My DS3 “refresh”, June and July 2019

Scratching the five-year itch

My Citroën DS3 had passed its fifth birthday, and it was time to give some thought to its future. While there have been a few exceptions I haven’t been in the habit of keeping cars beyond five years old. These days, however, you almost can’t give a diesel away — meaning I’d likely realise a lower sale price for it than I feel a car of its quality and provenance is really worth. That position was only aggravated by Edinburgh City Council planning to turn a large chunk of the city centre into a Low Emission Zone from which all diesel vehicles will be totally banned unless they meet Euro 6 standards, which my DS3 doesn’t. But:

Given all that, I judged the best course of action would be to spend a bit of cash to prolong my enjoyment of it for several more years to come. So over June and July 2019 I had some work done to “refresh” the DS3, covering wheels, bodywork and performance.

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When I bought the car, I decided to live with the kerbed wheel. First, because it wasn’t terrible; second, because I wouldn’t get just a single wheel refurbished, and the other three didn’t need it. But by 2019, the front wheels were suffering from the ravages of brake dust, road salt and other contamination: the lacquer had become pitted and the wheels were feeling rough to the touch and permanently discoloured in places. While this hadn’t affected the rear wheels noticeably, the nearside had sustained some damage during servicing: see Fig. 1. Time for a full refurb! As well as refurbishment, I had the wheels ceramic coated and wheel protectors fitted to add some longevity.

View a higher resolution version of Figure 1.
Figure 1. Rear offside wheel showing damage around the 12 o’clock position and adjacent to the valve.
Photo by author


Refurbishing all four wheels opened the possibility of a colour change. I had been thinking for a while that the wheels would look good in something darker, but I didn’t fancy solid black.

After a bit of research, I had the job done by Pentland Powder Coating. Pentland occupies what you might call “no frills” premises on an inauspicious little industrial estate in Lasswade, just outside Edinburgh. I visited Pentland in advance, discussed what I was thinking about with Peter Renwick, the owner, who offered advice and showed me examples of wheels they had worked on that day — which reassured me regarding the quality of work they were able to deliver. We discussed colour and I decided on anthracite, a slightly sparkly, speckled charcoal shade with a “wet look” finish. The firm offers refurbishing at a substantially cheaper price per wheel than other service providers in the city, and guaranteed a same day turnaround. I was given a package price that included:

On the appointed day, I found the service from Pentland friendly and efficient. They did a great job on my wheels, and I was delighted with the results — see Fig. 2. The new colour changes the character of the car; it somehow looks more “planted” on the ground than before. And now it’s probably unique.

View a higher resolution version of Figure 2.
Figure 2. Nearside view after wheel refurbishment.
Photo by author

Ceramic coating

In 2018, I changed my other car, replacing a Peugeot with a brand new Citroën C4. I chose to have this car ceramic coated before delivery. There are a number of these coatings available nowadays; probably the best known in the UK is Diamondbrite. The C4 is the first car I had given this treatment, and it took me no time at all to be convinced of the benefits. The coating makes a glass-like barrier that protects paintwork against contamination and oxidation. Dirt doesn’t stick to it; water beads on it and sheets off it, which makes washing and drying much easier; and it eliminates the need for polishing. It didn’t occur to me to have the wheels coated too; a shame, because I hate cleaning wheels — it’s my least favourite car care job. So I didn’t make that mistake in my DS3 refresh project. Immediately after refurbishment, I had the wheels ceramic coated by SG Detailing in Livingston, west of Edinburgh. The business owner Stevie Galloway is a well-established and expert detailer who works out of spacious and well-equipped premises, usually filled with customers’ high-end vehicles. Stevie’s services include ceramic coating using CarPro products, and he will happily coat wheels only as well as full vehicles. He carried out the work as a “wheels off” process, coating the whole of each wheel.

There are “wheel wax” products on the market that purport to offer similar protection, but they need frequent reapplication and the average user will only be able to wax the outer face of the wheel. A one-off ceramic coating that should last for years seemed like better value for money in the long term, and has already proved worthwhile. Dirt and brake dust don’t cling to the wheels in the way they did before, and cleaning them is effortless: just a wipe over with shampoo using a microfibre mitt, followed by rinsing with water. Job done.

Wheel protectors

While I hadn’t personally kerbed any of the wheels on the DS3, it seemed sensible after the cash I’ve splashed on making the wheels as good as new to take out some “insurance” against that possibility. Wheel protectors fit around the alloy rims, and different brands are made from different types of plastic. AlloyGators are produced in Nylon, so fitting them should be harmless to the rim while providing a defence against kerbing. Fitting can be done as a DIY job, but as SG Detailing is an approved supplier of AlloyGators, I had Stevie Galloway do the job knowing that it would be done properly.

