£250 car update: Recycled Home-Made Cupholders

I made these cup holders by recycling some cylindrical containers (they used to have Timmy’s Pro Fibre supplement in), which I painted gold:

Johnstone's metal paint gold car invoke delight and inspire

home made cup holders part way through being painted invoke delight and inspire
Home made cup holders part-way through being painted.
home made cup holders part way through being painted invoke delight and inspire
Waiting for them to dry.

Once they’re finished I’m going to drill holes in the plastic around the dashboard and screw them to it with small screws. No car should be without cupholders in this day and age, and mine has literally none!

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£250 Car Update

So, remember how a few days ago I bought a car for £250? Yeah well I promptly fell in love with the little rascal and of course it’s got a lot of problems. Here’s what’s happened this week so far:

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Update Monday:

Biggest thing it needed was a new fuel tank. My usual garage was fully booked, so I took it to a Big Chain. BIG MISTAKE. They’ve had my car since Thursday, I even phoned ahead and told them exactly what was wrong with my car before I took it to them, because I only wanted to drive it once to get the fuel leak fixed. Well they basically wasted three days umm-ing and ah-ing and they kept telling me they’d call back within half an hour, and every time I phoned an hour after they said they’d call (every time, literally about 6 phone calls over 4 days, I paid for every one because they couldn’t be bothered to call me), a different person stated the bloody obvious – that my car needed a fuel tank. I was like, hello? I told you that on WEDNESDAY EVENING when I phoned ahead to make sure you could fix my car, because it didn’t say anywhere on their website that they could do this job and I wanted to check I wasn’t wasting my time before I brought it in. I could have taken my car to a different place and had it repaired by now. I’m still waiting for them to even give me a quote on a fuel tank, and all this time, they’ve had my car (and they’re baffled on the steering)!

Their excuse on Thursday was that it was the end of the day (they’d had it 4 hours by then), their excuse on Friday was they were short staffed. On Saturday, they couldn’t get a price from the dealer (didn’t they know that on Friday? Because on Friday they promised they’d have a quote on Saturday). They were closed on Sunday. Now it’s Monday. At 7:30am I managed to get hold of Fiat and get a quote on a Seicento petrol tank. It’s a shocking £550 for replacement fuel tank and lines from Fiat. That will have a £250-ish service charge added by the garage. I’m still waiting for Big Chain Garage to do what they said they’d do by Thursday and get back to me about this.

I’m pretty sure they’re not really this disorganized.

You know why I think they’re messing me around? It’s an old car. They don’t like fixing old cars. Old cars get bumped to bottom of the list of priorities, because they think they can’t make as much money out of you as they think they can make out of a newer car owner. Garages literally decide how much you can afford to pay based on your car. Sometimes, as an old car owner, they’ll quote you a crazy high price to make you go away. I’m pretty sure that’s what they’re going to do next with my Seicento.

I’ve been on the other side of this when I had a top of the range VW Golf. Every service at Evans Halshaw (had to have them to keep the warranty valid) came back with £500 of fake repairs. Every time. Of course, joke’s on them because it caused me to get rid of the car, and now that I don’t have a warranty with them, I’d never buy another car from them or their affiliates, and I’d never take out a warranty with a national car chain ever again.

I’ve been up all night stressing about this damn problem – I have to go to Oxford University on Thursday for a conference and I don’t even know if my car will be back from the garage by then. Of course, if I’d known my car wouldn’t be functioning (and there was no reason for this situation, it’s a couple of hours to change a fuel tank, I’d do it myself if I didn’t have three huge projects due next week that I need to finish early due to that conference), I would have bought train tickets. But now tickets cost £100 instead of £40 because it’s less than 7 days before I need to travel. If Big Chain Garage hadn’t messed me around, I could have taken the car to somewhere else, got it fixed, or I could have drained the fuel tank, kept the car on the drive while I waited to take it to somewhere else and bought train tickets. Instead, my petrol’s pouring onto their forecourt (CLEARLY not safe) and I’m STILL without a car.

They’re ticking quite a few boxes on this dodgy garage checklist already.

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Monday afternoon:

Long story short they told me they couldn’t get a petrol tank (lies; I phoned the parts place and they had one, it was just ludicrously expensive. I think Big Chain just really didn’t want to work on my elderly car), then refused to let me have my car back (it was “unsafe” for me to drive it, but they were happy for “some guy they knew, who could fix my car” to collect it without telling me who or where), so I ended up conning them out of my own car by turning up and telling them I was taking it somewhere for someone. It was disturbingly easy to steal my own car; security is distinctly lacking. Poor car.

