You know that sinking feeling when you realise you’ve misguidedly got involved with a member of the opposite sex
– when you begin to recognise that it isn’t going to work out and you can see that it’s going to be misery to extract yourself? That’s how I’m beginning to feel about the Dacia Duster we bought in November. The disillusion isn’t fully and finally in place but it’s creeping in ominously, like little icicles forming in my heart.
Those familiar feelings in relations with the opposite sex all apply. Compromise had been involved from the start. S/he wasn’t exactly what you were looking for or dreaming of but s/he seemed to be the best you could do at the time. You overlooked some shortcomings in looks or dress. You ignored habits of speech or table manners that always set your teeth on edge (Holds Pen Like Knife or always says “he and I” when “him and me” would be right). All of that applies to our purchase of the Duster.
We needed a five-seater family car. Tick the Duster. We were going to buy it for cash out of our savings so we wanted to spend as little money as possible. Double ticks for the Duster. We live down an unmade track off a minor road in the Scottish hills where we get snowed in most winters. So we genuinely need a 4×4. Tick again. We’ve got young children to drive to school and ferry around so we need a car that will be frugal with fuel. Another tick. We own a smelly mutt that sheds hair like dandruff in the wind so we need space in the back that can easily be decontaminated. Tick, tick and tick.
I had driven the Duster for an extended test on a Dacia launch event in 2012. I was won over by the company’s marketing pitches – “a new car for the price of a second-hand car” and “it’s like a budget airline: you get a cheap basic service and if you want extras, you can buy them”. The offer of warranties that could inexpensively be extended to five or seven years struck me as extremely desirable. The ride might be a bit rough and primitive on the road and the steering lacked feedback but the launch event included a full-blooded outing on the savagely demanding off-road course at Gleneagles, which the Duster conquered with unfussed aplomb. I was seriously impressed – to the extent that I was one of the judges who voted the Duster the Scottish Car of the Year 2013. Another of the judges said “It’s a no-brainer” when I told him I was thinking of buying a Duster. I took it that meant he approved of the plan: it didn’t occur to me he might have meant that I must have no brains even to be considering such a thought.
Our plan is to keep the car for as long as we are likely to live in this house – so we opted for the five-year warranty option which cost an extra £382. We decided on the top-of-the range Laureate spec Duster with satnav, Bluetooth and black “Compass” cloth upholstery (within a week, a child had deposited a puddle of vomit on that upholstery which, mercifully, cleaned up without a trace). We traded-in an old C1 and got a brilliant deal of the Duster purchase which meant that we came away with a fully-specced 4×4 that had cost less than the cheapest and most rudimentary two-wheel drive Yeti. Even so, parting with £12000+ of hard-earned money felt like a sickening kick in the stomach.
There was never an instant – not even when the salesman handed over the keys and I sat in our Duster for the first time – when I felt that bursting surge of pride and sense of achievement that you might get from, for example, the first moments of owning a new BMW or Jaguar. Buying this car was always a practical response to a domestic need – like purchasing a new ironing board – and I wasn’t expecting my emotions to come into play at any point.
My feelings were aroused, however, within a couple of weeks when my wife was driving the Duster away from our house and I heard a high-pitched squeal from the rear – sounding as if a brake might be binding. When I drove the car with the windows open, I could tell that this intermittent squealing was coming from the rear nearside.
A little shard of despair entered my soul at that moment. Was this a harbinger of things to come? Was this car going to spend its entire life in our hands being returned to the dealer for repairs under warranty?
The dealer promptly picked up the Duster and returned it the same day, saying that the springs needed adjustment.
That would have been kind of OK. But for the fact that the squealing continued.
I called the dealer again who now said that the rear brake shoes needed adjustment and a special kind of grease which they would order from Renault UK.
That was six weeks ago.
I have repeatedly asked our local dealer what’s happening and I keep being told that this special grease has to come from France, that it is on order and that I shall be told the moment it arrives.
Worse still came when I lent the Duster to my adult son before Christmas. Within an hour he had texted to ask if I knew that the turn indicator in the side of the body just ahead of the passenger door was hanging out on its wires. When he brought the car home, I found that one of the clips securing the casing in place had broken so the unit wouldn’t fit securely and needed to be replaced. The dealer saw to that job instantaneously.
In the last 20 years – during which at least 1000 cars have passed through my hands – I have known such a fault to occur only once. That was in the early 2000s, on that catastrophe of build failure that Renault called the Avantime – a spectacularly futuristic conception that had been more shoddily put together than a Lada.
God help me if, in buying the Duster, I have put a big chunk of our savings into a piece of crap comparable with an Avantime. I shall never forgive myself. More to the point, neither will my wife.
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