AlloyGators can be had in a variety of colours. I briefly considered yellow, but I thought the result would be over the top. There is an example of yellow gators on a Sport Yellow DS3 (OMG, that driving school livery!) on the AlloyGators website, and doubtless a lot of people would like that look. For my taste, I preferred the idea of a colour that receded rather than stood out against the wheel — the yellow centre cap is already enough of an accent. I chose graphite, which is close to the anthracite wheel colour. Fig. 3 shows a finished wheel.

View a higher resolution version of Figure 3.
Figure 3. Refurbished wheel after ceramic coating and fitting of an AlloyGator. The gator is barely distinguishable around the rim, with the joint adjacent to the tyre valve.
Photo by author

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Over its five years on the road, the DS3 had picked up only a couple of stone chips, but it had collected some small scuffs and scratches from stones and other debris being thrown up and skidding over the paint surface. Annoyingly, these often left black streaks that no amount of washing or gentle polishing would eliminate. And despite how careful I am when washing and polishing, I did have a few swirls on the bonnet. At this stage in the car’s life, I wasn’t prepared to invest in full paintwork correction, because most of the paintwork was just fine; nor in ceramic coating, though I would have liked its benefits.

Again, I turned to SG Detailing. Stevie recommended machine polishing the bonnet and other localised areas to effect first level removal of light surface defects and swirls, followed by waxing with a high quality Carnauba wax and buffing to a deep shine. I’ve always recognised that the more expensive, high-end hard waxes yield a protection similar to ceramic coatings, albeit less permanent: water beading, easier cleaning and drying, and no need for polishing between waxings. But my experience of trying these several years ago is that buffing is bloody hard work if you don’t have serious machine polishing equipment — so I’ve always used more typical “average owner” polishes from the likes of Turtle Wax, Autoglym and CarPlan. Stevie advised me that after waxing in June, the car shouldn’t need to be waxed again this year.

After Stevie had worked his magic, the car looked brilliant. It wasn’t possible to polish out all of the scuffs or scratches; notably a few on the rear valance. This region seems particularly susceptible to stones or other material presumably thrown up by the car’s own rear wheels and pulled towards the valance by some aerodynamic effect. But these are minor imperfections that a five-year-old car is entitled to have. Stevie’s efforts brought a gloss and depth of shine to the paintwork that I doubt it has had since the car rolled out of the factory in Poissy, despite all the love I have shown it. See Fig. 4. As expected, rainwater beads nicely on the surface, and rinse water sheets off. To preserve the wax finish, I’m washing with a pH neutral shampoo, then rinsing and drying off by dragging with a plush, super-absorbent microfibre towel from CarPro. All being well, that’s as much as I need to do for the next six months, and I can return to SG Detailing for another Carnauba wax treatment in January. If I only need to do this twice a year, it will be well worth it.

View a higher resolution version of Figure 4.
Figure 4. Three-quarter front nearside view after bodywork detailing. Even though photographed on a dull day, the reflections of the trees and other surroundings expose the depth to the paintwork finish.
Photo by author

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I hadn’t been unhappy with the performance of the DS3. Its 0–60 mph time might not have set the heather alight, but it pulled like a little train when I wanted it to. And since buying the car, the overall mileage I’ve achieved to date is 55 mpg — most welcome, compared to the 30 to 35 mpg of the petrol-engined motors I had owned before. It had never really been needed to prove itself, though. For much of the time I had owned it, I’d been based abroad and used the car only on visits home. It had made some forays into East and West Lothian, and once went as far north as Dundee, but mostly had just been driven around the Edinburgh area. Now that I was spending more time at home, I was likely to be doing more “open road” driving in the DS3, so I thought it would be nice to give it a little more zing for those high days and holidays. The added driving pleasure should make me happy about keeping the car for longer.

A common way to pep up the performance of a motor is to remap the ECU. The “map” is a collection of lookup tables the ECU uses to control and adjust engine systems and operating characteristics such as fuel supply, air-fuel mixture, ignition timing, turbo boost pressure, idle speed and others based on the responses from a multitude of sensors. Most cars’ engines are built to offer more performance than they actually deliver. The original map furnished by a vehicle manufacturer is not optimised for best performance or fuel economy. Instead, it’s a compromise set-up designed to cope with the variety of operating conditions the particular model may face in markets around the world: climate, altitude, emission regulations, fuel quality, and so on. The map may even deliberately restrict engine power so that the vehicle fits into a particular class for sales and marketing purposes.

