Tow car blues | Meet the Trudgians

Tow car blues

Posted by on Oct 18, 2021 in Featured, Trips & Adventures | 1 comment

Tow car blues

Caravans are pretty useless without a tow vehicle. They are even more impractical with a broken tow car.

At the end of last year, I spectacularly broke my car. One of the turbos decided to let go, pulling oil through the core, into the intercooler out the exhaust and filling the DPF with all manner of goodness, it was (at the time) conceived to be terminal. I managed to “break” the car whilst towing in single lane traffic whilst on route to a weekend away. Once recovered, the quote I received from my trusted garage was around the £4,000 mark to fix the issue. The value of the car simply made this an easy decision, so a new car was on the cards. At that point we decided to invest in 2 new cars, initially purchase a run around so we could at least drive to work, the shops and once lockdown lifted, days out. Sadly we knew this smaller car wouldn’t be able to tow, so initially we would be without holidays until we could save and then invest in a proper big boy tow car that would suit us for years to come. The tow car would cost a lot more, so we came up with a couple of cunning plans on how to raise the capital for the purchase.

I’ve owned my 5 series for more years I care to mention, it was my daily drive to and from the office, a family car for day trips out and when the X5 wasn’t up to the job, it became the tow car. The car itself is a 535d, a 3 litre, straight six, twin turbo diesel that sucks more fuel than a jet on after burners and is comparable to my old pair of canvas shoes. Scruffy, rubbish in the snow yet familiar and comfortable. I’ve personally put nearly 100,000 miles on it and it has been a faithful companion for many, many years.

I’ve never really enjoyed buying cars, I find it frustrating dealing with the “Swiss Tony’s” and trying to find the car that makes me feel special, safe and has that “thing” I simply cannot put my finger on. For years, I was a Saab owner. These cars had that “thing”, they made me feel special and I loved each and every one I’ve owned, it’s a hard thing to explain but, I still miss my various Saabs, maybe one day I will tell you about them all. (I’d buy another one in a heartbeat – possibly a 900Turbo 1989 3 door vintage in black, beige valour seats with 3 spoke alloys. Not that I’ve obsessed for many hours on this to make this desire pretty specific, but Mrs T has said ABSOLUTELY NO, so it remains just a dream…for now…)


Mr Torque steer.

In February of this year we bought the 1st of the new cars. No, not a Saab, but a 1.7 Vauxhall Astra Eco Flex. No road tax to pay, 70MPG and enough space to take us and the dog out for the day. As expected it didn’t have enough oomph to pull a caravan, but we were mobile once again. Driving a manual for the 1st time in 11 years was interesting. Stalling it was a part of the daily drive experience, which is always a great spectator sport. We knew the next task was to sell the 5 series as spares and repairs and start searching for a new tow car, so to start holidaying again once lockdown lifted.

My research took a considerable amount of time, looking at previous tow car winners, asking owners clubs and joining various Facebook groups to gauge opinions. Being the height of lockdown, simply visiting a garage or dealer was impossible and the research was fraught with contradiction, changing of minds and differing opinions. Not helped by the inconsistent results from 4 very popular outfit matching websites that gave very different outcomes when I entered the proposed car and our caravan.

But one evening, I found myself googling amongst other late night searches, “turbo specialists”, “535d turbo replacements” and “turbo repairs” . I discovered quite quickly, it simply wouldn’t cost £4,000 to replace the turbos. Not even close to this even from a main dealer! Instead a turbo specialist, who would also replace, service and flush other systems around the car that a failed turbo would cause havoc with, would charge me just £2,400 including picking up the car and dropping it back to me.

So I faced a dilemma. Do I repair the current car for £2.4k? take a chance that nothing else needed repairing, or chop it in and save for the new tow car? Some research online made me very aware that my car was certainly worth more than the cost of a new turbo. Even as spares it was worth more than I expected – so after a long chat with the family and after some extensive chin stroking sessions, I made the call. I decided to put on ice the new tow car idea and instead I opted to repair the BMW.

This change of heart left me with very strong emotions. One of sadness and anger, that my long trusted garage got the cost so wrong. Another emotion of relief that we can go on holiday once again when the car returns, and finally one of worry that maybe the price was too good to be true.


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When I made initial enquiry with the garage, I was told it would be a 2 week lead time. So, on a Friday afternoon in April, the car was booked in. 10am the following Monday the car was loaded on a flat bed and delivered to the garage. To my utter surprise the next day, I was told on the phone the car was ready. We decided to collect the car as the specialist in question is based in Andover. Not too far from us and well within an hour’s drive. It would give me a good period of time to check the car is okay.

Upon collection the garage owner said in his opening words “f**k me, that thing goes well dunnit mate….” I sheepishly agreed, as I’d never really thought it was a fast car. He showed me what he had done, explained the failure points and how they needed to evacuate the garage due to the sheer amount of smoke it kicked out. I was pretty impressed with all the work they had done.

The drive home can be best described as rapid. Clearly the car had been poorly for quite some time, and now it goes like how I remember the car. It’s funny, but I’ve started to fall in love with the car once again. After a week of driving here and there, the car was once again in top form. I even cleaned and vacuumed it.

So, after almost 9 months, was it a good decision? Yes, absolutely. Our 1st towing experience with the car was back in May when we visited Malvern for the 1st time. It pulled, cruised and towed brilliantly. In the late summer, we used the car to tow us to even more sites, trips and adventures. My confidence with the car is restored and I am once again, up and running in my familiar, comfortable old pair of canvas shoes. And it feels great.

However, like any well-trodden canvas shoes, things don’t last forever and this leads us onto what we are doing for a tow car in the future. I am acutely aware that the car is getting on in age. Angela is also aware that I spent many hours researching possible car replacements and this work is not in vain. So, our long term goal is to save, take our time and choose the car that will do the job as a family tow car for our current caravan and for one that maybe a bit heavier in the future. We have already filtered this selection down to 4 separate vehicles, but this is a story for another day, so stay tuned.



One Comment

  1. Your experience with a non-franchised garage is exactly why our cars only go to the dealer. Yes, I know it will never be the cheapest, but they don’t treat my wallet that badly and the cars are always fixed first time (usually the same day)

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