The lack-of-power-steering problem that Big Chain Garage couldn’t find in 4 days? They told me they thought the power steering unit had been removed. I was certain it never had one, Seicentos have electric steering assistance rather than true power steering (but what do I know? I only read the owner’s manual and checked online for Seicento power steering issues, after all). When I got the car back, I looked under the bonnet and saw, right beside the battery, a fuse or relay with a picture of a steering wheel on it. Well clearly that can’t be anything to do with my steering issue.

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Update Tuesday:

I got a petrol tank delivered by next day delivery from eBay and took it and my car to a garage this afternoon. I think my car may be at a Mafia chop shop. This place doesn’t even advertise that they do car repairs, they’re allegedly a car wash, but they will fit parts that you’ve supplied, so I hope they don’t wreck my car. I’ll find out in the morning as they’re keeping it overnight.

I did also ask them to look at the oil pressure switch for me, but I’m not sure if they will or not. The engine block is literally covered in oil, and more disturbingly, the engine says “Renault Clio” on it. My car is a Fiat Seicento. The usual little plaque in the car (telling me the VIN and engine number) isn’t where I expected, so I’m a bit unsure as to whether this car is legit or not. Good job it’s getting fixed at a garage that literally asked no questions.

Normally these are things I would check when buying a car, but this was a £250 car, a full £120 less than my previous cheapest ever car (that one got 10 miles down the motorway then the engine exploded. I don’t have high hopes of this car getting me to Oxford on Thursday), so I really don’t have any expectations.

Car still also needs new tyre on one side as the tyre wall is cracked. Acquiring cheap tyres is a bit hit or miss; sometimes car places will do them for free, sometimes they’ll charge you £80 per tyre. I don’t know how to tell between the repair places who will do the latter and those who will do the former. I’ll sort the tyre out when the car isn’t leaking petrol and oil.

This saga will continue, I’m sure.

I bought a car for £250.

Can you buy a £250 car
This car cost £250.

I bought a car for £250 from Auto Trader.
I wanted to know whether it was even possible to buy a car for that sort of price that would start and work (also, it fits the engine size requirements for the Mongol rally… or at least, it did before they revised them again. Fuck it, maybe I’ll drive the car to Mongolia without putting my name on an official list. ANARCHYYY!!!). It was being sold by a complete stranger. Getting a car for that price from a friend isn’t the same. Before I left home, I took out £30 insurance to cover 24 hours, ample time to get the car home, from where I could assess how bad this car was. Then I took a friend with me and we went on the bus (I don’t currently have a car) to inspect this car. There was literally one bus a day that went to where the car was for sale, so we took that one. If the car hadn’t been able to get us home again, we would have been in a pickle.

My friend helped me check that all the lights were working, then I took it for a test drive.
Reversing was almost impossible, because the steering was in serious disrepair, and it was worse at low speeds. The front door doesn’t close unless you reach around the door and push down the external handle while you close the door. It was too dark to really see any of the mechanical stuff so after verifying that it did, in fact, start and drive, I gave the former owners my £250 and took it off the premises.
The petrol light was on when I got the car, so my friend and I took it straight to the nearest petrol station and put £15 in the tank. I never fill the tank on a new car; I prefer to hedge my bets in case it breaks down halfway down the road (as happened a few years ago with a £399 car, which to date is the lowest amount of money I’d ever spent on a car, and it didn’t make it 10 miles away from the place I bought it before the oil pressure switch exploded).

Getting the car manouevred to the petrol pump was entertaining; some jackass had driven in through the exit and thought I in my crappy Seicento should get out of their way. Joke was on them because I was unwilling to reverse due to the steering issue. They literally waited, glaring at me, until I had fueled my car and I ended up driving around them to get my car out. Even with a steering issue, that Seicento had a very small turning circle; I was impressed. There were like five more cars behind me at that point and they were all facing the same direction as me, so jackass got boxed in by them pretty quickly. I circled the road around the petrol station to get to the air, as one of my tyres was virtually flat, but there was no way I could get to the air because of the angle and position of the air machine, so I gave up and went the 15 miles home without seeing to the tyre.

I dropped my friend off where she wanted to go, then I took my car home and parked it on the drive. I was so excited – I got my driveway re-designed in October and this is the first time I’ve gotten to park on it, as I haven’t had a car since June (the choice in October was fix the drive or buy a car). Then I slept and had a series of anxiety attacks as I’d run out of mental energy for anything. The next afternoon, in broad daylight, I decided to tackle the most urgent job: getting rid of the stickers that were obscuring the rear window. After ten minutes with a jug of boiling water, a scraping knife and a generous helping of Fairy liquid, I finished the stickers. The whole time I was doing that job, I could smell a very strong scent of petrol, so, after taking care of the flat tyre with my trusty footpump, I got down under the car.

