IT WAS Pete the mechanic who tipped me off about the Volkswagen emissions scandal. Well I say that but mainly he wanted to talk about the clutch on our ageing Volvo estate.
The old car had sailed through its MOT or perhaps scraped through, surviving another year anyway (praise be to the old church of Swedish metal). But there was a problem with the clutch. Without getting all technical on you, let’s just say that it was no longer doing much in the way of clutching.
We were having one of those conversations in the little tin-hut garage that sits between a bend in the road and a bend in the river behind.
‘I wouldn’t drive to Scotland,’ he said.
‘I was thinking of driving to Devon.’
‘I wouldn’t drive to Devon.’
‘Well, I might pop over to Halifax.’
‘I wouldn’t drive to Halifax.’
Pete gave me one of those mechanic looks, a bit like an oily hanging judge. Although he could arrange a reprieve, he hoped.
The car was booked in for a new clutch that ended up leaving a £680-shaped hole in the family finances (God damn that old church of Swedish metal). We talked cars when I cycled over to pick up the resurrected beast.
‘I’ve always fancied a Golf,’ I said.
‘Good cars,’ Pete said.
We’ve had the conversation before, but each year I trundle back in the V70, now so old it will soon need walking sticks.
Pete said modern cars were too complicated. Diesels were the worst offenders, as all sorts of mechanical trickery was built into the cars to keep emissions down. And it was often this that went wrong. One of his customers had to spend more than £1,000 on repairing a diesel filtering system on a Golf just out of warranty – which is pretty much a brand new car in my book.
What Pete didn’t then know was that VW was about to be exposed for using its legendary mechanical nous to cheat emissions tests in the US. How it does this is really rather clever. The car knows when it is being raised on an inspection ramp, and alters the flow of emissions to fit the test – running at a ‘clean’ level which could not be achieved during normal driving.
This is the equivalent of a banker fixing the market. Or it recalls all that twisting and turning tobacco companies went through while trying to dodge the evidence that smoking caused cancer. And the smoking parallel is a good one, as the fumes from diesel engines can affect people’s lungs too.
Once diesel cars throbbed loudly and left black fumes behind their rattling tin arses. You didn’t need to be an expert to suspect all that acrid smoke wasn’t good for you. Then diesel engines took over the motoring world, but it wasn’t a problem, so we were told, because these were modern diesel engines. Now we learn that some of these diesel engines are fitted with anti-interrogation technology. In short these cars know how to tell lies about how much they pollute.
This is going to cost VW billions and could affect the whole motoring industry. And green-minded people who don’t like cars will have something to rub their clean hands about. The thing is, I quite like cars. They are certainly useful. And as I told Pete the mechanic, I’ve always fancied a Golf. I still do. That’s the thing with all those shiny new cars in the adverts: they pull you in, winking at you with their headlamps and flaunting their bodywork. Yet underneath they are up to all sorts of tricks.
I am prepared to compromise, however. When my luck turns, I won’t touch a VW diesel or any diesel come to that. Heavens, no. I shall just make do with a new Golf GTI instead.