All advice is given in good faith and believed to be correct but is followed at you own risk.
The Mazda Bongo was also produced as the Ford Freda. The trim differs but they are mechanically identical.
They're a versatile 8 seat MPV, suitable for everyday use. They’re built to the usual high Japanese specification.
The Bongo has two body types; The AFT (auto free top) or tin-top (flat roof). The AFT roof raises; this gives standing room in the Bongo. It also forms a roof tent, with sleeping space for two adults. The tin-top roof does not raise.
In all models, the seats fold down into a double bed. When used as a Camper, adding a side or tailgate awning can double the living space.
The rear seat layout differs between earlier and later models. All models have 2 rows of seats behind the driver and passenger. Each row holds 3 people, with two 3-point seatbelts and a centre lap belt. The seats are adjustable and they slide. On earlier models, the rear 'gullwing' seats flip down/fold away. This allows plenty of boot space when not used for passengers. In later models, this is a bench seat which does not fold away.
All seat backs fold flat. Some have picnic tables incorporated into the back of the seat. Flip-down step seats can be added behind the driver and passenger. These flip-down, so two people can sit at the picnic tables.
The 2.5 diesel Bongo is sold as a 4-wheel drive (SGL5 model numbers) and 2-wheel drive (SGL3 model numbers). Its turbo engine has plenty of power. Its torque converter locks between 40-45mph, giving good pulling power.
All petrol model Bongos are 2 wheel drives. The 2.5 V6 Bongo is a quiet engine and is noticeably more powerful than the petrol 2l Bongo.
Here are Mazda Bongo engine specifications, so you can compare performance figures:
Mazda Bongo engine specification:
2 5 diesel:
Engine Power kW 88 kW/120 HP
Torque 310/2000 N*m/rpm
2.5 V6 petrol:
Engine Power 117 kW/160 HP
Torque 211/3500 N*m/rpm
Engine Power 77 kW/105 HP
Torque 162/4000 N*m/rpm
The fuel consumption of all engines averages at 26mpg. This depends on use; constant stop-start-revving around town can reduce that figure. Steady driving and a light foot on the throttle can increase it to 32mpg.
Most Mazda Bongos have 3 speed automatic transmissions. The 5 speed manual gearbox is rare.
Mazda Bongos are approximately 4.6 metres long and 1.7 metres wide. The elevating roof model is 2.1 metres high; the tin-top is 2.0 metres.
Many Bongos are converted to camper vans. These are either dealer converted or DIY self-conversions. There are many different side and rear conversion layouts and the specification varies. Others are 'weekend' campers with removable kitchen pods that are interchangeable with the rear seats.
Spare parts and accessories, both new and used, are available for the Bongo.
Mazda Bongo and Ford Freda have a cult following, Facebook pages, clubs and forums.
If you're buying a Bongo then it's good to get one with a decent Service History. Then you know if it’s been properly looked after. If you're looking at one that been previously owned in the UK, it should have service history.
Plenty of people do their own servicing and should have receipts for the parts they've bought. If it's been serviced by a garage, there'll be invoices and receipts.
If you're looking at a newly imported Bongo, service history is rare. But you can ask to see the 'auction sheet'. This shows the general condition of the Bongo when it was sold at auction in Japan.
If you have the registration number, you can check the MOT history online. You can check the mileage recorded at each MOT. Sometimes when a vehicle passes an MOT, there is still work that is 'advised' to be done. These are generally things that are OK for now, but will need doing fairly soon. You can check if there are any 'advisories' and ask if this work has been done. Here’s the MOT history link: https://www.gov.uk/check-mot-history
It's sensible to have a good look around the Bongo, inside and out.
Prepare to get your knees grubby! Get down on the ground and look underneath for evidence or leaks or corrosion. Common corrosion areas are the front and rear crossmembers, inside the wheel arches and inner and outer cills. If it is corroded, many can be welded and repaired, so you can factor the cost of repair into the purchase price.
If a Bongo has been undersealed, it will have a black
or clear coating over the metal. This can be waxy or look like thick paint, depending on what's been used. A few Bongos are just undersealed on the very edge of the underbody, so look further than
the edge. If it's not undersealed, you'll see bare metal.
Sit inside the Bongo and check all the controls work - aircon, front and rear heaters (when fitted), all wipers, windscreen and rear screen wash etc.
