Of Oil Pipes & Timing Belts

(The Sequel to.., The Sump from Hell") by Andy & Helen Bell


" The job's not done until-the paper works finished......... Anon''. or until the last hose clip is tightened Andy Bell 1995'' .

You will no doubt recall my account of the fun packed weekend spent replacing a sump and by others pens, the wonderful trip to France, with as far as our car goes no mention of mechanical problem. Not so a trip to Somerset a few weeks later. We finally got round to visiting Paul. Gill and Alex down in deepest Somerset and enjoyed a thoroughly great weekend of food drink and cycling on the Quantocks. ( Two mountain bikes on a Merlin, no problem! ) We left for home early on Sunday evening knowing that the 160 mile journey would take 3 to 4 hours, particularly given the M5's propensity to impersonate it's cousin the M25. It eventually turned out to be nearer 6.

All was proceeding well, steady 75 , well occasionally and on this evening at the crucial time. Pulling hard up hill attempting to pass a caravan combo doing 'hissing Sid impressions. Do you realise we have members of the club who actually tow caravans behind their Merlins ? Must be mad but of course they're all teachers ...say no more. ( sorry Neil, Val, Barry & Nita ). Well there we were innocently and only marginally overtaking this caravan when I noticed with some alarm a bright orange light wink on the dash board. Decision time. Ignore it, the wire has probably shorted in the sender or take some frantic action for fear of having to spend the next month replacing bearings and other bits that disintegrate in the absence of oil. I am if nothing else cautious .

Off goes the ignition at the same time knocking it out of gear. Back on with the ignition but not starting the engine, left indicator, and drift across all three lanes to the hard shoulder .Several sets of flashing lights and aggressive horn honking later, other cars not me, and we are rolling to a stop next to an emergency phone on the hard shoulder. You know you have a major problem when you walk round the back of the car to find it sprayed with black blobs. We are both glad for once that the top was on.

Meanwhile, Helen wakes from her slumbers, having missed all the excitement. Yes both of us are quite capable of sleeping whilst travelling in the Merlin, in fact I have it off to a fine art being able to fall asleep at 70 with the top off behind the wheel. "Something wrong ? " she asks in her innocence?

Knowing that it will not be a representative of Camelot waiting to greet me when I lift the bonnet I never the less proceeded to do so. It quickly becomes very clear why the oil pressure light had come on. You obviously can't measure oil pressure when the majority of the oil is outside the engine. Not just outside but coating the entire engine and most of the bay. Whatever had' gone' had gone in a big way and I was not about to get gunged up to the eye balls fixing it.

Over to the emergency phone yes broken down on the MS the AA position relative to the phone about 18" any further and you would not be able to hear me. Oh the car 10 yards at most. In reality we were only a few hundred yards from an exit leading to a service station on the other side of the carriageway, an up hill exit unfortunately. After the obligatory wait the 'very nice man' finally arrived, took one look and turned away to put his rubber gloves on. I know it didn't look good but I' m sure it wasn't contagious. After a few minutes poking around he emerged to diagnose a disconnected oil hose. That certainly explains the rapid rate at which the sump had been emptied. Instead of pumping oil to the cooler it had taken up free flow cooling.

Repairs were quickly effected leading to two further problems. Firstly the absence of enough oil to effect a refill, secondly, I was less than eager to drive another 100 miles or so with the engine and everything round it drenched in oil. Ten minutes very slow towing delivered us to the forecourt of the service station, where refined black gold, as it used to be called, was purchased and introduced to the appropriate office. Next, heart in mouth I restarted the engine not knowing if my earlier action had been quick enough to stave off a mega bearing balls up. Fortunately, nice smooth running with only the usual accompaniment of standard bumps and grinds.

Problem no-2, 'the very nice man' told me could easily be overcome as he knew the garage at the back of the service station had steam cleaning gear. But at what price at 8.00 o'clock on a summers Sunday evening To my total amazement, very good value at a mere £10.00 plus VAT as long as we didn't mind a half hour wait. Time for coffee and a bun.

