CHECKING IT OUT – BODYWORK (Part 2)

Here we look at how to spot a vehicle that’s been crashed and badly repaired plus issues that arise with chrome, glass, rubber seals and plastics. Also at the information you can obtain from vehicle Build and Identification plates that can save you money.

Crash Repairs

Modern cars can suffer serious deformation from relatively minor impacts. They’re designed to do that to soften the impact on occupants and are meant to be junked after a serious crash. Some, however, are purchased at salvage auctions, cheaply repaired then sold to unsuspecting buyers.

Registers of written-off vehicles do exist, but if the wreck was purchased in another state, tracking its history becomes difficult. Close inspection initially, followed by a professional check once you decide to buy, is the best defence against choosing something that could be a source of long-term problems.

Water leaking through a boot-lid or rear hatch seal is a common indicator of poor-quality repairs. If the cargo area smells musty, the floor coverings are damp or there’s surface rust beneath them, something is no longer fitting properly.

Gaps between body panels should be reasonably consistent. If there is a massive space between the bonnet and mudguard on one side and virtually nothing on the other, or doors showing similar inconsistencies, the car has probably been in a major accident. Find another one.

Doors that are hard to close or ill-fitting can be a legacy of crash damage, or just old age and a hard life. Either way, rectifying the problem is an expense you don’t need. Ignoring major gaps isn’t an option as not only water and dust can sneak into the passenger area but also dangerous exhaust fumes.

Door and Window Seals

Rubber seals attached to doors or to the main vehicle body  need to be in excellent condition and replaced when they are damaged or worn.  How many times during the life of a car, however, have you had the rubbers replaced?

Most will soldier on until they are flat or rock hard and not doing their intended and quite important job of keeping the vehicle cabin sealed against water and fumes. The condition of the rear hatch seal is especially important because it is the one most likely to let dangerous gases from the exhaust outlet slip past.

The other thing an old, weather-beaten seal can give you is a link to the car’s past. Peel up another section and underneath should be the car’s original paint colour. Is it similar to what’s there now or has there been a quickie colour change at some point?

Paint, Plastic & Chrome

Mismatched or inconsistently faded paint are big hints that the car has been in a crash or three during its life. These may have been minor bumps that come with the territory when buying an inexpensive set of wheels, but a vehicle that’s been repainted from the windscreen forward or down a complete side has had a major ‘whack’.

With the vehicle in a shaded area, look for areas of mismatched paint. This is relatively easy to see on darker cars or those with metallic paint, less obviously with lighter colours.

General fading or minor paint blemishes are common on lower priced cars, but if a repaint extends from the front or rear panels all the way to the roof, the vehicle has probably had a hefty hit and could be suffering structural damage as well.

Tyres that aren’t wearing consistently are big hint that you’re looking at a dodgy car. Excessive or patchy tread wear, especially to the inside edges are symptoms of serious problems that a wheel alignment won’t cure.

Chromed bumpers have largely disappeared and that’s a good and bad thing depending on your perspective. The old-fashioned steel ones will cop a knock with less damage than modern plastics but rechroming an old-style bar has become horribly expensive.

Damaged or missing body moulds, chrome strips and wheel covers can actually save you money. They don’t affect a vehicle’s drivability but will reduce value, so you can save by picking a tatty car over a pretty one.

ID and Build Plates

Australians have grown used to seeing vehicle Build and Compliance plates attached to various parts of the underbonnet sheet-metal. Some made life easier for roadworthy inspectors and car valuers by putting a VIN strip at the lower edge of the windscreen.

However, some manufacturers in Europe, the USA and parts of Asia mount plates in quite unexpected places. The Handbook for the vehicle will tell you where to look and what should be there.

The things to look for when you do find the identifying plates are the model designation (so you know it at least relates to the correct model) and the build year.

Quite often a vehicle will have been built in one year (say 2008) but not been fitted with a compliance plate until a year or even two later. So it is a 2008 (build) or 2009 (complied and sold) model? Finance companies will always work off the build date when establishing realistic values and so should you.

