OPINION: I notice that at least one used car dealer has started to put some extra and useful bits of information into the description it furnishes, about the cars the dealer is advertising.
As with classifieds, display ads and on sites like Trade Me, it's the body copy set alongside the hoped-for price and the picture of the car that does most of the selling.
Back in my youth, I was advised the most useful bit of information when you're buying a used car is whether it has an "FSH", or Full Service History. Like Power-assisted steering (PAS), and air-conditioning (AC), it's all part of sellers' and buyers' shorthand. You'll rarely come across FSH in New Zealand as most of the cars listed spent the first few years and several tens of thousand kilometres overseas, and their FSH is seldom available, lost in overseas transactions, language difficulty and those useful mists of time.
But the item quoted by this dealer is almost as useful and I came across it while searching for a good people-mover for a reader. I noticed in the neatly type-set lines of text, the words: "chain-driven camshafts". In other words buyers were being told that the car is not going to need to have a cam-belt change, because it uses chains to drive the device instead. In most cases a chain-drive cam system will not give up before the car does, while belts - depending on the make and model of car - can sometimes require changing at intervals of less than 30,000 kilometres, though some can go beyond 100,000km.
If you don't change a belt in time and it snaps, the damage can be horrendous. In the modern car engine, fast-moving pieces of metal are kept apart by the precise timing of the cam drive, so that the valves move accurately to open and close, relative to the pistons as they move up and down, often several thousand times a minute. The snapping of that drive means those reciprocating parts are no longer being kept apart and when they hit each other, it will be an expensive repair at best and a whole new engine at worst. Chain-driven cams will need the tensioner to be checked - in some brands more than others, but by and large they're a safer bet mechanically.
If that car you fancy does have belt-driven camshafts, then a recent receipt for work done to replace it is good news. I'd prefer a cambelt change less than 10,000km ago if it was my potential car, and you can always make it a condition of sale that you are supplied with a new cambelt and/or the paperwork to prove it has had one before taking the car. My car has a belt and you can be sure I've checked the handbook for the mileage and time (whichever comes sooner) for a belt change. I'll probably see to it about 10,000km early, just to be safe.
But I say well done to the dealer who is flagging its chain-driven cammers. It's evidence the staff have been listening to customers and obviously one of the most-asked queries has been the type of cam drive. It wouldn't be fair to name the dealer, but I see its trade-in post is doing well.
Of course, you wouldn't have to ask about cams and chains and stuff if the car had an FSH, you'd just read the paperwork.
Another interesting bit of dealer shorthand on cars in Britain is the presence of a "bidet" as standard. That's short for "Rear Wash-Wipe".
WARRANT OF FITNESS ARGUMENT
I haven't yet heard a plausible argument as to why New Zealand, the nation with the oldest car fleet in the developed world, should require fewer warrants of fitness checks. One warrant inspector said, and I quote from his letter to the editor: "I have never had a car that has crashed and killed a person because of mechanical failure. It is excess speed and alcohol that cause death."
Well neither have I, though I would expect that a warrant inspector wouldn't have such a car, anyway.
Excessive speed and alcohol do contribute to death on our roads: the LTNZ's own provisional figures at the end of 2011 indicated that alcohol was a factor in 38 per cent of fatal crashes and speed in 28 per cent.
The number of fatals that involved both contributors has not been revealed.
Reading the glass as half full means that 62 per cent of fatal crashes didn't involve alcohol and a massive 72 per cent didn't have speed as a contributing factor.
But back to WoFs. Walk along a row of 20 parked cars and just look at what you can see from the outside.
In Christchurch last week, there were four cars out of my 20 that shouldn't have been on the road.
One was a 10-year-old BMW 740, which had a dangling exhaust box, an out-of-date warrant sticker and a nut missing from one of its alloy wheels - the car sported three different wheel designs, too - and one wiper arm with no wiper blade. Not too bad, but a fail nonetheless. Then there was a Toyota MR2 with space-saver tyres on both front wheels, and a row of stick-on dolls across the dash that must have meant seeing out of it was like driving through a crowd of people.
Another was a series 1 Honda CR-V that had no spare, either on the back door or in the load area, as far as I could see, which could have been a problem. One front tyre was as bald as I am, while the same side rear was close to treadless. This car was likely to strand the driver and occupants before too long. Which is a best- case scenario, as not being able to stop or take a corner could have fatal consequences.
A gold Lexus LX470 was also on my list, this time with four tyres with just traces of tread left on them, though it's spare (visible in the photograph) was in far better condition. Used, but young enough to be worth say $40,000 to $50,000, this Lexus SUV was a nice car, but the owner obviously doesn't care about the tyres and the vehicle's potential lack of safety. It's probably only used for looking good, dropping the kids off and the holidays - shudder!
I'm willing to concede the cars may have accumulated all that wear and tear since their previous warrants of fitness, but all that says to me is these used, but fairly recent cars are already potentially dangerous, and I'd rather cars like this were checked for a warrant of fitness every six months than every 12.
By the way, if you've been driving around on a space-saver spare for weeks simply because you can't be bothered to get a flat fixed, read the label and wonder if the hefty fine or potential carnage is worth the risk of carrying on the way you are. I say this because the MR2 mentioned above has had its current tyre set-up for at least a month - it kind of stands out.
Some help from parking inspectors would go down well here, if they could give out tickets for unfit vehicles as well as those for parking for too long. Such tickets would count towards their quota, too.
- The Press