The technology fitted to newer cars never ceases to amaze and bewilder me these days. In days of old, to open the boot of your modest saloon simply required you to insert the key in the lock and twist it 1/4 turn clockwise and the bootlid would pop-open, assisted in it’s duty with a simple steel spring. Nowadays, this simple act of opening the boot now requires a plethora of control units, microswitches, actuators and metres of wiring. Simply inserting the key and turning the key in the lock is far too much effort for the modern motorist. Instead you can choose to use an interior release button, a little touchpad under the boot lip or a press of the remote. Instead of the key turning the lock barrel which in-turn moved a little eccentric lever that operated the latch to open the boot, the operation of either of the release switches now sends a signal to the body control module to activate the latch actuator and a little electric motor now drives the latch open. Or at least it should do! When it doesn’t, then the fun starts. The inevitable telephone call from a distraught customer who can’t open their boot or tailgate is generally the prequel for a lot of grief!
Their first question is usually, “How much will it cost?” to which I usually have to explain that our first difficulty is actually getting into the boot in the first place to get to the latch / wiring / switch / control unit / wiring etc. after we’ve checked the obvious fuses etc. On a hatchback or estate car/MPV, this isn’t normally too serious as the rear seats can be folded down, allowing for the insertions of an apprentice (with a torch) into the dark recesses of the rear load area. Unless of course the customer is a ‘hoarder’ of ‘boot junk’ such as things they intended to ‘take to a charity shop’ 6 months ago, or the parent of toddlers which, apart from the usual push chairs, child seats and assorted toys etc. often holds the added bonus of spilled milk, soiled nappies and half-eaten foods that we have to negotiate before we can even begin! A saloon car is even more difficult as the seats are often fixed and at best, there might be a ‘ski flap’ that we can occasionally squeeze a slender technician through.
Assuming we can actually access the area, the task of releasing the latch can begin. Some cars (obviously anticipating failure) have a manual release lever or handle inside that will override the electric system but these are unfortunately in the minority and so most require the removal of a trim panel to access the latch. All easy I hear you say, except that in order to access the latch, the boot has to be open. It’s usually surrounded by plastic trim and screws which have to be removed first. Easy in a bright workshop with the boot open but imagine working in near darkness, in a confined space surrounded by banana skins, half-eaten sandwiches, dirty wellies and maybe a soiled towel, whilst clutching a screwdriver in one hand and an LED torch in the other. Suddenly a 5 minute job can take an hour as you an barely get onto the screws and turn them a fraction at a time! Once you’ve eventually got to the latch and managed to prod it in the right place to force it open, the fun of identifying the cause of failure can begin. Sometimes it’s just a faulty latch itself, occasionally it’s the switch but in some cases, it’s a broken wire(s). You see, every time you open and close the boot or tailgate, the wiring loom that connects it to the rest of the car has to flex and bend. Eventually, these wires break and sometimes short-out, causing the fuse to blow or worse still, the associated body control module (BCM) to fry itself!
That’s when it can get really expensive as even on a popular MPV such as a Vauxhall Zafira, a new BCM can cost £400! In addition to the cost of the module, it’ll have to be programmed using Vauxhall diagnostic equipment that’ll cost another £100 on top of the part and fitting it! When a 12 year old Zafira has a trade-in value of £750, it’s not difficult to see why some customers don’t bother to have it fixed at all.
Once we’ve identified the fault, provided an estimate of cost for the customer and if agreed, and bought/fitted the new part or soldered and repaired the wiring, it’s usually fairly straightforward to put everything back together again (having tested it several times) and the boot will spring open again as the manufacturer intended. We’ll then be sure to put all the customer’s debris (I mean possessions!) back where they were and it’s ready to go.
Our technician can then breathe a sigh of relief and the customer can collect their car and retrieve their locked-away treasures from within!
Of course, 20 years ago we’d have stuck a screwdriver in the jammed lock, forced it open and then fitted a new lock for £30 but I guess that’s the cost of progress!