The ‘The van’ category:

My trip to the local garage

March 8th, 2012

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Our van is making some strange noises so, on the recommendation of a neighbour, I called the local garage. I just wanted them to have a quick listen and tell me what it could be; we’d arrange what to do about fixing it afterwards depending on what they reckoned.

So I drove over for 09:30, as agreed. The place is like those desolate garages you see in American movies, with shells of cars dotted around the forecourt and piles of discarded parts against every outer surface of the corrugated metal workshop. There was smoke coming from round the back, black smoke that smelled like tyres.

I found Claude and he asked if I wanted a coffee. I declined. He then asked if I minded if he went to get something to eat as he’d missed breakfast. OK, I said, figuring it might pay to be friendly and get him on my side seeing as he was about to assess my van. We walked over to what the sign above said was a cafe, but it wasn’t a cafe any more, it was the garage’s break room. He offered me a coffee again and this time I accepted, perching myself on the edge of a bench and admiring the tastefully decorated ‘walls of porn’. He opened the fridge door and got out some eggs, some ham and some salami, fried himself some eggs, then sat down to eat his fried eggs along with 4 or 5 slices of ham. The salami wasn’t for him; he fed slices of it to his dog. He poured himself a glass of red wine from the open bottle on the table, downed it, filled it again, then took a modest sip. Once he’d finished his eggs and ham he made himself a brie sandwich and alternated between a bite of that and a spoonful of strawberry jam. He knocked back the remaining wine then got up to fill the bottle from a wine box on top of the fridge, sat down and poured himself a third glass. We chatted about cars, computers, hornets.

After about half an hour he finally finished his drink, picked up his plate and dumped it in the sink, then said let’s go and see the van. I opened the bonnet and started the engine, he poked his head in to listen then took out his mobile, pressed some buttons and chatted to someone for a few minutes – I think it might have been his mum. Eventually he came out from under the bonnet to tell me he thought it was probably something like one of the filters or maybe an air pipe that was blocked, nothing too serious, call me next week to arrange dropping it round.

They’re rare these days but I do think I’ve found a good, reliable mechanic.

How to register a Mercedes Vito Dualiner in France

May 26th, 2011

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You can’t.

I started the process of registering our 5 seater Mercedes Vito a few months ago. I filled in forms, made photocopies, sent them off in the post. I spoke to various people on the phone who all told me slightly different things. I drove to somewhere to get some tax paperwork. I gave Mercedes France €140 for a certificate to say our van only partially conforms to French norms. I bought and installed French headlights (€160). I even got a French MOT (€60).

This morning I drove 180km to get the final verdict from DREAL (the government department that deals with this sort of thing): it’s a 2 seater van so to register it in France I have to remove the back seats. Given that there are 4 of us, a 2 seater van isn’t particularly practical.

It transpires that our van is an official factory-made 5 seater only in England: anywhere else in Europe it’s considered a 2 seater. And even though it has a European E number stamped on the engine, which should mean it meets European standards, this E number couldn’t be found on the DREAL’s database… and so that’s the end. A dull tale comes to an unsatisfactory – expensive – conclusion.

As Corrie succinctly put it when I told her the news, “Computer says ‘no'”.

How to replace the UK headlights on a 2002 Mercedes Vito 110CDi with French headlights

March 30th, 2011

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I am absolutely useless with car mechanics. Part of the reason for having a Land Rover back in the old days was to learn how to do stuff myself, but I never really got the hang of it. So when I ordered my European headlights in order to start to get the Vito registered in France (I’ll be covering this in another post – it’s quite a task!) I assumed I’d be taking it to the garage for them to do it.

In the back of my mind I had a niggling thought that maybe I could do it. And if I couldn’t, at least I should try. So I popped the bonnet and there was a screw at the top of the headlight. I unscrewed the front grill (being careful not to lose the screw inside the bumper) to reveal the other 2 screws keeping the headlight in place. With a little downward bending of the bumper I could pull the headlight out, along with the indicator.

Carefully memorising where the cables went I disconnected everything, unclipped the indicator, and the headlight was out!

I put the old and new headlights side by side and swapped the 3 bulbs over.

Then I carefully put everything back, managing to only lose 1 screw into the bumper.

45 minutes and it was done! I was rather proud of myself.

The van

October 29th, 2010

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With two of us, two babies, three dogs, and stuff, our Ford Mondeo had long been too small for us all. It had also done a lot of miles so, in preparation for our move to France, we decided that we needed a bigger car… so we got a van!

It’s a 2002 Mercedes Vito 110CDI, with 5 seats and a huge ‘boot’, and it’s awesome.

You’ll spot that it’s right-hand drive so we’ll be on the wrong side when we get to France, but that’s OK: it was so difficult finding a suitable van in England that it would have been virtually impossible to find what we needed in France, plus the equivalent van over there would be almost twice the price.