I wish I’d taken a photo of the fuel tank (and the stickers on the back window), but I was too preoccupied trying to get the thing to a garage after I saw what was down there. The petrol tank was leaking like a sponge, and some genius previous owner had encased the tank in some sort of latex rubber. Everywhere that the latex had torn, the rust was fatal. This was a job for the professionals. I tried to stem the bleeding with some Leak Fix – that two-part putty that you mix together then cover over holes in the petrol tank after cleaning them up – to give me some temporary relief before I could get it to a garage, but there were too many holes.

I’ve tried to fix a petrol leak on a previous car, I got as far as removing the petrol tank from a donor car and discovering that the donor car’s tank was nearly as bad as the one on my car, before I had to admit defeat. I know the fuel system, how it works, etc, and I have never seen such a ridiculous kludge of a fix as the latex around the petrol tank of this £250 car. I don’t know who thought that was a good idea or why but I want to shake them, hard. And the previous owners must have known about that leak because I lost 1/8 of a tank of petrol overnight. The worst leak was right at the place where it goes into the fuel line (that carries petrol to the engine), so there’s no way you could miss that.
It’s been at a garage for over 24 hours now and I don’t have a quote on the petrol tank or steering repair yet.

I thought this could be an interesting project to keep everyone updated on: The car that cost less than my iPhone. And my iPhone was second hand. I’ll let you all know when I find out what’s happening with the car. Hey, if we can get it fixed up, maybe I’ll take it to Mongolia! Or something.

Review: Why you need to see The Grand Tour on Amazon Prime

I was left stunned after former Top Gear presenters, Clarkson Hammond and May’s new car show came out today. The first episode of their new show, called ‘The Grand Tour’ (I saw what you did with the title, Jeremy Clarkson), made its debut on Amazon Prime today. We took out a free trial of Prime (get yours here) to see how good it was.

Here’s the (spoiler free) as-it-happened review and commentary of my unfiltered but occasionally sarcastic thoughts on how this first episode of The Grand Tour went (and because I don’t work for a nameless TV show, I even mention the words ‘top’ and ‘gear’):

  • Couldn’t get Amazon Prime to work. Switched to Netflix and watched Luke Cage instead. Luke Cage is phenomenal. I think more people should be talking about Luke Cage, which I’m going to do in a future article once I’ve watched the whole season.
  • [An hour later] After dinner, my Dearest got Amazon Prime to work and put on The Grand Tour.
  • [Some minutes later] Intro was pretty low-key. Thought it could have done with some hot air balloons and kangaroos.
  • [Some minutes later] Not one iota of copyright infringement and still got more Top Gear than Top Gear.
  • [Some minutes later] Capitalizing on the online-only platform big time. Nice that they don’t have the same constraints that some other car show had on a TV network.
  • [Some minutes later] The lighting is fabulous.
  • [Some minutes later] The cars are at incredibly reasonable price-points. I don’t think you can get a higher-spec McLaren for that sort of money.
  • [Some minutes later] “This is a missionary position car…”
  • [Some minutes later] Captain Slow is driving a fast car.
  • [Some minutes later] …That was the weirdest drag race ever.
  • [Some minutes later] Loving the sheep by the racetrack. Good incentive not to veer off-course.
  • [Some minutes later] NotTheStig drove the car around a racetrack.
  • [Some minutes later] Maybe it wasn’t wise for three British blokes in a room full of Americans to say what they just said.
  • [Some minutes later] The star is not in a reasonably priced vehicle. This is highly irregular and further goes to show that this show is definitely not Top Gear.
  • [Maybe 30 seconds later] I think someone just died.
  • [Another minute at most] They seem to be having a spot of bother with their segment…
  • [Not long after] Oh good commentary on 2016! Nicely done.
  • [Some minutes later] The landscape shots…. oh wow they are to die for. The camerapeople have amazing camera skills. Visually everything about this show is stunning.
  • [Some minutes later] OhmyGod they just compared shoes…
  • [Some minutes later] Different NotTheStig drove cars. That was interesting.
  • [Some minutes later] “That was a sensible bet,” said nobody ever.
  • [After end credits] …That was bloody brilliant. Well worth spending the time on when I should have been writing two essays.
  • The time in question… Episode 1 was over an hour long. I believe it was 1 hour 11 minutes in total. That’s a lot of bang for your buck.

