty wheel arch with the strut removed.

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For the sake of comparison, here are the old and new strut and coil assemblies.

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To install the new strut and coil assembly was fairly easy from this point. I slid it up into the mounting holes on the body, and again had my wife help by fastening one of the 13mm nuts, just to hold it in place. Then I reconnected the trailing arm, as it is impossible to do if the strut is mounted to the hub (believe me, I found out the hard way). The long trailing arm bolt gets torqued to 189 lb.-ft. I then refitted the strut mount to the hub, and began to torque everything down. The 13mm nuts on the top strut mount get torqued to 20 lb.-ft., and the 21mm bolt on the bottom to 94 lb.-ft.

The most frustrating part of the job was refitting the wheel arch lining. It took a bunch of pounding with my rubber mallet to get it fully back into position. Once it was in place and refastened, the job was done. I lowered the car, bounced it a few times to make sure everything was seated properly, and put the interior back together.

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Normally, replacing something like struts and coils should be done in pairs. Due to time constraints, I have violated that rule, but I did a thorough inspection of the coil on the other side, and it is not about to go anytime soon. After Easter, when life has calmed down a bit, I’ll tackle the other side – unless it breaks before then, of course. For now, I’m happy to say that a quick test drive has confirmed a successful repair.

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Can you find a Mercedes W210 that hasn’t rusted to death?

When I was younger, I remember thinking the W210-series Mercedes was a distinctly unattractive car. Maybe it’s the fact that I’m now in my mid-30s, or maybe they have just aged well, but as of late I find myself looking at them and entertaining thoughts of what it might be like to have one parked in the drive.

The problem, of course, is that it seems near impossible to find one on a bangernomics budget that has not rotted to pieces. For whatever reason, Mercedes’ of the 1990s and early-2000s, while having largely reliable running gear – there are lots of examples with well over 200,000 miles – seem prone to rust to death. You can search eBay for months on end and find nothing but examples that look something like this.

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So I was surprised this week to see two E280s come up for sale, both in remarkably clean condition. The first was listed on eBay (though is no longer available), and the second on AutoTrader (with remarkably low mileage).

An E280 would be my second choice (I think you’d sacrifice little economy for the improved performance of the E320, and though I’d love an E430, I need to feed my children), but given the infrequency with which clean W210s come up, I’d probably jump at either of these if I was looking to buy.

If nothing else, this is proof that if you really want a W210, and you exercise considerable patience, a nice example will still turn up.

The drivers of 50mph work zones

You’re cruising down the motorway, eating up the miles, when you see that dreaded sign. Roadworks, two miles ahead. And not just that, but it’s a 13-mile long stretch of 50mph road, peppered with everyone’s favourite government revenue maker, the average speed camera.

You continue along until you see the first of the 50mph signs. Two things happen at this point. First, a number of cars slam on their brakes, seemingly taken by surprise at the sudden change in speed limit and expecting heavy fines if they are doing anything over 50 the instant they pass the sign. The rest all dive for the outside lane, forcing a bunch-up, and thus more heavy brake usage. You hang back a bit, taking your foot off the accelerator, letting the car gradually slow to 50, and then switch on the cruise control.

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Wisdom dictates that this would be the easy way through this section of road, and you think most people would figure this out. But alas, it’s only a matter of moments before you realise that no one knows what they’re doing.

You initially find yourself in the outside lane, passing those who slowed to 47 two miles back. Not half a mile into the work zone, you find your rear-view mirror rapidly filling with Audi, its driver blissfully unaware of how average speed cameras actually work. He’s convinced that as long as he’s doing 50 when he passes under the speed cameras, he’ll be fine. Everything in between is open season. After you gradually pass the lorry to your left, you move over, and he races by.

Resetting the cruise control to 50, you spot a Focus ahead. She looks to be comfortably cruising at 46, so it should be quick work getting round her, especially as the outside lane is clear. Without adjusting the speed, you approach, indicate, and move over. Only, suddenly the Focus is passing you, the presence of another car in her peripheral vision causing a reflex in her right foot. Before you know it, she’s switched the indicator on, ready to get around the Peugeot she is now rapidly approaching. She moves over, and immediately takes her foot off the accelerator, matching the speed of the car you thought she was going to pass. A back-and-forth game now ensues, as her unsteady foot can’t decide between 46 and 51. You close the gap between your two cars ever so slightly in the hopes that she’ll understand the error of her ways. After a few miles of fluctuation, she finally clears the Peugeot and moves back to the inside lane, and you sail by (only to notice the Peugeot pull out to pass, as she’s settled back down to 46, ready to begin the back-and-forth game again).

Back at 50, you see a Jaguar in the outside lane for no apparent reason, as the road ahead looks wide open. As you crest a slight hill, you then realise that there is a car over a mile ahead that you are closing in on incrementally. Mr Jag has his cruise control set at 49, ready to overtake the as-yet-undistinguishable car in the inside lane ahead doing 48.7, probably sometime next week. Wanting to honour the Highway Code’s rules on passing, you move in behind him and switch off your cruise control, assuming he will realise that there is more than enough time for him to move over and let you pass before he passes the car ahead. But no, he is resolute in his determination to occupy the outside lane. You start to wonder if it’s worth darting round him in the inside lane just to make a point, when the work zone ends, and the motorway again opens up to three lanes.

Once again cruising at 70, you give thanks that traffic wasn’t heavy, knowing that all of the above would have compounded to cause both lanes of traffic to crawl through the work zone at 39.