Daily driving an appreciating, modern classic hot hatch seemed like such a good idea at the time. Some say there is a fine line between insanity and genius...12,000 miles later, Craig adds up all the bills and crunches the numbers. Images by Ben Midlane
Some of you might recall a column of mine from the final digital edition of RUSH, in which I foolishly convinced myself that purchasing an 18 year old modern classic - a French one at that - and daily driving it was somehow sensible.
As is usually the case when the ‘evil brain worm’ infects a mind and erases the capacity for better judgement, it all escalated quickly. My steed of the time, a Clio 200, was rapidly approaching the age where all the mechanical problems start to appear, the cost of the work was getting on for £2,500+ because I have car OCD and struggle to let minor things be. That amounted to 50% of the value of the car at the time. I was also becoming increasingly irritated by having to constantly dodge potholes on my commute to work.
The brain worm immediately burrowed into the section of my brain marked ‘man maths calculator’ and convinced me a Clio 182 was the answer to my frustrations, because I still wanted something fun to drive and cheap to run. Also, having owned one in the past, I knew it had a more forgiving ride than the 200. Despite sharing an engine and only having five forward gears compared to six, the lower weight of the 182 also meant it is significantly better on fuel, punching the first £80/month saving into said calculator.
Now the brain worm had gained its footing, it rapidly swelled to the size of something stalking the dunes of Arrakis, especially once fed its favourite enabler - a particularly tasty bottle of red wine. Rubber stamping the logic of buying an even older version of essentially the same car, because its previous owners will have already been through that period of mechanical and financial pain on my behalf, therefore became a formality.
Those fermented grapes also led me to the idea of a Trophy over a regular 182. Most are cherished and fetishised to within a micron of their paint lacquer by what must be said a fantastic community of owners. Being the last off the line, the limited run of 500 means any niggling problems with the model will have been ironed out after seven years in production…surely? Going for a Trophy also had the appeal of better financial security, due to that holy grail status propping up values.
This presented a slight problem of making the Trophy out of budget, but the brain worm finds a way and it didn’t take long before I was digitally signing on a dotted line to borrow the sum of £10,000. Madness? Not really, when you consider the APR was just 2.9%, meaning the total cost of borrowing the funds would come to give or take £700 pounds, and Trophy’s were appreciating by that amount every six months. The 200’s fate was sealed by the time the last drop of Shiraz passed my lips.
So, just over 15 months and 12,000 miles later, where do I stand? Am I a broken man? Do I have a broken car, or am I sitting here typing with a smug face? I suppose only a full and honest disclosure could answer that.
First up came an oil change, because that's the sensible thing to do whenever buying a new car, followed by a once-over. BTT Motorsport, a Renaultsport specialist based in Wigan, duly relieved me of the first £100 and congratulated me on buying a ‘very fit example’, having only flagged a leaking CV boot on the to do list, plus a rear brake disk in need of replacement (due to a poorly fitted pad causing uneven wear). Happy days.
I suffered one minor mechanical let-down when the windscreen wiper mechanism failed, necessitating a £55 outlay and 48 hrs off the road whilst I waited for a replacement, but otherwise, life was rosy. Then winter happened. It’s my own fault, but I foolishly ran the famous Sachs dampers for the duration of the season, it had been rather mild and I was just having too much fun. Sadly the combination of salt cycles and rutted roads went to work on the seals, meaning the rebuilt 18 months prior (at the cost of £800) dampers duly shat themselves and vomited precious reservoir fluid all over the wheel arch liners.
In my defence, the unavoidable Grand Canyon in the road was so severe it also managed to take out one of the Powerflex top mount inserts;
Thankfully Ian - the previous owner - in his wisdom saw fit to supply a set of backup 182 cup dampers and springs with the sale of the car. So one chilly morning on a helpful friend's driveway named Shilly, the dampers were fitted alongside new OEM top mounts, bump stops and damper socks. The damage came to about £140 in bits, followed by an alignment for £45. At the same time, I also (or rather Shilly) performed my first modification to the car, as I’d been itching to get the “John Foz” seat mounts fitted I’d purchased for £250, which lowered both the drivers and passenger Recaro by 25mm. They transformed the notoriously crap driving position and I drove home a happy bunny having re-connected with 196.
Not long after, the car was back up on axle stands at Shilly’s having new discs and pads all round, plus two new rear callipers. I chose the popular Brembo High Carbon discs at the front, with stupidly expensive OEM ones at the rear, because in Renault’s infinite wisdom they decided to combine the rear wheel bearings with the brake discs. Aftermarket options are known to cause issues with ABS sensors, so OEM it was. Luckily the Clio Trophy forum knows its onions, sourcing the OEM supplier on Autodoc, thus saving me a significant amount of money over ponying up at a dealership. Truth be told, the front axle didn’t really need doing but as the parts only came to £75, on they went. This lot drained the wallet of £422.32.
