Design defect

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In the rather Arctic weather which much of England experienced over the Christmas and New Year break, a design or layout defect again came to my notice, as they say, when driving the otherwise dependable Ford Sierra about which I pontificated briefly last month — the same odd bit of poor design that had delayed me and made driving hazardous in the other severe winter two years ago. It is the surprising matter of the Sierra’s screen-washer fluid container being located below the off-side front wing instead of in the hot under-bonnet air.

So you drive off into (admittedly) abnormal freezing conditions, the car properly serviced with anti-freeze in this “washerbottle” and the squirts soon fail to operate. When this first came to envelop me, I drove carefully to a Ford dealer, aware of the perils of negotiating the M40 with the windscreen obscured by mud and salt thrown up by vehicles ahead. A somewhat protracted and costly thawing-out process was very obligingly put in hand. A few miles along the road the fresh anti-freeze in that ridiculously-placed ‘bottle” was once more a solid block of ice.

I had a horrid drive to my destination and, after that 1991 Christmas, sought out another Ford dealer, hoping for a cure before my long run home. No go! He knew of the problem but said that, unless they could obtain anti-freeze able to withstand very low near-Arctic temperatures, Sierra drivers were, if not exactly doomed, very inconvenienced, and presumably illegal. I compromised by borrowing a greenhouse spray and trying to get it to deliver anti-freeze onto the screen via the driver’s open window — try that on a motorway without slowing to a crawl.

This year it all happened again, as it did to a friend’s Ford. I had topped up the container with anti-freeze and I wasn’t pleased! At Stow-on-the-Wold it was possible to park in the thin sunshine and invest in some BP anti-freeze, labelled as effective down to minus-15 deg C. The Ford was parked in the open over Christmas but the trouble did not return. So good marks to BP, perhaps? But bad marks to whoever decided that, large as it has to be to supply both the screen, rear wiper and the Ford’s headlamp-wipers, this vital fluidholder should hang in the breeze when there is all that lovely free heat in the engine compartment… It would be interesting to hear if other Sierra users have the same complaint and what they do about it… After all, Christmas 1994 may be even bleaker.

Actually, I am sorry to thus criticise a car, which, as I have conveyed previously, has like its forebears I have driven, been 100% dependable and the equipment of which is complete and commendable. It has been a great boon during this hard winter to know that the 2-litre twin-cam engine will start immediately, even after the car has been outside for a couple of days and nights, and that very soon the heated screen and rear window will be clear of ice and the Ford ready to take the road, after perhaps a little scraping of the side windows — until the washers refuse to work! I might also have praised the commendably small turning circle of this 4WD car and the fact that you do not need to ride in a Rolls-Royce to be warned by fascia warning lights that it is freezing without; which presumably calls for more care in the Royce than in the more nimble 4WD, ABS-braked Ford. In fact, the Sierra’s graphic information module has a red light to show that temperature is deg C or below, a yellow one if it is 4 to minus-1 deg C and I have just discovered that a button on the clock can be used to call up external temperature. But the readings have been casual (coming on on a summer’s day, for instance) and I would swap them willingly for heated washer-fluid.

The 1990 Ford, in general? Coming up to 33,000 miles (not high, but just think of the troubles reported on many new cars in the weekly motor magazines) with no problems apart from a jammed rear door-lock, which left a courtesy light on all night and exhausted the battery. (Why is it that side-lamps do not do this, but the courtesy one does?) National Breakdown Club were out quickly with jump-leads and the original Motorcraft Superstart battery is now back on form. A recent check showed 30.8mpg of unleaded fuel when fog held speed down a trifle — not bad for a 130bhp, 119 mph, 0-60 in 10 sec car, surely? Now Mondeo replaces Sierra, I hope with revised washers!

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