Traps for young players (and older ones)!

Finding repair shops you can trust is always very difficult. “Honest” shops charge less than others because they only do the work that is really necessary, without replacing parts that are not defective. Consequently they do not make a large profit from their customers and tend to work out of small dark workshops which are financially borderline, rather than the bright and glitzy ‘showroom’ style establishments which are making big profits and can continue in business for many years. And so the merry-go-round continues, with the vehicle owner being the loser each time.

One of the regular readers has just had an illuminating experience with a near new pick-up that began playing up. His experience is given below. I have deleted the brand for a couple of reasons – firstly I do not believe this is a ‘brand-specific’ problem, and secondly I do not believe that the function of this column is to point accusatory fingers at a specific
dealership, without that dealership having the right to respond. However, I do believe that this problem is rife in the motor repair industry, and if ever there was a case for “caveat emptor’ (let the buyer beware) then this is it. Here is this reader’s tale.

“I had a learning experience in the past few weeks that I think may be worth sharing with your readers who happen to own pickups (or other diesel powered vehicles).

“I own a 2001 3.0L diesel pickup that I bought new. It presently has 70,000 km on the clock. The past few months I’ve experienced an increasing frequency of failure of the engine to crank over when trying to start it. There was a loud “click” but the engine wouldn’t crank over. After several ‘clicks’ the engine would finally crank over. The problem was clearly getting worse. To no avail I replaced the battery (which was less than 2 years old). My amateur guess was that the starter solenoid was the culprit.

“The Dealer repair shop couldn’t identify the problem and suggested I have the starter replaced (B. 8,700 plus B. 1,800 labor). Several independent shops refused to deal with the problem. One independent offered to replace the starter/solenoid/alternator/regulator with ‘copies’ (rebuilt?) for B. 15,000.

“The shop where I’d bought two batteries in the last two years quickly identified the problem with certainty as a common chronic problem with diesel engine starters, a burnt solenoid copper commutator. He said pickups like mine typically failed sometime after 50,000 km. He fixed the problem in one hour for B. 1,500. The removed parts clearly showed arcing damage and the starter has worked perfectly for more than two weeks now.

“I’m not surprised at a larcenous attempt by a roadside shop to replace a bunch of parts that I didn’t really need. However, up until now I’ve trusted the integrity of the Dealer shop. If Dealer trained mechanics couldn’t/wouldn’t recognize the problem, why not? I’m now skeptical that for dishonest profits the dealer shop would have installed a new starter motor then fix the solenoid problem for a small extra fee, maybe even covertly? My problem would have been gone and I would never have known the truth. Is dishonesty endemic with
supposedly reputable car dealers in Thailand? I honestly can’t draw any other conclusion.

“I think a media warning to other gullible diesel engine vehicle owners with this same problem would be a welcome blurb in your column.” (Name supplied but withheld by me. Dr. Iain.)

There are many points raised by this reader’s letter. Brand specific dealerships should understand the common problems and be more accurate with their diagnostics. Roadside shops are not necessarily ‘Honest Charlies’. Getting several opinions will end up saving you money, even if it does take up much of your time. And finally, when you find a good shop, tell your friends!

If you believe you have found a good shop, have experienced good service there and want to spread the word through this column, I will be happy to print the infor-mation – however, ‘caveat emptor’ still remains! (My preferred repair shop is CMS Trucks in Jomtien run by
Martin, telephone 01 621 7105.)

Classics get organized in Chiang Mai

The Chiang Mai classic car enthusiasts have formed the Classic Cars of Lanna group, which meets every month at the Chiengmai Gymkhana Club. The January meeting will be on the 5th. Like minded enthusiasts can contact David Hard-castle on 06 911 6868 or 01 992 4819 (you don’t have to actually ‘own’ one right now, just being interested is enough)

Autotrivia Quiz

Last week I mentioned that for many people, parking is always a problem
manoeuver. However, in 1928 you could have a Parkmobile system installed in your car. This was a retractable undercarriage that had castors on it and you just pushed the car in sideways. It was fitted as factory equipment to an American car of the period. I asked what was that car? It was the New York Six.

So to this week, and we will get a little more modern. Take a look at the photo. Which well-known car company made this vehicle. It was designed to lean into the corner like a motorcycle.

For the Automania FREE beer this week, be the first correct answer to email [email protected] Good luck!

Asian racing driver wins world championship!

The above headline is no pipe dream. There is every indication that this could happen, as several talented Asian drivers achieve their goals of getting into the top echelons of motor sport.