Final comments: I really liked The Grand Tour. I think this will be my new favourite car show. I particularly liked the presenters, the cars, the settings, the lighting, the humour, the international focus, the races and all the stunning visuals and incidental music. It’s better than any car show I have previously watched, and I have watched a lot of car shows because as you know, I am passionate about cars (I even owned one once or twice!!!!!).

What did you think? Have you seen The Grand Tour yet? Are you going to? I am so excited to see more of this show, I can’t wait!

This was Blackadder Village.
My first car, a Corsa, from my article about the village of Blackadder. Because this article needs a picture that I can use without copyright/trademark infringement, and I don’t own a McLaren so we’re going for pseudo-irony because it’s more fun than trying too hard with a pic of one of my better cars. Technical details: I took this with a disposable camera, fixed focus 35mm, celluloid film.

Amazon Prime Day, Rainbows + Bestseller Lists,

So the book I can’t tell you about on here has now made it (quite a long way) into the Amazon Top 100 Bestseller List for a third week!! SQUEE I WROTE A GODDAMN BESTSELLER, BITCHES!! (…and my in-laws and assorted relatives still think I’m an unemployed layabout loser working occasional days as a substitute teacher. And I can’t tell them otherwise. They probably wouldn’t believe me if I did. It’s like being a superhero only my secret power is NSFW).

Oh and in case you’re wondering, the money doesn’t get good until you hit the top 5, so no, I’m still poor. This person had a #1 bestseller and still didn’t make anything. And I’m sure some sanctimonious middle class person will try to say “but that’s not why you should write” because you *should* write to be poor (which is fine if you’ve never had to choose between eating or paying rent I suppose), to be unappreciated (which is fine if you believe you’re Van Gogh or something), to be ignored (see prev. re: Van Gogh), because that’s the stereotype we imagine for writers and what we tell ourselves to feel better about the fact that some people are spending 16 hours a day, 6 or 7 days a week doing something they actually want to do (yes, I actually do, come hypomania or depression, I work very hard and some days I only write 50 words but it’s 50 more than I had the day before, other days what I write makes no sense, but that’s okay because it clears my brain out, it’s like scraping the gloop out of the sink so you can wash dishes in it, instead of letting that gloop touch your crockery). Like we imagine that all the pretty people are dumb and all ugly people have hidden depths, instead of seeing that some pretty people are clever and some ugly people are very shallow. I will never stop appreciating being able to write. So I will look forward to writing being my full time income one day but obviously, the money I’ll get in several months’ time (bookstores pay s-l-o-w-l-y) is a LOT better than nothing and while it isn’t going to pay all my bills that month, it at least goes a long way towards it and therefore validates my Goddamn life choices. And I didn’t even have to take my clothes off this time.* 😛

*I am neither confirming nor denying having done this in the past although I do feel it’s high time my cat** wrote a guest post because it would make interesting reading.

**I don’t have a cat. That’s sort of the point.

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And apparently every year Amazon has some special deals that are only available to Prime subscribers. This year, that’s happening on July 12th. From today up to July 12th, Amazon has loads of special pre-prime day deals to get you in the mood (or something).

My personal opinion? Signing up for a free 30 day trial of Amazon Prime, including free shipping and loads of TV shows, makes a lot of sense if you want to do some bargainous shopping. This is a very good month to try Amazon Prime for free, just remember (if you don’t intend to keep it) to cancel before the month is up, and sit back and reap the rewards.

I had Amazon Prime for about a year but I cancelled it in favor of Netflix because they didn’t have such a good range of TV shows. I think I’d consider it again now that the Clarkson Hammond and May show (formerly Top Gear) is on there. Also did you hear about the BBC’s so-called “Top Gear” that they’ve been trying to flog as a replacement to the (not-quite-original but definitely best) Clarkson version? Chris Evans, the show’s main host, and seasoned TV presenting veteran, has just quit. They’re flogging a dead horse, and I’ve been saying since Clarkson got sacked, that nobody in their right mind would sign up to take the place of Clarkson Hammond and May, the audience for that show is too pre-prejudiced against change. They’d have been better off doing a total re-format, since Clarkson invented most of the stuff they did on there anyway. Those of you who know me in person know how much I appreciate Jeremy Clarkson’s contributions to journalism (oh God, the way he can get you from the opening sentence, I wish I could do that), he literally invented new ways to write/talk about cars, and no-one can really replace that. But you can watch Jeremy Clarkson, James May and Richard Hammond messing around in cars IN OCTOBER on Amazon Prime with the 30 day trial in the UK; the BBC was really shitty about copyrights on all the stuff Clarkson came up with while he worked for them, so Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May have renamed their new car show “Grand Tour.” I wish I was eligible for another free trial of Amazon Prime now 😦

