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Like a Volvo, I start predicting disaster long before it happens

How many things can possibly go wrong with a car?

26 April 2014

9:00 AM

26 April 2014

9:00 AM

The mechanic hooked the Volvo up to his special laptop. He had kindly offered to come to me in order to diagnose the different warning codes that were flashing on the dashboard. After about an hour, I asked him if he was sure he didn’t want a coffee.

‘No, I’m fine,’ he shouted from inside the car.

‘Is everything alright?’ I asked. Silence.

I knew there were a lot of warnings. I had counted about ten different messages on the dashboard from ‘Transmission Service Required!’ to ‘Engine Service Required!’ to the terrifyingly ambiguous ‘Immobiliser!’ which had been flashing for the past few weeks.

This was in addition to the usual running commentary. ‘Driver door open!’ it says, every time I get in or out. ‘Passenger door open! Right rear door open!’ it bleats whenever anyone else gets in.

It’s capacity to make an issue out of everything makes me feel that one of these days it is going to flash: ‘Your Hair Looks A Mess!’ or ‘No Make-up Again? Do You Seriously Think You Are Going To Meet A Man Looking Like That?’


In the end, Karl the mechanic shut the laptop and pronounced: ‘There were 72 warning codes on there.’

‘How can that be possible? Are there even 72 things that can go wrong with a car?’

But nothing had gone wrong. He had cleared all the warnings, and none of them had been real. The Volvo had been faking every single last one of them. Everything it was complaining about, from the transmission to the ABS ‘anti-skid’ facility, was absolutely fine.

The Volvo was just having a moment. Either that or its brains were fried. At the risk of turning into a motoring column, I have been told that there is a fault in the XC90 54 and 05 models which means that rain gets into the computer, allegedly. I know this because I was once parked in a London street and a builder, who was working on a house next to where my car was parked, stopped me as I was getting back into it and told me. He had an XC90 05 plate himself, you see, and he liked to have a good old chinwag about the pros and cons of it.

I thanked him and thought no more about it. But now I wonder whether my 72 warning codes might not be something to do with my car having ‘wet brain’. I told Karl my theory and he said he hadn’t heard of any such thing but would ring Volvo. He needed to contact them anyway because he had ordered a new wing mirror backing. The one they had sent him had, of course, been the wrong one.

He held it up now and it was woefully wrong, not even close to a match. The piece of plastic mirror backing we sought was a plain piece of black plastic but, so far as he could make out, no plain piece of black plastic existed in the Volvo catalogue of spares. You could only have shiny, colour-coded backing.

Karl said he would ask Volvo again but if they really didn’t have one, he would have to search the internet. And if he couldn’t find one secondhand, we would have to buy two shiny colour-coded backings for both mirrors to make them match, bringing the cost of the prang that cost me the mirror backing to a cool £500.

I gasped and my heart began to palpitate. ‘It’s so unfair!’ I blurted out, as Karl took an instinctive step backwards. ‘That prang only happened because I was being tailgated by a boy racer and now he’s cost me £500. This is typical. I don’t know how anyone manages to run a car anymore. I can’t afford for this to happen every time I break a wing mirror. I’m going to go bankrupt. Bankrupt!’ And a warning light saying ‘Bankrupt!’ started flashing in my brain as Karl retreated towards his van to make a swift exit.

And that’s when I realised. I’m like a Volvo. I start predicting disaster long before it happens. People call me oversensitive. Some say I catastrophise — some might even speculate that the rain has got into my on-board computer — but maybe I’m just trying to prevent bad things happening.

Perhaps my panic is a little premature at times, but I’m only warning about things I know will happen eventually, at some point down the line.

As such, on any given day there are countless hysterical messages flashing up on my dashboard. ‘Green Belt Disappearing! HS2 Ruining Everything! Refill Bank Account! Hair Cut Required! Forgot To Have Babies! Overweight! Husband Required! On The Skids!’

I just wish that, every now and again, I could hook my brain up to a computer and have a clear-out.


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