Whilst highly effective at removing the oil alas the garage could not be accused of environmental friendliness, asking me to position the car over a drain in the middle of a service road "as the oil and chemicals make a real mess and we don't want it all over the forecourt do we ?" I decided against political correctness in favour of expediency. All this time the' very nice man' had stayed with us as he did not consider his job as done until we were on our way and after leaving the engine ticking over for 5 minutes to dry off on our way we were.

Three hours of moderate driving later and we arrived home just after midnight and were quickly to bed.

Here, many of you would say, is a good place to leave things. With the car that is not the bed. ( Talking of beds, I did fill in the 6' deep lettuce patch and planted carrots instead...see The Sump From Hell for details if don't understand.) the following evening I checked the tightness of all the oil hose clips and concluded that whilst I did not remove any of the pipes when' replaced the sump I did remove the sandwich plate and push it to one side which had obviously had the effect of loosening at least one connection. One thing less to worry about next time out, ( is it just me that suffers from high anxiety each time we take the Merlin for a long journey ).

It was my ever present anxiety that lead me into my next mad capped area of folly. Being a thorough sort of a person I occasionally flip through the maintenance section of my Haynes manual thereby periodically causing my self all sorts of concern over those little elements of the service which are always left for II next time ". The particular bit that caught my eye this time was the advice to change the timing belt every 36000 miles or three years. Well whilst 36000 miles was still some way off the existing belt had been in the engine as long as the engine had been in the car. 8 years. ! Those of you with 2 L engines will probably not give this recommendation a further thought as a snapped belt means little more that a refit and retiming to be back on your way. Us lesser mortals with 1.6 L live with the ever present nightmare of pistons and valves trying to occupy the same space.. ( Stupid design! )

To cut a long story short and with another trip to France ( two weeks this time) coming up in another month or so I decided prevention is better that cure. I had. It goes without saying, a few problems. No tool to fit the belt tensioner ...well an 8 mm Allen key just about fits. An engine that would not restart notwithstanding that I had marked the teeth on the pulleys and the old belt, carefully transferring the marks to the new belt. However in the best traditions and after a few hours of head scratching I finally managed a smooth running engine. Amazing the difference a single tooth can make. One final hurdle to overcome, how do you stop the belt' walking , forward on the pulleys ? ( a real problem when after 10 minutes on tick over a full 1/4 of an inch of belt is protruding over the front edge of the cam pulley. Dave, our illustrious chairman, suggested that the belts sometimes had a slight weakness on one side and when reversed this would in fact help to hold the belt in place. OK good idea which only involves removing the belt entirely, turning it round and starting again. But as ever when I attempt a simple solution it didn't work.

The solution eventually turned out to be even simpler. The bottom belt retaining washer was missing, in fact had in all of the eight years the car had been on the road, never been there! Sounds like a disaster waiting to happen, so perhaps the decision to change the belt was a bigger dose of preventative medicine than I had first imagined. Well, that was last June and July and here we are in the coldest depths of January 6" of snow on the ground, the fire blazing and a large glass of single malt adding to the glow.

Between times, and just to dispel any thoughts that our car spends most of the summer being rebuilt we later attended Sandown ( thanks for the bed Margaret & John) , enjoyed a great weekend in the Cotswolds , thanks to Tony Janice & Scott ( or was it the Forest of Dean) and completed a 2500 mile tour of Provence and the French Alps. Not bad for a car which gives the impression of always being in parts.

The charger is presently trickling juice into the battery and if the weather warms up a bit next weekend I may start the winter service. Major tasks this year, not if I can help it.

Strange to think with the weather as it is now that in only a few months time we will be making the annual pilgrimage to Stoneleigh . after that, well no France this year, but Northern Spain was great fun a couple of years ago, alternatively we keep saying Tuscany looks worth a drive!

As ever looking forward to seeing you all again soon.