There are sites on the internet which give value ranges for vehicles the same ages and type as you are buying or you can have the one you are buying individually valued. This will take account of kilometres travelled, any obvious wear or damage, even its colour and the options fitted.

© Cliff Chambers 2020

CHECKING IT OUT – THE BODY

Overall Condition

The health of a vehicle’s body is vital. Engines that smoke, gearboxes that whine, torn seats and faded paint can all be fixed (or in some cases ignored) but there is no cheap way to safely repair a car that is seriously rusted or structurally damaged.

A quick walk around looking for dents or rust is not enough. Smart sellers will repair superficial damage well enough to pass a cursory inspection.

Look at any vehicle you are inspecting from a distance before looking close up. Is the paint dull on some parts, shiny on others? Do plastic bumpers sit straight and is one headlight sitting a little lower than the other. Does a number-plate have damage while the area around it looks perfect? Look closer, the car might have been repaired after a big accident.

Don’t ignore the windows, tint and sealing rubbers. If they are scratched, chipped or letting in water the costs of repair could be substantial.

Find That Rust

Just because a car carries a roadworthy or Safety Certificate does not mean it is free from life-threatening rust. Metal welded or even riveted over rotten areas will often disguise serious structural problems.

Rust in structural areas will seriously compromise a vehicle’s safety and occupant lives. Areas to look at very closely are the sills that run below the doors (inside especially), the firewall between the engine and passenger compartment, roof pillars and rear suspension mounting points.

Rust that will cost you money but perhaps not your life appears in the lower sections of doors, windscreen and rear window surrounds, the boot floor and lips around the wheel-arches.

Sill rust and half-baked repairs are the easiest to check. Simply running your hand over the painted area below the doors can reveal areas which have been filled or had patches welded over rust holes. Any bubbling indicates the metal below has corroded.

Some cheap repairs involve welding a new outer sill over a rusted original. Look at the ends of the sill panel where they join the wheel-arches to check for signs of recent remedial work. Shiny paint, file marks or uneven joins are common clues.

The final and often most revealing check is to feel the join between the sill and floorpan inside the car for dampness that will indicate water entering through gaps or rust holes.

Body filler can be detected by lightly running your fingers along the lower edges of door skins, around the wheel-arches and rear roof pillars. It takes an expert repairer to apply filler and replacement paint so well it can defeat the ‘touch test’.

Don’t be overly concerned if paint on panels below the doors or bumpers feels rough to the touch. Some carmakers and repairers use a more durable finish to help protect against stone damage. Do be concerned by uneven paint on the underside of the sill or if it’s a different colour to the upper section.

Serious rust in the firewall can be difficult to spot, especially from above. If you have the opportunity to put the car on a hoist or floor jack, then this is the time to check this area and the points where the front sub-frame meets the main body. Make sure the jack capacity is at least double the weight of the car you’re lifting and use axle stands in case it collapses.

Four-wheel drive vehicles often have a hefty chassis but certainly aren’t immune from life-endangering rust. Even late-models that have been frequently driven near salt water can display advanced chassis rot.

The first areas to check are outriggers that run from the central frame to the box-sections behind the sills. While checking these for damage, look at the jacking points to see if they are separating or suffering crush damage.

The condition of rear suspension attachment points, especially in models with ‘leaf’ springs, is critical and often overlooked during an inspection. Mud collects in these areas and can rust the metal to which the spring hangers are attached. You may need to use a small implement (see Toolkit) to carefully scrape away accumulated dirt.

Be concerned if there are signs of recent welding in these areas as rust could have been patched over rather than removed.

Floor-pans are susceptible to impact damage and can rust from underneath, so a hoist or jack inspection is again recommended. Any car with damp carpets or a musty smell inside will likely have holes in the floor that are allowing water to enter.

Likewise, remove the spare wheel and check underneath for rust. While you’re there, make sure the rim isn’t damaged and the tyre is properly inflated and has legal-depth tread.

