IT TURNS OUT there was still some hair on the dog. The series of A4 mishaps reported in last month’s Topcar, after too much time spent in Audi Centre Cape Town’s waiting room, had a sting in the tail. The amber engine warning light burning in the dash when I last exited the service centre signalled a real fault, confirmed by the techs when I took the car in for a quick scoping check. The computer pointed to one of three things wrong with the throttle body, but the promise of another two to three days with the car out of action elicited a groan.
I found a quick gap on a Monday afternoon to drop the car off for another bout of surgery and to my surprise it was ready for collection by 10am the next day. The problem was described as a dud throttle actuator module, with the offending unit duly replaced and sent off to the warranty claims people for a thorough check.
So I’m back in a newly cleaned car, perfect except for what seems to be a nagging roughness in the gearchanges that wasn’t there before. Perhaps post-op paranioa, but what is clearly evident are a set of scratches on the previously pristine boot sill protector, probably the result of overenthusiastic dumping of spare parts and tyre replacing during last month’s fixit sessions. Annoying.
But a day or two later and with imagination running less rife and yet another trouble-free tankful of 50ppm diesel through the system, it all seems perfectly hunky-dory and back to normal. Wayne took the car for a quick spin to the airport and reported how smooth he still finds the six-speed gearbox, so no fault there, and his grin on return was also testimony to how smooth a cruiser the 3.0 TDI remains on almost any section of tar.
A quick follow-up call from Audi Centre Cape Town’s service manager Darryl Robertson was beyond the call of duty, and I gave his team the thumbs-up for service. Fault located, fixed in record time, no problem. Just as you’d expect from a car brand that has to trade on backing up its quality image.
YOU KNOW THOSE ‘shaggy dog’ stories, the ones that go on and on, usually with a lame punchline. Well, this month the joke’s been on the A4, and I have virtually taken up residence at Audi Centre Cape Town. At least their coffee’s not bad.
It started with a grinding noise from the brakes and a rattle from the left rear, which sounded like a loose exhaust. It all developed after a weekend away at a favourite West Cost surf spot, which had included two stretches of dirt road. I figured it would get sorted at the 15 000km service which the on-board computer kept reminded me of.
So on a Thursday early in September I booked it in with the very pleasant Bronwyn, who needed a VIN number to get all the facts right, and she offered me a slot the following Tuesday. ‘In before 8.00am,’ she warned. Quite doable, and after booking in with service manager Zukile Mazaleni I opted to walk back to our nearby offices to enjoy the spring air rather than take the proferred ride.
I collected at 2pm as promised, all clean and dandy, with a bill for R897,04. Half an hour’s labour (R223), 6.9 litres of oil (R469.20), an oil filter and washer (R187,64), and those mystery consumables (R17.20). Pretty steep for an oil change, because that’s all it was, as on the drive home the grinding and rattle were still much in evidence.
Back it was the next day, this time with technician Ashley in the passenger seat to help pinpoint the noise. Apparently two other technicians had taken a ride on the highway the previous day and failed to hear anything. Maybe something to do with the B&O sound system and three litres of TDI. A few bumps over the Bo Kaap cobblestones and he had it narrowed down to two things. Back in the workshop, Ashley opened the boot, whipped off the left-hand cover, discovered the amplifier behind there was loose on its mounting and tightened it in a trice with a 10mm spanner. Easy.
The squealing brakes were a longer story. The standard service check found them within factory spec, so the dealer is not compensated if they are replaced. My problem was clearly not an isolated one, and the cost-to-dealer fix is to strip them out, chamfer the edges and regroove the face to better disperse accumulated brake dust, then refit – an hour’s labour. Policy is understandably to do it only when essential, so I’ll live with the occasional grinding noise. Others might not.
The next event was entirely my fault. Returning home that Wednesday night after a late airport collection saga I managed to bash the left rear tyre into a brick sitting mid-track on a bumpy section of a local road. The loud pop and sinking feeling were absolutely diagnostic. Idiot whipped out fast expecting helpers from Midnight Spares anytime soon, hauled the quite complicated changing kit out of the boot (including a special non-stealable bolt head) and laced up the skinny space saver in record time.
Back at Audi Centre the next day (having kicked the brick out of the road where it was still sitting the next morning) service manager Hennie Kriel took charge of the destroyed wheel, which included a laceration in the sidewall of the Pirelli 245/40 R18 and a dent on the inner surface of the alloy rim. Dollar signs flashed when Tiger Wheel and Tyre quoted nigh on R4000 for the tyre which would take three days to freight from Johannesburg while the Mag Workshop in Paarden Eiland got on with repairing the rim. I limped home at 80kph cursing my stupidity.