Whilst the World Championship for F1 appears to be dominated by the UK and Europeans and South American drivers, it should not be forgotten that there are other categories of the sport, and some of these are also world championships. There are also new “world” categories on the rise, such as the A1 Grand Prix world championship and the Grand Prix World Championship group that could be the premier category in 2008. One should also not forget the North American motor racing scene, which runs championships that are open to drivers of all nationalities.

A very quick sweep through different classes in the US soon turned up Asian drivers such as Hideo Fukuyama from Japan who was one of the earlier Asian drivers to enter professional racing, competing in NASCAR in 2002 and 2003.

2004 was a spectacular year for Asian drivers. Three Japanese drivers have excelled and have shown the emerging talent from the land of the Rising Sun.

One of these was a newcomer, 25 year old Kosuke Matsuura who made his debut by placing within the top 10 of the Indy 500. However he is no newcomer to the European scene. He finished third in the 2003 Formula Renault V6 Eurocup, claiming three wins and five additional podiums. Matsuura also was a front-runner in German Formula 3 competition, finishing second in the 2002 championship with two wins and six pole positions.

One name that is well known in the current crop of F1 drivers is Takuma Sato, who was contracted to the BAR Honda team. When he first secured the seat, there were those who said that it was just as a sop to Japanese engine supplier Honda, but nothing could have been further from the truth. Sato deserved his seat, and has shown that he could out-qualify the much vaunted young Briton Jenson Button on many occasions. Takuma Sato also had an impressive history in the British Formula Three racing class, where he won 16 races and the 2001 championship, and took out the Macau GP, the premier F3 event in the world. Unfortunately, Takumasan looks to be out of a seat for 2006. His over-enthusiastic driving winning him more accidents than podium finishes.

Another Japanese driver who was not only well known (and feared) was Tora ‘Tiger’ Takagi in world motor racing, including F1. He was fearless but his rough driving style resulted in several pile-ups and a few reprimands from CART officials after he went across to the US to race there. He is now in the IRL category and last year picked up almost quarter of a million dollars in the Indy 500, America’s premier auto race.

Another Asian driver who is making his mark in the results book (and not on the retaining walls) is Narain Karthikeyan, known as ‘The Fastest Indian in the World’. He is another emerging Asian talent, and has a solid pedigree with wins in the ultra-competitive F3 arena in Europe. This resulted in his securing an F1 drive with Jordan for 2005, but he is still in the wilderness when I wrote this, as his chance of a test driver for Williams looks as if it will not come off.

Asia is not short of talented drivers, with Rizal Ramli showing that he had the speed, but not the luck, to carry off the Porsche Infineon Cup Asia, while young Marchy Lee from Hong Kong took the Formula BMW Asia title in 2004 with a dominant display, and is now racing in Europe.

But to return to the headline, “Asian racing driver wins world championship”, this is certainly not a pipe dream, as an Asian driver has already done just that!

Remembering that F1 only began in 1950, before then and before WW II, the unofficial ‘world championship’ was the British Racing Drivers Club championship, run over a number of events each year. Any driver who could win the coveted BRDC Gold Star was the supreme driver of that year, but there has only been one driver to win three pre-war consecutive BRDC Gold Stars, and that driver was an Asian, and in my view one of the most under-rated drivers in motorsport history. This driver was the only Asian to beat five times world champion Juan Manuel Fangio, in equal cars in 1949, when Fangio was making his name as the up and coming driver of the future.

That driver was Prince Birabongse Bhanudej Bhanubandh, a member of the royal family of Siam (as Thailand was known then). In 1936 Prince Bira won the J.C.C. International Trophy and three International Light Car Races at Monaco, Peronne and Albi, France. In 1937 he won the Campbell Trophy, the Light Car Race at the Isle of Man, the London Grand Prix, the12-hour Race at Donington Park and the Imperial Trophy. In 1938, he won seven major races including the Coronation Trophy, the Campbell Trophy, the Light Car Race at Cork, the London Grand Prix, the Nuffield Trophy, the BRDC Road Race and the Siam Trophy. Those wins against all the accepted hot-shoes of the times, gave him the BRDC Gold Star awards for 1936, 1937 and 1938. A feat unequalled since then.

However, with motorsport burgeoning in all categories in Asia, and the F1 circus now including many Asian circuits, I believe we are getting closer to seeing another Asian driver on the top step of the world championship podium. And I believe it will be soon!