Buying a used...Vauxhall Combo

Date: Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Long a firm favourite with the utilities, the Royal Mail and other major fleet operators, Vauxhall’s Combo has sold in large numbers over the years. As a consequence the one thing used buyers will not suffer from is a lack of choice.

Nor will they find it difficult to get their purchase serviced and repaired. Most independent garages have worked on a Combo at one time or another, Vauxhall boasts a comprehensive network if you don’t mind paying main dealer labour rates, and parts are widely available from both dealers and – in the case of fast-moving items – independent parts factors.

The Combo does have one obvious drawback however, and that is the age of the basic design.

Vauxhall’s ubiquitous workhorse made its debut in 1997, a redesigned version appeared in 2001 and a re-engined model in 2005. Since then it has received one or two upgrades – the introduction of the five-speed Easytronic semi-automatic gearbox as an option for example – but there have been no radical alterations.
Assuming that you are opting for a Combo dating from 2005 onwards, you will be faced with three engine choices.

We’re talking about a 75hp 1.3CDTi common rail diesel sourced from Fiat, who refer to it as the Multijet, a 100hp 1.7CDTi common rail diesel, and the much-rarer 90hp 1.4-litre Twinport petrol engine (recently dropped), which is likely to have been converted to run on liquefied petroleum gas. A five-speed manual gearbox is the standard offering.

For your money you get a 2.76cu/m cargo area that can be increased to 3.2cu/m if you stumble upon a van fitted with FlexCargo. It is a package that allows you to swing the bulkhead out of the way and fold down the passenger seat to create more space.

Payload capacities range from 572kg to 785kg depending on the model. It is worth noting that the Combo is additionally marketed as a Crew Van, with rear seating.

All models offer a decent level of performance, good handling, responsive steering, a roomy cab and a sensibly designed cargo area. On the downside the ride can be choppy, noise levels are too high and the cab interior feels dated.
While the Combo has an enviable reputation for reliability, and uses lots of tried and tested components, the frugal and light-in-weight 1.3-litre diesel in particular may sometimes suffer from turbocharger problems once it has seen a bit of service. A sudden loss of power if you are, for example, accelerating up a hill may be an indication the turbo is playing up and could need replacing before it packs up completely.

A possible source of trouble – and again it appears the 1.3-litre is in the spotlight – is the MAP sensor. The initials stand for manifold absolute pressure, and denote a device that converts the inlet manifold pressure into an electrical signal to the ECU. As a consequence the ECU is able to determine the load on the engine when calculating ignition and fuelling requirements. If the MAP sensor has failed then it cannot do so, and performance suffers.

Most modern light commercials are vulnerable to dual mass flywheel problems, and the Combo is no exception. It manifests itself through a bouncy, rubbery feel to the clutch pedal, which suddenly appears to have a different bite-point every time you use it. If the flywheel goes bang after you have bought your Combo, then expect a hefty bill.

One reason for a diesel Combo’s descent into lacklustre on-the-road behaviour could be a sticking exhaust gas recirculation (EGR) valve. It has a habit of becoming clogged with dirt, and the engine’s performance will be increasingly affected if the valve is not removed and cleaned.

No matter whether the day is hot or cold, check the heater works. It is not always as reliable as it should be and the last thing you want is for it to pack up if you are facing a long journey in freezing weather.

How much should you pay?

At the time of writing Vauxhall dealer Lookers was advertising a Combo 1.3CDTi dating back to 2007 with 52,911 miles recorded and held at its Yardley, Birmingham van centre for £4795 (all prices quoted here exclude VAT). A younger version of the same model first registered in 2010 was on sale at the same location with 19,734 miles recorded for £6295. Dating from the same year, a Combo 1.3CDTi Crew Van was available at Vauxhall dealer Perrys of Bury, Lancashire, for £8990. It had recorded a modest 4382 miles.

If you are on a tight budget and you are not afraid of a LCV with a few miles on the clock, then Wheels Van Centres based near Heathrow Airport was marketing a 1.7CDTi going back to 2006 that had covered 136,570 miles for a modest £3495. It could be a sensible choice if you want a low-cost runabout for local trips.


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