We’re fortunate to have just down the road from us a great local garage. It’s run by Charlie, who I think I’ve mentioned before. And he and his team are absolute magicians when it comes to fixing cars (and various other modes of transport) without breaking the bank. He sees our cars regularly. And he’s picked them up from the side of the road more than once. But I think that, when it comes to our older car, he’s starting to lose faith.
I’ll be honest and say that our older car isn’t actually that old. It’s a ten-year-old Mercedes estate that looks (and drives) very much like a Thames sailing barge. Hence its name: Marge (the barge). She’s a chore to drive around town and a nightmare to park. But stick her on the motorway and she’ll cruise for hours with minimal input from the driving seat. And being an estate, she’s got loads of space. Which, when going anywhere usually involves two Labradors and various items of watersports kit, is a critical consideration.
We’ve had Marge for about eight years now. When we got her, she’d been owned by an elderly gentleman in London and had hardly been driven. She’s done approaching 100,000 miles now. This isn’t that much for a Mercedes, but I guess it’s the quality of the miles that’s important here, rather than the quantity. And a lot of the miles we’ve put on Marge have been, erm, somewhat challenging in nature.
Truth be told, we treat her rather like a rather swanky (for us) pick-up truck. She’s hauled building materials, garden waste and manure. She’s been driven along beaches, down farm tracks, through hedges (oops) and pretty much everywhere else Mercedes would rather you didn’t take her. She gets cleaned about once a year. And the inside of the rear passenger door got eaten by a Labrador puppy (naming no names) and fixed with duct tape.
We’re fastidious, though, about making sure that she’s mechanically sound and safe to drive. She goes to Charlie once a year for her annual service and usually once or twice more each year for various other bits and pieces to be repaired, replaced or (ahem) welded back on. And each time, when Charlie rings me to tell me Marge is ready to go back on the road, I suggest, somewhat ruefully, that she’s perhaps no longer as young as she once was.
Charlie’s reply has always, to my relief, been upbeat. “These Mercedes go on forever,” he says without fail. “You’ll be driving it for a while yet.” (One suspects that as Charlie does not sell cars, but just repairs then, it may be in his interest for everyone to drive a clapped-out banger that keeps falling apart. But he’s always struck me as a fairly decent chap. And he never seems to do more than is strictly necessary to get the car back up and running.)
When I took Marge in for her annual service last week, though, things took a but of a turn. And not necessarily for the best. I’d noticed that Marge was losing coolant. Not a lot, but I’d prefer she wasn’t losing any. As would the onboard computer, which kept shouting about it at every available opportunity. And the parking lights (not essential for driving, thankfully) didn’t work as reliably as I’d have liked.
Thankfully, all this was fixable with a new water pump (the old one had, to put it bluntly, fallen apart) and a bit of cleaning of some wiring connections. And it wasn’t as expensive as I’d feared. But when Charlie called to say that Marge was ready to pick up, in response to my usual mention of her advancing years and our probable need for a replacement in the near future, his usual reassurance was markedly absent. Instead, what I got was a “yup”.
This is not good. It is also not good that, since I got Marge home, I’ve noticed that the rear lights on one side weren’t working properly and, on investigation, found that the bit where the wiring joins the plate with the light bulbs in has… well… melted. Or, at least, taken on an unusually dark and molten hue.
I’m sure that this, too, is easily fixable. But I suspect that, after this, it’ll be something else. And something else after that. Until we’re faced with the inescapable conclusion that it’s time to say goodbye to Marge and hello to an alternative means of vehicular transportation. I’m hopeful, though, that we’ll be able to eke out another year or so before we get to that stage. All I’ve got to do now is convince Charlie.