Rust bubbles in the metal surrounding front and rear window rubbers can point to more serious rot in the roof or pillars, so be wary. Repairing rust in these areas can be expensive and often involves replacement of the rubbers as well. Better to pay a bit extra for a sound car than spend a lot more on repairs.

© Cliff Chambers 2020

SUBARU BRUMBY (1984-94)

When looking for low-cost transport do you want something that can carry a load and be easily fixed by the amateur mechanic? Something you can give to an inexperienced driver and be pretty confident it will bring them home again safely? Here’s one.

Subaru’s improved Brumby utility was launched into Australia during 1984 and you would think after all this time there would be very few left. Not so, and simplicity is the key.

Unlike passenger models in Subaru’s L Series range (which are by now almost all gone), the Brumby engine ignored overhead-camshaft technology and stuck with easily maintained overhead valves. Even when the sedans and wagons moved to fuel injection, the Brumby kept its old-style carburettor.

This all contributed to a vehicle that could be easily maintained without a time-wasting trip from the farm to a dealer and many that are still running have exceeded 500,000km with a single engine rebuild. 

The downside to sticking with old technology was the four-speed gearbox which made highway running louder and less fuel efficient than it might have been. However, the 4WD transmission is dual range and helps the low-clearance Brumby into and out of places it really should not be able to go.

Inside is sparse and simple too; vinyl seats and rubber flooring with manual windows. Most don’t have air-conditioning and only the scarce Sport with its lift-out roof panels had a cassette player as standard.

Some Brumbys will sit higher than others because owners have found the suspension adjustment points which give around 30mm of extra clearance. For serious off-roading there are also lift kits available for use with bigger wheels and tyres, however modifying the suspension affects stability at higher speeds and wears the tyres prematurely.

Rust is rarely a big problem with Brumbys.  This is due in part to effective rustproofing and because their limited clearance discourages beach use.

Constant velocity (CV) joints are prone to damage and the overhead valve train needs regular adjustment to minimise noise.  A new water pump every 100,000 kilometres accompanied by a radiator flush will control overheating but in general these cars are mechanically immortal.

Underbody scrapes are often evident, with crushed exhaust pipes and damage to the catalytic converter on ULP models as well. Check that the rubber boots on the rear driveshafts and front CV joints haven’t been damaged.

Brumby prices remain high for a vehicle of its age, but $5000 should secure a very good later model with a bull-bar and perhaps even the desirable rear canopy.

WHAT TO WATCH

. underbody damage

. engine oil leaks

. overheating due to faulty water pump

. damaged driveshaft boots

. dents and rust in load area

HOW IT RATES

Affordability: 7/10

Durability: 8/10

Running Costs: 7/10

On The Road: 5/10

Safety: 3/10

GUIDE SCORE: 30/50

QUICK SPECS

YEARS BUILT: 1984-94

BODY STYLES: two-door utility

ENGINE: 1.8-litre overhead valve four-cylinder with carburettor

TRANSMISSION: four-speed manual (dual-range)

POWER & TORQUE: 61Kw @ 5200rpm, 127Nm @ 2400rpm

SUSPENSION & BRAKES: independent front & rear, disc front/drum rear

PERFORMANCE & FUEL CONSUMPTION: 0-100km/h – 16.2 seconds, 10.0L/100km

PRICE GUIDE (1990-94)

FAIR: $1800         GOOD: $3600                     EXCELLENT: $5000

©Cliff Chambers 2020

Rockin’ The Highway – The Role Of Cars In Popular Music

Ever since radios became common automotive accessories, music and motor vehicles have played a role in each other’s existence. The first production car radios were sold during the 1920s and FM radio came to US-built vehicles in 1952.

These were followed by the automotive record player, tape players and William Lear’s 8-Track cartridge system. Over the years, millions of unravelled cassettes would be hurled from car windows before that technology was replaced by the CD stacker, MP3 interface and Spotify.

