Suspension of Disbelief and Citroen

I am liable to post the occasional rant, this is in keeping with the character I like to portray on this blog. It’s mostly an act really for my own amusement. But sometimes life does throw up things that are genuinely very annoying and a problem with our car is one of them.

Of course running a car is not a cheap business as one expects the occasional repair bill due to wear and tear. When such matters arise and there’s a danger one’s car will be off the road one does not expect to be told that the required part will not be available until the end of summer.

This is the situation currently with Citroen here in the UK and parts for its pneumatic suspension on higher-end Picasso models. We have such a car and we are waiting for the parts with the hope that our suspension doesn’t completely fail at speed with our family in the car.

In the higher end C4 Grand Picasso there is a suspension auto-levelling system. Occasionally – though it’s impossible to work out why or when – the car will decide to raise or lower the rear suspension via air bags fitted near the rear wheels. This is achieved via a small air pump.

My research online suggests this system is a piece of junk. These air bags are often prone to failure and can even be damaged by simply jacking the car up. There are so many failures written about online and so many people waiting for dealers to fix the problem that it sounds more and more like a safety and poor design issue. And as such should be dealt with by a full recall.

Citroen denies there is a fault with the design, that complete rear suspension failures are merely routine wear and tear. I think not. It is clear that this is a serious fault with the car. And a potentially dangerous one.

Our car is suffering with this issue. A month or so ago the car was sitting right down on the rear suspension. Starting the engine resulted in a “service” warning on the dashboard. A pained moaning sound from the rear compressor was heard as the suspension laboured to pump itself up. After a minute or so that car was level, the warning light disappeared and we drove off.

We spoke to our local Citroen dealer who told us this was a known fault and that the car was safe to drive once the warning has gone. This is our experience – in that once the car has managed to finally pump itself up you can drive. But we have occasionally arrived at a destination to see the car has got very low indeed. And our experience is that in cold whether it is worse. In the few days before we realised there was an actually problem, the low suspension managed to result in damage to the underside of the car.

The dealer has looked at our C4 and said we do need our suspension airbags replaced. This was a day before we were about to drive to North Wales on holiday. No worry says the dealer, the car is safe to drive, we haven’t got the part yet so we’ll sort it out on your return. We did get through the holiday, though there were moments that it seemed the car wouldn’t pump up again, it took so long.

However we’re back now and eager to fix the car. Only we’ve discovered it can’t be fixed. You can’t get the parts. The dealers can’t get the parts. Believe it or not we’re in a situation where a popular car model has a clear major fault, one which is disabling hundreds of cars across the country – yet the manufacturer doesn’t actually have any of the parts to fix it. Not only that, when it does get the (relatively inexpensive part) it charges the driver a ridiculous price for something simple that can be fitted in ten minutes.

We’re not talking about a major engine part here. We’re talking about some simple suspension airbags that can be fitted in minutes. But Citroen doesn’t have any inventory. In fact things are so bad that there may not be any until the end of the summer according to our dealer. Our dealer also complained it was actually getting hard to get hold of Citroen on this issue.

What the bloody hell is going on?

This isn’t some obscure car part. Surely Citroen must know by now that this suspension design is not fit for purpose, yet still can\’t manage to have parts available for car owners. And judging by the many reports I see online of this same fault in other people’s cars I can’t help but think this repair is something Citroen should be paying for.

If we’d run into these problems and the dealer had been quickly able to fix the suspension then I doubt I would ever have posted this. I would have seen it as some wear and tear, been happy we got it fixed in a hurry and gone on with by business. But the ridiculous situation where people have cars sitting around for months waiting for one simple part really does make one think that Citroen must be the most inept car manufacturer selling cars in this country today.

And the irony is this fault isn’t with relatively inexpensive cars. Oh no. Buy a lower-spec C4 Grand Picasso and you’ll have to get by on regular old reliable springs in your suspension. It is only us twits who have bought the more expensive Exclusive model that have to put up with this airbag fuckwittery. So we’re paying for the privilege of having a suspension that is putting the safety of our family on the line while Citroen continues the lie that this is merely wear and tear. That\’s bollocks Citroen and you know it.

C4 owners with this problem are told they can continue to drive as long as the suspension does pump up and the warning light goes. But the danger is that the leaks in the airbag system are putting extra strain on the compressor and this can lead to this failing, an even more expensive part. Now this wouldn’t be a problem if Citroen could just make enough airbags for its failing cars.

I am fearful for a situation that strands one of our small children somewhere where I can’t collect them due to our C4 finally giving up. We’ve decided for now not to do any long or motorway journeys in the car and use it as little as possible. But as my wife needs her Vauxhall for work and I look after the kids, there are times I have to use the C4. So we sit and wait and wonder how long it will be before Citroen supplies the right parts.

The real shame is that we really do like our car. In other respects the C4 Grand Picasso has been a wonderful car to own, drive and cart our family around in. But this episode means it is likely to be the last Citroen we own. It’ll be back to Ford next time around – thanks to the ubiquity of Ford spares.

I will of course report back should Citroen manage to actually fix our car. In the meantime, we’ll be tip-toeing around the country lanes and hoping the car doesn’t completely fail on us, scraping its arse around the lanes like an arthritic dog.

This is a pretty poor show by Citroen and I’d like to get more word out about it. So if it’s not too much trouble please do retweet a link to this blog post or post it on Facebook. Thanks.

Update 29/04/2013 15:50 I’ve just had our Citroen dealer (who has been very helpful through all this) and Citroen UK phone me. The dealer said they were listing our car as off road and putting in an order for priority stock of the part. A few minutes later Citroen UK phoned to confirm this – that stock was on the way from France and we’d get replacement parts as soon as possible – possibly this week. Meanwhile we’ve been offered a courtesy car. Which should alleviate problems getting Will to school. So we shall see. No doubt I\’ll be updating this post again later in the week.

Update 30/04/2013 10:15 Good news. Citroen phoned just now to say our parts are being shipped as a priority to the dealer by the end of the week. And we’re getting a courtesy car today. Glad things are getting sorted out. This just shows the power of social media. My concern is for the hundreds of other people still waiting for these parts – are they only going to get sorted quickly if they kick up a stink on Facebook or Twitter?