Sunday, 22 July 2012

Still reliable?

I would always resent when somebody reiterated the common belief that French cars are crappy. Most people hold the opinion they stand out in terms of design but several glitches, mainly electronics going bonkers, take the gloss off the well-shaped bodywork.

I defied this conviction by citing the example of Renault Megane which has belonged to my family for nine years now. My father bought it brand-new in 2003 and signed it over to me last year. The car has a very low mileage (53,067 kilometres now) – the upshot of taking on average one longer (more than 500 km to the destination and back in total) trip a year and using it in town when justified only.

Until last month, the car let us down on average less than once in two years. It had a bad track record in the third year of usage – then within one summer of 2006 it had three minor breakdowns – first revolutions sensor packed up, then central locking system close all doors except one, later boot door lock disintegrated. It had a more serious breakdown in September 2010, when it had to be towed away to Renault garage after ignition coils packed up, but as they’d been three years overdue for replacement I’m putting it down to Renault mechanics’ negligence.

Never look a horse gift in a mouth (I paid no money to my parents for the car), but over the year of owning it I had to replace a battery last autumn and have the brakes changed, but these were just the effects of wear-and-tear. The car withstood temperatures below –20C without any problems, but then in early June something began to clatter when I cranked up the engine, as shot on this video. The sequence is exactly the same. Revolutions go up, then something clangs, rattle or gives off some other sort of annoying noise and the engine cuts out. Right away I crank it up again, the rattle is not as loud as at first attempt, but revolutions level off on flush gear level. Funnily enough, it occurs randomly, and for example when I started the car after 13 days of sitting totally idle during my illness, it fired up beyond reproach. The cause of the nuisance is the dephaser pulley (koło zmiennych faz rozrządu for my Polish readers), a very common glitch in Megane II 1.6 16V engine. Renault has never officially admitted it is a manufacturing defect in this model and never recalled cars affected by it, but if you drive a hard bargain you can expect to have the repair partly refunded. I haven’t had it fixed yet, as the problem is not exacerbating (i.e. the engine does not cut out when running on flush gear), but I will have it done before winter together with the whole cam set (camshaft, timing belt, pumps, etc) due for replacement after each five years. Estimated expense – some 2,000 PLN.

On Monday two weeks ago while driving to work I opened a window in driver’s door and unfortunately couldn’t shut it. Instead of leaving the car on P&R car park, I had to drive to Renault garage. The first diagnose sounded like a sentence. The whole system, including hydraulic elements and little engine was defective, the cost of the new part – over 1,000 PLN, some 10% of the car’s market value – an overt absurdity. I needed the car for the afternoon so I asked the mechanics to dismantle the door, assemble the window in a closed position and check what actually was wrong. Lucky me, only the engine packed up, while hydraulics, despite some signs of wear and tear, was still in working order. I made an arrangement for a repair on Friday…

On Wednesday I pulled up to the petrol station to fuel up the car. I was again lucky, not to be running out of petrol, because I couldn’t simply put the pipe of the fuel dispenser to the petrol cap. Again, the hydraulic element packed up. A quick call to Renault garage and a request for a more comprehensive service on Friday. My bill as I was picking the car up was 640 PLN, therein some 250 PLN for spare parts, original, yet quite inexpensive and almost 400 PLN for labour charges. A man-hour there will set you back 160 PLN before tax. Add up 23% VAT and subtract my 15% loyalty programme discount and this gives you roughly 167 PLN for an hour spent by a well-trained mechanic mending your depreciating tin.

After three letdowns over two months, I fear next breakdowns and bills charged by Renault. There is a chance that nothing packs up for many months, but the car has nine years and even despite low mileage some of its components might have reached the end of their useful lives. I can also turn to a private garage rather than keep on letting Renault rip me off, but the car is stuffed with electronics so much that in some cases a mechanic is helpless if he can’t hook the vehicle up to the computer.

Now I’m facing two options – keep sinking money into the car, or buy a new one. I don’t mind driving an old car, I’m only concerned about its reliability and expenses incurred to keep it going. The old car will surely require some outlays, but the brand-new one is a bigger one-off expenditure and would prompt me to buy a full motor insurance. On the other hand, a brand-new vehicle usually gives the comfort of reliability and if even if something breaks down, it should be covered by a warranty (but beware and read all provisions in a warranty statement, including exception printed in a small font at the bottom of a page).

Actually it’s not the right time to have the car replaced, even having to spend some 3,000 PLN a year to keep it running is less than motor insurance premium (at least 2,000 PLN in the first year for a brand-new small car worth between 40,000 – 50,000 PLN) and less than depreciation in the first year of using it (25% of the showroom price evaporates over the first year).

I can still take this car for a longer trip without fearing an unexpected breakdown. All described above defects could have occurred in a younger car with a lower mileage (dephaser pulleys pack up even after 20,000 kilometres in defective Meganes II and window opening mechanisms can stop working even in brand-new cars) so I’m intent on taking care of my Megane and dreaming of a company car, mindful that the best years for getting perks from employers are gone…


Michael Dembinski said...

What Car?'s 2011 reliability ranking puts Renault 33rd out of 35 brands surveyed, with 45% of cars in need of repair.

"Renault has failed to improve its reliability, with 45% of vehicles suffering failures. Just under 40% of issues are down to dodgy electrics, the highest score of any manufacturer. Once again the Clio (’05-’09) is the most-dependable model, with a respectable RI score of 32 and a breakdown rate of 19%. Renault’s worst model, the Espace (’02-), gets the wooden spoon in the MPV class."

Who's best? Honda, followed by Toyota, then Lexus. Indeed, the top seven are all Japanese, of the next four, three are Korean, one's Japanese.

student SGH said...

Just googled the ranking and I'm silghtly startled by the results. I Renault is infamous for its electrics / electronics - the biggest nemesis of this make. But look at other ranks. Top performance of Asian makes is not a surprise, but low ranks of Saab, Audi or Mercedes (a friend's father used to have a Mercedes E-klasse, bought brand new in late 2012, he sold in recently, sick of coping with several breakdowns). A consolation from the ranking is that average repair cost for Renault is lower than for peers.

But drill down into the ranking. Megane II (2002 - 2009) is ranked on 102 position out of 250 vehicles - still not very bad. Note also that small Renault model perform better than more luxurious ones (Espace & Vel Satis).

Toyota again proves its superiority. But why don't Japanese cars have small (1.0 or 1.2 litres) turbocharged, petrol-fuelled engines?

Regarding the sample - how representative it is? How many percent of cars used in the UK are covered by Warranty Direct's policy?

I'll actually hold back from asking any more questions. Such an amount of collected data is water to an analyst's mill.

Enjoy your holidays.