Panzer. A nascent love affair?

March 18, 2015  •  Leave a Comment

I thought I’d get a quick blog post in before the imminent apocalypse as an old mate of mine joked on twitter, reigns down upon us (“super moon”, eclipse AND equinox all due to hit around the same time) and I’ve been meaning to write this blog for some time anyway.


It’s not so much a wildlife blog though – just a(nother) car review  (no photos this time though) – but as my car is SO important to me in terms of seeing my local wildlife (it takes me to wildlife and provides a comfortable hide for me if I am waiting for wildlife), write this blog I will.


I was always going to sell my beloved “LAM” when I had taken her to 150,000 hard miles – I just got her to that figure, just got her to scrape her pre-sale MOT and that was that.

Some readers of this blog might know I’ve also been running an Mk5 Astra estate (1.8 Automatic) for 9 months now too. We bought it for one reason only when we knew my “LAM” was on borrowed time – it was absolute STEAL - about 9 years old and only 35K on the clock – being sold by an ex-colleague of Anna’s for only £1400! (Admittedly petrol automatic estates are hardly all the rage these days but a dealer would probably still look to get nearer £4K for that sort of car with such low mileage.

I took it (the Astra) to the New Forest last year for a family camping trip (with Anna’s sister and brother-in-law (and kids)) and slept in it, rather than our tent – it was a very quiet, very smooth, very big beast.


But – it was an Astra (I’m no real fan of General Motors), it was an automatic (no fun), the radio was terrible, the old boy (one previous owner only) who had it since new had scuffed every corner (and the tailgate) and worse than all that – this particular model (a traditional torque converter automatic) had two HUGE issues, the first of which I expected to a degree but the second I had NO knowledge of before I spotted something.


Issue one – if you buy a big, automatic (big heavy auto gearbox) petrol-fuelled estate (heavy), you’ll struggle with MPG. No matter how smooth and quiet the engine seems. When I struggled to get more than 19MPG (yes… that’s right… nineteen!) one fortnight (I manually calculated and documented all fuel consumption during its stay with me), the “Dreadnought”’s (as I called her) card was marked.


Issue two - I carried out my regular thorough checks on the “Dreadnought” one weekend and realised I seemed to have lost half my coolant.

Worrying about a leak, (although there were no obvious signs of an external leak) I researched coolant issues in this particular model (Mk5 TC auto 1.8 Life estate) and discovered a fault with this car (only these specific models) that really should have meant a recall from GM as soon as it was discovered – but GM took a gamble (allegedly) and hoped that uneducated customers would just foot the workshops’ huge bills out of warranty.


The basic fault with the Mk5 TC is the automatic transmission fluid is pumped around half the radiator (no separate oil cooler), as is the coolant, and the two fluids are prevented from mixing by separating them with a rubber seal – which is prone to break – regularly, often without warning.

If this is caught early enough, a flush through and a new radiator could suffice, but almost invariably these days (as people are quite removed it seems from their car’s ICE knowledge or thought or even regular checks), the Mk5 autobox loses torque rapidly, overheats and blows.


This is primarily because the coolant has mixed with the transmission fluid, and destroyed the bonding on the friction plates.

Like I say it can and does happen regularly with the Mk5 automatic cars, without warning, at any mileage (from new), at any time and if it is NOT caught – it’s a new gearbox, radiator, the lot – a HUGE bill (several thousands)… a write off basically.


As soon as I found out that I had lost half my coolant (I’m sure a lot of you reading this will know that the cooling loop of cars is basically a closed system, but that shouldn’t stop you regularly checking your levels), and the cooling loop(S) design of my particular car were really shoddily-cheaply put together by GM, I couldn’t trust the Dreadnought not to stop on me at any time, even though I couldn’t detect a significant loss of torque through the autobox.


Of course it might have just been a leak and we all know that you can find lots of issues with products “reviewed” on the internet and far less good stuff (the negative voice is the loudest voice), so this known issue might never have happened – but I couldn’t take the risk with my car.

It is an awful cooling design after all - and I now knew about it.


So. In a day, I sold my knackered (there was play in the rack, the tie-rods needed replacing, it suffered from atrocious battery drain due to a faulty DMF wire (I think) and alternator design, the list goes on…),  but beautifully-fun “LAM” and the hardly-touched, but thirsty and worrying (no fun at all) “Dreadnought”, for a VERY good price (all in, much, MUCH higher than I thought I’d get for the two as a job lot trade-in – he didn’t even LOOK at my cars or their history?!) and bought a new car from the same dealer.


I say new – ten years old, but new to me.


The car?


A ten-year-old, graphite-coloured Skoda Octavia 2.0Tdi Elegance Estate with 100K on the clock.


I had returned to my first love – Skoda!


I’ve probably blogged about my love of Skodas before, but I do think they are serious, serious motors since they became VAG-owned in the 90s.

If money was a concern, I’d look no further (when buying a new or second-hand car) than VAG other than Audi or Seat (probably Skoda as a first choice and VW as a second), South Korean motors (Kia primarily but also Hyundai perhaps), a Japanese car (almost certainly Toyota) or if I really, really had to do what everyone else does, a Ford (Mondeo only).

I’d not look further than that.  No point.