If it's not obvious, ask what the switches are for; front and rear foglights etc.
Check that the AFT roof rises smoothly and fully; there should be no creaking noise from roof struts or bagginess in the sides of the roof tent canvas. Look inside the roof tent to check for mildew or damage to the tent, net screens or zip.
You probably know that a Bongo engine is under the driver and passenger seats. There are more components under the bonnet. Carry out the usual under seat and under bonnet checks.
Commonly, you'll see a very small oil leak behind the diesel pump and an oil weep around the rocker cover gasket. These are common on the Bongo. They leak slightly for years and aren't an immediate problem unless the leaks are bad. It'll be obvious because the engine oil level will drop more quickly and you'll notice the oil fume smell. On the petrol V6 Bongo, the rocker cover oil leak lets oil seep into the sparkplug holes; if this happens, the engine will eventually misfire. On the 2 litre Bongo, the oil leak from the rocker cover eventually finds its way onto the gearbox and manifold; you may notice the smell of oil fumes if this has happened.
Check the engine oil and gearbox fluid (ATF) levels and conditions. A check of these might reveal either emulsified (creamy) engine oil or brown ATF (gearbox fluid). Emulsified oil suggests water in the oil and brown ATF, especially if it smells burnt. These problems can be present, even if the engine starts OK and the gearbox is just a little snatchy.
Lift the bonnet. While the engine is cold, have a look at the header (overflow) tank. It's usually discoloured. While the engine is cold, remove the tank cap and look in. Ensure there are no copper coloured particles or gloopy sediment. If you see any, it can suggest a ‘leak stopping’ additive has been used, so ask the seller for reassurance. Leak stopper or K-Seal is sometimes used to conceal a cylinder head problem. Check the brake fluid and windscreen wash while you're there.
Ask what antifreeze the owner uses, as you'll need to use the same type. Most now use standard UK blue or red antifreeze. Just don't mix the two types. Once bought, you may like to flush the system, as sediment can build up in the radiator and lead to overheating. Ask when the thermostat was last changed. If it hasn't been done recently, you should change it. A sticky thermostat can cause the cooling system to overheat.
While the seats are up, check the condition of the cooling system hoses. These are rarely changed until they fail, and many have been on the Bongo for 10 years. If they fail, the system can rapidly loose coolant and overheat. If a hose (or metal pipe) has a slow leak, coolant loss can go un-noticed, until the system overheats. Look for swelling or cracking on the hoses. Check for rust stains on them and on metal pipe joints, the engine block, cylinder head - anywhere where water could squirt or drip from a leak. If you notice any, ask what caused it and see proof that it's been fixed; there should be an invoice for work done by a garage, or a receipt for parts if it's a DIY repair.
Take it on a long road test, incorporating hills. Check the temperature gauge when driving uphill. The standard gauge should never rise above the ‘11 o’clock’ position. It’s ‘dumbed down’ by Mazda and will only rise above that when it has a cooling problem. If another temperature gauge is fitted, the Bongo runs at about 82* as standard and a bit more on hills.
Pull away on a slope; The Bongo should pull away smoothly. When driving, the engine should accelerate well and gear changes should be smooth. The steering should be light, not heavy or notchy. Braking should also be smooth, with no judder from discs or vibration from the pedal. Also drive it in reverse to ensure there are no problems.
I've mentioned 'overheating' several times. This is said to be a common problem with Bongos. It's not. But it is a common problem with Bongos that haven't been properly maintained! Old parts, oils and fluids don't last forever. So double check service history! If things have been omitted, factor in the cost of getting this rectified.
You'll find more advice on buying a Bongo, on the various Facebook groups and Bongo websites. This is the Mazda Bongo Facebook group I set up: https://www.facebook.com/groups/7571714956/
We've put together a comprehensive Mazda Bongo buying guide. You can download it, from the list at the bottom of this page.
I haven't used the pick-up much since its last MOT. Seems a pity to just leave it standing when it could be out posing somewhere. Or making itself useful. It currently needs a bit of work, an MOT and a small service.
HOW I MADE THE PICK-UP.
Several years ago, I had a black Bongo as a breaker for spare body parts. Mechanically, it needed a lot of work. But the body work looked good. In fact, the body was the best part of it. Mechanically it wasn't good.
