Blue & White Van Man: Breakdown!

car mechanicsStan Potter suffers a catastrophic breakdown on the way back from his French home. Fortunately, he is not known as the Artful Bodger for nothing: After another busy couple of weeks at the house we set off to Eurotunnel. Everything was going fine until we got to Bressuire, about twenty miles towards our destination. Suddenly, and with no warning, there was a loud grinding and crunching noise and the van shuddered to a halt.

I managed to get the van into a parking space. Then we phoned our breakdown people and within the hour they had a transporter to us to load the van and take us back to the house. Next day I set about taking the gearbox out. I have never done this on this type of vehicle before so it is a very steep learning curve and I am finding that items must be removed in a specific order and in some cases I am taking bits off only to find I have to reassemble it to enable me to remove something else. Some parts have to be removed to allow access to other components. I will succeed! Eventually.

The next day I decided to hire a car to allow me to visit the local breakers’ yards. I went to the car mechanicslocal Supermarket and there hired a Fiat 500. Not a full road test but some thoughts. It is a pretty little car but I would not want one. Realistically it is a 2 seater as only a small child could sit behind two large adults in the front. As far as performance goes it is very disappointing because as a town car it needs rapid acceleration in lower gears to keep up with town traffic; but with this car not much happens up to 3000 rpm with only marginal improvement above. It may be this particular car as it was quite new with only 8000 kms on the clock. Maybe it will loosen up with more kilometres on the clock.

I went to six breakers armed with a page from the Citroen manual, so I had the definitive descriptions and part numbers in my possession. Only one said they could help with a part exchange reconditioned unit for €1400 (just over £1000). So I picked myself off the floor, said “non merci” and went back to the house where I ordered one from Ebay for £349.95 plus carriage. It is due for delivery in 3-5 days (at the time of working on the ‘box). Eventually I got the broken gearbox out and on the floor all I have to do now is wait for the replacement and fit it. This has been one of the most awkward gearbox changes I have done with the added pressure as I am over 500 miles from home and I need the van to do the trip mechanics


The gearbox finally arrived. The previous day, I had been contacted by the courier and told that my delivery would arrive between 10 and 12 the next morning. I live on UK time, which is one hour behind European time. (I watch a lot of English TV). Imagine my surprise when the delivery arrived at 7.15 French time 6.15 English. I was still asleep! I hastily threw on some clothes and took delivery. This gave me an opportunity for an early start.

The workshop manual tells you to remove the engine and gearbox in one lump by removing the front panelling of the vehicle and removing the assembly on a specially designed and very expensive special purpose cradle. I could not do this so I had to engage Artful Bodger Mode.
I disconnected the bottom of the nearside suspension and tied it out of the way. Then supporting the engine on a jack I removed the nearside engine mount and slackened the offside mount. This allowed me to tilt the engine and gearbox downwards. With all the bolts that held the gear box, starter motor and other ancillaries, pipes and wires removed and labelled to simplify re-installation, I could think about removing the mechanics

This gear box weighs in at 75kgs which is heavier than any other box I have changed. This meant I had to invent a different way of working. In the past I have been able to manoeuvre the box by hand but this was not possible in this instance, so I made a platform that fitted on my trolley jack. This allowed me to manoeuvre the awkward assembly fairly easily.

The box, ably assisted by its own weight, came out quite easily. I replaced the damaged unit with the “new” one on my trolley and jacked it up to align with the engine. This was made doubly difficult as the splines on the first motion shaft and the clutch plate had to line up at the same time as the offside drive shaft splines lined up with the differential. To do this I had to remove the cover from the 5th gear syncro so that I could rotate the gearbox internals to effect this mechanics

After some juggling the splines engaged and the gearbox slid into position. All I had to do now was to reattach everything I had removed, re-attach the suspension and connect the cooling pipes and the wiring. Most important of all the gearbox was filled with the recommended oil, in fact it was overfilled as this is something that is recommended by a lot of users of this vehicle. The box is supposed to be “Sealed for life” but that does not take into account operations such as I had just performed. In fact there is no level plug and the oil has to be introduced via the mechanics

It was with some trepidation that I lowered the van onto its wheels and tried to start it. No luck! I checked what I had done or not done and realised I had not connected the engine earth strap, a mistake worthy of a first year apprentice. With this connected the engine burst into life. Much Relief!!! The next thing was to see if the gear box actually worked so I set off for a test drive. It worked! So next day I loaded up the van and set off on the 531 mile journey home arriving safely at 3am the next morning. In the van I have the cylinder head of my Ferguson tractor. But that is another story.
Stan Potter