The sounds coming from these devices have changed radically but through it all has run a genre known as ‘The Driving Song’. These may focus on particular vehicle models or reflect the cultural aspects of cars and driving but what they have in common is an urgency in the beat and, as with Golden Earring’s 1973 Radar Love, a need to quickly reach the driver’s destination.

The USA with its established automotive culture, long stretches of interstate highway and deserted rural roads was a natural habitat of The Driving Song.

Early examples were obscure, and most have disappeared into the depths of history. One that still is played regularly and inspired similar tunes though was Jackie Brenston’s ‘Rocket 88’. Released in 1951, this upbeat blues song co-written by Brenston and Ike Turner paid homage to Oldsmobile’s rapid Rocket 88 and rates as one of the first rock ‘n roll hits.

Another African American rocker to draw heavily on US car culture for his material was Chuck Berry. Maybelline, No Money Down and You Can’t Catch Me were among the songs that sent a message to millions of younger listeners across the world that a car was their ticket to independence and romantic success.

However, Berry’s battle with a romance-stifling seat belt in No Particular Place To Go may have set back acceptance of these life-saving devices by several years.

Participation in the surf culture invariably involved access to a motor vehicle and literally hundreds of surf/car/drag strip tunes were penned and recorded during the 1960s.

People not involved with hot rodding or the sport of drag-racing would have no clue as to what a ‘dual quad’, ‘4:11 gears’ or ‘rail job’ might be, but kids who were ‘hip’ to car-oriented terms would nod approvingly as they cruised their daggy old Dodge to the drive-in cinema or burger bar.

California’s Beach Boys were the kings of musical car culture with whole albums of car-oriented tunes and huge hits like My 409, Surf City and Fun, Fun, Fun (till daddy took the T-Bird away).

America also loved a good teen tragedy song and cars provided the backdrop to tales of big crashes and lost loves. Early in the peace came the anguish of Paul Petersen’s Tell Laura I Love Her and Teen Angel from Mark Dinning but the definitive work has to be Jan and Dean’s Deadman’s Curve.

It told the story of a race between a then new Jaguar E Type and Chevrolet Stingray along a treacherous section of Hollywood’s Sunset Boulevard. Released in 1964 it prophetically appeared two years before Jan Torrence’s near-fatal crash on the same road in his own Corvette Stingray.

By 1975 the culture of drag racing and muscle cars was fading but nobody told Bruce Springsteen. His Born To Run album included two of the most evocative car songs ever recorded – Jungleland and the title tune; with characters like the Magic Rat in his ‘Hemi-powered drone’ participants in an apocalyptic culture where cars are the only means of escape.

Hot on the heels of Bruce and the Rat came the age of Disco and it did very little to thrill the jeans and jacket brigade. In place of hard-driving rock however appeared banjos, finger pickers and Good Ole Boys in black Trans Ams or orange Chargers with the doors welded shut.

Jerry Reed in his Smokey and The Bandit persona was ‘Eastbound and Down’ with a Trans Am clearing the way. Up in the hills some country boys with a high-flying Dodge were being deified by Waylon Jennings in his theme tune to the Dukes Of Hazzard TV series, then over in Detroit Johnny Cash spent years pinching parts from a Cadillac factory to build his own in One Piece At A Time. Move back to the Deep South and Steve Earle was losing his daddy, a load of moonshine and a big-block Dodge to Copperhead Road.

British bands with the exception of The Beatles Baby You Can Drive My Car left automotive references pretty much alone and it would take pioneering New Wave performer Tom Robinson to build some car cred with his big-selling ‘2-4-6-8 Motorway’ and the lesser known ‘Grey Cortina’.

Australia listened and related to releases from overseas, but it took considerable time before cars would become an element of down-under music culture.

The ice broke with a clatter and bang in 1975 when Bob Hudson’s epic Newcastle Song went to Number 1 on the music charts and along the way paid homage to the humble FJ Holden. Not quite matching Hudson’s talent for lyrical humour but equally infectious was Ted Mulry’s Jump In My Car.