I had an idea that it might look pretty good as a pick up. Something to build in my spare time. It took me over two years... So much for spare time!
There was a lot of measuring, discussion, cutting and welding. Once the back was off the Bongo, it was too light, so I added weight.
I strengthened the chassis and body.
I rebuilt the cross member and replaced the rear quarter panels.
Getting the Bongo tailgate to open was tricky, but we got there.
I cut down the Bongo's AFT roof as a ‘lid’ for the cabin.
I blanked off the Bongo's rear air conditioning and heater pipes as I'd removed half the system when I'd chopped the back.
I rebuilt the Bongo 2.5 diesel engine.
I carried out a major service and replaced coolant hoses and pipes, radiator and water pump.
I fitted 4 new shock absorbers, suspension bushes and links.
I fitted new brake discs and pads all round.
I replaced the Bongo's transmission and all it's rusted oil pipes.
(I told you it was in bad mechanical condition.)
The weight of the Bongo, as a pick up, was radically different. So I tried a few different wheel and tyre combinations until I was happy with the way it handled. Getting it tested was nail biting but all was OK.
I had the Bongo pick up's body resprayed black, with a subtle metalflake laquer.
The Bongo's seats were refinished in leather by Paul.
I stained the mats and carpets black.
I added a different Bongo steering wheel, a pod of gauges, new temperature gauge and white dials. I had a graphite style dash from another Bongo I was breaking, so I fitted that. I'm still adding to it, in my spare time...
If you're passing and would like to see my Mazda Bongo pick up, pop in.
I get asked dozens of questions about Bongos. Some questions only need a short answer, others are complicated and can take hours to reply to! I need to put my customers first so don't have time to answer all questions. I'll add a few of the simpler ones here, when I have time. There are also several Bongo forums on the internet and various Facebook groups where Bongo owners can ask for advice.
Battery charge light & Sediment light
If the Bongo charge light and the sediment light illuminate at the same time, it means that there is a fault with the alternator. It should be refurbished or replaced.
Ensure the new alternator is rated at 90 amps. Some are only 80 amps and may fail sooner than expected.
There are a few of common causes of this problem. The first is simply that the handbrake isn't on; it's a safety feature - the roof won't rise if the handbrake's off.
If the handbrake's on, check that the handbrake light is illuminated on the dash. This light completes the electrical circuit; the roof won't operate if it's not lit.
If the light isn't lit, lift the centre consul. You'll see the handbrake switch. It has a small spring and a white clip, attached to a cable. The switch can get clogged with dust. Wiggle it a few times, the light should illuminate and the roof will operate.
If it doesn't and you really need to raise or lower the roof, you could try this: Push the little tab on the white connector and pull off the cable. Find any piece of electrical wire. Push one end into the connector. Touch the other end to something metal such as the bracket. This will bring the handbrake light on. The roof will now raise and lower. You'll have to reconnect the wire to operate the roof again. Just remember to hold the wire in place until the roof is fully up or down. And have the swtich fixed as soon as you can.
This information can also be downloaded from the 'HOW TO' guides below.
What to check when buying and fitting a new Bongo cylinder head.
I helped write a similar post for the Bongo Fury forum. I've added more detail here, as several people struggle to fit a Bongo cylinder head. Or they find the cooling system won't bleed after they've fitted a new cylinder head.
This advice is for general guidance only, to make you aware of some of the checks that may be needed.
When a new cylinder head is supplied as 'fully assembled' or 'ready to fit', do not assume that it is ready to fit. It's advisable to check it first.
Once unpacked, check for hidden packaging debris inside the head.
The head face should be clean and free from grease.
And it should be smooth, free from scratches, nicks or damage. If it's not, you'll have to return it or fix it. Otherwise it will leak and lose compression. You'll struggle to bleed it.
A smooth surface is needed so that it will seal.
To ensure a tight seal, check the deck of the head and block. This YouTube link is to a 'How To' video. It shows you how to deck a block DIY, without specialist tools.
It's possible that valves and collets will already be fitted. But you should check to ensure the collets have been fitted correctly.
Check cam caps are tight.
Check all fitted items are tightened to the correct torque, including the rocker caps.
Check valve and tappet clearances.
Check the camshaft oil seal is in place.
Fit injector heat shields.
Ensure the oil gallery plug is tight.