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Also, this rainbow wig is legit gorgeous I wish I could afford it, its so beautiful, and I wanted to show you all, but WordPress doesn’t allow image links from Amazon. Last time I accidentally pasted the wrong link onto a WordPress post, WordPress actually shut this blog down within seconds, not giving me a chance to fix the problem, and I had to email them 5 or 6 times over 2 days to get them to understand that it was an honest mistake. I totally don’t get the weird and wonderful policies that various blogging sites have regarding their smallprint. I think now I have my own domain I’m allowed to do more advertising, but I look at some of the sites that have come up in reader over the past few months, wall-to-wall advertising, and I simply want to vomit in disgust. The whole marketing model is messed up if they make money from that shit. It’s like those trees falling in the woods and concussing bears who are trying to take a dump.

Review: We Buy Any Car (why I chose to sell privately despite being out of time)

This is a review of We Buy Any Car, discussing why I sold one car privately and scrapped the other car after trying to use We Buy Any Car.

I am writing this on my website because We Buy Any Car has fiddled it so that you have to post an invoice number to review them on Trustpilot (the allegedly trustworthy review site). Of course the problem with that is that only the people who will actually agree that the service was OK enough for them to sell their car are people who will get an invoice number.

I absolutely wouldn’t mind them valuing cars at well below market value if they STARTED with the price they actually intend to pay you for your car when they quoted you online, and you had a clear and transparent decision to take or leave that price, but that’s not what they do, and that’s what I have an issue with.

Basically, We Buy Any Car is a car-buying website with aggressive advertising and tactics which claims to to buy your car regardless of the condition it is in. Obviously we all know they’re going to give you a price below market value, this review isn’t so much concerned with that as HOW they arrive at it and the lack of transparency, coupled with the fact they’re fiddling their reviews to make themselves look good. I tried to use them in 2014 and again last summer and both times I found their whole set-up to be absolutely shocking.

Firstly there’s the fact they claim they guarantee to honour the price they quoted, if the car is in the condition you say it is. Of course, when the guy actually inspects your car, he makes up a bunch of crap that’s allegedly wrong with your car that is untrue, so you can either accept a vastly lowered price (after being promised a quick and easy sale) or have to advertise your car privately.

My 2006 VW Golf was originally valued by We Buy Any Car at £1850. In late 2014, £1850 was about 60% of the market value of my car, but I wanted a quick sale so thought I’d take that. Despite being female I’m not an idiot when it comes to cars, and I knew full well that my car was worth over £2000 so £1850 was pretty much as low as I was prepared to go but I was lured in by their promises of a quick easy hassle free sale (all lies). When it came to it, We Buy Any Car weren’t actually worth the time of day because, despite claiming they won’t haggle over the price, they really, really were doing and it wasted half a day of my life plus the time online in the first place and the fact I had to wait a week to even get that far because they were fully booked. That’s a week I could have been selling my car. If I hadn’t been 100% confident in my self-defence abilities, I could easily have felt intimidated enough by the way they were treating me to accept their offer (they were being very intimidating with the way they spoke to me and were trying to make me feel like I didn’t know my own car).

An example of the things they found “wrong” with my VW Golf:

1. The man was sitting in my car on a blazing hot summer’s day, running my engine and wasting my petrol, so he could sit in front of my air conditioning for over 40 minutes and cover my driver seat in disgusting sweat, while someone on the phone was telling me that my car didn’t have air conditioning.

2. They found scratches and dents on the car that didn’t exist. For example, on the driver door they claimed there was a scratch when it was actually a smudge from the man’s own dirty fingers.

3. The “it’s time for a service” light was on. I had disclosed this. They said this meant the car had an imminent engine failure. It actually means that the car needed its annual service. The picture of the engine, of course, being the “engine failure” light, not the picture of the spanner. Despite the fact I had disclosed this, they decided to further reduce the price because of it.

4. They said my car hadn’t had a cam-belt change, despite the fact I was waving the receipt for it in their faces the entire time and it was also written into the service book for 80,000 miles (which is early on a Golf), having just hit 100,000 miles (hence the picture of the spanner).

5. They said I hadn’t disclosed the one piece of damage to the car, despite the fact that I’d printed out the form I’d filled in and could clearly prove that I had, in fact, disclosed that dent. Then they said that the dent meant the car needed a total respray and used it to further reduce the price.