The key benefits of remapping are increased power and torque, resulting in better throttle response, smoother power delivery, and lower fuel consumption. The latter arises from higher torque at lower rpm, which means it’s possible to drive in higher gear at slower speeds, and less throttle input is needed to maintain motorway pace. Turbodiesels respond particularly well to remapping, seeing improvements of up to 30% in power and mid-range torque, and 5–10% better fuel economy.

Back in the day, remapping was achieved by “chipping”, so called because it involved opening up the ECU, and actually removing a microchip and replacing it with another programmed with the new map. This is the genesis of the name of Superchips, the market leading and probably the most reputable supplier of remaps in the UK. The Peugeot 309 GTI that I owned many years ago had been chipped, squeezing a few more horses out of an already pokey 1.9 litre injected petrol engine. Nowadays the map data are stored in flash memory chips that can be reprogrammed externally through the car’s OBD-II diagnostics port, so no physical change is made to the vehicle. This method is not only more convenient but is safer than chipping — it removes the risk of actual damage to the ECU.

I checked and found that Superchips has a remap available for my engine. According to their data and representative charts (See Figs. 5 and 6) I could expect:

In percentage terms, these seemed like significant and worthwhile improvements. Moreover, Fig. 6 shows better torque from about 1700 rpm upwards, with some flattening of the torque curve over the range 2000–3500 rpm which should make the engine more flexible.

View a higher resolution version of Figure 5.
Figure 5. Power curve, showing brake horsepower before and after ECU remapping.
Source: Superchips
View a higher resolution version of Figure 6.
Figure 6. Torque curve, showing engine torque before and after ECU remapping.
Source: Superchips

I booked the DS3 in for remapping at the Superchips dealer located closest to me, Falkland Performance Centre in Glenrothes, Fife. Dave on the front desk was friendly, knowledgeable and helpful, and the job was done within about three hours while I waited in reception.

After the remap, the difference in the car was clear. It feels livelier under my right foot, reacting more quickly and accelerating faster. It pulls away in higher gear at lower revs than before; and I can change up into 3rd, 4th and 5th a little earlier. It’s too soon to tell what impact that will have on fuel consumption, but I’ll be monitoring it. I need to get used to the changes, to adjust my driving style for those times when I want to drive for economy rather than fun.

When I drove out of Falkland Performance Centre, I thought, “I’m going to be really pissed off if I can’t feel any difference after dropping some moolah on the map.” I needn’t have worried. I could go further down the performance route with a sport exhaust and high-flow air filter, but I’ve spent enough and I don’t want to turn the car into a boy racermobile anyway. I’m content with just a little extra oomph.

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A day at the seaside

One sunny day after the work was done, I went to a nearby beach and took a few snaps of the car once I had parked up: see Figs. 7 to 9 below.

View a higher resolution version of Figure 7.
Figure 7. A day at the seaside: above Silverknowes beach.
Photo by author
View a higher resolution version of Figure 8.
Figure 8. A day at the seaside: overlooking the Firth of Forth at Silverknowes.
Photo by author
View a higher resolution version of Figure 9.
Figure 9. A day at the seaside: “I thought you said it was yellow?”
Photo by author

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Postscript: A cautionary tale of tyres and tyre fitters; and how much did it all cost?

Firstly, about those tyres…

I knew that my tyres would need replaced at or before the car’s MOT next year. Not because of lack of tread — there was still plenty of that left — but because of side wall cracking, as a result of the car spending long periods stationary while I was abroad. I had thought to do this a few months further down the line, but the work I’d had done on the wheels focused my attention more critically on the tyres. I decided that I wasn’t really happy to leave them any longer, and in any case, I might as well just “finish the job” and have everything done within the same short time period. In the light of what happened next, it would have been better if I had made a decision on the tyres earlier and replaced them before I had the wheels refurbished.

The original tyres were Michelins. I’ve never been a fan of Michelin tyres, but unluckily for me, most of the cars I’ve bought over the years have come with Michelins fitted. I’ve found that you get a lot of miles out of Michelins, but at the cost of grip — the hardness of the compound that is the source of the tyre’s longevity also makes it slippery when wet. I probably put more effort into researching what I should replace them with, than I have done for any other car. I wanted tyres with the best combination of fuel economy, wet grip performance and low rolling noise, with fuel economy being slightly less important to me than grip and noise. I found that as well as getting good reviews from users, the Dunlop Sport BluResponse rated well against my feature list:

I searched the web, and found that the Sport BluResponse was available through Asda Tyres. (Yeah, Asda sells tyres. Who knew?)

