Roy's Matra Enthusiasts pages
FAQ's: Frequently Asked Questions
- I am considering buying an Espace III. What information can you provide?
At this time I would seriously advise against buying one of these now. They may look fabulous, have great interior features, making them extremely versatile, and be in excellent condition, but the latter is very often simply that with a polyester fibre body and galvanised chassis, if cared for properly, they are easy to keep in great condition, such that a 20 year old Espace III can look very good, and yet seem quite inexpensive.
The problem comes from the fact that Matra Automobiles SA have not existed since 2003 and Renault like all the major manufacturers, do not wish to keep providing support for vehicles over 10 years old let alone 20, especially when the numbers sold were tiny by their normal mass produced standards, and the numbers left may be counted in the hundreds at most.
These Espace III were fitted with transverse powertrains, and front wheel drive, and were highly complex mechanically and electronically, so you needed a high level knowledge and understanding of modern mechanics, electronics, networked vehicle computer systems, and tools to diagnose problems and work on them. This means you need a means of connecting with the vehicle network and all its computers, such as Renault did with their 'Clip' or using a good third party system, as well as all the workshop manuals AND updates over the years they were in production, and a comprehensive set of wiring CDs to understand and trace their wiring systems. It is no doubt the reason there was never any third party workshop manual such as a Haynes manual, like there was for the Espace I and II. In fact there are so many errors in the Haynes manual for the Espace I and II that one can only be thankful they never attempted one for the Espace III. They couldn't even get the names of the Espace correct and their manual calls the J63 Espace II a series 3 which it definitely is not! So do not be fooled into thinking their manual covers the JE Espace III from 1996 to 2002.
Finally, you should know that certain essential parts are now unavailable anywhere and a failure in any of those will render the vehicle unusable unless you design and make your own alternative. One good example here is the clutch master cylinder on many of the manual models. These master cylinders are plastic, both body and piston, and the clutch fluid system was a sealed system, so when it failed you had to replace the complete system which came pre-bled in a complete kit. They have not been available for a long time, so you cannot fix the clutch unless you design and make your own system. There are other plastic parts that will have become hard and brittle with age and heat, and if you break one and cannot get a replacement, again you would have to devise and make your own alternative. They have quick release coolant hose couplings that are part plastic and will often break when trying to get them apart. Electronic parts, plus software and computers that are twenty years old are a problem in any sphere - you only have to think about your home computer or phones from 20 years ago to understand how this could be a problem, so when we are talking about a dedicated item for a little made car subjected to heat, cold, wet, or damp, as well as dirt and vibration over all those years, you should see there are likely to be major problems.
I understand there are some Espace III, particularly in Europe with huge mileages (500,000 to 700,000 kms) and still running, but equally I know of many in the U.K. that have had major failures under 40,000 miles! In my opinion this is mainly owing to the different conditions these vehicles have to endure. On the continent very often with light traffic and open roads, long journeys can often knock up large mileages where the vehicle is lightly stressed, and having driven there many times in my own cars I really do know what it is like. Here in the U.K. with heavy congestion and slow traffic, the vehicles have to cope with far worse conditions. Auto gearboxes on Espace III often failed before 40,000 miles in London as I can testify having lived and worked here for the past 30 years. Yet I have had several Espace I Phase 2 which are even older and they have still been going with over 300,000 on them. This can be attributed to the fact that they are very much simpler with only one computer (an injection computer) and an inline powertrain, which is both easier to work on, and has less trouble anyway. So please think very carefully and get ALL the service history, background, and M.o.T. history (which from 2005 is easily available on line) on one of these vehicles before considering any purchase, and really understand what you may be buying.
- I have an Espace III petrol and have engine starting difficulties, misfiring or running problems. Can you help?
There are a number of areas of possible concern including, the T.D.C. sensor, the ignition system, low fuel pressure system, as well as the usual electronic computer systems and sensors, so if the engine management warning light comes up on the instrument display, you must get a diagnostic done first, so you know what fault codes are being recorded. Whilst the diagnostic computer is connected, you should also take a look at the running data for the engine, assuming the engine will run. You need to look at all the engine running parameters including the fuel injection data, etc.
These engines use individual coils over plugs, commonly called pencil coils, and they are known to fail causing misfiring, as well as problems starting. If you have a definite misfire which you can see from the unstable idling and shaking of the engine, do not run it at all unless absolutely necessary, because all the unburnt fuel from the cylinder(s) that are not firing, will accumulate in the catalytic convertor or silencer and can explode with sufficient heat, ripping the box apart! I have seen the results of this happening and the owner stated it was like a bomb going off under the car! The faulty coil or coils need to be replaced and then the engine will be fine.
If the engine is not misfiring, but is very difficult or won't start, it may be a faulty TDC sensor as they are also known to be a weakness. If the engine takes longer to start than it used to it may be a failed camshaft sensor. Without the data from the cam sensor the computer will take twice as long to process the engine position and revs information using the TDC sensor alone. The motorised throttle body can also be a problem and since these are not repairable, if this is indicated as the cause a replacement is required. No adjustment is allowed on the motorised throttle body.
Less common was the fuel pressure being low, but if indicated it may be the fuel pump and supply or the pressure relief valve leaking, so again the diagnostic readouts should help to indicate where the cause of the problem lies.
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This was last updated 5th April '21