Nano & The Dynamo Wire

While last week was a mixed bag and some of my New year resolutions are well at resolutions for now, but I would like to share the funny story of my Father’s Nano and its single biggest glitch that is as predictable as the sun rise (or sun set).

The Nano CX model — My Father’s car

Well Nano always evokes the most strongest reaction from everyone including me. When it was launched its engine sound and the unconventional design made me hate it to the core. It took me almost 3 years and 2 near attempts to buy a car and without surprise nano was the most disliked car in the lot. That is until I drove my first car in the unending sea of traffic of Bangalore.

After learning how to drive a car I became more aware why a smaller car is more valuable and useful in city traffic than a fully loaded bigger car. I have a new car now, but in my 3rd attempt to buy a car I had done more research and had more awareness about what mattered as a middle class house hold car. In my view a Maruti car was always favorable simply because these cars have very good after sales service or at least the availability of spare parts and god forbid in any place your car breaks down the chances of getting a Maruti car mechanic is more than any other car. And in this too I loved the tall boy design of Wagon R as it is one of the most perfect city cars and having heard the maintenance cost of the car, it was not so hard on the pocket.

But alas Maruti was not the car we ended up buying, for 1 the models we liked either did not have the kind of ride comfort I was looking for or had such LONG waiting period. I ended up buying a Ford Figo. But then I still did not know how to ride a car, and when was initially learning to ride from a riding school in a Maruti Swift, while I got the riding comfort, but I was also aware of another BIG issues as a NEW learning driver. I had a very bad sense of distance and direction. And was so much confused with the instrument panel clutter. Even today the most I understand is the steering wheel, the gear stick and the accelerator, gear, clutch, beyond this you ask me anything I am completely clueless. And add to that I rather drive based on instinct than looking at mirrors were not so good on my new car. Just on the first day I took out the car, I did a nice ding in the rear, it sank my heart. The few more dings in the front and rear of the new Ford I felt like I will slip to coma.

Ford Figo Titanium — The car I finally bough

Even today after being so much battle hardened after so many ding dongs my heart skips when ever I see even a small scratch on my Ford. And to be honest it is a White Elephant to say the least. But the worst feeling comes when I have to drive the car in the peak time unruly traffic of the city and in a bumper to bumper traffic I get a high BP each time I have to negotiate a signal or a crossing. All of these and the size and the features that one gets in a Nano at the price point it was offered made me a “Lover”of Nano even before I ever drove one.

Coming back to Nano, it looks ugly to some, sounds like a Auto (tuk tuk) and really do not reflect as a class symbol which you aspire out of a car and worst in being a people’s car it sounds and looks so cheap and worst it has so many parts common to Tata Indica which is synonymous to a cabbie (taxi). Now to a westerner reading my blog all of these will seem confusing but as an Indian whom you offer a Maruti Alto 800 and a Tata Nano, they even being the base entry models for a car people will jump to Maruti. This is because of the brand trust that Maruti has established in every household and compare that with Tata’s poor after sales service record, many would not prefer a Nano.

But then I am not here to bad mouth about Tata or Nano. Rather I would say I had say their service has improved a lot in recent years and I can vouch for it. And as for Nano, I love no car more than to drive than the Tata Nano. So the story goes like this. When I last met my father in Bangalore he was all gaga about a Nano, I was all ears and even for the first time agreed to him. Then fast forward when my father passed away, I was the most unfortunate person for not seeing him in his last moments. After his last rites when I was settling down my sister and mother pointed to a shabby looking dirt covered Tata Nano near our compound wall and said that, it was bought by my father without the knowledge of anyone. It was a surprise for me but not so much considering many things I have hidden from him. Well initially it broke me, in addition to not being with him in his last moments, I also never got to see him drive his Nano. The heart break and sadness is still there to this day.

