Thursday, June 30, 2005


A Cat and mouse tale

I have regular email exchanges with a chap from the UK who often visits St. Helena. He wrote me a little tale, to which I have added some observations:

The story:

Next time my wife and myself step foot on St. Helena we intend to bring a car with us. We are looking for a suitable new car. After all it will have to last a nice couple of years. My wife [who likes driving - I don't] set her heart on a Mini-Cooper. Plenty of umph to get up the inclines, small enough to easily get around the corners.

It runs,of course, on unleaded petrol. I checked on the availability in SH, now or in the future, of unleaded petrol. Only Lead Replacement Petrol is available and no change in the foreseeable future, was the prompt reply to my e-mail. Checking back with a technical chap at the Mini-Cooper sales office on the consequences of using LRP instead of unleaded my enquiry was met with a gasp of incredulity. Totally out of the question and the alterations required to make it possible would be prohibitively expensive. All through this I could not believe no new cars are imported in St. Helena. No new cars designed for LRP have been made since 1993.

I checked a few island sources but could not get a definitive answer until I received the following information ....

You are correct in saying that in St. Helena cars run only on Lead Replacement Petrol but I have been informed that although the majority of cars now imported into St. Helena should use Unleaded Petrol, they do not have a choice but to use the LRP.

I was further informed that because cars are not using the correct petrol, the only thing likely to be ruined is the converter which, sometimes, does not last any longer than 5 years. So it would seem that there would be no problem in your bringing a new car but bring along a [catalytic] converter.

So, now I go back to the Mini-Cooper sales people and give them some tuition on the ways of people who live in those parts of the world which are set back from the global highways and check the cost of a spare catalytic converter - assuming one is necessary in the first place.

My comments:

Everyone runs their car on LRP and ignores the fact that the Cat will be ruined.

Empirical evidence suggests that there are no emissions regulations on St. Helena. If there are, they are evidently not rigidly enforced. Smog is hardly likely to be a problem here, with the ever-present trade winds. So a non-functioning Cat is not a problem.

It also doesn't have any noticeable effect on the performance, but then nobody here ever gets a car much above 40mph anyway so you wouldn't be able to tell

To the best of my knowledge, nobody has ever tried to export a car from St. Helena, so the need for a new Cat doesn't arise.

If you are thinking of importing a car, the main characteristics you require are:

Also avoid anything with a computerised 'engine management system'. If it can't be fixed with a screwdriver and a monkey wrench it's too technical for St. Helena. Someone brought an Audi A4 here and it spent nine months of its first year in the garage because they couldn't reboot the engine computer. They never did get the "emergency engine alert - stop driving now" message to go away. It's for sale, by the way ...

I hope that helps.

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