Home Citroënët home

Site search powered by FreeFind
Do NOT include 'Citroen' in your search terms

ICONOCLAST

Since I am running out of cars to dissect and since I received an interesting letter from Stuart Bird, I thought it might be worth sharing some of our thoughts on the matter of recalls. 

Stuart wrote to me, protesting that Citroën "have hardly ever had to recall their cars. The Visa, however boring (his words, not mine) was never subject to recalls". Stuart then goes on to protest that modern Citroëns are subject to "major/silly faults" and he then goes on to list examples such as a ZX with a wiring fault, the dodgy electrical connectors on the XM and the latest one, the Xantia hand brake fracas. Stuart poses the question, "What else can go wrong for a company that to many has gone down hill?"

Citroën have, since the introduction of the Traction in 1934, launched their cars on to the market prematurely. The early Tractions suffered from driveshaft problems, early DSs suffered from hydraulic problems, juddering brakes and, in the case of the domestic versions, unreliable 6 volt electrics. The GS's brake pad wear problems and the SM's timing chain problems have already been documented in this column, as has the CX's interior trim. In the six or so years that I have been running BXs, there have, to the best of my recollection, been three recalls.

I put it to Stuart that a recall implies that a manufacturer is responsible and concerned. In the pre-Nader era, there was no legal requirement for a manufacturer to advise his customers of any shortcomings in his product. There was a moral requirement to do so but many, indeed most manufacturers, believed that caveat emptor was sufficient discharge of these responsibilities. Ralph Nader in his book "Unsafe At Any Speed" was probably single handedly responsible for a shift in opinion (and eventually law) to caveat vendor, making the manufacturer accept responsibility for the design of his product - and in the U.S. of A. to accept in part, responsibility for the manner in which the product may be used by the consumer.

Fortunately, here on this side of the pond, we have managed to avoid the worst excesses of consumer protectionism; the kind of thing that leads to American cars having a legend engraved on the door mirrors warning you that cars may appear to be further away than they actually are - though whether this discriminates against the illiterate (the literally challenged?) is a moot point and now that Spanish is spoken by more than 50% of the population in California, presumably the warning will be written in Spanish too. I suppose that there will then have to be a warning engraved on the glass to the effect that the warnings break up the image.... but I digress.

What prompted Stuart's letter and is of undoubted interest to many of our members is the saga of the Xantia handbrake. Unfortunately I didn't get to see the television programme "Watchdog" but I have been allowed access to a copy of the report by the AA on the car involved.

As I understand it (and doubtless I shall be corrected if I am wrong), the owner of the car concerned, a Xantia SX 1.9 TD had parked her car on a slope. The car rolled backwards some thirty minutes after it had been parked and sustained several thousand pounds worth of damage.

The Automobile Association Technical Services undertook an inspection of the vehicle both at Citroën UK's Slough headquarters and at the Transport Research Laboratory at Crowthorne. A number of tests on the parking brake system were conducted including dismantling of the braking components and examination of the pads and discs. The car was parked for 1 hour 20 minutes on a 1 in 5 slope and the car did not move. No faults were found with either the brakes nor the operating system.

At Crowthorne, the vehicle was tested on a calibrated roller brake tester and the results obtained were compared with a Mazda Xedos. The results make interesting reading:- (figures are in Kg. Efficiency is calculated from the combined total of the left and right hand figures, divided by the weight of the vehicle, plus the weight of the driver.)

Handbrake lever position 

Forward rotation of front wheels 

Xantia 

Xedos 

Front left 

Front right 

Rear left 

Rear right 

1 click

60

70

0

0

2 clicks 

70

70

0

0

3 clicks

70

70

10

10

4 clicks

70

70

40

20

5 clicks

70

70

50

50

6 clicks

70

70

60

80

7clicks

70

70

80

100

8 clicks

70

70

100

130

9 clicks

90

135

120

140

10 clicks

140

170

130

140

11 clicks

190

220

12 clicks

220

260

13 clicks

260

310

14 clicks

290

310

Handbrake efficiency 

Forward direction

12 clicks

33,80%

9 clicks

15,23%

13 clicks

40,14%

10 clicks

17,22%

14 clicks

42,25%

11 clicks

17,88%

Comparable figures were achieved with the wheels rotating in a reverse direction.

The MOT test requires a minimum efficiency of 16%.

The AA report concludes "Given the results achieved under these test conditions, particularly the 1 in 5 ramp, I am of the opinion that with the handbrake fully applied the vehicle will not slip back on a slope. However, if the handbrake is only partially applied, slippage could occur, particularly as the brakes cool down, but this situation can apply to any car. I would also mention that the handbrake ratchet mechanism on the Citroën Xantia permitted a maximum travel of up to 15 clicks before it was fully applied. The Mazda Xedos on the other hand only permitted 11 clicks before it was fully applied. However, it should be made clear this difference is purely a feature of the design of the individual handbrake mechanisms. Whenever any car is parked the handbrake lever should be raised to the maximum. The number of ratchet clicks is irrelevant and will vary on the type of vehicle involved and the handbrake adjustment. As a further precaution, whenever parking on a slope the AA would recommend that first gear is engaged and the front wheels turned to the kerb." - difficult I grant you in a DIRAVI (SM/CX) equipped Citroën.

Citroën have reacted to this by recalling all Xantias and replacing the handbrake lever mechanism with one on which the first eight clicks on the ratchet have been deleted - such is the power of the media that a non-existent "fault" should be so publicised that the manufacturer is obliged to undertake "repairs" at their own cost (although I suspect that they will recover this cost by virtue of higher prices for spares or what-have-you). 

Once upon a time Citroën used to supply a wooden wheel chock to block a wheel when dealing with a puncture. Perhaps they should consider selling such a device to the bicepally challenged...

My thanks are due to Roy Staunton of AA Technical Services and to the Automobile Association for permission to quote from the report.

© 1994 Julian Marsh

This article was originally published in the Citroënian, the monthly magazine of the Citroën Car Club .