Ensure the dowel pin is fitted correctly and is perfectly aligned.
If the head is supplied with a seal kit, you may not need all the seals - check with the supplier.
Heads are sometimes supplied with a 2 pipe water elbow. This is not standard on the Bongo and you'll struggle to bleed it. Buy a 3 pipe water elbow. The Mazda part number is: WL02-10-2EO. The elbow is tight to remove or fit. To remove, twist using a wrench. To fit, I add thread sealant to the elbow. The large pipe (of the elbow) faces front of Bongo. Tap it into place with a wood mallet. (You could use a block of wood and hammer if no mallet.)
Some parts are can be transferred from the old head. This will save you money.
But I recommend fitting some new parts:
New head bolts; Old bolts usually stretch and won't tighten fully again. If this happens, the head won't seal.
New exhaust manifold studs; These harden with age and can snap when removing or re-tightening. Number 1 manifold stud, nearest the alternator, is especially prone to snap, possibly to the varying temperature it receives. If you don't replace all the studs, play safe and have a couple to hand, in case they're needed.
A new fan sensor; This is especially important if the previous head has overheated, as excessive heat can damage the switch and the fan won't operate when it should.
A new thermostat; The thermostat helps to regulate the temperature in the cooling system. If it’s faulty, the temperature of the coolant will be affected. If the coolant gets too hot, your Bongo could overheat again. The comparatively small cost of a new thermostat is definitely worth paying.
We can supply and fit a Mazda Bongo cylinder head for you.
But we don't supply the cylinder head for you to fit yourself.
This information can also be downloaded as 'HOW TO GUIDE', see below.
When changing the Mazda Bongo V6 cambelt and tensioner, I recommend replacing the camshaft and crankshaft seals at the same time. The seals don't add a huge amount to the parts cost.
Sooner or later they will leak, your Bongo will lose oil and you’ll smell the fumes from the burnt oil that’s dripped onto the hot exhaust and engine parts.
Replacing them separately, means paying for several hours labour, all over again. In the long run, you’ll save a lot of money by having them replaced at the same time as the cambelt.
It's also recommended to change the seals on the 2.0l when changing the cambelt.
I once had a customer request the cambelt changed but not the seals, as she was on a tight budget. I advised her, but did as asked. A few months later, the seals failed, so the job had to be done again, and she complained. Sad but true.
Why isn’t the air conditioning working?
The most common reason is because the air con gas needs topping up. To prevent damage, the system will automatically shut down when the gas is too low.
The air con system naturally loses some gas over time. It generally needs topping up every 1 – 2 years, depending on use.
When I re-gas (top up) the air con, I also add the right amount of PAG oil. This is vital as it lubricates the system and helps to keep the seals supple, so they don’t leak.
When seals dry out, they leak and the gas will escape. So run the air con all year round, for at least a few minutes each week, to help to keep the seals in good condition.
Please be aware that some of the newer models take less gas, probably due to a change in the pipework. Don't overfill the system and monitor when filling.
The guideline figures we have are:
Front aircon only: 700gm gas + 14ml PAG.
Front and rear aircon: 950gm gas + 14ml PAG.
Year 2000 onwards: 750gm gas + 50 PAG.
We can drain, check for leaks, repair and re-fill Mazda Bongo aircon systems. Please get in touch to book this.
CHECKING THE COOLANT LEVEL
The Bongo de-gassing tanks is commonly called the expansion or overflow tank. They're usually discoloured, so the coolant level is hard to see. A new tank is available direct from a Mazda main dealer and (at the time of writing) costs about £100!
Unless the tank was leaking, I'd keep my money in my pocket, and work out how to check the level on the discoloured tank.
The level should be checked regularly, to monitor for coolant loss. Only open the expansion tank when the engine is cold. If you open it when the engine's hot, the coolant may spray out and could burn you.
I dip my finger in to check the level. If my finger tip touches coolant, I know the level's OK. With a bit of practice you'll get the hang of just how far to reach.
Or use a stick (coffee stirrer), marked 2cms from the end - see the picture. Dip the stick in until it touches the bottom of the tank. If it's wet on the the 2cms line level, there's enough coolant in the system. It shouldn't be above or below this level.
If a top-up is needed, pour the correct coolant into the tank. If you overfill, some of the coolant will come out of the hole you’re filling through.