Obscure but historically accurate was the Auto Drifters Birth Of The Ute which during the late-1970 celebrated Ford Australia’s invention of the Coupe Utility. The song would later be covered by Daddy Cool.

Music released during the recent past stood little chance of commercial success unless accompanied by a memorable video. Cars, especially cars made decades before the youthful consumers of such music were born, have for a long time been viewed as vital to this very specific branch of filmmaking.

Cars as music video props can be used many contexts, providing the director and production designer remain aware that they have been hired to sell recorded music and not make a car commercial. Whoever in 1991 ran some stunning visuals behind Marc Cohn’s Silver Thunderbird did a great job of the latter; heightening demand for open-top T-Birds while the song remained a minor hit.

Few of the videos that feature cars can be bothered at all with current models. The models they highlight are invariably ‘classics’ and frequently from the era of the US-made ‘muscle car’. Some it must be said aren’t quite as their designers intended; leaping and lunging on ‘low-rider’ air suspensions or pimped to the max in classic Gangsta style.

They can also incorporate aspects of popular culture, as in The Gorillaz track Stylo which mimics the car chase/road trip movies made famous during the 1970s by projects like Smokey and The Bandit and The Blues Brothers.

© Cliff Chambers 2020

MITSUBISHI MAGNA TJ-TW 2000-05

The TJ Series Magna introduced by Mitsubishi in late 2000 offers more power and similar space to a V6 Camry yet costs significantly less than its Toyota-badged rival.

Sitting on a 2722mm wheelbase, these Magnas provide plenty of shoulder and legroom plus a sizeable boot. The smallest engine was a 140kW, 3.0-litre V6, supplemented by a 150kW 3.5-litre which became standard during 2002.

Most common on the used market are Executive models that include power steering, electric mirror adjustment and windows, a driver’s side airbag and ABS. Pay a little more for an Advance or Sport and a trip computer, climate-control air-con and improved sound system join the party.

TR-X versions were priced $8000 above the 3.5-litre Executive at introduction but had 163kW, 17-inch alloy wheels, five-speed automatic or manual transmission – the auto had a ‘Sports’ mode – climate-control air-con, fog lights and a leather-bound steering wheel. The spring rates and bushings were firmer than on other models and body roll through bends is well controlled.

The shape during the Magna’s final years of life changed only a little. Main differences between the models relate to the size and shape of headlights and altered body plastics. An All-Wheel Drive version was offered from 2004-05 but they are scarce.

Handling and steering of mainstream models were an improvement on earlier cars but still a little `stodgy’ on standard rubber. Dual airbags and ABS brakes were standard however occupant protection offered by these cars was ordinary. Standard ANCAP crash testing returned a Three Star rating.

Around the suburbs, 3.5-litre cars with automatic transmission average around 12L/100km but overdrive reduces engine speed at 100km/h to just 2200rpm and drops highway consumption below 9L/100km.

The transverse engine layout brings some maintenance expenses that you avoid with a Falcon or Commodore. Replacing the hard-working driveshaft constant-velocity joints every 80,000 kilometres or so will cost $500 and while changing the rear spark plugs on the transversely mounted V6 is a time-consuming job.

Regular servicing and the use of quality oil are essential to the health of these engines – clattering at start-up an indication of camshaft or valve-lifter problems. Mitsubishi recommends 15,000 kilometre service intervals but leaving the oil unchanged for that long is risky.

In good condition, a 3.5-litre Executive sedan showing around 150,000 kilometres should cost less than $3000, with the better-equipped Advance slightly more. Wagons are less common than sedans but not significantly dearer.