They amended their quote to £1050, but because I stood my ground and argued with them for over half an hour, I got it up to £1675, proving how little confidence they really had in the “issues” they found with my car. I walked away from that “deal” and sold my car privately, so I don’t have an invoice number for We Buy Any Car, so I can’t add my review to Trustpilot. While measures like this are intended to prevent spammers and fake reviews, all it’s doing in the case of We Buy Any Car is skewing the reviews so that nobody gets to hear the bad stuff. I just reviewed my car insurance on Trustpilot and they didn’t want an invoice number (or other proof) for that. In the end, I got £2000 for my VW Golf from a private buyer via Gumtree, which produced a lot of time wasters but did get my car sold quickly. If I’d held out for full market value, I think I would have got it but I was in a hurry to get the car off my driveway so I could park my new one.

The second time I dealt with We Buy Any Car, they actually refused to buy my 2004 Citroen Xsara Picasso just before Christmas, no reason given. It didn’t start, didn’t work, but had a very clean interior and no damage to the outside. I got the £20 scrappage instead. So “We Buy Any Car” is also false advertising, and I now have 2 bad experiences with a company and no invoice number to write a review on Trustpilot.

The fact of the matter is, We Buy Any Car are misusing spam measures on online review sites to try and improve their poor image. Most of the customer experience takes place BEFORE you accept their offer to buy your car. I would bet that 50%, possibly more, of the customers of this company don’t actually complete the sale due to their shocking tactics. The beauty of this scam, then, is that you can either be ripped off for hundreds of pounds so you can write a review on an “independent” review site, and tell other people about your experience (not to mention giving We Buy Any Car more money when they resell your car to a dealer at profit) or, technically, you’re not a verifiable customer, because no money has changed hands.

The fact that Trust Pilot is complicit in enabling We Buy Any Car to mute legitimate reviewers casts doubt on the trustworthiness of its other reviews. Are they really representative of the customer experience?  Having an invoice number is no guarantee of legitimacy anyway – you can’t prove that companies are not just taking customers’ invoice numbers themselves and getting their staff to write glowing reviews, so requesting an invoice number is no guarantee of authentic reviews.

So the real questions are: Is Trust Pilot really that trustworthy as a review site? and, why does Trading Standards only intervene if you’ve bought something that’s not fit for purpose? They wouldn’t get involved even if you take the obviously dodgy deal being offered by companies such as We Buy Any Car? because you accepted the money after being browbeaten into it by their staff, to avoid having to start the whole car selling process again from scratch.

I think Trust Pilot need to make it harder for companies like this one to falsely skew their results when the rest of the internet will tell you how crap We Buy Any Car is, and I think the law needs to change so that companies like this have to operate in a more transparent way.

 

Why I’m Not Converting Another Citroen Xsara Picasso into a Car Camper

I really loved my Citroen Xsara Picasso as a campervan, especially because you can pretty much do anything to kit it out, and not worry about wrecking it. In December, the famously unreliable French mechanical engineering let me down when the Picasso’s gearbox and engine broke so I had to give it to the scrap merchant for £20, and I bought a Rover 75 because it was cheap. Some plans I’d had for this summer for the Picasso were to put vents in the sides (by drilling holes in the non-petrol side) and to fix the storage situation.

I want to talk today about why I did my car camper conversion the way I did it, why I will probably not buy another Citroen Xsara Picasso to camperify (it was great for what I wanted but it does have a lot of limitations) and I also want to go through some of the considerations you need to think about whilst planning your camper conversion.

When I bought the Citroen Xsara Picasso to convert back in 2014, nobody had done such a thing before and the only mentions of it on the internet were people joking about what a stupid idea it was. I feel proud that I started something that (it turns out) so many people are interested in doing, and I am glad that my posts about how I converted the Citroen Xsara Picasso and my review of the Picasso are helping other people achieve their dream of having a car camper. This did mean though that when I did mine, there was absolutely no information specific to the Citroen Xsara Picasso to give me any idea about how to go about converting it. I took inspiration and ideas mainly from Toyota Previa Delica Lucida conversions, obviously the Citroen Xsara Picasso is much smaller and there’s a limit on how much space 2 human beings (6’2″ and 5’6″ respectively) need. If you are 5’4″ or under, you can convert a Citroen Xsara Picasso and have acres of space because your clothes, shoes, sleeping area etc all take up less space. Even in the most practical Previa Delica Lucida conversion that I’d admired and used as guidance, the tallest occupant was 5’8″, so perhaps car camper conversion is a sport more suited to shortarses rather than longshanks.  We had great times in it, although in hindsight I think we would have had a better shot at a more complex conversion in a Previa Delica Lucida (a Toyota’s a Toyota).

