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Five Years in a Rover 400

How on earth did that happen? Five whole years with the same car, surely some mistake, let's do the maths. If I started my motoring aged 20 and I predict driving becoming not-much-fun around the age of 60, then that's just 40 years to enjoy. So I've spent 12.5% of that time behind the wheel of a Rover 400. Yikes.

Rover 400 cut-away

Just a few brief facts about the car. It's red. It's a 414 iS... or possibly a 414 Si, even the salesman didn't seem to know at the time. Anyway, it has alloy wheels and driving lamps and, um, that's it.

It has "keep fit" windows, which now really, really annoy me. Oh, an electric sunroof. But no ABS, no air con, no CD, no anything else you care to mention that seems to come as standard on virtually any car these days.

Bought just when car prices were at their worst, just before the plummet which was just great unless you had a second hand car to sell (hey - isn't that virtually everybody?) it cost precisely £12,000. I think a slightly better spec'd model would now set you back about £275, but maybe that's just the bitterness coming out in me. In those halcyon days, my friendly Rover salesman would not be shifted from this admittedly nice neat round figure... not even willing to relinquish metallic paint as a small incentive to buy. Having subsequently watched that telly programme with the Irishman and the bald cockney where they screw car salesman to the floorboards on price I wonder just how bad I am, or how good my salesman... or was it just another era? No... I just think I'm bad at dealing.

So, £12,000 pounds, and five years on I might get £3,000 for it. Which would be okay if those five years had been anything other than very, very dull indeed, driving wise. I traded in an Escort 1.6, which I wish to God I'd kept, because I'd have saved myself £6,000 and life would have been neither richer or poorer in consequence. In comparison the Rover was no faster, and handled slightly worse, though the ride was better. Boot space was identical, and as far as the interior was concerned, at least the Escort didn't have the fake wood, and it did have somewhere to put a cup down.

Five years is not that long, and you'd think I could remember what was going on in my head that made me make this major purchasing decision, but sadly I cannot now recall. It could have been worse, I suppose. The car has been very reliable, only failing to start once, and that was my fault for leaving the hatchback open and not using the car for a week, the tiny boot light ran down the battery. Five years of total reliability, no unexpected costs, and it still works just fine now. (Oh dear, no longer true, see update below!) But also five years of niggles.

I spent the first year returning the car regularly to the dealer because of a clicking noise in the dash. Everyone agreed it was there, and they tried very hard to fix it, removing the entire dash at one point, only to find nothing. Eventually I gave in and learned to live with it. Well, no. I didn't, it drove me mad. I went everywhere with the stereo on very loud to cover it up. And then one day, luckily, a very large stone, kicked up by a passing hooligan in a silly looking tarted up Nova, broke the windscreen. A very nice man from some windshield company came, scratched the hell out of one of the wings, replaced the glass, and lo, the click was gone. I went to the dealer and told them. They had spent days trying to cure this noise, but the revelation as to its source was greeted with total disinterest. I thought they would be keen to add it to the Rover countrywide knowledge base, in case it came up again, somewhere. How silly I am.

Just a quick run through the car's good points and bad points. Good first.

  • The engine is good. It's only 1400cc, so you can't expect too much, but it revs very easily and if you change gear an awful lot, then quick progress is possible. If you don't change gear then hills can defeat it very easily. It's a nice tight unit, has hardly lost oil over it's 50,000 miles, sounds a bit rough now, but can't really complain.
  • I quite like the alloy wheels.
  • Oh... my girlfriend bought me a leather gear knob, I like that.
  • Nothing else.
Now the bad.
  • The transmission. Terrible. See below.
  • From the outside the hatchback can only be opened using the door key. Why? Come on. It can't be that hard to have a push button or handle to open the thing. It's design like this that drives you mad. Small thing, big hate.
  • There is nowhere to put a drink down inside. Forget cup holders, I dream of cup holders... I'd just like a flat surface, for goodness sake.
  • The radio/cassette is not great, and the display for it, shared with the clock, went wrong after a couple of years. An LED display no bigger than that on a five quid calculator, but it cost over £120 to fix, thanks Rover.
  • Air circulation is poor, it's very hard to get a good flow of hot or cold air to the feet.
  • The clutch pedal is way higher up than the other pedals, and I've seen this on several examples, which makes thing uncomfortable.
  • Okay, I admit it, I can't think of much else. Maybe I'm being harsh. No. It's just so dull.

