Saturday, July 4, 2015

Mercedes-Benz SLK 230 Kompressor - 2 Years On

It's been an interesting experience for me. In my youth I was always underneath my cars, always covered in oil, always taking wheels on and off, doing my own repairs and servicing. And then along came newer cars that didn't need such interventions and which needed stamps in the service book. And I got lazy, and cars got complex.

So I fell out of the habit of lying on painful concrete in all weathers trying to loosen recalcitrant bolts. But needs must, and I have no budget for running the Merc, so it's down to me again. Question is... after all this time, do I really want to do it any more?
There have been a few problems with the car, but nothing major to report. In the two years I've only done maybe 6,000 miles. But most of those miles have been with the top down, and the complicated and expensive to repair roof mechanism is working just fine. I have lubricated all the joints, and I'm keeping on top of hydraulic fluid levels, but it just works. When you think the car is 18 years old, it's quite remarkable.

It's passed 2 MOTs in my tenure now, with no advisories. Both years I did prepare, I had all the wheels off and made sure the suspension was nice and clean and rust free. The exhaust needed a couple of replacement brackets having rusted away, but there's no blowing and it sounds very sporty on the road. The engine I keep very clean and tidy, you could eat your dinner off it.

I recently cleaned the MAF, which is an easy job and has made the car run more smoothly - at least I think it hasm could be psychological! I've fitted a new alarm, buying what I understand to be the very last replacement unit in the country, sorry everyone else! I've had a go at stopping the corrosion on the alloys, whether my efforts succeed is debatable, we'll see. They really could do with refurbishing, but maybe another day.

Interior trim is an issue, both door cards need removing and refitting, a common problem apparently, the clips breaking off too easily. All the electrics are working fine, the transmission is good, cruise control works, no problems at all. Discovered that checking your transmission fluid levels is a work of art, involving buying a special dipstick and only measuring the level when the engine is good and hot and all gears have been used, bizarre faff it is too.

So, it all sounds good, doesn't it... I'll move on to the bad news. It leaks. I don't know how, but the roof drips water onto the front seats whatever steps I've taken to stop it. I now park up and leave two rags on the front seats (the one that gets it depends on the slope the car is on!) which stop the water getting under the seat. Little thing but annoying, and I've lubricated the seals and everything looks fine. Don't understand it.

And then there's the big problem, the paintwork. The previous owner clearly had an issue with the top lacquer coat, so he had it removed... well that's what he told me when I was viewing the car - but I just filtered this info out of our chat, as I was falling busy in love at the time. Turns out he had the lacquer coat partially removed from some panels - but not all. Two years on and I've got a two tone car. I can actually make it look great if I buff up the unprotected panels and apply a top coat of wax, but it only last a few weeks before the bad panels go bad again. So - it needs a respray. Outside my budget. I'll have to live with it!

I was quite lucky recently to notice an oil leak, which, it turned out, was coming from the crankshaft oil seal. It looked a little tricky removing all the drive belts and getting at the seal, so the car had its first trip to a garage, and it went well, cost £150 including new belts. I should really have done it myself, that is the idea with the car, keep costs low, but I chickened out.

So... what's it like to drive? An interesting question. Having had the car for two years, I have to admit I've spent more time 'interacting' with it in my drive rather than on the road! When I do drive it, it's normally with the top down, and I'm never in a hurry under those circumstances. So, the 195bhp has as yet remained fairly unused. I have to admit I drive my boring Focus diesel far more quickly. I have put my foot down on occasion, and it responds well, the auto box is smooth and changes at the right time, and you can get a real lick on. And those wide tyres (wider at the back than the front actually) give masses of grip. Maybe I should book a track day with it.

I've been on a few long journeys, and they've been great fun. The heater is fantastic, even in the depths of winter it's feasible to drive top down. Top up it's quite quiet, though I must admit the creaking and rattles from the roof when up are a bit annoying. I can't seem to find the source of the noise, I think it just is all of it, there's a lot of mechanism back there for the clever old roof.