The main stumbling block I came up against (I did everything myself) was we were just too tall for this vehicle to be our ideal camper conversion. Yes, you can fill the back of a Citroen Xsara Picasso with a wooden framed bed, a nice coloured fitted “kitchen” unit etc, but you won’t actually have enough headroom to use this stuff because human beings bend at the middle to sit up. I measured us. I need 83cm to be able to sit up in a vehicle, and my husband needed 91cm. Since my husband is 6 foot 2 inches tall, we needed that length to sleep in, so the Picasso was not long enough for us to add a kitchen unit at the back (so you can cook with the boot open) either. From a ventilation and safety point of view, there was absolutely no point in fitting a kitchen but again if you’re short or single you won’t have this problem, you can kitchen away.

Add to that, when you’re not actually camping (which is most of the time, unless you’re retired, in which case you probably aren’t going to convert a Picasso when you could drive one of those hulking great motorhomes at 20 miles an hour around the Derbyshire Dales), having a kitchen unit in a Picasso is generally stupid for most people. It adds weight and stops you from a) carrying people in your people carrier when you want to and b) using it as a van to transport large items.

The main thing I really loved about the Picasso was its sheer versatility. There was the time I gave a ride to three people with a sick cat they found on the street, who needed to get it to a vet’s across town. There was the time when my dad died 400 miles away and, because his sister has Narcissistic Personality Disorder and thought it was all about her, I had to clear his flat in the dark on a Bank Holiday (when all the van rental places were shut), and if I hadn’t had the Citroen Xsara Picasso I would not have been able to save my antique 1920s wardrobe (four foot wide, six foot long, two foot six inches deep) from my bedroom, the only thing my dad ever bought me; it would have been taken to landfill by the council instead (crammed it in on its side, filled it with mementos, photos etc that we salvaged). There were the (countless) times I needed to take garden waste to the tip, the time my husband decided to take 500 bricks off someone’s hands (thanks Freecycle), all the large pieces of wood we transported home for furniture projects, that all made the ability to have a completely empty loading area an absolute essential. To put it into perspective, last week we bought some new fence panels and had to walk home with them because the Rover 75 blatantly couldn’t fit them inside or on top. If we’d still had the Picasso, we could have either attached them to the roof with rope through the windows (put a big towel on your roof, nothing gets scratched) or crammed them into the back to get them home. If we’d put fixed furniture in the Picasso, its storage space and passenger capacity would have been more limited.

I’d like to add something about effort vs benefit because a lot of people lose sight of this when they’re spending 6 months to a year converting a vehicle (during which time they don’t go anywhere on holiday in it). Allowing for the possibility that there are people in the world small enough to fit in the vehicle afterwards, it still takes a lot of effort to build a bed/storage unit and a kitchen/storage unit because you have to custom size it all to the vehicle and it has to be safely attached somehow so you don’t kill everyone in the vehicle in a crash.  Unless you very specifically want that exact vehicle for many years to come, you are putting a lot of work into making custom camper furniture for a car that you probably won’t be cooking in very often, or storing camping equipment in, compared to the number of times you will drive it to work (in our case we had it for 15 months, August 2014 to November 2015, and used it for four different long-distance holidays, where we slept in it for more than two nights apiece. We would have used it for more trips but I was a bit preoccupied with my parents both dying last year). I decided that since we bought the Picasso as an experiment in the fusion between Bangernomics and Campernomics, and that it was only going to run to its next MOT, there was no point in going to that much expense, effort, and time, to do something to a vehicle that was going to be scrapped in a year. I did want to work out how to put air vents into it before I scrapped it, but I was very ill at the time, in and out of hospital, so that never happened (2015 was a shit year. But I did buy the plastic air vents from Homebase and find out how to do it, although there’s no schematics to confirm that I wouldn’t have drilled through a wire or something). I also wanted to put a roof rack on top, but when I tried to get one fitted on the day I had to clear my dad’s flat, Halfords kept me waiting for ages then said it was too late in the day and that I should come back tomorrow. The store was empty of customers the whole time. I got let down at a time when something terrible was happening, so I didn’t bother going back. I’ll spend my money elsewhere thanks.

Other important considerations are a) the law b) visibility c) weight distribution/fuel consumption and d) access to and from doors.
a) I have talked about international window tinting laws for driving around the world previously. They haven’t changed, and they do also apply to any obstructions to visibility. I drove my car camper to Rome and this year I’m going to drive (whatever vehicle I end up with by July) to Spain. For me, putting anything in the back of the Picasso that would affect visibility is a hard “no.” Additionally, there’s no point making a camper that sleeps more people than it seats with a seat belt. Where are these extra people going to come from? How are you all going to breathe?

