Modern motorcars are far more demanding of their owners than many of us might suspect, highlights Iain Robertson, as he contemplates the ‘cost’ of delayed MOTs, ‘missed’ services, SORN and road tax arrangements, let alone being parked up for weeks.
According to recent reports that our Prime Minister’s ‘political advisor’, Mr Dominic Cummings, may have been footling around the English countryside, while the rest of us were instructed to ‘Stay At Home’, at least his Citroen may have been enduring fewer zero-mileage-related problems. As for the rest of us, with some of the fetters related to lockdown being released, it is eminently possible that restarting the family car will not be as elementary as it ought to be.
While it is less of issue for some older vehicles, modern battery technology may rear a less welcome aspect for some owners. The key reason for this being an age-related problem lies in the consistent draw on energy, when the vehicle is parked. While a digital clock demands a small amount of charge, other, more complex systems within modern cars are also vying for what is available, which can lead to a flat battery and the recommendation not to ‘jump-start’ it, for fear of damaging not just the battery but also some of those relatively fragile electronic systems.
While not wishing to worry you, should the 12v battery be declared ‘unserviceable’, the resultant bill could be scary. For even a fairly basic model, a new battery could cost around £300, while the battery on a top-spec Mercedes might be around £1,800, and a dealership may have to reprogram your vehicle at the same time. Be aware that a lot of vehicle owners are being affected by battery failure at this time.
Apart from a couple of ‘mad’ moments (when I have travelled a few extra miles to assuage boredom!), I have only driven my Suzuki Vitara an average of once a week, to travel from my countryside domicile to the city centre supermarket for supplies. Fortunately, with a 30-miles round-trip in prospect, the weekly ‘recharge’ of the car’s battery has been beneficial; significantly more so than starting the car but remaining parked, which can do more harm than good.
My Vitara is not quite a year old, which means that it is still two years away from its first MOT. Yet, for those people taking advantage of the Department for Transport’s ‘generous’ extension to MOT Tests for eligible vehicles, I would advise not delaying by too much. The pressure on garages and MOT Test Centres is going to be almost as overwhelming as that on the NHS over the past couple of months. There is a fear of many non-roadworthy vehicles on our roads as traffic conditions ramp up and garages become packed with cars needing to be serviced, repaired and MOT tested. My advice is to be patient, because unless you are fortunate, a delay may be inevitable. If your car needs road tax, do not delay. If you have taken advantage of a Statutory Off Road Notice (SORN), do not forget to change its status online as soon as possible.
If you have attempted any ‘longer drives’ during the lockdown period, essential, or not, you will have encountered exceptionally light traffic conditions on largely uncluttered roads. My couple of ‘escapes’ were hugely enjoyable, not least because I was able to stretch the performance of Vitara. In fact, I revelled in its cross-country handling capabilities, which reminded me why I fell in love with Vitara in the first place.
Despite pushing the car quite hard, it remained somewhat more stable than my emotions have been recently! Far too many cars today feature suspension systems that are just too firm, whether by non-resilient spring rates, or too severe damping. The suspension of Vitara allows strong grip, well controlled body roll, minimal dive under braking, barely discernible squat under acceleration and a firm but quiet and comfortable ride quality. It never ‘crashes’ over road surface imperfections and the well weighted, perfectly geared power steering provides good feedback to my hands. Accepting that fancy electronic control systems do aid the progress of many crossover types of vehicle, not even extreme driving creates a flicker of Suzuki’s warning lamps.
Having already written recently about protecting your vehicle’s paint finish during these strange times, notably for the removal of bird poo and tree sap, I am as impressed with the brilliant white finish of my Suzuki Vitara, as I ever was with my previous gunmetal grey Baleno model. After almost three years of extensive usage, Baleno had not so much as a single stone chip in evidence. It is the same status for Vitara, which has cleaned up beautifully and still looks as good as new.
My most recent ‘longer’ drive session with the car resulted in a fuel return of an outstanding 57.8mpg, which contrasts with its lockdown return of around 49mpg. Regardless, these are exceptional figures for a 1.0-litre, three-cylinder engine in a car weighing around a tonne. Developing 109bhp, the engine never displays breathlessness, or shortage of verve, and its wealth of bottom-end torque ensures minimal gearchanging, even when extending the performance envelope.
Yet, I have started to notice a tiny area of wear on interior trim. While the floor mats are usually the first items to display wear and tear, they are surviving well. However, the right-hand thumb grip, on the cross-spoke of the steering wheel, is losing its matt black colour. It is only a sliver at the moment but it might grow. That apart, there are zero other faults and the Vitara runs beautifully, frugally and most satisfyingly. Even after 11 months of operation, its tyres are showing only minimal wear.
My decision to stick with Suzuki remains highly justified. Vitara is spacious, well equipped and a joy to live with in business-like SZ-T trim and, when you are desperate to relieve the boredom of lockdown, it has been the ideal means to an end!