Why your car’s engine won’t startComment on this story
A huge and very jolly Nigerian named Bunny turned up recently with an ailing vehicle.
I knew Bunny initially in London, but he regularly visits South Africa and the last time I saw him he was driving a smart Aston Martin. His transport on this occasion was an old and battered Nissan.
“It’s so bad that nobody wants to steal it,” he explained.
I know that he does a bit of wheeling and dealing in the car trade, but recall that his mechanical knowledge is limited.
He said the car had starting problems and I didn’t have to look far to see at least part of the cause. The metal distributor cap was badly corroded where the HT leads entered and the leads looked as if rats had been at them.
I asked him when the car was last serviced and he said that he could not remember. He added it was used rarely and mainly stored in a shed. Because of the very small mileage it did, he had not bothered too much about servicing.
Must be the understatement of the year.
Even though mileage covered might be small, age still takes its toll and leads to deterioration; starting troubles are often the first symptoms. The distributor was old and worn and when the shaft was pushed to and fro showed a great deal of play.
I fitted a reconditioned distributor, HT leads and a new set of spark plugs. The engine then started easily and ran smoothly.
Bunny was happy when he heard the engine, but chose to ignore my warning that the brakes were in need of attention.
However, he did say he would be back in a month or so for a full service. We shall see.
Let’s go back in history to the days when men were men and cylinder heads were made of iron. Light alloy for heads, pistons and (some) connecting rods had not been adopted.
The move to alloy was a good thing when everything was running properly and weight-saving is considerable.
But alloy corrodes more readily than iron when it comes in contact with water.
The waterways get partially blocked and reduce coolant flow. This is one reason we should never run an alloy engine without antifreeze in the coolant.
Apart from preventing freeze-ups antifreeze also contains inhibitors that prevent corrosion.
Temperature gauges are mostly accurate and quickly tell you if something is not right.
Regardless of specific temperatures, if one day the reading is higher than it was the previous day, do not take chances; investigate.
The electric fan is mainly a backup device and if this runs most of the time it could be pointing to a cooling system fault.
In a worst-case scenario a fault in the cooling system may cause the head gasket to fail, meaning head removal and machining.
Always renew the thermostat and water pump when fitting a new head gasket.
With sealed cooling systems that in theory should rarely if ever need topping up, we tend to become complacent.
However, perished hoses and old clamps can still allow water loss, so it is still important to check coolant levels and coolant mixture regularly.
Squeeze hoses by hand and if they feel soft or swollen, renew. - Star Motoring