So, what have I learned in two years? Well, looking at the odometer - the main thing would be, that I should be using it more!

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Windows Product Key Problem

I hate to sound like a grumpy old man, but yet again I have a beef, and I need to get something off my chest. Oh yes, I am cross. Who with? Well, equally Microsoft (not an unusual situation) - but probably more with Advent Computers, who, if you don't already know, are really PC World, or Currys, or Dixons... whoever.

So, just over two years ago I bought a nice Advent Desktop from PC World, which was bundled with a monitor and cost £700. My son used it as a games machine and I largely ignore it - which was a mistake. Anyway, he needed an upgrade (to a Chillblast as it turned out) and the plan was that I inherited the Advent, the spec of which was better than my own PC. But the very week before this swap, the Advent simply died. Not a peep out of it. Dead in the water.

I had the side off it and the fans all worked, the hard drive was spinning, but nothing happened on powering up, it wasn't even getting to the booting stage. So I decided it must need a new motherboard. Turned out to be quite cheap to source one, £35 on eBay for a brand new replacement. I successfully installed it in the case, and the PC was back working again.

The Advent was riddled with games and my son's stuff, so I decided to start again from ground zero, a complete re-install of Windows 8 from the disk image (my next mistake). Soon I was staring at a pristine fully working PC, and I was very happy.

BUT,Windows wanted activating. Now I knew that a motherboard swap would upset Windows, but I had been assured that a phone call to Microsoft would get me going again. So I rang them. They said that I needed the Windows Product Key for them to sort me out. I looked on the case, where down through the ages a sticker usually resides with the Key on. But no. Oh.

A bit of investigation revealed that apparently these days, with the coming of Windows 8, there is no sticker - and that the product key is burned into the BIOS of the motherboard. Ah. You mean my knackered motherboard that I can't access any more? Yes that one. Microsoft said, ask the manufacturer, they will know your Product Key from the serial number of your PC.

So I ring Advent. But NO, they didn't know my Product Key. They buy a big bunch of licences, but do not record individual Keys. WTF!? It'll be okay, they said, just tell Microsoft it was a repair. I rang Microsoft and told them that. They said, great, but we still need the Product Key. I rang Advent, oh dear, well we can't help, because we simply don't know your Product Key.

Their suggestion was that I took my (fixed) PC to PC World and pay them a minimum for £50 so they can, um, fix it. Or buy another copy of Windows 8. Terrific. (Particularly as Windows 8 is an abomination as we now know).

So, can I make a couple of recommendations to you? Unlike me, maybe you should go and write down the Product Key of any Windows operating system you may have recently got with your shiny new Windows 8 computer. Just in case. If you can't find it I think there is software that will discover it.

And (he said tetchily) maybe don't buy Advent computers, because (a) they don't seem to last very long before breaking, and (b) they don't seem to know what they're doing re licensing. I mean, surely it wouldn't be that hard for them to record the Key for each PC they sell. Here's an idea, they could use a computer to record the data.

Talking and emailing Advent is an interesting game, because you either talk to a techie who understands the problem but is powerless to do anything to help, or you talk to a non-techie who has no idea what you're talking about and therefore can't help you either. Hopeless.

Oh, and while we're at it, whoever thought up the idea of putting the Product Key into the motherboard...well - maybe a re-think is in order unless it is indeed a cunning plan to sell more licenses? If you're going to do that, why not stick a sticker on the motherboard? Come on.

So, this won't happen with the Chillblast I bought my kid, which came with a proper Windows 8 installation with a printed key and even a CD! And a 5 year warranty. They delivered exactly the PC I specified within a week, and it seems the dog's. It was admittedly easier to buy from PC World, but I think in hindsight it was a major mistake. The Chillblast is built from choice components, I now think the Advent was thrown together from the cheapest bits they could find, and the cheapest licensing deal they could get out of Microsoft. Which is only great if nothing goes wrong...