But the transmission. By which I mean, in this case, the way it changes gear. Or rather how I change gear. Now, I've complained about this to the dealer every single time the car has been serviced, but they've done nothing. And I'd like to point out that it's not me, I can drive other cars with no problem. But mine... every gear change an adventure. The balance and precision required with clutch and accelerator to get a smooth change is extraordinary. Some days I cannot be bothered and just lurch around the place. Some days I blame myself and really try... but I shouldn't have to. It's just awful. Take your foot off the accelerator when slowing and it lurches. Foot back on, it lurches. First to second, lurch. You can feel the engine moving on its mounts, it's like you're a learner driver again. The only strategy that works is to coast. I've developed this really bad habit, especially in towns. I roll down hills in neutral. Arghh.

I once got a mechanic to admit that these cars "weren't the smoothest", and the courtesy cars they give have been almost as bad. For this one fault I HATE this car. You just cannot enjoy driving it, unless you're on a motorway and don't need to change gear for hours.

Consumable items during this 50,000 mile odyssey (about which one cannot complain):

  • One exhaust, just over a hundred pounds to replace.
  • Front brake pads, thirty odd quid.
  • Wiper blades various.
  • Four sets of tyres. Unusually, and somewhat annoyingly, all four tyres seem to wear at pretty much the same rate, so it's always been a set of four required, which feels expensive, at well over 300 pounds a set. The original Pirellis lasted very well but tramlined, tried Bridgestones, great grip, poor wear, and Continentals, good grip but so noisy and terrible wear. Back to Pirellis then.

I never meant to keep it this long. Two years maximum, but things have conspired against me. Oh that it was truly awful and unreliable. Oh that I could justify replacing it. But I can't. It works well. It's the right size. It's quite cheap, very economical (40 mpg over 50,000 miles, can't be bad).

But it's just horrible to drive. If there's anyone out there, I'm begging you, anyone who knows how to fix the bloody transmission, please let me know. I would be forever grateful.

Update #1
Well, 5 years has become 5 and a half, and the mileage is now nearly 60,000. And the good reliability (one of the car's only saving graces) has been severely dented by recent events. A nasty noise started coming from the gearbox. The car has just spent two days at a specialist gearbox repairer being fixed and the bill came to over 500 quid. A small bearing had broken, and the bits had damaged the main drive shaft, or something like that. Not very good for a low mileage car, the man had never seen this happen before. I had the clutch changed while they were at it, and the car is back on form, but my wallet is now broken. Car repairs can be expensive and cause a drain on personal finances. Title Max title loans are an option when you need financial help.

Update #2
And so on, on inexorably, to 6 years and more. The car has now gone into semi-retirement, and only gets run once a week currently. It now stands next to a shiney new company car - against which it compares quite badly now. It's amazing how many more safety features even a run-of-the-mill modern car has compared with one going back just six years. It has but one air-bag. The new one has umpteen, plus ABS and self tightening seat belts and so on. But to the Rover's credit it starts first time every time, and still gets me there in relative comfort and economy.

Final Word
Finally, after 6 years and 8 months, the Rover has gone. Ironically, after my claim above that it started first time very time, the moment I slapped a 'For Sale' sign on it, it wouldn't start. I went off and bought a battery. Nope, that wasn't it. A new starter motor cured it, but that was a hundred quid down the drain. And do you know what? After all my moaning I was very sad to see it go. Okay, it was dull. But it never let me down (until the very end) and after I'd prepared it for sale I stood back and saw a very nice, solid, clean and thoroughly practical car. I miss it already. Final mileage 64,000. Precisely 200 garage visits to refuel, final MPG was 40.6 - THE END.
At least I didn't have to scrap it!


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