b) Visibility. The positioning of those front driver pillars (and the fact that there’s two of them) is really stupid. The car looks lovely from the outside but from the inside? Really hard to see where you’re going. In the blazing sun in Italy, the reflection from the top of the dashboard made it virtually impossible to see out of the front window. The heat was over 40 degrees celsius and my car’s fans were blowing even hotter than the ambient air because my car was a scrapper. If I hadn’t been able to see clearly out of my back and side windows, I would have had an accident. That means the only place to put a fixed kitchen/storage unit would have been behind the driver’s seat (where I can’t see anyway) and it would have had to come no higher than the window for aforementioned legal reasons.

c)The petrol tank is on the driver’s side, then it goes under the vehicle on that same side. It takes 40 litres. If there’s a fixed heavy piece of furniture behind the driver, that’s another 10-30 kilograms of weight on the same side. An uneven load distribution, being driven around in the same place all the time, in addition to anyone or anything else you put in the car, is going to affect the car mechanically.

d) I wanted all the doors to be openable and to permit access to the vehicle. This meant I wasn’t limited about how/where I parked and there were two examples of this being invaluable: firstly, when I couldn’t stop vomiting on my first day in the Highlands in August 2015, I was *really* glad of this because I could just open the door, do my vomiting, close the door, without having to disturb my husband who was trying to get to sleep. Secondly, when we came across an unexpected nudist beach in Belgium, we were able to park the car and change into swimwear whilst avoiding getting our shoes in the back of the car by opening the door behind the driver seat.

Another thing to be aware of is cabin fever, especially on a long trip to Europe or further afield. You will want to be able to go to sleep with more than two inches between yourself and the person next to you.

I think when looking at converting a Citroen Xsara Picasso, or any other smaller vehicle, into a campervan, it’s important to keep perspective of the best possible function and use of the vehicle, rather than being able to go “ooh ooh look at me it looks like a real caravan inside I designed it to be popular on PINTEREST” (seriously, why do people do this) whilst compromising on the most important things in any vehicle you sleep in – bed length and comfort, privacy and safe air flow.

Things I didn’t like about the Citroen Xsara Picasso:
1. There’s nowhere to put a freaking drink on the driver’s side, and seemingly nowhere to attach a place to put a drink because every surface is curvy and “futuristic” (from the Picasso’s design vision in the late ’90s).

2. Ours was petrol. I liked the 1.6 litre engine, but I disliked the really tiny petrol tank that was NOT designed for long distance journeys, and I really disliked having nowhere (in the curvy futuristic exterior of the vehichle) to store a jerry can. Add to that, some countries don’t allow you to carry petrol but everywhere lets you take diesel. You don’t want to sleep in the vicinity of a petrol can (I’ve done this, it’s horrible) leaking fumes everywhere, so it has to go outside the vehicle, but there’s nowhere on the Picasso to put it. This means you’re forced to fill where you can, which means sometimes you’re pushing the car to the petrol pump, and always you have the knowledge that you didn’t get a good price on fuel.

3. The lights on the Picasso we had just never worked properly. By the time I scrapped it, one headlight would not even do a side light let alone anything else and the suspension was terrible. Yes, you can fix these things, but there’s only so many times you can get it “fixed” before you just want a different car.

4. The spare wheel being under the boot seems like a great idea but it reduces the ground clearance – which in general was not shockingly bad (not a lowrider) but wasn’t fantastic either.

5. The fans blowing air didn’t work at all and the temperature control didn’t work, so when the ambient temperature was hot, the car was hot, and when the ambient temperature was cold, the car was cold. You may remember cars of the 80’s often had this problem, and this might make you think “who cares?” but when it’s 40 degrees in Rome when you wake up and sub zero in the Alps when you go to sleep, it really is important to have some sort of controllable warm/cold air coming into the car.

6. The off road capabilities were less than impressive, the cruising speed was sub-par which especially pissed me off in Germany where I wanted to be going at over 90 mph and was stuck at 75, and the brakes were nowhere near as good as on the VW Golf.  Adding weight of a full-on camper conversion to make it look like a Citroen Romahome on the inside will ONLY make this worse.

I did a hell of a lot of research into a lot of different vehicles before I bought the Picasso, and it was the perfect car to get some experience of campering with.  If you’ve never converted a vehicle and you’re not tall and you don’t buy a £600 category-C write off, you’ll probably have many happy years in this.  As for me, I am hoping that this summer I can buy a Land Rover to convert, so I’ve got a vehicle that’s a) wide enough for actual luggage storage and b) has 4 wheel drive capacity for when we’re campervanning in the snow or end up off-road both of which happened in the Highlands and in Austria. I want to take it to the Sahara (amongst other places), after all, and a Picasso was never going to be appropriate for that.  I also like the fact the Landie has a flat roof with excellent potential for luggage storage.