If money was no object at all, I’d buy a Mercedes. Each year. With an Alfa to show off in. And I’d look no further than that either!


Well... money IS a concern – so I bought my favourite car – a Skoda.  For a pretty decent price.

And an “Elegance” Skoda (like my old “LAM”) at that – so all the bells and whistles came as standard.


Bells and whistles?




Dual halogen headlights.

Front fog lights. (I called these weasel lights on the “LAM” as they helped me spot weasels and stoats on my drive around the farm).

Auto-dimming rear view mirror.

Heated windscreen washer nozzles.

Heated wing mirrors.

Puddle lights.

6 CD auto-changer.

Parking sensors (audible warning AND visible representation on the dash computer).

6 spoke alloys.

Roof rails.

Cruise control.

Air conditioning AND dual climatronic climatic (yes… you heard right) control.

Bespoke boot floor divider, cover, hooks etc.


I think those are the main bells and whistles (I’m trying to remember off the top of my head), but I’m sure you get the picture.


Then there are the advantages of moving back to Skoda as far as I’m concerned;

I’m not a small bloke, in girth (these days) as well as height and length (legs!) and Skodas give me all the room I need.

In the “Panzer”, even a 10 year old “Panzer”, you can fit someone behind me pretty comfortably (which you couldn’t in the tiny, fun “LAM”).

There’s plenty of room for passengers in the rear and a HUGE boot.


It’s a diesel, which means I’m back getting around 60MPG if I try to drive very efficiently - and its a VAG diesel. German built.


The radio works well (ALL Skoda radios work well… not the same with Fords or GM cars – and little things like this make a difference).


It’s not pretty (like its new owner – function over form I suppose – like a gland or something!) so it suits me I think.


It’s not too quick, but it’s plenty quick enough and being the diesel (of course) it has plenty of torque – which suits me just fine.


I’d have preferred the 1.9TDi (like the “LAM”) which I still think is the best engine VW ever made – a real tank of a thing, if slightly unrefined and rattly. The “Panzer” has a 2 litre turbocharged engine, and although bigger and more refined (smoother, less rattly, quieter) than the 1.9 – I know it won’t last as long.


I am sure I’ll be changing the DWF (and clutch) before too long … and perhaps the turbocharger (I actually think the turbo is jusssst out of plane now as it happens – it sounds a bit like it is). I think the fact that the (one) previous owner changed the air filter every single year he had it (and serviced it each year) might have perhaps helped with the longevity of the turbo, but we’ll see.


I think the bushes (front) will need attention pretty sharpish too – but that’s only to be expected in a 100K mile car.


It’s a bit err…. lumpy at idle (I can’t inspect the plugs though sadly), a little “knocky” when warm (suspension almost certainly) and doesn’t jump off the line like the “LAM” did (which really upset BMW drivers next to me) but it’s a grand old lady and doing ok I think (I hope).

There will be other niggles probably – I’d not be surprised if a few electrical gremlins surface periodically (one already has actually, once only), but I really hope nothing more serious. If only I could afford a car that hasn’t done thousands and thousands of miles… one day!

It’s already nice to know I don’t have to carry around a battery pack in the boot like I did with my beloved “LAM” and nice to know I am back up to filling the car up every month rather than two weeks, if nothing else. But to be honest there are many things I enjoy about the Panzer – as soon as I test drove it and carried out a THOROUGH forty-point check a few miles from the dealer, away from prying eyes, it felt like “my car”.

The dealer was a little wide-eyed when I mentioned the state of the DOT4 reservoir to him, not to mention the fuel filter – all bargaining (bartering) points as far as I was concerned. He had it down as “in stunning condition” after all – and I regarded that to be a little rich.

But all in all … I thought she (the “Panzer”) needed a little TLC from someone who would care for her – and that someone was me!


I’ve only had my “Panzer” about five weeks now and already I’ve grown to really appreciate the auto-dimming mirror. I am getting to grips with her cruise control and at the times I drive sometimes, I think that will be useful too – it certainly works very well.


Her heated wing mirrors are a god-send at this time of year (as they were in the “LAM”), her radio and CD player are faultless, as is her very controllable, very effective dual climatronic system (I invariably want my side of the car cooler than my passenger’s side).


I’m less convinced by her puddle lights – but they give her an executive aura to soften her basic edges – something that I (ssshhh… don’t tell anyone) quite like in a weird sort of way.

I’ve not gone to work in a tie for years now, but I almost feel I should in this car with her puddle lights! Or if not a tie, perhaps a chauffeur’s cap and jacket!


She drives pretty well. Pretty smoothly. I hope that continues for a year or five.


She hasn’t yet been asked to do much of the stuff that “LAM” and I used to do, other than already help me with the annual local toad crossing.


I’ve not yet asked her to provide me shelter and warmth when I hunt for owls at the farm.

Nor asked her to help me find weasels.

Nor slept in her in the New Forest.

Nor provided me a mosquito-free environment after sitting watching nightjars in the summer.

Nor ferried the cats or hens nor logs nor lawn-mowers nor tools nor saplings nor piles of manure nor sacks of hen bedding and pellets around in her.

Nor even picked up pheasants or deer with her.



Soon enough though.


Soon enough.


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