When I checked the car there were many things not in order, one of its side mirrors was missing, Tyres were worn out and even the car did not start. Even the battery was missing. From what I heard there was some major problem with the car and that prevented the car from working properly. I was still a novice in anything mechanical but good at searching google and having no faith in local mechanics I searched for Tata Motors customer care number. And voila, they not had a customer care but a 24/7 road side assistance service and when I talked to them even when the Nano was not in warranty, they were ready to provide immediate service for a nominal fee. Given that the un-reliability of local mechanics I asked them to send a mechanic. They sent one of their executives.

Well while the customer service was excellent true to the Odia spirit the local executive at the other end of the line sounded uninterested how ever thanks to the prompt service of Tata the mechanic came in a hour. The mechanic who came was very helpful and also advised me to not go through the Tata customer care as the charges will be higher than going through the auto workshop that he represented. While I was apprehensive but the emotional value of the car won over the financial cost. And the fact that the workshop was nearer to my house helped, next day they towed the car to the workshop and after 3 days of fixing it, when I got the car, the battery was changed, one of the head lights was also changed and they dynamo belt was replaced. Now do not ask me the cost (would have fixed my ding donged Ford Figo) in that cost but then it still had the emotional value and I did not worry so much about the cost just worried what my wife will say.

Since I have fixed the car (over a year back) it has been driven more than 1000 kms when ever I am in my native this is my primary mode of transport. Now let me start praising about Nano, it is the most uncomplicated car that I have driven so far. Despite the perception of flimsiness, having driven it, I felt it had a very firm ride. The most beautiful part of this car is its turning radius. Its turning radius is insane, I have nothing turned such tight corners in a vehicle before except while driving a 2 wheeler. And despite not having a power steering, you still get a very good handling and predictable response. Being a light car and having a tall boy design it needed me some time getting used to. It did not help that I have not done any regular servicing to the car, and 4 gears may seem very limiting but given that this car was meant to be driven mostly in city limits the speed limits of max 70 kmph will work the best on this car. Anything above it the car gets wobbly. But on highway even at 70kmpl and 4th gear this car cruised very smoothly.

Story of the Dynamo Belt

The only thing that makes Nano very unreliable and limited to city limits is its Dynamo belt. Ever since the last 3 instances I have driven in last 1 year the one thing that broke and the single most unpredictably predictable problem has been the dynamo belt. Its so Tata like, they make the most sturdy product but leave out one of the most important part weak. And in this case the dynamo/alternator belt.

Here is the problem

Symptoms of a Bad or Failing Alternator Belt
A failing alternator belt can cause the Battery Light to turn on, dimming or flickering lights in the car, and engine stalls.

So what is an Dynamo or Alternator Belt

Keeping a car’s battery charged is the job of an alternator. Without this key piece of equipment, the battery would die after only a short amount of driving. In order for the alternator to keep charging, it will have to continue to spin. This spinning is made possible by the belt that runs from the pulley on the alternator to the crankshaft. The belt does a very specific job and without it, the alternator will not be able to provide the constant charge the battery needs when the car is running.
The longer that the same alternator belt is on the car, the higher the risk will be that it has to be replaced. The type of belt around your alternator will depend solely on the make of your vehicle. Older cars will use a V-belt for the alternator while newer cars will use a serpentine belt.

Now how to know if you have a bad alternator belt, the below point describes how I always identify this issue in my Nano

When the battery light on your instrument cluster comes on, you will need to pay attention. While this light does not tell you exactly what is wrong with your car’s charging system, it is the first line of defense in getting the issues addressed. Taking a look under the hood is the best way to see if a broken alternator belt is the cause of the battery light being turned on.

Now this issue is so common in Nano that the mechanic advised to change it every 6 months and that for me is the Achilles heal of Nano. Now either I can follow a mandatory process of replacing it every 6 months or keep waiting for the day while driving, as to when it fails which makes my Nano so unreliable and I can understand why my father who lived off a humbly could not fully fix the car. I am not sure what other issues I may face in future but this faulty piece of rubber (the dynamo belt) is not really expensive but the difficulty of getting the right mechanic and the right way to fix it makes this car not so reliable. I do not no know the later models of Nano or other models from Tata have this issue or not but then I am sure while I may not be taking this car on long drives, I am sure that this car will be my preferred car for city traffic for as long as I have it with me.