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MINI Cooper and Cooper S - How safe are our Classic Cars?

I thought I might share with you some of my concerns about the quality of spare parts that are currently being procured to support the continued use of classic cars in this country. Visiting many of the marque forums on the internet you quickly get a picture that all is not well with items supplied by British Classic Car Specialists and manufactured in the Far East. There is much consternation and frustration that parts now being supplied are not fit for purpose and whilst 'original equipment's' may have lasted years and decades, the poor quality items available today may only last weeks and months. In some instances the spare parts that can be considered 'safety critical', covering brakes, suspension and drive train are failing without warning and could in the wrong set of road circumstances could lead to some horrific accidents.

One example I will give you is the humble 'Brake Pressure Switch', an item that when the brake pedal is pressed operates the brake lights to signify to all following that you are slowing down. If you buy a new one today it may only last months as apposed to the years and decades of original equipment and you will not know of its failure until someone considerate tells you or your vehicle fails its MOT. These switches, formally made by Lucas, were fitted to most British and some European cars from the mid fifties through to the mid seventies and I estimate there are still some 50,000 classic cars still on the road that are using it so you can see how big this problem is!

I am a retired aviation quality engineer with 36 years experience in the supply of aircraft spares and the assurance of product safety and integrity. Now that I have time on my hands I enjoy my own classic cars and help others with theirs and it is through my hobby that I have begun to find this worrying trend with so many spare part failures. So much so that I have begun to collate the physical evidence that points poor management from our British Suppliers that leads them to the mercy of the Far East (China) and the shoddy goods that they are prepared to produce. Indeed, some of my evidence points to 'copy manufacturing' with a scant regard to the original products material specifications and or its intended safety related use.

I have tried lobbying the Federation of British Historic Vehicle Clubs (FBHVC) and the Parliamentary Committee that represents Historic Vehicles but neither has had the common courtesy to reply. I have had some success with the Classic Car Media and interest from some of the marque forums but their influence is limited. I am at a loss as to where to take this serious problem next and was wondering if anyone had had an interest in this subject and are in position of persuassion. It certainly needs someone to wake up those who can influence positive outcomes before their are fatalities involving classic cars.


Cappuccino Break    on 10 December 2015

Wow - fascinating post. Maybe it wasn't such a smart idea to ditch the MoT for classics after all...

Are there ANY safeguards in place to prevent this?

davybl    on 10 December 2015

The only safeguards in place are us the classic car owners. You have to be very wary of what you are fitting and treat everything with suspicion. Keep a watchful eye on things like front wheel bearings their useful life could just be a matter of months. The most common marques are all having the same problems and report wheel bearings prematurely wearing on the races, particularly taper roller.

I'm sorry to say that you cannot rely on the big name suppliers (I wont name them) which I suspect collude to procure large batches and sell on to the rest of the classic trade. In some instances they are (mini) being complict in their actions, continuing to sell when they know they have product issues and even re-ordering. It is clear to me from my investigations that they lack knowledge when contracting with the far east (China), they no longer have the honesty and expectancy of quality that they recieved from the original equipment manufactuers.

Its also foolish to think that we are buying cheap to run our cars. Most classic cars are a appreciating assests, who would knowingly want to fit poor quality parts to their pride and joy! Most prices are comparible across the marques and seem to me to be running on parallels with inflation. This is a good example, the Brake Pressure Switch (part no CA16062), starting price is around, £4+, for Minor Midget, Mini £5.14 and one mini trader charging £14+! Now here's the shocker these switches can be procured from China for 15/20p per minium order of 1000!

There are traders who can procure quality from China, the Dizzy Doctor for instance and there are possibly others. You see it can be done but obviously traders have a lot to learn in their negociating skills.

Cappuccino Break    on 10 December 2015

Utter, uttter madness. How come Trading Standards aren't all over this? Are the parts in mainstream circulation or usually available through ebay etc?

davybl    on 11 December 2015

It is difficult to bring trading standards into the equation at the moment. Within individual marques the purchasing of poor quality parts is sparodic and of course with a popular marque like mini its spread across many different traders. For example how many brake pressure switches are sold in a week across all domains, a dozen or so I would quess. Buyers are often frustrated too, experincing one failure they will turn to another trader only to be thwarted by another failure which in reality is spread out over weeks. Its not like a dodgy batch of chicken from a supermarket where masses are going down with food poisoning.

There is large scale complanecy and acceptance too across all marques, an underlying reluctance to do something about it. Some people are content to do work arounds, retro modifying, sourcing new old stock if you can find it. There is the old adage too that if you buy cheap you get rubbish. That is a complete misnomer in the quality world, if you manufacture something specific, market it then it must be fit for purpose. Acceptance of the problem has really sunk in, many now see it as a norm to be contstantly changing a wheel bearings, treating as a service part. Many of these parts fail without warning one day they work, the next they don't. I'm afraid its going to take some fatalities before they will take notice!

anglebox    on 10 December 2015

I've been on the receiving end of sub-standard parts plenty of times. One memorable moment was with a voltage regulator that was so badly made the internal points kept sticking together and causing the item to fail (and therefore the battery wouldn't charge). Probably would've been fine if I did 1000 miles a year, but this was my daily driver.

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