The cooling system on the Bongo is pressurised. If you put in too much coolant, the excess will be expelled under pressure, when the engine is hot. If this happens, re-check the coolant level when the engine is cold.
If the Bongo engine overheats, the valve on the coolant tank cap opens. It releases pressure and coolant. When this happens, owners sometimes mention hearing a ‘rumbling noise, then a hiss’. This is the coolant boiling in the tank, then hissing on hot metal, as it is expelled.
Do not change the tank for one from a different vehicle! The design of this tank is an important part of the cooling system. It allows expansion of the coolant, which raises pressure to allow greater heat transfer to occur. It also releases absorbed gasses into the space in the tank, above the coolant.
We can check the cooling system on your Bongo. We can also flush the cooling system and replace any parts. We can also bleed it without needing any gadgets!
EGR systems are added to standard Bongo engines, to meet the strict Japanese emissions limits.
If the Bongo EGR system is working as it should, there's no need to do anything to it.
When the Bongo EGR fails, it usually jams in the 'open' position. Signs of a faulty EGR system on a Bongo can be a combination of loss of power, black smoke, knocking noise, excessive fuel consumption, smell of oil fumes in the vehicle.
The pipes of the EGR system can leak; the manifold or turbo will lose back-pressure. You will notice a lack of power from the engine and may smell fumes, which can cause nausea and headaches.
This can all be fixed! As blanking the EGR is no longer legal and is checked during MOT, you could spend a few hours removing it, cleaning it and checking for leaking pipes.
While working on the Bongo EGR, you may notice a green one-way valve. This is plastic, it becomes brittle and can break. It affects the cold-start function. If the valve is broken, it can be replaced. You can either order a replacement valve, currently only from a Mazda main dealer. Or you can fit a (much cheaper) one-way windscreen washer-pump valve! These are available from most motor factors. I used one several years ago on my own Bongo and it still works fine!
When you put the EGR back, be careful to reconnect vacuum pipes, or the EGR can remain diconnected, allowing exhaust fumes to circulate into the inlet manifold, causing a 'dirty burn' and using excess fuel.
By the way, there's not much point in replacing your used EGR system with another used EGR system, unless it's already cleaned etc.
Here's a handy Wiki link with general info on how to clean an EGR system. It's not a Bongo EGR but is still handy advice: CLICK ON THIS LINK.
We can do this work for you. Please get in touch to book.
If you have a tow bar on your Mazda Bongo or Ford Freda, please check it.
As the Mazda Bongo and Ford Freda have aged, it’s become apparent that the nearside (NS) (passenger side) mounting point is only spot-welded. This means the mounting point is weak. The spot welds can fail. If a tow bar is mounted to that point, it will be stressed and may fail. Anything attached to it would be at risk.
The offside (OS) (drivers side) mounting point is fixed to the chassis and is stronger, provided the chassis is solid and not corroded with rust.
There are a couple of different styles of tow bar; they’re mounted in different ways. If a tow bar mounts (fixes) into the NS mounting point, then you should strengthen the mounting point by welding it before fitting the tow bar.
If a tow bar is already mounted to this point, the mount will need to be strengthened. The bumper can be removed for access. It’s not always necessary to remove the tow bar, but this can also be removed if needed.
The Bongo and Freda are also susceptible to corrosion (rusting) of the rear cross member. The crossmember contributes to the strength of the chassis. Any tow bar attached to a weakened chassis is at risk. A corroded rear crossmember should be removed and a new one welded into place. It will last longer if it is also undersealed.
TowTrust have altered the design of their Mazda Bongo tow bar and it now mounts to the chassis. A1 also manufacture a tow bar that includes mounts on the chassis. Please let me know if there are other tow bars for the Mazda Bongo, that mount to the chassis, and I will add them.
We can check your tow bar mounting point and carry out any welding or repairs you need. Please get in touch to arrange this.
Please get in touch if you would like to book your Bongo or Freda in to have the mounting points checked, crossmember replaced, welding or undersealing.
ROOF TENT MEASUREMENT
The AFT (Auto Free Top) Mazda Bongo has a raising roof, with a roof tent. This provides a sleeping area for two adults.