Then on Monday morning, after grounding the car for three days and taking a slow dawdle back to town on the school commute, the fluid warning light came on, urging me to switch off the engine immediately. I stopped at the first garage, filled the nigh empty coolant reservoir, unloaded the progeny, and two kilometres down the road the light came on again. The next fill-up sluiced over an Engen forecourt. Audi’s 24-hour Roadside Assistance was easily raised via a sharecall number, the problem diagnosed as a faulty water pump by an on-line technician. 911 Roadside Assistance was roped in, and after a ping-pong of twenty or so calls (Mondays are particularly busy, it seems), the truck arrived by 11am. The sickly A4 was hauled onto the flatbed by Ashfaaq, and we headed back to my new favourite spot, Audi Centre Cape Town. Another job card was made out by ou maat Zukile, and by midday I was back at my desk.
It’s worrying that a major fault has emerged at 15 800km, especially from that seemingly unburstable 3.0-litre TDI in a car that hasn’t given a smidgen of trouble to date. Luckily I was away for a day or two, though Zukile tells me the dealer has five pool cars for customers in for longer repair stints, and an on-call shuttle service for those 2-3 day jobs. I was kept up to date, polled daily by a customer service agent, and on Thursday got a call from Zukile saying the final testing was being done. By midday on Friday the A4 was ready for collection.
All’s in order. The rim looks brilliant, a worrying touch of kerb scuff nicely buffed, and though I can’t see the inside it should be good at R752,40. TW&T fitted a new Pirelli 245/40 R18 at R3742 including VAT. Total: R4494.40. If Audi had done the work for me as a private customer, a 30% mark-up is attached.
The leaking coolant? Just as the initially diagnosed, a dud water pump. Replaced with a new part, invoiced for R1204.62, with R1115 in labour (2.5 hours) and three units of coolant (R132.27), for a total bill of R2541.09.
Over the course of two weeks, the A4 would have cost a handsome R7932.53 in service, a stupid mistake and an unscheduled breakdown. Thank heavens for Audi’s Freeway Plan.
But then, as I drove out the Waterfront service centre, I noticed the amber engine fault code was still glowing in the instrument binnacle. No! I didn’t dare turn back and ask Zukile to get it cleared post haste, but it’ll have to be attended to soon. Seems the shaggy dog still has some hair left on it.
WITH A LONG weekend at hand and a fourteenth wedding anniversary to celebrate, I booked a night at a hotel and spa outside town and suggested to my dearest that we start packing early. I learnt long ago that real ladies never travel light, even overnight. That same weekend, Angus Boswell was planning to venture beyond tar and I thought it would be great to get his take on the XC60’s more adventurous side. Besides, his quattro A4 would make a perfect express carriage for an extra-urban blast. So we agreed to swap vertically opposed, all-wheel drive diesels and respective long-term reports.
Thankfully our luggage proved no match for the generous boot, but getting into the A4’s low slung seats did require an adjustment. Granted it’s no Lotus, but my wife said, ‘compared to the Volvo it’s like lying in a hammock’. Once settled though, she found the cabin a comfortable and spacious place to read in. Quelling the urge to shout ‘road trip’, we left home accompanied by a well cushioned V6 diesel thrum. The lack of verbal interference gave me time to listen out for any creaks or groans from the A4’s 13 000km old dash. There wasn’t any – a pleasing reassurance of this Audi’s quality.
As for that engine, man does it pull. Approaching a busy circle, I spotted a gap early and timed the full right ankle extension to perfection. A moment’s hesitation for the gearbox to engage the appropriate warp drive and, like a space ship going inter-stellar, we streaked ahead. All good, except a circle is really just a bunch of corners strung together. What followed revealed certain elements of the car’s character. The level of grip provided by the 245/40 ZR18 Pirelli rubber and quattro chassis can only really be exceeded by suicidal idiots. Also the steering, though weighty at speed, isn’t quite as co-operative as you’d like. It’s slightly reluctant on turn-in and the hint of front-wheel drive corruption is ever present. That said, this Audi cannot be seen as anything other than a mightily competent sports sedan. The incident also reinforced the notion that my wife doesn’t care too much for these sorts of dynamic enquiries. So instead I plugged our iPod into the Aux jack and just relaxed.
Once out on the freeway, the A4’s high speed stability really shines through, in the way that only unrestricted autobahn honing can bring. It’s here where you enjoy the diesel’s broadband torque spread and lower cruising rpms. All too quickly, we’d arrived to find a bottle of iced champers waiting in the room. Nice!
After a lengthy breakfast, we decided the return leg should be via the scenic route. I turned the slipway at the end of Kleinmond’s Harbour Road into an impromptu photoshoot, before attempting to carve up the spectacular patch of tarred heaven between Rooi Els and Gordon’s Bay. Again foolishly forgetting to take my dearest’s more refined preferences into account. Will I ever learn? Probably not, especially with cars like Audi’s A4 3.0TDI quattro at my disposal.