Against all odds, the Xsara is now road legal! I took it to a garage to have the emissions checked and in the guy's words, "They were pretty good. Didn't even have to cheat!" I took his word...
With an approved emissions printout in my back pocket, I drove to the nearest MOT station. Not the one that had failed the car on emissions (and failed to notice anything else being wrong than the shitty exhaust), but a pretty strict one. On the way there I noticed the airbag light was blinking on the dash.
Luckily 1) It wouldn't matter because the car had already been failed on the emissions and the emissions only, so as long as the MOT sheet was valid (til the 18th), they wouldn't raise any other issue. Also 2) I knew how bad the wiring is and gently rocking the seat adjustment back and forth cleared the warning light on the next startup. Still, my blood did run cold when I noticed the inspector took the car for a spin even if just the emissions paper would have probably done. Maybe they wanted to double check everything. Not sure if they would pay attention to how bad everything was.
After a few minutes the inspector came back and handed me the papers, smiling. "Good for another year, then!" I got the hell out of Dodge.
Celebrated the MOT by giving the car a quick wash and rubdown and cleaned the wheels properly. Even though panel fit is all over the place, it looks quite good cleaned up.
The center caps are off because I wanted to sand them down and re-dip them. These were originally orange when I got the set, so I removed the scratched plastidip surface and sanded them to bare plastic, then primered and dipped them.
Today, I drove to work and parked next to the only other Xsara here. It's a great commuter car, really, comfortable yet the steering is enjoyable. Shame the A/C doesn't work. I also ordered an SKF cambelt kit as it was cheap at less than 20 euros, and I think I'll have a shot swapping it myself. I got the auxiliary belt in two different lengths, in case I want to remove the dead A/C for weight benefits, haha!
I have some FASCINATING data for everyone interested in fuel economy! I've been driving the Xsara to work for a couple of times now and figured it would be worthwhile to drive it from two clicks to two clicks, so I could see how it actually does in terms of using fuel. My commute is about 50 minutes at 100km/h-ish, with a couple of vigorous merges to highway speed. In this use, the diesel Volvo does 6 litres per 100km.
The Xsara managed 6,57l/100km with 95 E10. That's perfectly reasonable for a hatch like this, and I guess I could try to hypermile some more or that it would use a little less with winter limits, but even six and a half is pretty good. The fuel gauge also acts quite weirdly when the car is driven from full tank down.
Brim the tank with two clicks and the needle is a needlewith past the "Full" point.
After 200km, this is how upright the needle remains. I nearly thought it was stuck.
3/4 position is reached after 320 km, but in actuality the tank would have a little over 60% left at that point; the 54-litre tank accepted nearly 21 litres into it with two clicks.
I spent a few days in the Helsinki region just to drive and maintain the Xsara. Prior to driving down, I sourced a cheap set of C5 steelies as my old set had gone with the 205, and those would have had too low profile tires anyway. The nearest junkyard provided me a decent set of 2013 Nokian Nordman SXs in 195/55 size. They're actually fairly good and have 6-7 mm of tread.
Anyway! I drove to Posmo's garage and he graciously lent me the use of a Xsara-sized patch of his yard and some tools so we could do the 2010 vintage cam belt and tensioner on it. The TU5JP engine is not the most complicated unit for learning on, and I'm really happy about getting the job done - redlining the car no longer includes a slight fear in the back of my mind about the old belt possibly letting go. Luckily it wasn't in horrible condition at all.
The car is really great to drive right now. The light wheels and better suited tires make it very eager to turn, the engine is a pleasure to wring out with the light-feeling shifter, it sounds brilliant especially past 4000rpm and yet it's comfortable and decently economical. The last tankful, which I used with a lot less gentle driving than the earlier commute run, produced almost identical fuel economy readings at 6,579l/100km. There are very few annoying things about using the Xsara, as there's just a weird suspension/running gear related rumble that was also present with the old wheels and didn't go away with the needed drop link change; the central locking is still bad but can be defeated and the car can be locked from the passenger side, and the bit of MIG wire that's used to pop the trunk open from the inside sometimes chafes on the inside of the trunklid. That's about it. Stereo still works, speakers still work, the car doesn't burn oil and I just love beating on it to get it going, trying to get all the power out of it so I can pass that long truck rig before the overtaking lane ends. Great purchase.
I also changed the engine oil and filter today. The car's really simple to maintain in this respect, as the filter is easily accessed especially on a ramp and doesn't puke the old oil on any engine ancillaries. It also takes just 3,5l of new oil in total so it's cheap to keep well oiled.
It's leaked forever from the valve cover which means the engine is still oily with little drops here and there, but I don't think there's any new stuff coming out since I changed the gasket. At the very least I only topped it up slightly when getting the car and haven't needed to put more in - same with the PAS fluid reservoir. The oil in the engine was apparently about a year old and seemed fine coming out, just black.
The dipstick broke, by the way, as the plastic part in it crumbled in my hands. The solution was to compare it with Posmo's two TU engines (which were also handy when doing the cambelt) and bend the metal top end accordingly so it reads somewhat correctly again. There's no oil blow from the now unsealed tube as far as I can see.
I have plans of buying something more utilitarian than a beat-up French hatchback (how can there be such a thing?) so I've listed the car up for sale. I'm being exceptionally honest with the ad copy and photos which might result in buyers not exactly lining up to buy the car, but for someone it might be just the right thing: a beater with a year's MOT stamp and some crucial maintenance freshly done. I also swapped the alloys back on and the tall tires do suck out some of the handling fun.