Chipping away


When Volkswagen designed their Mk 5 Golf a decade or more ago, they failed to anticipate how small pieces of gravel could cause problems. There are two ways in which a piece of stone less than 10mm in diameter can disable the vehicle.

The most dramatic way is when the chipping gets caught between the rear brake disc and the thin steel stone-guard (ha!) inside the wheel. This causes an extraordinarily loud grinding and screeching noise. Passers-by stop and stare at the unfortunate driver who appears to be in a vehicle which is about to explode.

It is easy to fix. You stop and try reversing a short distance. Sometimes the tiny stone falls out and all is well. If this doesn’t work you can reach behind the rear wheel and flick or shake the stone-guard. Your hand will get very dirty immediately. If this doesn’t work the guaranteed method is to jack up the car and take off the rear wheel. The stone will always fall out when you do this. Both your hands will get dirty and so will your knees usually.

The more subtle gravel-chipping nemesis appears when a tiny pebble falls behind the accelerator pedal. Perhaps because you had a bit of snow on your shoe to which the offending stone had adhered.

The accelerator pedal pivots around the bottom edge which is fixed to the floor of the car. There is a narrow gap behind, in which the small pebble becomes lodged. This restricts the travel of the pedal to about 20% of the normal range, which means that your driving style becomes very conservative.

This happened the other morning at 5am when I was driving to get the train to a snowy northern city. I didn’t have the time or equipment to fix the problem immediately. So I drove tentatively to the station and parked for the day.

Yesterday I set about fixing the problem. First I used a brush and dustpan to sweep up all the bits of gravel, mud and leaves in the footwell. We have a gravel drive and in snowy weather it is very easy inadvertently to transfer the stones to the carpet. Then I used a vacuum cleaner to try to suck the offending pebble from the narrow gap. This served to pull the stone into a visible position, but it was too big to emerge out of the gap and there is not enough space to manoeuvre the suction hose to draw the stone out from above.

I tried wiggling the stone with the thin screwdriver and lifting it with tweezers. This didn’t work because the screwdriver was too long to fit at a sufficient angle to lift the stone. I needed a shorter narrow pointed implement.

I have owned a penknife (not the same one) for at least 40 years. All the knives I have owned have included a blade that is meant “for getting the stones out of horses’ hooves”. I can remember when this was explained to me and as a child I was always ready to leap out of the crowd with my pocket knife whenever I saw a horse.

In the intervening decades there was not one occasion when my hoof-picking skills were put to the test. Even in the days when I rode a horse regularly, the blade on my knife remained folded away.

Yesterday I retrieved my knife from the drawer. Triumphantly I unfolded the blade with a satisfying click. With the knife in one hand and the tweezers in the other I knelt at the door of the car and like a skilled surgeon I pried and prodded and lifted the small piece of flint from the plastic crevice.

One day I hope that I will have grandchildren. At an inappropriately young age I will give each of them a penknife and tell them that the narrow pointed blade is for getting stones out of car pedals.

8 Responses to “Chipping away”

  1. 1 Andy F

    Its not just the Golf that can suffer from stone in rear brake disc. It happened on my Volvo V70, I think that stone finally fell out after about 3 miles of screeching, just as I came around the roundabout before the Volvo garage. At least they didn’t charge me for inspecting and finding nothing !

    • Andy – Haha. The first time it happened to me I called the RAC. The stone fell out when I kicked the wheel in a rage just before the patrolman arrived. He was quite understanding.

  2. 3 ann

    Did you consult the handbook? It probably says to rush to the main dealership and pay the Stone Removal Operative (aged about 12) £80 an hour to do it for you!
    Luckily I have a Skoda, and this cheap version of the VW doesn’t seem to suffer from this problem.

    • Ann – Hmm. They didn’t charge me for changing a bulb (in a position that only a 12-year-old’s hand would fit). Maybe I’ll get a Skoda next time.

  3. Henceforth I shall refer to that particular tool by its new name, and thereby reinstate its relevance.
    Boy scouts the world over are in your debt.

  4. 7 Graham

    I also suffered the stone in the rear brakes on my subaru, reversing sorted it out for me.
    Have you a plan to make something to prevent this happening again, a small rubber gromit forced into the hole or perhaps you could use bluetac.

    • Graham – I thought I could just loosen the wheelnuts so that there is a bit more play when the wheels are turning… That should do the trick 🙂

      [Warning: the internet is not always the best source of advice, please check with an expert before trying any ideas posted on these pages.]

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