"Now the brain worm had gained its footing, it rapidly swelled to the size of something stalking the dunes of Arrakis, especially once fed its favourite enabler - a particularly tasty bottle of red wine"
In June came the big bill - the cambelt service, but as it was negotiated into the buying price of the car, the brain worm is telling me to ignore the £550 and scrub it off. What I cannot ignore however, is the cost of passing the annual MOT, which was scheduled at the same time. The handbrake had been getting increasingly weak, so both cables were replaced. You might recall the leaking CV boot? I decided it was high time to get that sorted, however in the meantime the offside driveshaft had cried enough. Both of them were duly replaced with Shaftec items. The rear brake line was looking worse for wear, so that was sorted and I also had the exhaust hangers switched to BTT adjustable ones in order to finally align the exhaust properly (a common 182 issue). Not including the bill for the cambelt, the outlay to pass the MOT was £902. Ouch.
Okay, I do need to confess that smuggled into that gut punch was the labour for fitting a Whiteline rear anti roll bar and some Eibach camber bolts for even better agility and handling - it was my birthday after all. The camber bolts were £22 and the roll bar cost £180 (on offer).
Two months of scorching sunshine, photography assignments and road trips followed. Then one morning at the end of August, the power steering failed on me as I turned into work’s car park. The culprit turned out to be a seized alternator. Not wanting to risk removing the belt and driving the car on the battery to BTT, I had them trailer the car back to have a replacement fitted from a breaker. Whilst in, I also had the Milltek non-resonated centre section swapped for a resonated one, as the car proved a little boomy on some of the road trips. So that’ll be £145 for the centre section, plus £352 for the recovery, alternator, and associated labour.
Remember that old adage about buy cheap, buy twice? Of course the second-hand alternator let me down, leaving me stranded in rush hour traffic the night Storm Babet hit. I know, I know, I should’ve spent the extra the first time but I was becoming tired of the mounting bills. BTT were good enough to recover me within 45 minutes of me sending them an SOS, even dropping me home after taking the car back to their unit and despite it being outside of normal working hours.
Instead of taking stock and assessing whether my experiment failed and moving the car on, I started missing the car. Of course, the brain worm decided this was the optimum moment for another oil service, fresh spark plugs, new brake fluid and a coolant flush. The alternator was a brand spanker this time, and to play it safe, a new Bosch battery went on too. The damage, including recovery, came to £611.
That comes to a (several) grand total of £3,774.32. In 15 months I’ve paid £2.650 off the loan. A quick-fire calculation puts the fuel cost at £3331.95 over the 12,000 miles at an indicated average of 27.4 mpg. Throw in tax and insurance and I’m looking at running costs of 89p per mile. And I still need to refurbish the Sachs dampers. If I’d have kept my old GR Yaris at £325/month, that would’ve cost me £4,875 in payments, and the mpg and residuals are very similar too.
But that is the cost to me personally and includes modifying the car. In an attempt to be fair to the little Frenchie, what if you didn’t use a loan, left the car alone and replaced the alternator with a new one the first time around? The figure drops to a far more palatable 59ppm. For balance, according to Fleet Manager a modern day equivalent, the Fiesta ST-3, would’ve cost 86ppm over the same mileage. I can also console myself with the reality that if I choose to sell it, I'll still collect around £9,000. As you can see, I’ve gone far beyond man maths here and fallen into the justification limbo that is quantum car mechanics.
So, after those sobering calculations, do I regret buying the car? I’d be lying if I said I didn’t often daydream about a mk7.5 Golf GTI as I sit in traffic with the dashboard vibrations drowning out my chosen podcast (thanks to the polybushes). But current inflated interest rates have put the VW out of reach. With all the conviction of a Chef suffering from denial on Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares, I can say my only regret is I wish I could've spent more of those 12,000 miles in the Forest of Bowland or blatting across the North Pennines.
Perhaps what I need is a two car solution. Something that’s comfortable but not a complete pudding to drive. Spacious but not too big to park on a terrace street. Economical but punchy. The magazine could really do with a proper photography car, and with plans to start a family on the horizon, its two birds nailed with one stone…What I need is a E91 BMW 330d touring. Or maybe a supercharged Audi S4 Avant. Oh no, it’s happening again, isn’t it?
Renault Clio 182 Trophy 15 month/12,000 mile accumulated running costs;
Servicing (x3 inc. cambelt), breakdown recovery, parts and labour £3,177.32
Self-inflicted costs (aka modifications) £597
Fuel (£1.64/litre baseline cost x 27.4 mpg) £3331.95
Insurance and VED £900
PPM - £0.89
Final note - I still want to improve the car by fitting the bigger brakes from the Clio 200/Megane and a Quaife LSD. I’d like some new tyres too. Yes, I know I need help. TDLR moral of the story, if you’re like me and like to tinker, just buy a regular 182 or 172 Cup, fit some coilovers and the other modifications. Or just buy a Golf GTI mk7.5 and live happily ever after.