View a higher resolution version of this image. Dunlop Sport BluResponse 195/55R16 87H, as offered on the Asda Tyres website. The original tyres had a speed rating of T (good for up to 120 mph), but it looks like this tyre isn’t made with a T rating, so I stepped up to H (130 mph). They don’t make the car go faster, though…

Through the website, I pre-paid for the tyres and fitting at the nearest Asda agent, a branch of McConechy’s Tyre & Auto Centres. I got an “appointment” for 8:30 on a Saturday morning. The website warned to be in good time for the appointment, so I turned up at 8:15 to find the place completely closed. At 8:27, two guys arrived and began opening up the fitting bays and reception. These two — whose general demeanour suggested they would rather not be spending Saturday morning at work — were the only two staff members present during my visit, and were undertaking both tyre fitting and reception duties. No-one seemed to be in charge. The McConechy’s website named a manager for this branch, but nobody of that name was in evidence.

One of the fitters took my details, at which point I advised him that I had AlloyGators fitted to the wheels. He interrupted me, saying, “Those things always come off”. I pointed out politely that no, “those things” need not come off if a little simple care was exercised in the process. He was completely uninterested in engaging with me on the matter of how to deal with the gators, again cutting me off with a firm statement that gators “always come off when you take the tyre off”, and that it was “not our problem”. At that, I would love to have told him, “You’re right mate, it won’t be your problem — because I’m taking my car somewhere that has a better attitude towards customers”. But I had pre-paid for the tyres and fitting, and I could imagine the hassle involved in getting my money back from Asda. So I tried another tack. Remaining calm and polite, I said even if the gators did pop off the rim at some point, it should be simple to tap them back into place. “We don’t have the equipment for that”, I was told. Equipment? This branch claims to carry out servicing and MOTs as well as tyre fitting, but they don’t have a rubber or plastic mallet?

Reluctantly, I allowed him to proceed — hoping for the best but preparing for the worst — while I waited in reception. The web page for this branch says:

While our experienced technicians work on your car you can sit back and relax in our comfortable waiting area with a hot drink.

The “comfortable waiting area” was shabby and dingy, and boasted a couple of plastic chairs in which to “sit back and relax”. There was a domestic filter coffee maker, that looked like it hadn’t been switched on for some time, and there was no sign of coffee or cups.

In a self-fulfilling prophecy, on completing the job the fitter told me that the AlloyGators had indeed come off. He said he had done his best to refit them, but unsuccessfully as Figs. 10 and 11 show: this example was typical of all four wheels.

View a higher resolution version of Figure 10.
Figure 10. Example wheel, complete with new tyre. Tyre fitting soap everywhere, and displaced AlloyGator.
Photo by author
View a higher resolution version of Figure 11.
Figure 11. Close-up of displaced AlloyGator shown in Fig. 10.
Photo by author

In addition to the distorted AlloyGators, my car was returned to me with all four tyres and wheels liberally smeared with the white “soap” used to ease fitting the tyres on the rims — leaving me to clean this off by myself. Just another small example of the fitter not showing any pride in the work he does. About all I could say in his favour was that he managed to fit the tyres the right way around (good of Dunlop to mould “OUTSIDE” in nice big letters on the sidewall…).

It was disappointing to find that a branch of a nationwide tyre fitting chain was incapable of dealing with AlloyGators — it’s not as if wheel protectors are a rare accessory these days. That, combined with my overall experience, has landed McConechy’s on my Not Recommended list.

I have to admit to a bit of my own stupidity here. I had completely forgotten that an acquaintance manages a branch of National Tyre Services that’s actually closer to my home than McConechy’s. The next time I ran into him, he told me that he could have supplied me with the same tyres at the same price, and wheel protectors are not a problem. “We do them all the time.”

And finally — the bill

I’ve laid out my outlay in the table below. I made a few savings with the help of package or special offer pricing.

Refurbishing (1) £250.00
Ceramic coating £100.00
AlloyGators and fitting £130.00
Tyres and fitting £325.00
Washing, machine polishing & waxing (2) £70.00
ECU remapping (3) £305.00
TOTAL £1,180.00
Notes: (1) Package price included use of a courtesy car.
(2) Calculated from package price of £300 less standard prices for ceramic coating and AlloyGators. I’m sure the time spent on this task by SG Detailing actually exceeded this amount if calculated on an hourly rate basis.
(3) This was a “summer special” price, reduced from £365.

Was it worth it? I think so, given my intention to keep the car for the foreseeable future, and probably beyond. The work on the wheels updates the styling of the car as well as rectifying damage and deterioration; the bodywork detailing is an investment in preserving the appearance and making care and maintenance easier; and the engine remap makes it a little more fun to drive.

But that’s not the end

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