Monday, June 14, 2010

Cars, the dreaded ITV and pit fear

The gaping ITV pits that you have to drive over - yes, I know the car can't fall in there but it's nerve-wracking all the same

ITV time (Inspeccion Tecnica de Vehiculos), or MOT for non-Spanish speakers, comes to all good cars at some point. It’s a time consuming but necessary part of owning a vehicle that’s over five years old. For worry-guts like me it’s a test of nerves. For others in a worse mental state, it’s time to sell the car and buy a brand new one again.

When I owned Beryl, my bright yellow, trusty and ugly Renault 4, who was already 18 when I bought her, I’d worry each year but only slightly whether she’d pass or not. But because Renault 4s were pure mechanics, no electronics, just metal and cables, not much would go wrong and if it did it was dead easy and dirt cheap to fix.

Taking Beryl to have her ITV was a pleasure. She’d be much admired by the ITV boys for the relic that she was and treated with awe and reverence. She was a star and given VIP treatment. But as she went from old to almost vintage Beryl became unstable (please, no comparisons with middle-aged women) and lost her brakes one time too often. I sold her and bought a safer, brand new Peugeot 106, all singing and dancing, it even had air-con and a radio although no character or quirky bits and I became just one more silver dash on the roads.

Loretta, as we called her on account of the foul smelling trail she left (possibly something to do with the combustion?), which rhymes with pedoretta – a made up family word for the foul smelling trail that some people leave behind them, especially after eating beans - behaved reasonably well and passed most ITVs. But she was just one of the crowd. No special treatment and each year I’d worry a bit more about passing. Not passing meant spending lots of dosh at the garage and returning for another test.

But ITVs evolved. On the bright side, you no longer had to sit for hours in a humungous queue but rang for an appointment, making it a faster event that no longer required taking a good book and a picnic. On the dark side, you had to drive your vehicle over an open pit with a man in it who would indecently poke and prod your car’s undercarriage while you accelerated and braked above him, trying to guess what he was looking for. A friend of mine compared it with a visit to the gynaecologist.

After 10 years Loretta died. While parked she was backed into by some kind driver who didn’t leave their details. The experience shifted her radiator and the repair was going to cost more than she was worth. She was towed away to the scrap yard. This time without the emotional wrench and tears we shed when Beryl left us.

Perhaps it mattered less because as tired and worn Loretta was towed off, Poppy sat gleaming and gloating, like a younger, more beautiful lover, outside our front gate. Her former owner had called her Poppy, on account of her bright red colour, so we kept the name.

Last week Poppy was called up for her first MOT. She’s a bit racy, a special edition Polo which I’d been lucky to pick up for a good price but I felt that her flashiness could weigh against me, and no extra consideration given by the MOT lads. This fact together with my nervousness about driving over THE PIT meant that this time I enrolled the reluctant moral support of Minimama and took her with me to hold my hand under the guise that she should see how this was done now that she is a driver.

She saw through me straight away. We arrived at lunchtime. We knew it was lunchtime because in 20 minutes they called out just two number plates. After 20 minutes it became like Bingo gone mad with numbers being garbled out at such speed that we were all dashing from the cool shade of the trees back into our sweaty vehicles to race from the car park to the line we’d been designated before we lost our slot.

The Number Seven line chap waved me into the hangar towards the dreaded pit. He looked relieved to find out I spoke Spanish (un point in my favour). We began the usual ritual – windscreen wipers, left indicator, right indicator (no Señora, left is the other one…) headlights, fog lights (err, que? Ah, those – nervous giggle – sorry, I’ve never used them before). I think he was beginning to see what he was up against. My daughter certainly was. She squirmed down a little more in the passenger seat hoping no one was going to see her. Then I confessed, much to my daughter’s disgust, my pit fear. Don’t worry, Señora, he said making me feel the twit I am, I will steer you in while you slowly accelerate. Minimama rolled her eyes. It sounded a bit too intimate but I was willing to do whatever to avoid having to drive over The Pit on my own. And so he did – steer the car through my open window while I, oh so gently, pressed the accelerator and Cookie on my right kept saying – oh come on Mum a bit faster than that.

With The Pit done we bounced, joggled, tossed and bumped through the rest of the test before moving aside to await the verdict. Would we, wouldn’t we? Oh joy, minutes later ‘my’ man was walking towards me with a red ITV sticker in his hand. We’d passed. I was so relieved that after having thanked him far too many times and almost kissing him on both cheeks, I drove out of the exit and turned the wrong way down the one-way street. No doubt, if he was watching, it would have confirmed what he’d been thinking. Nothing wrong with the car, it’s the owner who should be tested.

Weather today: A tad overcast with showers promised this afternoon. Not quite the usual weather for this time of year. High 24ºC/75ºF, low 16ºC/61ºF. West North West breeze 16 km/h. Pressure 982mb and stable. Relative humidity 66%. UV Index 7.