CHECK POINTS

. cam drive belts worn and noisy
. cylinder head oil leaks
. engine fumes and valve gear noise
. worn engine mounts
. loose door seal rubbers and saggy roof-lining

HOW IT RATES

Affordability: 8/10
Durability: 7/10
Running Costs: 6/10
On The Road: 6.5/10
Safety: 4.5/10
GUIDE SCORE: 32/50

QUICK SPECS

BODY STYLES: four-door sedan and station wagon
ENGINE: 3.0 or 3.5-litre V6 with overhead camshaft and fuel injection
TRANSMISSION: four-speed automatic, five-speed manual
POWER & TORQUE: 150kW @ 5000rpm, 300Nm @ 4000rpm (3.5-litre)
SUSPENSION & BRAKES: independent front and rear, disc front/disc rear with ABS
PERFORMANCE & FUEL CONSUMPTION: 0-100km/h – 8.9 seconds, 11.5L/100km (3.5 litre auto)

PRICE GUIDE (3.5-LITRE ADVANCE 2000-2003)

FAIR: $1000 GOOD: $2800 EXCELLENT: $4200

Survey Confirms That Prestige & Classic Car Sales Continue To Boom

Premium Consumers Offer Glimmer Of Hope To Struggling Car Industry – Porsche Tops The List.

According to Roy Morgan data a new economic order of premium consumers (NEOs) could breathe life into the nation’s struggling car industry. One-in-seven NEOs (14.9%) intended to buy a new vehicle in the next four years during the March quarter 2020 – 54% above the comparable figure for all Australians (9.6%).

Australia’s 5 million NEOs spend and invest more, and more frequently, than anyone else. They change and adapt so quickly; they are Australia’s future shapers. It’s no surprise, therefore, that they intend to buy new cars in the near term. And, notably, the top 50% of NEOs – known as Super NEOs – are almost 80% more likely than the average Australian to buy a new car in the next 4 years.

Conversely, Australia’s 10 million traditional consumers are 30% less likely than the population to buy a new car in the next 4 years. Aspiring NEOs, with the NEO mindset but not the buying power, are more likely than Traditionals, but less likely than NEOs, to be planning to buy a car in the next four years.

Intention to buy a New Car (Next 4 Years): Jan-Mar 2020

Source: Roy Morgan Single Source (Australia), January – March 2020, n=10,852. Base: Australians 14+

According to Roy Morgan CEO Michele Levine, NEOs buy cars not as status symbols to impress others, but rather as a whispered secret to themselves.

“Porsche is the perfect example. NEOs are 80% more likely than the average Australian to buy a Porsche in the next 4 years, and that puts Porsche at the top of the premium list.

“NEOs are seduced more by the Porsche pedigree, design beauty, and authenticity than by the brand as a status symbol or statement of importance.”

NEO Preferred Car Brands (Index: calculated by the proportional difference in purchase intention between NEOs and all Australians)

1. Porsche (NEOs 80% more likely than the population)
2. Audi (76%)
3. BMW (70%)
4. Volvo (70%)
5. Volkswagen (46%)

According to Ms. Levine, the new economic order of premium consumers constantly evolves. “Australia’s 5 million NEOs are inconspicuous consumers who spend less on traditional products and more on creating emotional experiences; investing in brands and experiences that are authentic. NEOs change and adapt so quickly; they are Australia’s future shapers.

“NEOs represent a rare opportunity for vehicle brands to sell new cars in a market already in decline and decimated by the COVID financial crisis. And yet marketers in the passenger vehicle sector still tend to focus on Australia’s 10 million low-spending traditional consumers.”

She believes it will be a two-speed recovery and that the fast lane is already being driven by Australia’s NEO consumers: “The focus has been on the decline in new car sales in Australia over the past year, and it’s true they have declined on a monthly year-over-year basis for two years.

“However, this rear vision view ignores the positive news coming from the premium consumers who have a much higher new vehicle buying intention than all other Australians combined.

“In the wake of the COVID-19 shutdowns during March-April-May, new vehicle sales were always going to decline massively as Australians went into lockdown.

“Identifying the premium consumers who will recover first and fastest has therefore never been more important. It is the key to finding the fast lane to recovery in the post-recessionary period.”

View our range of Automotive Related Reports.

For comments or more information please contact:
Roy Morgan – Enquiries
Office: +61 (03) 9224 5309
askroymorgan@roymorgan.com

Blogs, Comments & Features

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