There are 3 different sizes of roof tents. The difference is hard to notice without measuring. The early model Bongo up to 1999/2000, has the lowest height roof tent (see image). The 1999/2000 onwards (shape change) model has the highest roof tent. And the tent of latest model Bongo is between the two sizes.
We've written a 'How To Guide' (see below) on removing and replacing the roof tent.
REVERSING THE MIDDLE SEATS
If you reverse the Bongo middle seat, it will face the rear. This gives you more space in the middle of the van. Under current MOT rules, rear facing seats do not need seat belts.
I've reversed Bongo seats many times. It's a straight forward job. But lifting the seat and turning it in a confined space is much easier with 2 people. The rest you can manage alone.
The only tools you need are a Phillips screwdriver, a 17ml socket and ratchet, and a hammer.
To save me writing the instructions up again, please see the photos and advice given by dvisor on this link.
DYING THE BONGO CARPETS
Several years ago I dyed the carpets in my Bongo pick up.
They were a well-worn faded grey. After dying they almost looked new! They still look good after several years.
I used Autosmart 'midnight black' carpet dye. It's used by valeters and often availabe from them. It's also sold on EBay and Amazon. At the time of writing, it's around £10 for 500ml. I estimate you need about 5 litres to dye all the carpets in a Bongo.
I decanted the dye into a cheap hand-held spray bottle I sprayed a thin coat, allowed it to dry and applied another coat. It took about 5 coats to achieve the depth of colour I wanted.
The dye smells when wet, so spray in a well ventilated area; you might want to wear a mask. It stains anything it blows onto, so wear gloves and move anything you don't want sprayed!
BLACK BUTTON IN THE FOOTWELL
I'm frequently asked what the black button under the Bongo throttle pedal is for. Despite the rumours, I'm sorry to say, it doesn't operate an ejector seat.
It's simply a 'stop' for the throttle pedal. It stops the pedal being pushed any further.
If you remove it, there are no hidden controls. You'll just find the fixings that hold it (and the carpet) in place.
RESTORING 'FADED' HEADLIGHT LENS
The headlight lens on a Bongo is made of polycarbonate plastic (PCB). UV rays from sunlight degrade the outer layer, causing it to look dull. The light of the headlight bulb cannot shine clearly through the cloudy lens and visibility is reduced.
Some headlights are also coated in a yellow fim, which suffers from in the same way.
Luckily it's fairly simple to restore clarity to the lens. We've found a good video from AMMO NYC that shows 3 different methods of doing this yourself. Here's the link: RESTORE FOGGY HEADLIGHT LENS.
UNDERSEAL A BONGO DIY?
We Waxoyl underseal Bongos.
But some people prefer to do their own undersealing.
It's a messy job so I recommend wearing overalls, gloves and eye protection. The fumes are waxy and you don't really want to breathe them in, so also wear a protective mask.
And protect the ground under the Bongo with a dustsheet or tarpaulin as waxoyl is very difficult to remove!
I found a video that shows you the basics on Waxoyl undersealing.
I've been undersealing Bongos for over 12 years and in that time, I've found it's an effective way to help to slow down or prevent corrosion.
The advice given is believed to be correct but followed at your own risk.
The guides are listed in alphabetical order.
OUR MAZDA BONGO FACEBOOK GROUP!
A while ago, we created a Mazda Bongo and Ford Freda Facebook group. It's a place to hang out with other Bongo & Freda owners and fans. Chat, ask questions, post photos, arrange meets, buy, sell & swop Bongo related stuff!
We'd like your comments about the Bongo Tips page. What do you think of it? Is the page useful? Is there anything else you'd like to see here?
To avoid spam, comments are reviewed before appearing on the page.
Sorry, we don't have time to answer questions about Bongos here.
You can always ask on one of the Bongo Facebook groups, or on a Bongo forum. Our Facebook group is ON THIS LINK.
Allans Vehicle Services,
Wixenford Depot, Plymstock, Plymouth, Devon, PL9 8AA.
VAT no: 909 7647 80
Tel: 01752 403400
Mob: 07471 002034
Text: 07471 002034
If I can't answer right away, please leave a message with your telephone number, so I can return your call.
Allans Vehicle Services
If you contact us on Saturday or Sunday we will respond on Monday.
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Vehicles, keys and contents left at owners risk. Please read this link for full details.
We buy Bongos! Get in touch if you're selling!
Has your car or van failed the MOT due to corrosion?